Today, the Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision stating that Pom Wonderful can move forward with a lawsuit against Coca-Cola for falsely advertising a pomegranate drink.
According to Pom, Coke's "Pomegranate Blueberry," drink misleads customers, suggesting that it is a comparable, cheaper alternative to Pom's pomegranate juices — when in reality it's 99 percent apple and grape juice. Some, apparently, think the label is clear enough:
This is what the sup. court is talking about today? This Minute Maid juice? it obvs says pomegranate FLAVORED juice pic.twitter.com/XmuyKygsB8— Alexander Limas (@AlXavierLimas) April 22, 2014
The juice does, in fact, contain both pomegranate and blueberry juices — but only in trace amounts. Pomegranate juice only comprises 0.3 percent of each serving, and blueberry 0.2 percent. Pom's blueberry pomegranate juice, on the other hand, is 85 percent pomegranate juice and 15 percent blueberry juices from concentrate (and natural flavors).
Coca-Cola said that the label had been approved by the FDA, precluding any claims under the Lanham Act, and therefore Pom's claims were not valid — an argument which was held up in a court of appeals. ScotusBlog's Ronald Mann explains the April arguments:
The district court and the Ninth Circuit remarkably accepted Coca-Cola’s position that regulations issued by the Food and Drug Administration (the “FDA”) under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”) preempted POM’s action under the Lanham Act — even though it is plain that the FDA never examined or approved the challenged label, and even though the FDCA does not mention the Lanham Act [which prohibits false advertising].
But even in April, the Supreme Court justices where unimpressed with this argument. In the opinion issued today, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated on behalf of the others that the Coke's preclusion stance was bunk:
The ruling that POM's Lanham Act cause of action is precluded by the FDCA was incorrect. There is no statutory text or established interpretive principle to support the contention that the FDCA precludes Lanham Act suits like the one brought by POM in this case. Nothing in the text, history, or structure of the FDCA or the Lanham Act shows the congressional purpose or design to forbid these suites. Quite to the contrary, the FDCA and the Lanham Act complement each other in the federal regulation of misleading food and beverage labels. Competitors, in their own interest, may bring Lanham Act claims like POM's that challenge food and beverage labels that are regulated by the FDCA.
Now, if only someone — aside from John Oliver — would take Pom to court for its own product claims.