Coca-Cola suffers setback in juice labeling lawsuit

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

The juice blend at the heart of all this legal wrangling was discontinued in late 2014 following disappointing sales
The juice blend at the heart of all this legal wrangling was discontinued in late 2014 following disappointing sales

Related tags Supreme court Pomegranate juice Coca-cola The coca-cola company

A California judge has refused to throw out a false advertising lawsuit accusing Coca-Cola of misleading shoppers by marketing a juice comprised almost entirely of apple and grape juice as a ‘Pomegranate Blueberry flavored blend of 5 juices’.

The class action* – filed in 2009 by plaintiff Niloofar Saeidian - mirrors a high-profile lawsuit filed by POM Wonderful v Coca-Cola in 2008 over the same product that ultimately wound up in the Supreme Court in 2014.

The Minute Maid juice - which contains 0.3% pomegranate juice, 0.2% blueberry juice and 0.1% raspberry juice... and 99.4% of cheaper apple & grape juice - was discontinued in May 2014 owing to poor sales, but remains at the heart of a major legal spat over food labeling.

While Coca-Cola said it followed the letter of the law (the FDCA or federal Food Drug & Cosmetic Act) covering juice labeling (by describing the beverage as a 'flavored blend of 5 juices' and including pictures of all of them on the label), US district judge S. James Otero said that this didn’t mean consumers couldn’t be misled.  

Apparently FDCA compliant labels can still be misleading

In an order denying Coke’s motion for summary judgment filed on July 6, 2015, Otero said that the Supreme Court had made it clear (in its opinion​ in the POM v Coke case) that compliance with the minimum requirements of the FDCA did not provide a shield from liability given that the FDCA also​ requires that labels are not false and misleading.

“TheSupreme Court's… opinion in POM Wonderful… explicitly rejected the ​‘[assumption] that the FDCA and its regulations are at least in some circumstances a ceiling on the regulation of food and beverage labeling’.” 

He added: “The Court has been persuaded by these subsequent decisions that the FDCA’s ban on labels that are ‘false or misleading in any particular’ is broad enough that the state laws at issue here are not preempted​."

Coca-Cola did not respond to a request for comment.

POM v Coke case STILL going after seven years

Meanwhile, the POM v Coke case is still moving through the courts, with a trial date set for March 2016.

In a July 7 order denying POM’s request to amend its complaint for a second time, Otero observed how the case had set a new precedent: “This case spans nearly seven years in litigation and includes a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court and remand from the Ninth Circuit.”

Walmart cranberry pomegranate juice cropped

A near-identical  false advertising case​ filed vs Walmart in July 2014 in Florida over its Great Value 100% Cranberry Pomegranate flavored juice blend (which contains hardly any cranberry or pomegranate juice) is also proceeding through the courts, after judge Mark E Walker denied Walmart's attempt to dismiss the case in April 2015.

*The cases are:​ Niloofar Saeidian v The Coca Cola Company (No. 2:09-cv-06309-SJO-JPR), POM Wonderful LLC v The Coca-Cola Co (No 2:08-cv-06237-SJO-FMO), and Ira Reynolds and Patricia Bell et al v Walmart Stores Inc (No . 4:14cv381-MW/CAS).

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