PHILADELPHIA — A recent case brought by one water seller against another is providing a curious example of intra-market business litigation, with the plaintiff using the class action mechanism to sue a former competitor.
Far Away Springs, of Auburn in Schuylkill County, is contending that the defendant, Pine Valley Farms Springs, is selling various kinds of non-spring water as “spring water.” Also named in the class action complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, are Ice River Springs Water Company, Crossroads Beverage Group and Niagara Bottling - companies that are selling the water Pine Valley extracts.
The complaint says the defendants “have sought to pass off (water products) as spring water knowing full well it is not spring water, so they can dupe customers into paying a premium.”
The plaintiff brought the case in accordance with the Lanham Act, which covers various issues around trademark infringement and false advertising.
"Customers recognize the distinction between spring water and other types of bottled water. Customers can and do pay a premium for spring water because they prefer the taste, and/or method of extraction and bottling, to other types of bottled water," the lawsuit says.
"Businesses such as Plaintiff’s have spent significant time, money, and resources to identify, develop, and maintain spring water sites. Unfortunately, not all businesses are as willing as Plaintiff to invest the proper amount of time, money, and effort into this process."
But the defendants disagree in a Feb. 14 motion to dismiss that says Far Away Springs lacks standing to bring the case.
Citing prior case law, counsel finds that “in order to have standing in class actions, the named plaintiff must have a case or controversy against each named defendant.”
The defendant’s counsel also pointed out that the plaintiff should be able to show direct injury in order to get standing under the Lanham Act, which “extends only to plaintiffs whose interests fall within the zone of interests protected by the law,” according to the brief filed by Datto.
At the end of the brief, it’s also stated that the plaintiff must be in competition with the defendant, which the defense argues is not the case.
A litigant is barred from making a claim that is inconsistent with one made in other litigation, the defendants argue. In a lawsuit against the state Department of Environmental Protection, Far Away Springs' owner said he has not sold water since 2015.
Far Away Springs is also not in the bottling business, like the other defendants are. The company blames the DEP for it losing a contract to Pine Valley to supply Ice River with water.
"Thus, Plaintiff has admitted that the reason he is not providing water to these customers is because of actions of the DEP and not because of allegedly 'misleadingly marketed, labeled and sold' spring water," the motion says.