- Pom Wonderful has accused a Coke brand of deceptive labeling
- At issue was whether a labeling law clashed with private efforts to sue under a separate law
- The laws "complement each other" in regulating misleading food and drink labels, court says
A competitor of the Coca-Cola Company can bring a private lawsuit against the beverage giant over allegations of false advertising in a juice product, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
The 8-0 decision is a win for Pom Wonderful, a California-based firm. It claimed Coke's Minute Maid brand was cheating consumers through deceptive labeling in its Pomegranate Blueberry beverage, which the court said "in truth ... contains but 0.3% pomegranate juice and 0.2% blueberry juice."
At issue was whether one federal law regulating and enforcing food labeling preempted or overrode efforts by private parties to bring lawsuits under a separate federal law.
Those two laws are the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, or FDCA, and the Lanham Act.
"Nothing in the text, history, or structure of the FDCA or the Lanham Act shows the congressional purpose or design to forbid these (private) suits," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the unanimous court. "Quite to the contrary, the FDCA and the Lanham Act complement each other in the federal regulation of misleading food and beverage labels. Competitors, in their own interest, may bring Lanham Act claims like POM's that challenge food and beverage labels that are regulated by the FDCA."
Lower courts had sided with Georgia-based Coca-Cola, a global brand. But the justices concluded that while the federal government can go after misleading labels, private parties can also challenge "practices that allegedly mislead and trick consumers."
POM Wonderful, which produces pomegranate juices and products, has also faced allegations of deceptive advertising. It was separately sued by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010, for making "false and unsubstantiated" health claims, and the agency had asked POM to remove the claims from its ads.
The current case is POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca Cola Company (12-761). Justice Stephen Breyer did not participate in deciding this appeal.