Firm Secures Important Dismissals for The Coca-Cola Company in Environmental False Advertising Cases

November 18, 2022

Patterson Belknap recently secured important dismissals on behalf of its client, The Coca-Cola Company, in two separate environmental consumer fraud cases. These decisions are significant victories not only for Coca-Cola but for the consumer products industry, which has faced a new wave of litigation in which environmental groups seek to assert “greenwashing” claims.

The firm represented Coca-Cola in a consolidated action brought by The Sierra Club as well as consumers plaintiffs, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The complaint alleged that Coca-Cola violated California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, False Advertising Law, and Unfair Competition Law by falsely marketing some plastic beverage containers as “100% recyclable.” On November 18, 2022, the court granted our motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs’ interpretation of Coca-Cola’s labels are inconsistent with California and federal law.  In dismissing the case, the court agreed with our argument that no reasonable consumer would understand the phrase "100% recyclable" as a guarantee the product will be recycled.  Rather, it is a promise that the product can be recycled, which plaintiffs did not dispute.

The firm also represented Coca-Cola in an action brought by another environmental group filed in Washington D.C. Superior Court.  The complaint alleged that Coca-Cola engages in false and deceptive marketing practices by representing itself as a sustainable and environmentally friendly company while contributing to plastic pollution. On November 10, 2022, the court granted a motion to dismiss the case on the grounds that the disputed statements are not actionable marketing practices under the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) and cannot be proven true or false, because they pertain to Coca-Cola’s corporate values and future goals.

Steven A. Zalesin and Jane Metcalf led the teams which included Stephanie TeplinKevin Opoku-GyamfiIan Kerr, Anthony LoMonacoVoratida Sangchant.

Earlier this year, the Patterson Belknap team represented Allbirds, Inc. in a similar consumer class action in which the plaintiff alleged that the company misrepresents its standards for sustainability and animal welfare. The complaint was dismissed on the ground that the company’s statements are truthful and not misleading to consumer reasonable consumers.  The recent rulings for Coca Cola and Allbirds have been among the first favorable decisions of their kind, to date.

To read the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California decision, click here
To read press coverage, click here.

To read the Washington D.C. Superior Court decision, click here.
To read press coverage, click here.