Pom Wonderful 'Wins' Over Coke at Supreme Court

June 12, 2014
High court allows Pom's civil lawsuit over 0.3 percent pomegranate juice to proceed.

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled May 12 that POM Wonderful can sue Coca-Cola Cos. over what essentially is false advertising for a Minute Maid "Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices." The product contains just 0.3 percent pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent blueberry juice, with more than 99 percent of the formula provided by cheaper grape and apple juices.

All the legalistic mumbo-jumbo aside, perhaps Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, said it best. Media reports said he had tried the product and commented, "Don't make me feel bad, because I thought this was pomegranate juice."

What made this tiff a Supreme Court case were rulings by two lower courts that, regardless of the validity of Pom's claim, labeling questions are the domain of the FDA. Even in the face of inaction by the agency, that pre-empts civil lawsuits.

Pom cited the Lanham Act, which permits one company to sue another for false or misleading advertising. Coca-Cola relied on the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which leaves questions of labeling to the FDA.

Kennedy's opinion said Coke's marketing efforts "allegedly mislead and trick consumers, all to the injury of competitors."

The ruling was 8-0, with Justice Stephen Breyer recusing himself.

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