Federal Judge Dismisses Monster Lawsuit Against S.F. City Attorney

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera

Seven months after Monster Beverage Corp. filed a lawsuit against San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, one that aimed to block his investigation into the company’s marketing practices and regulate the caffeine content in its energy drinks, a federal judge has dismissed the case. The ruling allows Herrera’s lawsuit, in which he claims Monster violates California state law by marketing its highly-caffeinated products to children, to proceed.

“Monster Energy’s federal suit was a meritless ploy to stop our state consumer protection case, and I’m grateful to the court for issuing an unequivocal dismissal,” Herrera said in a statement.  “Despite the known dangers highly-caffeinated products pose to young people’s health and safety, Monster deliberately targets children with its marketing. It’s my hope that Monster Energy will reform its marketing practices before regulators or courts force them to.”

U.S. District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that Monster’s litigation would unfairly impact Herrera’s lawsuit against the energy drink giant, which was filed on May 6 in San Francisco Superior Court. In her decision, Phillips wrote that “the state has an important interest in protecting consumers from unfair and deceptive business practices and protecting the health and safety of its residents.” While Monster claimed that it was singled out as the only energy drink company named in the lawsuit, Phillips noted that aspect of the case does not affect the state’s responsibility to its residents.

Moreover, Phillips said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) regulation of energy drinks does not preempt Herrera’s actions against Monster. Monster argued that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), expressly preempts the City Attorney’s action because the FDCA prohibits states from establishing requirements for food or labeling that are not identical to that of federal standards.

Phillips wrote that because the “City Attorney claims that Monster markets its products with unsubstantiated claims about the effects of certain ingredients, such as taurine, guarana, ginseng, glucuronolactone, and B-vitamins… these claims are not expressly preempted, and are also claims that may not be brought in a private action and may only be brought by the Attorney General and other prosecuting authorities, such as the City Attorney.”

Monster also argued that Herrera’s claim that the amount of caffeine in Monster products violates GRAS (General Recognized as Safe) regulations would be preempted under the FDCA. However, Phillips wrote that the “City Attorney’s entire State Action does not hinge on the safety of caffeine in Monster Drinks under the GRAS standard,” and noted that the “complaint also includes claims that Monster markets its products with unsubstantiated claims about the effects of specific ingredients.” As such, she stated that it is not “readily apparent” that all the claims in the State Action are preempted by the FDCA.

While Monster has yet to respond to the ruling, the company has long denied that it markets to children and says that its energy drinks are properly labeled and safe to consume. Nevertheless, federal regulators and consumer watchdog groups have accused Monster and other energy drink brands as containing unsafe levels of caffeine and marketing that attracts adolescent consumers. In addition to Herrera’s lawsuit, Monster is currently battling two civil suits that claim consumption of its products led to the deaths of two teenagers.