June 13, 2014
Contact: Ben Klein, National Consumers League, firstname.lastname@example.org, (202) 835-3323
Washington, DC -- The National Consumers League applauds yesterday’s Supreme Court decision supporting the juice maker Pom Wonderful’s lawsuit against Coca Cola. This is a huge victory for consumer protection.
“The Coca Cola juice product contained .5% of pomegranate and blueberry juice and is the epitome of deceptive advertising,” said the League’s executive director, Sally Greenberg. “Coca Cola tried to argue that the FDA laws preempt a private lawsuit against it. They lost the argument, and we are pleased that the makers of Pom Wonderful pressed their case against Minute Maid juice, which has outrageously labeled their product with pictures of pomegranate and blueberries despite the fact that very little of this juice is in the drink. This is false and deceptive advertising of the worst kind. Moreover, the Supreme Court preserved the Lanham Act’s provision for private lawsuits by competitors, a very important avenue for enforcing false and deceptive claims laws.”
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the unanimous decision for the court, saying that the Minute Maid juice product contained a “minuscule amount of pomegranate and blueberry juices.” More specifically, he said, it is made up of “99.4 percent apple and grape juices, 0.3 percent pomegranate juice, 0.2 percent blueberry juice and 0.1 percent raspberry juice.”
“The product’s front label,” he added, “also displays a vignette of blueberries, grapes, and raspberries in front of a halved pomegranate and a halved apple.” Lower courts had dismissed Pom’s lawsuit, accepting Coca Cola’s argument that the FDA has exclusive enforcement authority. Instead, the Supreme Court found that FDA law could be harmonized with the Lanham Act, a false advertising statute that permits private lawsuits, and that they can be applied in a complimentary fashion.
Justice Kennedy was animated at the April oral argument on this case, speaking as a consumer who genuinely believed what was on the Minute Maid Juice label.
If “Coca-Cola stands behind this label as being fair to consumers,” Justice Kennedy told the company’s lawyer, “then I think you have a very difficult case to make. I think it’s relevant for us to ask whether people are cheated in buying this product.”
The lawyer, Kathleen M. Sullivan retorted, “We don’t think that consumers are quite as unintelligent as Pom must think they are,” adding, “They know when something is a flavored blend of five juices and the non-predominant juices are just a flavor.”
Justice Kennedy frowned. “Don’t make me feel bad,” he said, “because I thought that this was pomegranate juice.”
About the National Consumers League
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.