At the crux of the case (Lenora Rice et al v National Beverage Corp* filed in October 2018), is whether flavoring substances in LaCroix sparkling water (ethyl butanoate, limonene, linalool and linalool propionate) were sourced from natural ingredients or produced synthetically.
Plaintiff Lenora Rice claimed the substances were synthetic in origin (without explaining how third party lab testing proved this), while LaCroix's brand owner National Beverage Corp said its testing had “conclusively confirmed that LaCroix sparkling water is all natural.”
Rice, claimed National Beverage Corp, had smeared its brand – the equity of which was in large part based on its all-natural credentials - without providing any evidence to show that the flavoring components in question were produced synthetically, the core allegation in the lawsuit.
Plaintiff ‘affirmatively withdraws and unequivocally retracts the claims’
After 16 months of legal wrangling, Rice has now agreed to drop the case and retract her claims, according to a letter signed by Rice and her attorneys at law firm of Beaumont Costales LLC that has been shared with the media by National Beverage Corp.
Both parties have agreed to a joint stipulation dismissing the case with prejudice (which means it can't be filed again).
“Plaintiff, Lenora Rice, together with her counsel, the law firm of Beaumont Costales LLC (and each of its attorneys), affirmatively withdraw and unequivocally retract the claims set forth in Lenora Rice vs National Beverage Corp...
“Rice claimed that independent laboratory testing commissioned by Beaumont Costales revealed ingredients in LaCroix that were not ‘natural.’ That laboratory has since confirmed in writing and separately under oath that its testing could not, and did not, determine whether the ingredients were ‘synthetic’ and made no finding as to the source of the ingredients it identified. We do not dispute that those same ingredients can be derived naturally.
"In addition, Rice and Beaumont Costales have been provided with the results of the independent testing conducted by another accredited laboratory, which confirmed that LaCroix's flavor ingredients are 100% natural and free of any “synthetic” sources.
“Rice and Beaumont Costales further acknowledge that they received no payment whatsoever for this retraction or for the withdrawal and dismissal of their Complaint.”
National Beverage Corp: ‘This is a vindication’
In a press release accompanying the letter, National Beverage Corp said: “This dismissal confirms our promise to demonstrate that these allegations had absolutely no merit and reaffirms that the Company delivers a pure and innocent product.
“This is a vindication of National Beverage and confirms the assurances we gave to our loyal following of LaCroix consumers, our customers and our shareholders that this lawsuit was baseless.”
Attorney: This is very unusual
Angel Garganta, partner and co-chair of the Class Action Defense Group at law firm Venable LLP, told FoodNavigator-USA: "This is very unusual indeed. I don't recall ever seeing a plaintiff and her firm not only dismiss their case, but publicly recant their allegations. It looks like National Beverage's aggressive defense worked."
'We’ll probably never know all the terms of the agreement'
Ryan Kaiser, managing partner at law firm Kaiser IP, LLC, said: "While I can’t say I’ve ever seen a letter quite like that (from the Plaintiff and her attorney) recanting her claims as having 'absolutely no merit,' it is not uncommon for a defendant to request some form of public statement as part of settling a case like this.
"The defendant wants some way to minimize and repair the damage done, and while doing their own press release can be effective, having something written by the Plaintiff or her attorneys directly is even better."
But he added: "Unfortunately settlements in these cases are confidential, so we’ll probably never know all the terms of the agreement in this case. What the public gets to see is often just a small portion of what actually went on behind closed doors in the litigation.
"Since the letter says that Rice and her attorneys received no compensation, I would have to assume that the Defendant had some form of leverage to get Plaintiff to write the retraction. In all likelihood it was something that came up in discovery that gave the Defendant grounds for seeking sanctions or perhaps payment of its own fees. Thus, Plaintiff agreed to make a public statement in exchange for Defendant allowing her to drop the case. Defendant will no doubt get plenty of PR value out of that public statement."
*Lenora Rice et al v National Beverage Corp d/b/a LaCroix Sparkling Waters. Case # 1:18-cv-07151 filed in Cook County Illinois.
** Adenike Graham and Kimberly McNulty et al v. National Beverage Corporation 1:19-cv-00873 filed in the southern district of New York on January 29, 2019.