Soda Lawsuits to Be Filed:

The New York Times reports on pending consumer activist litigation against soda bottlers seeking the removal of soda machines from public schools.

In a lawsuit they plan to file in the next few months, Mr. [Stephen] Gardner [of the Center for Science in the Public Interest] and half a dozen other lawyers, several of them veterans of successful tobacco litigation, will seek to ban sales of sugary beverages in schools.

The lawsuit is to be filed in Massachusetts, which has strong consumer protection laws and happens to be where some of the lawyers are based, and will name Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and their local bottlers, the lawyers say. It will be the first of many such state lawsuits, they say. . . . .

The Massachusetts lawsuit will focus specifically on sales of what it terms unhealthy beverages (likely to mean full-calorie sodas, sports drinks, iced tea drinks and juice drinks without much juice) in high schools and will argue that such sales constitute unfair and deceptive marketing. The suit will also cite the ways in which the large illuminated Coke and Pepsi machines lining school halls and cafeterias are an "attractive nuisance."

"They're selling to a captive audience that isn't really in a position to fully evaluate all the health risks," said Andrew A. Ranier, a partner at McRoberts, Roberts & Ranier in Boston and one lawyer involved in the suit. "And they're not telling people about the risks."

Three tobacco litigation experts are also involved in the suit: Tim Howard, a Florida lawyer who helped the state win a $17 billion settlement against tobacco companies in 1997; Stephen A. Sheller, a partner at Sheller Ludwig & Badey in Philadelphia, who was involved in a successful $10 billion tobacco class action in Illinois state court that is currently under appeal; and Richard A. Daynard, an associate dean at the Northeastern University School of Law who has served as an adviser to many of the state tobacco lawsuits that led to a $246 billion settlement in 1998. . . .

One detail yet to be decided is whether the group will seek financial damages. Under Massachusetts's consumer protection law, successful plaintiffs are entitled to $25 per violation, which could mean $25 for every time a student has purchased a soda in a public high school in Massachusetts over the past four years.

Mr. Gardner said he and the other lawyers realize that damages could run into the billions. "We haven't decided about this yet," he said. "We don't want this to come off looking like a greedy-lawyer lawsuit."

UPDATE: I neglected to note Todd's post on this subject from last week.