Advertising Law

Supremes appear skeptical of Coca-Cola claim it can't be sued over juice label blessed by FDA


Grilled by justices of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, a lawyer for Coca-Cola Co. insisted a competitor’s false advertising suit over a juice label should be banned because the label complies with a federal agency’s regulations.

But the nation’s top court appeared skeptical of this argument, amidst banter about one justice’s reading skills, according to the Associated Press and Reuters.

Customers should understand that a Minute Maid product labeled “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices” might, and in fact does, contain only a trace amount of actual pomegranate and blueberry juice. Plus, the juice’s label complies with Food and Drug Administration rules, argued attorney Kathleen Sullivan.

“Don’t make me feel bad because I thought that was pomegranate juice,” shot back Justice Anthony Kennedy. He also said the court should consider whether customers were being cheated.

Chief Justice John Roberts appeared dubious, too, about Coke’s argument that compliance with FDA label rules should provide a safe harbor from a Lanham Act lawsuit, the articles report.

“I don’t know why it’s impossible to have a label that fully complies with the FDA regulations and also happens to be misleading on the entirely different question of commercial competition, consumer confusion that has nothing to do with health,” said Roberts.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, found the Coca-Cola argument persuasive, and a Justice Department lawyer appearing for the Obama administration said juice seller Pom Wonderful shouldn’t be able to challenge the name of the drink, only aspects of the label not specifically approved by the FDA, explains the AP.

Attorney Seth Waxman argued on behalf of Pom Wonderful. He said federal law provides “a floor and not a ceiling,” specifying minimum standards that do not preclude false advertising claims.

As far as the Minute Maid juice is concerned, “What’s misleading consumers here is they have no way on God’s green earth of telling that the total amount of blueberry and pomegranate juice in this product can be dispensed with a single eyedropper,” Waxman said. “It amounts to a teaspoon in a half gallon.”

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “SCOTUS to decide if Pom Wonderful may challenge competitor’s label under federal law”

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