U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Broad FDA Preclusion in Pom Wonderful Lanham Act Case

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On June 12, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an 8-0 ruling1 in favor of Pom Wonderful in a long standing false advertising dispute against rival beverage company Coca-Cola. Reversing the Ninth Circuit’s broad FDA preclusion ruling, the Supreme Court held that competitors can bring Lanham Act claims like Pom Wonderful’s challenging food and beverage labels regulated by the FDA. While a blow to FDA primacy in the context of federal business-to-business Lanham Act claims, the Supreme Court made clear that Pom Wonderful does not address the preemption of state law claims. Despite this limitation, the ruling creates uncertainty for the food and beverage industry, and paves the way for more competitor false advertising disputes.

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Pom Wonderful (Pom) produces, markets, and sells pomegranate juice, including a pomegranate-blueberry juice blend. In 2007, Coca-Cola announced a new product in its Minute Maid line, called “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices,” which is 99% apple and grape juice. Pom sued Coca-Cola, alleging that the juice’s name and other labeling features were misleading under the federal Lanham Act—a statute that allows competitors to sue based on the false or misleading description of goods (15 U.S.C. § 1125(a)).

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