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Media Alerts - Nemphos v. Nestle Waters North America, Inc. - Fourth Circuit
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February 6, 2015
  Nemphos v. Nestle Waters North America, Inc. - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Food for Thought - FDA Regulations Can Preempt State Law Claims

Area of Law: Federal Agency Law, State Tort Law

Issue Presented: Whether federal law, which provides uniform labeling standards for certain food products, preempts the plaintiff's state-law claims.

Brief Summary: Michelle Nemphos filed various tort and fraud claims under Maryland state law against the manufacturers of bottled water, infant formula, and baby food that her minor daughter consumed before developing a condition known as dental fluorosis. Dental fluorosis is a condition that produces discoloration of tooth enamel, and is caused by excessive ingestion of fluoride. Nemphos alleged that Nestle USA, Inc., The Dannon Company, Inc., and Gerber Products Co. failed to warn about the risks of dental fluorosis for children who consume large amounts of fluoride, and that they had misleadingly marketed their fluoride-containing products as especially beneficial to children.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that federal law preempted Nemphos' state law claims. At issue was the Food and Drug Administration's ("FDA") power to regulate the ingredients of a food through FDA labeling requirements. Specifically, the labeling requirements protect a product's "standard of identity" across the country. The "standard of identity" ensures that a consumer buying a company's food product in New York receives the same product that a consumer buys from that company in California or Alaska.

The Fourth Circuit held that because the FDA's labeling requirements mandate a certain level of fluoride in the products, Nemphos could not hold those companies liable under state law for complying with the federal regulation. In addition, the court held that Nemphos could not maintain a failure to warn claim because the FDA does not require fluoride warnings on labels.

The court held that a litigant cannot impose a duty under state law that is inconsistent with existing federal requirements. Under 21 U.S.C. § 341, federal regulations such as a food's "standard of identity" prevail over, and preempt, certain non-identical state requirements.

To read the full opinion, please click here.

Panel: Judges Wilkinson, Motz, and Floyd

Argument Date: 10/30/2014

Date of Issued Opinion: 01/08/2015

Docket Number: Case No. 12-2718

Case Alert Author: Douglas Sampson, Univ. of Maryland Carey School of Law

Counsel: Leah Marie Nicholls, PUBLIC JUSTICE, P.C., Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Catherine Emily Stetson, HOGAN LOVELLS US LLP, Washington, D.C.; Peter Buscemi, MORGAN LEWIS & BOCKIUS LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellees. ON BRIEF: Leslie A. Brueckner, PUBLIC JUSTICE, P.C., Oakland, California; Christopher T. Nidel, NIDEL LAW, PLLC, Washington, D.C.; Christopher T. Nace, PAULSON & NACE, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. Victoria J. Miller, Kristin M. Hadgis, MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS LLP, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for Appellee TheDannon Company, Inc. Lauren S. Colton, Baltimore, Maryland, Michael L. Kidney, HOGAN LOVELLS US LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellees Nestle USA, Inc., Nestle Waters North America, Inc., and Gerber Products Company.

Author of Opinion: Judge Wilkinson

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 02/06/2015 02:15 PM     4th Circuit  

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