U.S. Supreme Court

POM Wonderful may sue over competitor's juice label, despite FDA regulation, SCOTUS rules

POM Wonderful may challenge the labeling of a competitor’s juice product as false advertising, even though the label is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the unanimous opinion (PDF) for eight members of the court; Justice Stephen G. Breyer did not participate in the case.

Pom had claimed a Minute Maid product blending five juices prominently displayed the words “pomegranate blueberry” on the label, though the juice contained less than 1 percent of those ingredients. The phrase “flavored blend of 5 juices” got lesser billing.

POM Wonderful claimed the labeling was deceptive and misleading, and it had the right to sue for unfair competition under the Lanham Act. Coca-Cola, which owns Minute Maid, countered that the suit was precluded by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which bars misleading labeling.

Kennedy rejected Coca-Cola’s argument. “Quite to the contrary,” he wrote, “the FDCA and the Lanham Act complement each other in the federal regulation of misleading food and beverage labels.”

Though the FDA has regulations governing juice labels, it does not preapprove the labels, Kennedy said. Nor does the agency pursue enforcement actions in all cases of objectionable labels.

“If Lanham Act claims were to be precluded then commercial interests—and indirectly the public at large—could be left with less effective protection in the food and beverage labeling realm than in many other, less regulated industries,” Kennedy said.

Prior coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Supremes appear skeptical of Coca-Cola claim it can’t be sued over juice label blessed by FDA”

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

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