Coca-Cola Co. has been targeted by a class action lawsuit accusing the company of lying about the ingredients it uses in its signature Coke soft drink.
Plaintiffs George Engurasoff and Joshua Ogden allege in the Coke class action lawsuit that Coca-Cola has been deceiving consumers by failing to mention that the beverage contains artificial ingredients. In some cases, they argue, the company falsely promises that the soft drink is free of artificial flavors and preservatives. Specifically, the plaintiffs are concerned about phosphoric acid, an artificial and man-made chemical that is used as both a flavoring and preservative.
“Such false statements and omissions violate both federal law and California state law and render these products legally misbranded and illegal to manufacture, distribute or sell to consumers,” the Coca-Cola class action lawsuit says.
Engurasoff and Ogden claim that Coke’s marketing is governed by the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FDCA), which prohibits companies from selling products whose labels do not accurately reflect the ingredients. Because the FDCA’s provisions have been adopted by California’s Sherman Food Drug and Cosmetic Law, the plaintiffs allege that Coca-Cola has violated California law as well.
“Defendants are well aware of the health concerns of consumers and knowingly and intentionally engage in such unlawful conduct to deceive consumers and increase products,” the class action lawsuit says. According to the plaintiffs, Coca-Cola’s website indicates that the company uses phosphoric acid in certain soft drinks, “to add tartness to the beverage.” However, the company insists that the ingredient is “one of the basic elements of nature.”
Engurasoff and Ogden argue that Coca-Cola’s claims are misleading because phosphorous and phosphoric acid are different chemicals. They claim that phosphoric acid should be classified as an artificial flavoring under the FDCA because it provides flavor but is not derived from natural sources.
According to the class action lawsuit, the term “artificial flavoring” is defined under federal law to mean “any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof.”
The plaintiffs allege in the Coca-Cola class action lawsuit that they each purchased more than $25 worth of Coca-Cola products over the last four years. They relied on Coca-Cola’s label, which stated that the product has “no artificial flavors. no preservatives added. since 1886.” They claim that they would not have purchased the products had they known that the products were improperly labeled in violation of state and federal law. The plaintiffs believe that millions of Americans have been deceived by the company’s false labeling.
By filing the class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs are seeking to certify a nationwide class of consumers who purchased Coca-Cola products. They seek an injunction that would bar the company from continuing its allegedly illegal marketing practices. They are also seeking compensatory and punitive damages, restitution and disgorgement to the plaintiffs and Class Members.
The plaintiffs are represented by Ben F. Pierce Gore of Pratt & Associates.
The Coca-Cola Class Action Lawsuit is George Engurasoff, et al. v. the Coca-Cola Co., Case No. 1:13-cv-03990, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
UPDATE: On May 21, 2014, Coca-Cola Co. asked the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation to consolidate this case with five other Coke class action lawsuits, saying the plaintiffs’ claims are all substantially similar.
UPDATE 2: On May 19, 2016, a federal judge dismissed some false advertising claims against Coca-Cola but will allow other claims in a class action lawsuit to go forward.
UPDATE 3: On July 5, 2016, plaintiffs in a large-scale multidistrict litigation over Coca-Cola marketing practices are alleging that the beverage behemoth is resorting to stall tactics to delay an artificial ingredient lawsuit.
UPDATE 4: On July 19, 2016, the judge denied a motion by Coca-Cola to put the class action lawsuit on hold.
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