Pom Wonderful, Coca-Cola at the Supreme Court

April 22, 2014
Pom sues Coke over pomegranate drink that is 0.3 percent pomegranate.

It's not often food & beverage processors fight each other publicly, and even rarer when their argument ends up in the U.S. Supreme Court. But the high court this week is asked to settle a six-year-old dispute between POM Wonderful and Coca-Cola Cos. over how much pomegranate juice is needed for a pomegranate drink.

According to reports, Coca-Cola in September 2007 introduced a Minute Maid "Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices.” According to one report, it contained about 99.4 percent apple and grape juices, 0.3 percent pomegranate juice, 0.2 percent blueberry juice, and 0.1 percent raspberry juice.

A year later, POM Wonderful sued Coca-Cola under the federal Lanham Act, which involves false advertising claims. The law permits civil action against anyone who “misrepresents the nature, characteristics or qualities” of the goods being sold.

One of the first questions before the high court is whether one company can sue another over a dispute that might best be settled by the FDA. A lower appellate court rejected POM wonderful's lawsuit, concluding the FDA had labeling oversight.

Side issues are federal pre-emption of state laws and the virtues of uniform federal regulations. The case should be decided by the end of June.

Seth Waxman, the Clinton administration’s solicitor general, represents POM Wonderful. Coca-Cola’s counsel is Kathleen Sullivan, a former dean of the Stanford Law School whose name has previously been floated as a potential Supreme Court nominee. Yet another former solicitor general, Paul Clement, authored a brief supporting Coca-Cola on behalf of the American Beverage Assn. – all that according to a McClatchy DC report.

POM Wonderful is owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick and their Roll Global holding company – which itself is facing deceptive advertising claims by the Federal Trade Commission over the curative effects of pomegranates.

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