Friday, May 18, 2012

Rejection of Lanham Act Juice Blend Labeling Challenge Upheld; California Law Claims Revived

This posting was written by William Zale, Editor of CCH Advertising Law Guide.

Pom Wonderful, a seller of pomegranate juice and juice blends, was precluded from asserting Lanham Act false advertising claims based on Coca Cola's naming and labeling of “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices,” the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled yesterday. The product contained about 99.4% apple and grape juices, 0.3% pomegranate juice, 0.2% blueberry juice, and 0.1% raspberry juice, according to the court.

A ruling that Pom Wonderful failed to assert an injury in fact under the California Unfair Competition Law (UCL) and False Advertising Law (FAL) was vacated and remanded for further proceedings. Not considered on Pom’s appeal from the decision of the federal district court in Los Angeles (CCH Advertising Law Guide ¶63,889) was a ruling that Pom can pursue Lanham Act claims that consumers were confused by Coca Cola's intentionally misleading marketing and advertising (apart from naming and labeling) of the pomegranate-blueberry flavored blend.

Food Labeling Regulation

Pom’s challenge to the name “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices” would create a conflict with Food and Drug Administration regulations and would undermine the FDA’s apparent determination that so naming the product is not misleading, the court determined. As to labeling, Pom apparently wanted to force Coca-Cola to alter the size of the words on its label so that the words “Pomegranate Blueberry” would no longer appear in larger, more conspicuous type on Coca-Cola’s label than did the words “Flavored Blend of 5 Juices.”

Congress and the FDA had considered and spoken to what content a label must bear, and the relative sizes in which the label must bear it, so as not to deceive. Despite speaking extensively to how prominently required words or statements must appear, the FDA had not required that all words in a juice blend’s name appear on the label in the same size or that words hew to some other standard. Coca-Cola’s label presumptively complied with the relevant FDA regulations and thus accorded with the judgments the FDA had so far made, the court held.

California Law

In rejecting the claims under California law, the district court had interpreted statutory “lost money or property” language to require a plaintiff to show that it is entitled to restitution from the defendant—even if the plaintiff seeks only injunctive relief. That was error in light of California Supreme Court rulings making it clear that standing under UCL Section 17204 of the Unfair Competition Law and FAL Section 17535 did not depend on eligibility for restitution, the court concluded.

The May 17 decision in Pom Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., No. 10-55861, will be reported at CCH Advertising Law Guide ¶64,708 and CCH 2012-1 Trade Cases ¶77,892.

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