A new company vying for its place in the Maine bottled water industry has filed a federal lawsuit in Portland accusing the parent company of a long-established brand, Poland Spring, of false advertising.
The newcomer, Maine Springs, based in the Poland Spring section of the Androscoggin County town of Poland, claims in the lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court that the Poland Spring brand is not “100% Natural Spring Water” as its plastic water bottle labels state.
Maine Springs’ lawsuit against Poland Spring’s parent company, Nestlé Waters North America, comes after years of legal wrangling between the two companies.
Since Maine Springs was founded in 2007 by John Juliano, the company has acquired natural spring rights from the Poland Spring water source to extract as much as 500 gallons per minute and other natural spring rights in Poland to extract up to 100 gallons of water per minute. It has also acquired a bottling facility, bulk water facilities and the equipment necessary to run a bottling operation, according to the lawsuit.
But Maine Springs contends that Nestle threatened the new company with litigation starting on March 4, 2010, claiming that it would be infringing on the Poland Spring brand if it went into the bottled water business, according to Maine Springs’ attorney, Steven Angstreich, of the Philadelphia law firm Weir and Partners.
“There’s been no lawsuits against Maine Springs yet. It was just threats if Maine Springs went along to selling water,” Angstreich said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Maine Springs is not bottling any water at this time because it has no outlets. It’s ready, willing and able, but it has not done that yet. Maine Springs has the ability to bottle a lot of water.”
Angstreich said that Nestlé Waters is the nation’s leading seller of bottled water, with annual revenues of $4 billion in 2012, and has used the threat of litigation to “effectively eliminate Maine Springs from being in the water business.”
By filing the lawsuit, Maine Waters is arguing that since it is based in the Poland Spring area and since Poland Spring is its water source, it must be allowed to say Poland Spring on its bottles when listing a source.
“Although Nestlé Waters also has a bottling plant in Poland Spring … the original Poland Spring is not in fact used as a resource for the Poland Spring Brand water, as it has been dry for many decades and (Nestlé Waters) has long ago acknowledged that fact,” Angstreich said in the 13-page complaint.
In targeting the source of the Poland Spring brand’s water, Maine Springs is also legally challenging the brand’s original marketing claims from 1994 that its water comes from “carefully selected mountain springs that are continually replenished.” Maine Springs contends in the lawsuit that Poland Spring brand water actually comes from other sources, including groundwater and well water.
“Certainly we don’t anticipate Nestle will agree with us and settle quickly,” Angstreich said in the phone interview.
Jane Lazgin, a spokeswoman for Nestlé Waters North America, called the lawsuit “meritless” and said the company would seek “all appropriate remedies.
“The Plaintiff communicated to us several years ago that if we did not buy water from him for $200 million, he would file a lawsuit on similar grounds to this most recent suit, and/or sell water using a highly similar label and trade dress to our Poland Spring brand,” Lazgin said in an email late Tuesday afternoon.
Angstreich said he was unaware of Nestlé Waters’ assertion in Lazgin’s statement but would be “surprised” if his client made such a demand or legal threat.