Supreme Court Rules Against Coke in False Advertising Suit
Statement of CSPI Litigation Director Steve Gardner
The Supreme Court's unanimous decision today in POM Wonderful v. Coca-Cola Co. is a clear and unequivocal victory for consumers as well as competitors. The Court recognized that companies don’t have a safe haven from being sued for deception just by complying with FDA’s minimal regulations.
The Court recognized that federal food laws and regulations are not the only game in town, and that companies have a responsibility to comply with other laws (in this case, the federal Lanham Act, which is aimed at preventing unfair competition). The language and logic of the opinion also apply to private consumer protection lawsuits, such as the cases brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The opinion notes that FDA admits that it doesn't take action in every instance of deceptive labeling. Indeed, years of lax enforcement by FDA on labeling have led to a marketplace that produces more confusion than clarity. Coca-Cola's brazen attempt to market a "Pomegranate-Blueberry" juice that contained only a tiny percentage of either pomegranates or blueberries is just the tip of the iceberg.
In the past, CSPI has brought suits for similar wrongs—"fruit snacks" with tiny amounts of fruit in them, "made with whole grain" breads with little or no whole grains, and junky soft drinks sold as healthful beverages.
In allowing Lanham Act suits to go forward, the Court has given its blessing to a valuable tool for companies to use to patrol their competitors' products for just this kind of commonplace deception. The result should be a healthier and far more transparent marketplace for foods.
CSPI joined in an amicus brief in this case, represented by the Public Citizen Litigation Group.
Contact Jeff Cronin (jcronin[at]cspinet.org) or Ariana Stone (astone[at]cspinet.org).