On June 12, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., holding that competitors may bring a Lanham Act claim challenging a product label regulated under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).
In the case at issue, POM Wonderful, which sells a pomegranate-blueberry juice blend alongside its POM Wonderful 100 percent pomegranate juice and other juices, had sued competitor Coca-Cola under Section 43(a) of the Lanham Act, alleging that Coca-Cola’s “Pomegranate Blueberry” juice blend misleads consumers into believing that its product consists predominantly of pomegranate and blueberries when it contains only contains trace amounts of those juices.
POM decision: Potential impact on class actions
Before the Supreme Court issued its opinion, the POM Wonderful v. Coca-Cola case had had the potential to significantly impact the spate of ongoing class action lawsuits filed against various companies’ allegedly deceptive product labels. Defendants often battle these cases by arguing that the doctrine of primary jurisdiction applies: in other words, that consumers should defer to the FDA to speak out on such labeling issues. So, class action lawyers were hoping that the Court’s opinion might contain language that they could use to argue in support of their lawsuits (many of which are currently bogged down in procedural and jurisdictional red tape in the state courts). Hoping that the Supreme Court would hold in POM's favor, class action attorneys presumed they would be able to leverage some of the Court’s reasoning to argue that federal oversight of food and drink labels does not preempt their state-law labeling class action claims.