POM WONDERFUL, LLC v. THE COCA-COLA COMPANY

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
12-761
Petitioner 
Pom Wonderful, LLC
Respondent 
The Coca-Cola Company
Decided By 
Advocates
(for the petitioner)
(Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States as amicus curiae supporting the petitioner)
(for the respondent)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Pom Wonderful, LLC (Pom Wonderful), a California-based beverage company, sold various types of juice, including a pomegranate blueberry juice blend. In 2007, Coca-Cola Company (Coca-Cola) announced its own version of a pomegranate blueberry juice. In 2008, Pom Wonderful sued Coca-Cola in federal district court and argued that Coca-Cola misled consumers into believing that Coca-Cola’s product contained pomegranate and blueberry juices when it actually contained 99% apple and grape juices and only 0.5% pomegranate and blueberry juice. Specifically, Pom Wonderful claimed that Coca-Cola violated provisions of the Lanham Act, a federal law prohibiting false advertising, as well as California’s false advertising and unfair competition laws. The lawsuit challenged the name, labeling, marketing, and advertising of Coca-Cola’s product.

The district court held that Pom Wonderful’s claims regarding the name and label of the juice were barred by a separate law, the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FDCA). The FDCA allows the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the labels on, among other items, juices. Because the FDA has exclusive authority to file claims for violations of the FDCA, the court feared that a decision under the Lanham Act would undercut the FDA’s authority to regulate juice labels. After both parties gathered evidence, the court granted summary judgment in favor of Coca-Cola on the name and label issues. Although the court gave Pom Wonderful the opportunity to proceed to trial on the remaining issues, Pom Wonderful conceded that it could not win without the name and label issues. Pom Wonderful appealed.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision to bar Pom Wonderful’s claim with respect to the name and labeling of Coca-Cola’s juice. It vacated the lower court’s ruling in favor of Coca-Cola, instead allowing Pom Wonderful’s case to proceed on the remaining claims.

Question 

Did the U.S. Court of Appeals err when it held that FDA regulations barred Pom Wonderful’s claim for false advertising under the Lanham Act?

Conclusion 
Decision: 8 votes for POM Wonderful LLC, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Lanham Act

Yes. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy delivered the opinion for the 8-0 majority. The Court held that, while it is the duty of the courts to harmonize statutes, the best way to do that in this case does not entail barring POM Wonderful’s Lanham Act claims. Neither the Lanham Act nor the FDCA explicitly forbids or limits Lanham Act claims on labels that the FDCA regulates. The Court held that, because the Lanham Act and the FDCA have coexisted since the passage of the Lanham Act in 1946 without Congress addressing the issue, Congress has evidently not seen a problem with their potential interferences. Therefore, holding that the FDCA precludes the operation of the Lanham Act would represent a disregard for the legislative intent of having the two statutes complement one another.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer did not take part in the discussion or decision of this case.

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POM WONDERFUL, LLC v. THE COCA-COLA COMPANY. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 24 November 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_12_761>.
POM WONDERFUL, LLC v. THE COCA-COLA COMPANY, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_12_761 (last visited November 24, 2014).
"POM WONDERFUL, LLC v. THE COCA-COLA COMPANY," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed November 24, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2013/2013_12_761.