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Court Sides with Defendant Coca-Cola on Most Requests for Further Documents in Simply Orange Marketing Dispute

Posted on March 19th, 2018

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In In Re Simply Orange Orange Juice Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation, MDL No. 2361, (W.D. Mo. Jan. 23, 2018), the United States District Court for the Western Division of Missouri answered several questions posed by the Plaintiff regarding discovery.

Plaintiffs argue that there are five disputed issues this Court must resolve before discovery proceeds: (1) Are Plaintiffs entitled to more documents and information regarding certain flavors?; (2) Are Plaintiffs entitled to more documents and information regarding the meaning of Coca-Cola’s label representations on the orange juice products?; (3) Are Plaintiffs entitled to documents sufficient to show volatile levels in the orange juice products during processing and storage of the juice including but not limited to documents reflecting the results of a mass balance or similar test?; (4) Are Plaintiffs entitled to more documents and information regarding FDA’s rules and regulations governing the orange juice products, regarding any subsequent changes made to labeling, formulation, or advertising of the orange juice products in response to or following communications with FDA, and any inquiries or responses from any governmental department or other agency concerning the orange juice products?; and (5) Are Plaintiffs entitled to custodial files of each witness whom Coca-Cola intends to call in support of its case? Defendant Coca-Cola argues that none of the above information is relevant, and even if it were, production of such information is not proportional to the needs of the case.

As to Question 1: Are Plaintiffs entitled to more documents regarding certain flavors? Plaintiffs want what they describe as documents regarding the design and development, purpose and function of the flavors and Coca-Cola’s internal descriptions of the flavors. Defendant responds that this information is not relevant, and the Court has already denied a similar motion to compel documents concerning the design, development purpose and function of Coca-Cola’s add-backs. Plaintiffs have offered the Court no grounds for reconsideration of its prior order limiting such discovery. Therefore, Plaintiffs’ request is denied.

As to Question 2: Are Plaintiffs entitled to more documents regarding Coca-Cola’s labeling of its orange juice products?  Plaintiffs argue that the consumer’s and defendant’s own understanding of the label is relevant. Defendant argues that the meaning of its label representations is not relevant, and plaintiff has already received substantial discovery on this issue in conjunction with class certification discovery. The Court finds that plaintiffs have already received substantial relevant discovery on this matter. Further discovery would not be proportional to the needs of this case. Plaintiffs’ request is denied.

As to Question 3: Are Plaintiffs entitled to more documents dealing with testing of the products? Plaintiffs argue that this knowledge is relevant to all the questions certified by the Court in its order on class certification. Defendant objects, however, saying that Plaintiffs have received substantial discovery regarding volatile levels in the juice products. The Court agrees with Defendant that it is irrelevant to the issues certified in this matter. Plaintiffs’ request for additional discovery is denied.

As to Question 4: Are Plaintiffs entitled to more documents regarding the FDA’s rules about orange juice products? Plaintiffs argue that these documents will demonstrate that Defendant Coca-Cola has taken positions with the FDA that are inconsistent with positions it has taken in this case. Defendant objects, saying the Court cannot compel production of documents that do not exist. The Court agrees. Plaintiffs’ request is denied.

As to Question 5: Are Plaintiffs entitled to custodial files regarding each witness Defendant Coca-Cola plans to call in support of its case? Plaintiff states that the custodial files of all witnesses are relevant to all issues in the case, and plaintiff argues that withholding the documents is especially prejudicial. Defendant argues Plaintiffs have not demonstrated that the custodial files are relevant to any of the certified issues; instead, they want the materials for impeachment. The Court however, finds that if Plaintiffs are able to show prejudice during the trial, the Court may reconsider and allow a recess if such discovery proves to be necessary.  For now, Plaintiffs’ request is denied without prejudice.

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