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United States v. Coca Cola Co. - 241 U.S. 265, 36 S. Ct. 573 (1916)

Rule:

Section 8 of the Food and Drugs Act, June 30, 1906, c. 3915, 34 Stat. 768, in its Fourth specification, as to "food," provides that the article shall be deemed to be "misbranded" if the package containing it or its label shall bear any statement, design, or device regarding the ingredients or the substances contained therein, which shall be false or misleading in any particular. Then follows a proviso that an article not containing any added poisonous or deleterious ingredients shall not be deemed to be misbranded in the case of mixtures or compounds which may be now or from time to time hereafter known as articles of food, under their own distinctive names, and not an imitation of or offered for sale under the distinctive name of another article, if the name is accompanied with a statement of the place where the article has been produced.

Facts:

The United States brought a libel action for condemnation under the Food and Drugs Act of a certain quantity of a food product known as "Coca Cola" transported, for sale, from Atlanta, Georgia, to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was alleged that the product was adulterated and misbranded. The allegation of adulteration was, in substance, that the product contained an added poisonous or added deleterious ingredient, caffeine, which might render the product injurious to health. It was alleged to be misbranded in that the name "Coca Cola" was a representation of the presence of the substances coca and cola; that the product "contained no coca and little if any cola" and thus, was an "imitation" of these substances and was offered for sale under their "distinctive name." The company admitted that its product contained a small amount of caffeine, but that it was not added to the product as a poisonous or deleterious ingredient making the product injurious. The company also claimed that the product contained certain substances derived from coca leaves and cola nuts and that "Coca Cola" was the distinctive name of the product. The trial court entered a directed verdict in favor of the company, the judgment of which the court of appeals affirmed.

Issue:

Did the trial court err in entering a directed verdict in favor of the company?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court reversed the grant of directed verdict in favor of Coca-Cola, holding that in this case, under § 8 of the Act, it could not be said as matter of law that the company's product's name was not primarily descriptive of a compound with coca and cola ingredients, as charged. The Court held that if the name was found to be descriptive, there would clearly be a conflict of evidence with respect to the presence of coca ingredient.

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