July 19, 2013 — -- A court ruled that a lawsuit alleging deceptive labeling for Coca-Cola's Vitaminwater drinks may proceed as a class action.
Consumer advocacy group the Center for Science in the Public Interest and consumers in New York and California first filed a lawsuit in Jan. 2009, alleging deceptive labeling and marketing for the soft drink, which included claims that the drink could reduce rise for eye disease, promote healthy joints and support "optimal immune function."
U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy recommends that the plaintiffs can litigate for declaratory and injunctive relief, but not for damages.
CSPI Michael F. Jacobson, executive director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said, "The marketing of vitaminwater will go down in history as one of the boldest and brashest attempts ever to affix a healthy halo to what is essentially a junk food, a non-carbonated soda. Vitaminwater, like Coca-Cola itself, promotes weight gain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cannot deliver on any of the dishonest claims it has made over the years."
Next, the courtroom fight will return to U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
The Coca-Cola Co, said in a statement, "We are very gratified that Magistrate Judge Levy recommended denying class certification as to all monetary damages claims alleged by plaintiffs. We firmly believe the plaintiffs' claims are without merit and will ultimately be rejected. Vitaminwater is a great tasting, hydrating beverage with essential vitamins and water--and labels clearly showing ingredients and calorie content."
In 2010, Judge John Gleeson in New York ruled that Vitaminwater's use of the word "healthy" violates FDA labeling rules.
In a statement, the Center for Science in the Public Interest's litigation director Steve Gardner said Thursday's decision "puts this case on a glide path toward a jury trial where Coca-Cola will have to defend under penalty of perjury the deceptive claims it has made and continues to make in connection with vitaminwater."
"That will put the company in the awkward position of squaring its marketing of vitaminwater as a healthy, disease-fighting drink with its later assertion that 'no reasonable consumer' would ever believe such marketing," Gardner said.
The company's online site currently makes no health claims about the Vitaminwater products.