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Coyle v. Hornell Brewing Co.

June 15, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge



This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Hornell Brewing Company, Ferolito Vultaggio & Sons, Arizona Beverage Company, LLC, and Beverage Marketing USA, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants") to dismiss Plaintiff's claim. [Docket Item 93]. Plaintiff Lauren Coyle ("Plaintiff") filed this putative class action suit against Defendants on behalf of herself and others similarly situated claiming that Defendants wrongfully labeled their beverages as "100% NATURAL" when the beverages contained high fructose corn syrup ("HFCS").

Defendants first ask the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's claim pursuant to the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, arguing that the case should be referred to the United States Food and Drug Administration ("FDA") given the agency's unique expertise and experience in the field. Second, Defendants assert that Plaintiff is precluded from seeking restitution under an unjust enrichment theory due to an available remedy at law. Third, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's breach of express and implied warranty claims should be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to provide Defendants with notice of breach before filing suit. Defendants lastly argue that any portion of the claim based on actions occurring more than four years before the filing of Plaintiff's complaint is barred by the statute of limitations.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Defendants' motion to dismiss under the doctrine of primary jurisdiction, but will stay this action for a period of six months and refer the question of whether HFCS qualifies as "natural" to the FDA. The Court also denies Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's claims for unjust enrichment and breach of express and implied warranty of merchantability, but will dismiss any claim arising out of purchases made before April 21, 2004 under the applicable statute of limitations.


A. Factual Allegations in First Amended Complaint

Plaintiff brings this proffered class action suit against Defendants, who are responsible for manufacturing, brewing, distributing, and selling Arizona Iced Tea beverages, alleging that Defendants should not have labeled their products as "100% NATURAL" because they contain the ingredient HFCS. Plaintiff claims that over the six years prior to bringing suit, she purchased Arizona Iced Tea products because she believed them to contain only natural ingredients, which according to Plaintiff excludes anything containing artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, chemicals, or highly processed materials.

Plaintiff also claims that because of the "100% NATURAL" label, she and others were willing to and did pay a premium price for the beverages.

Plaintiff argues that because HFCS is a "highly processed sugar substitute" manufactured using artificial enzymes and acids, HFCS is not natural and thus Defendants' beverages, which contain HFCS, cannot be labeled as "100% NATURAL." Based on the above allegations, Plaintiff brings four claims for relief for herself and the proposed injured class: violation of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act ("NJCFA") (Count I); unjust enrichment and common law restitution (Count II); breach of express warranty (Count III); and breach of implied warranty of merchantability (Count IV).

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff originally filed suit on April 21, 2008, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-1294-08. On June 8, 2008, Defendants removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332 and 1453, the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005. On July 7, 2008, Plaintiff filed a motion to remand the case to state court but withdrew the motion by a letter dated August 26, 2008.

On September 12, 2008, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss

Plaintiff's complaint on the basis that Plaintiff's claims were preempted by the FDA's regulatory scheme. On June 9, 2009, Defendants' motion was dismissed without prejudice pending a decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Holk v. Snapple Beverage Co., 575 F.3d 329 (2009). In Holk, the Court of Appeals held that plaintiff's claims that the label on defendant Snapple's iced tea beverages representing them to be "All Natural" are deceptive because the beverages contain HFCS are not preempted by federal statute or FDA regulation. Id. at 342. Plaintiff subsequently filed a First Amended Complaint on July 31, 2009, joining Beverage Marketing USA, Inc. as a defendant.

On January 28, 2010, Defendants filed the present motion to dismiss, and briefing concluded on March 19, 2010, when Plaintiff filed a sur-reply with the Court's consent. On May 17, 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion for an order ...

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