POM WONDERFUL, LLC v. THE COCA-COLA COMPANY
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.
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?