The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to decide whether a rival drink-maker can sue Coca-Cola Co. (KO:US) for allegedly deceiving consumers about the amount of pomegranate juice in one of its beverages.
A federal appeals court barred the suit by Pom Wonderful LLC, saying Food and Drug Administration regulations authorize the Coca-Cola product’s name. The label on the drink says “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices,” with the first two words appearing in larger letters.
Pom Wonderful says the label is misleading because the drink contains only 0.3 percent pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent blueberry juice. Apple and grape juice constitute 99 percent of the juice, Pom Wonderful says.
The appeals court ruling “undermines the transparency that health-conscious consumers rightly expect so that they can make informed decisions about what they eat and drink,” Los Angeles-based Pom Wonderful said in an e-mailed statement.
Coca-Cola says the label accurately tells consumers that the product is a blend of fruits and tastes like pomegranate and blueberry.
“We are confident our labeling fully complies with applicable FDA regulations, as the lower courts have consistently found,” the Atlanta-based company said in an e-mailed statement.
The legal question is whether the Lanham Act, which authorizes false-advertising suits, can apply even when the FDA regulates a product.
A San Francisco-based federal appeals court threw out the suit saying, “we must respect the FDA’s apparent decision not to impose the requirements urged by Pom.”
Justices Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer didn’t take part in the court’s action today, raising the prospect that only seven members of the court will participate in the case. As is the court’s custom, Alito and Breyer gave no reasons.
The case is Pom Wonderful v. Coca-Cola, 12-761.
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