U.S. high court agrees to hear Coca-Cola labeling dispute

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 10, 2014 3:07pm EST

WASHINGTON Jan 10 (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to weigh in on a dispute between POM Wonderful LLC and Coca-Cola Co. over Coke's labeling of a product marketed as pomegranate blueberry juice.

POM Wonderful has accused Coke of falsely labeling and advertising the juice product, saying the beverage giant misled consumers into believing the drink, marketed under the Minute Maid brand, consisted primarily of pomegranate and blueberry juices.

POM, which produces its own pomegranate-based juice products, says the drink contained mainly apple and grape juices.

The court said in a brief order issued on Friday that two justices, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito, will not participate in the case.

A lower court ruled in favor of Coca-Cola. In May 2012, the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that POM may have standing to pursue some state law claims against Coca-Cola.

The 9th Circuit upheld the lower court's judgment in favor of Coca-Cola on other federal law claims. POM sought Supreme Court review of that part of the decision.

The legal question is whether the 9th Circuit was wrong to conclude that POM, as a private party, could not make its complaint under a federal trademark law when the product in question was regulated under the U.S. Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

The Obama administration filed a brief urging the court not to hear the case, although government lawyers said there were some problems with the court of appeals' rationale in deciding the case.

A decision is due by the end of June.

The case is POM Wonderful v. Coca-Cola, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-761.

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