On January 10, 2014, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in POM Wonderful, LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., following a Ninth Circuit denial of POM’s request for a rehearing en banc of its May 17, 2012 decision.
The case revolves around Coca-Cola's Minute Maid® Enhanced Pomegranate Blueberry Blend of 5 Juices. POM sued Coca-Cola for misrepresentation and deceiving its customers under §43(a) of the Lanham Act, which provides a private right of action against a competitor who “misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of his … goods.” Specifically, POM asserted that the product's name, label, and advertisements mislead customers to believe the drink is comprised predominantly of pomegranate and blueberry juices, while, in fact, the drink is only comprised of 0.3% and 0.2% of the juices, respectively. Both the district and circuit courts held that specific labeling regulations promulgated by the FDA authorize the product’s name and, therefore, prevent a claim from being brought under the Lanham Act.
The central question for the Supreme Court is “[w]hether the court of appeals erred in holding that a private party cannot bring a Lanham Act claim challenging a product label regulated under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.” In other words, do the FDA naming and labeling regulations preempt §43(a) of the Lanham Act?
The petition claims that the Ninth Circuit’s decision conflicts with Supreme Court precedent by failing to follow the irreconcilable conflict standard that states, where two or more federal statutes allegedly compete, both statutes will be given full effect unless an irreconcilable conflict exists between them. Here, the petition claims, the FDA regulations set a floor for product labeling, but they may still be found misleading under the Lanham Act.
The petition further claims that the Ninth Circuit’s decision conflicts with Third, Eighth, and Tenth Circuit precedence. Each of these circuits, the petition asserts, have ruled that the Lanham Act may coexist with FDA (or EPA) regulations.
The Court’s decision may establish a safe harbor from suits under the Lanham Act around Federal naming regulations.