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Federal Food, Drug, And Cosmetic Act Did Not Preclude Lanham Act Challenge That Asserted That Labeling, Marketing, And Advertising Was Misleading

On June 12, 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., 189 L. Ed. 2d 141 (U.S. 2014). POM Wonderful, LLC  (POM) filed its initial action against Coca-Cola asserting that the labeling, marketing, and advertising for one of Coca-Cola’s juice blends was misleading because it led consumers to believe that the blend consisted primarily of pomegranate and blueberry juice when it in fact consisted predominantly of apple and grape juices. POM claimed that confusion arose and as a result, it lost sales of its own pomegranate/blueberry juice. 

In Pom Wonderful LLC v. Coca Cola Co., 727 F. Supp. 2d 849 (C.D. Cal. 2010), the United States District Court for the Central District of California granted partial summary judgment in favor of Coca-Cola after determining that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), specifically 21 USCS § 343, precluded POM’s Lanham Act, 15 USCS § 1051, challenge. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., 679 F.3d 1170 (9th Cir. Cal. 2012), affirmed in relevant part. 

In its petition for certiorari, POM contended that the Lanham Act’s purpose was to protect unfair competition while the FDCA regulated food and beverage labeling. POM maintained that the FDCA did not preclude its challenge to the juice blend in question in this case. POM asserted that the Ninth Circuit’s decision in the case created substantial conflict with other courts’ decisions and therefore should not be left to stand. 

The Supreme Court agreed. It noted that this was not a pre-emption case and therefore the FDCA did not preclude POM’s action under the Lanham Act. It also noted that this was a statutory interpretation case and because neither the Lanham Act nor the FDCA explicitly forbade such an action, the action could proceed. The case was reversed and remanded for further proceedings.  

The United States Supreme Court briefs for the case can be found here. The transcript for the oral argument before the Supreme Court is here

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