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Williams v. Coca Cola Co.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

March 31, 2017

COCA COLA CO., Defendant.




         On December 28, 2015, pro se Plaintiff Cedric Williams commenced this action under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) against Defendant Coca Cola Co., alleging various state tort law causes of action arising from injuries he sustained after drinking Diet Coke. Dkt. No. 1 (“Complaint”). Presently before the Court is Coca-Cola's motion to dismiss. Dkt. Nos. 16 (“Motion”), 16-1 (“Memorandum”). Williams filed an opposition, Dkt. No. 20 (“Response”), [1] and Coca-Cola submitted a reply, Dkt. No. 23 (“Reply”). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.


         Williams has been incarcerated at the Clinton Correctional Facility (“Clinton C.F.”) since December 2010. Compl. ¶ 4. In April 2015, Williams received an unspecified number of cans of Diet Coke in a monthly food package at Clinton C.F. Id. ¶ 5. After consuming Diet Coke, Williams experienced migraine headaches and impaired vision, which he attributes to the aspartame contained in Diet Coke. Id. Williams subsequently developed anxiety that his consumption of aspartame would lead to cancer, and that anxiety has caused Williams to suffer from insomnia. Id. ¶ 9. As a result, Williams underwent a mental health evaluation. Id. ¶ 6. Williams now brings several claims against Coca Cola arising from the injuries he has allegedly suffered since consuming Diet Coke, including negligence, gross negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud. Id.


         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A court must accept as true the factual allegations contained in a complaint and draw all inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Allaire Corp. v. Okumus, 433 F.3d 248, 249-50 (2d Cir. 2006). Plausibility, however, requires “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [the alleged misconduct].” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556.

         The plausibility standard “asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Where a court is unable to infer more than the mere possibility of the alleged misconduct based on the pleaded facts, the pleader has not demonstrated that she is entitled to relief and the action is subject to dismissal. Id. at 678-79.


         Williams brings several claims arising from his consumption of Diet Coke: (1) Coca-Cola was negligent and grossly negligent in manufacturing, marketing, and distributing Diet Coke containing aspartame; (2) Coca-Cola negligently inflicted emotional distress on Williams through its distribution of Diet Coke; (3) Coca-Cola negligently and fraudulently misrepresented to the public that aspartame is safe. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 11, 18. In addition to monetary damages, Williams requests injunctive relief in the form of new labeling requirements for Coca-Cola products containing aspartame. Id., Wherefore Clause, ¶ (d).

         A. Preemption

         Food, drugs, and cosmetics are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”). 21 U.S.C. §§ 301, et seq. Under that authority, the FDA regulates food additives such as aspartame. 21 U.S.C. § 348. After an extensive review process, the FDA approved the use of aspartame as a food additive. 21 C.F.R. § 172.804; see also Heller v. Coca-Cola Co., 646 N.Y.S.2d 524, (“On July 8, 1983, the FDA issued a final rule that permitted the additional use of Aspartame as a sweetener in carbonated beverages and carbonated beverage syrup bases. . . . Before approving this new use, the agency reviewed, among other things, the stability of Aspartame in carbonated beverages . . . .”). Therefore, Coca-Cola argues, all of Williams's state tort law claims should be dismissed because they are preempted by federal law. Mot. at 6.

         “The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution ‘invalidates state laws that interfere with, or are contrary to federal law.'” Bonilla v. Semple, No. 15-CV-1614, 2016 WL 4582038, at *5 (D. Conn. Sept. 1, 2016) (quoting U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2). The Second Circuit recently outlined the three different types of preemption:

(1) express preemption, where Congress has expressly preempted local law; (2) field preemption, “where congress has legislated so comprehensively that federal law occupies an entire field of regulation and leaves no room for state law”; and (3) conflict preemption, where local law conflicts with federal law such that it is impossible for a party to comply with both or the local law is an obstacle to the achievement of federal objectives.

N.Y. SMSA Ltd. P'ship v. Town of Clarkstown, 612 F.3d 97, 104 (2d Cir. 2010) (quoting Wachovia Bank, N.A. v. Burke, 414 F.3d 305, 313 (2d Cir. 2005)). Coca-Cola argues that both field and conflict preemption apply ...

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