A pile of Poland Spring water bottles. Credit: Courtesy of Brett Weinstein

The question of whether bottled Poland Spring water really comes from a spring or is merely bottled groundwater will continue to be debated in court after a federal judge in Connecticut ruled only partially in favor of parent Nestle Waters North America’s efforts to dismiss the case.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Alker Meyer on March 28 dismissed the claims against Nestle in only one of nine northeastern states, including Maine, that are part of a class action lawsuit alleging, among other things, that Poland Spring is fraudulently using the term “spring water” and that its bottled water does not come from springs.

The judge ruled in favor of Nestle to dismiss the plaintiffs’ claims in Vermont. However, he let the case go forward in the other state subclasses of the lawsuit in Maine, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

“Nothing in the court’s recent decision undermines our confidence in our overall legal position. We will continue to defend our Poland Spring brand vigorously against this meritless lawsuit,” a Nestle Waters’ spokesperson wrote in an email. Nestle Waters North America is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut.

The spokesperson said the water is 100 percent natural spring water.

“In fact, an independent investigation conducted last year by the law firm DLA Piper confirmed that Poland Spring brand spring water sources meet all [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] regulations defining spring water,” the spokesperson said. “Consumers can be confident in the accuracy of the labels on every bottle of Poland Spring.”

The lawsuit, however, alleges that Nestle “intentionally concealed that its Poland Spring Water does not comply with the standard of identity for spring water under state law.”

It also claims that Nestle “affirmatively misrepresented to plaintiffs on Poland Spring Water labels that Poland Spring Water is ‘100 percent Natural Spring Water’ sourced from naturally occurring springs in Maine when, in fact, Poland Spring Water is not ‘100 percent Natural Spring Water’ because [it] does not contain genuine natural spring water as defined by state law.”

In his opinion, the judge wrote that all of the states except Vermont have state law standards for “spring water” that are equivalent to the federal standard.

Maine law expressly references the federal water standard and describes spring water as “water derived from an underground formation from which water flows naturally to the surface of the earth.”

The ruling is part of a 325-page case with 12 plaintiffs filed in August 2017. Meyer dismissed that case in May 2018 but allowed the plaintiffs to file an amended case, which they did in July 2018.

The class action lawsuit claims that although Nestle Waters represents on its Poland Spring Water labels that the bottled water may be sourced from the famous “Poland Spring” in Poland Spring, Maine, none of it is.

The lawsuit alleges that all of the wells in the Poland Spring location are drilled into a sand and gravel aquifer.

It also claims that the original, historic Poland Spring was a bedrock spring that commercially ran dry two decades before Nestle Waters acquired the Poland Spring brand name in 1992.

The plaintiffs are demanding a jury trial and varying damages, depending on the state.