Supreme Court (U.S.)

POM notches legal win in Coke's fruit juice battle

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that drink producer POM Wonderful can sue over allegations that Coca-Cola has misled consumers over its marketing of Minute Maid pomegranate blueberry juice.

The court ruled in favor of POM on an 8-0 vote, with Justice Stephen Breyer recused. POM had filed a lawsuit against Coca-Cola saying that it had misled customers by selling a pomegranate blueberry juice even though it had 0.5 percent of the two juices. Both a U.S. District Court in California and a federal appeals court said that POM could not bring its claims under the federal Lanham Act but the Supreme Court reversed that finding.

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Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote on behalf of a unanimous court that challenges such as POM's are permitted even though food and beverage labels are regulated under another federal law, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The lower courts had said that it was the prerogative of the Food and Drug Administration, and not private parties, to object to juice labels which are potentially misleading.

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Kennedy wrote that, contrary to what Coca-Cola argued, the two laws complement each other. He noted, for example, that the FDA ``does not have the same perspective or expertise in assessing market dynamics that day-to-day competitors possess.''

POM, which makes a product that is 100 percent pomegranate juice, had filed the lawsuit saying that the Minute Maid juice label was misleading and would hurt sales for its own product.

The Minute Maid juice is sold as a "Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices.'' It is mostly apple and grape juice with just 0.3 percent pomegranate juice and 0.2 percent blueberry juice, according to a POM court filing.

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Pomegranate and blueberries are popular with health-conscious Americans because they contain antioxidants that some believe prevent cancer and heart disease, although the science behind that belief is unclear.

Justices do not usually reveal why they recuse themselves in cases so it not known why Breyer did not participate. The case is POM Wonderful LLC v. The Coca-Cola Company, No. 12-761.

— By Reuters