The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held last week
that The Coca-Cola Company cannot be sued under the Lanham Act over
the name and labeling of a juice product that is authorized by FDA
regulations. In doing so, the Court handed Coca-Cola a significant
victory in a hard-fought case waged by the maker of Pom Wonderful
In 2008, Pom Wonderful sued Coca-Cola alleging that the name and
label of its Minute Maid Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5
Juices gives consumers the false impression that the product is
mostly pomegranate and blueberry juice when, in fact, the product
is a blend of juices that includes small amounts of pomegranate and
blueberry juice for flavor. In naming and labeling the juice,
however, Coca-Cola scrupulously followed the FDA's detailed
regulations governing flavored juice blends. The trial court
granted summary judgment in favor of Coca-Cola, holding that
allowing Pom to use the Lanham Act to dispute an FDA-authorized
juice label would undermine FDA's authority. The Ninth Circuit
The case presented the important question whether one federal
statutory scheme (in this case, the Federal Food, Drug, and
Cosmetic Act and FDA regulations) can preclude causes of action
under another federal statute such as the Lanham Act. The Ninth
Circuit recognized that the answer must be "yes."
Courts "must generally prevent parties from undermining,
through private litigation, the FDA's considered
judgments," the Ninth Circuit wrote, and courts also
"must keep in mind that we lack the FDA's expertise in
guarding against deception in the context of juice beverage
labeling." Thus, if Pom is unhappy about the labeling of its
competitors' products, "the appropriate forum for
Pom's complaints is the FDA."
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Pom's federal
claims, but remanded the case to the district court to reconsider
whether Pom has standing to pursue its claims under California
state law in light of two recent decisions from the California
Supreme Court. In doing so, however, the Ninth Circuit noted that,
even if the district court determines that Pom has standing, it
will also "need to address such issues as whether Pom's
state law claims are expressly preempted and whether
California's safe-harbor doctrine insulates Coca-Cola from
liability on any of Pom's state law claims" –
defenses that the district has previously indicated would likely
result in judgment in favor of Coca-Cola.
The Ninth Circuit's decision is the clearest articulation to
date of the principle that "the Lanham Act may not be used as
a vehicle to usurp, preempt, or undermine FDA authority." As
such, it gives all advertisers of FDA-regulated products something
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