12 June 2014

Law in Plain English: POM Wonderful LLC v. The Coca Cola Company

This is one in a series of posts designed to describe court decisions in plain English. For more detail and background on the legal issues, see the link to the case below. For similar posts, click here.

SCOTUSblogPOM Wonderful LLC v. The Coca Cola Company

Argument: Apr 21 2014 (Aud.)

Background: Pom sued Coca-Cola, alleging that Coca-Cola misled consumers to believe that Coca-Cola's Pomegranate Blueberry consisted primarily of pomegranate and blueberry juices when it actually consisted mainly of (the cheaper) apple and grape juices. Pom challenged the name, labeling, marketing, and advertising of Pomegranate Blueberry. It claimed that Coca-Cola violated the false-advertising provision of the Lanham Act, which authorizes suit against those who use a false or misleading description or representation about any goods. The district court ruled that Pom's Lanham Act challenge to Pomegranate Blueberry's name and labeling was barred by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA)'s implementing regulations. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, finding that where the FDA has not concluded that particular conduct violates the FDCA, a Lanham Act claim may not be pursued if the claim would require litigating whether that conduct violates the FDCA.

Issue: The question before the Court is whether the court of appeals erred in holding that a private party cannot bring a Lanham Act claim challenging a product label regulated under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Holding: In a unanimous decision (with Justice Breyer recused), the Supreme Court ruled that competitors may bring Lanham Act claims like POM’s challenging food and beverage labels regulated by the FDCA. Neither the Lanham Act nor the FDCA, in express terms, forbids or limits Lanham Act claims challenging labels that are regulated by the FDCA.
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