POM Wonderful LLC sued Coke over the drink's label, which says “Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of 5 Juices,” with the first two words in larger letters. The label also refers to the drink, marketed under Coke's Minute Maid unit, as a "100 percent juice product."
POM Wonderful, which produces its own pomegranate-based juice products, says 99 percent of Coke's juice is either apple or grape. The Los Angeles company says Coke is deceiving the public into thinking the drink's primary ingredients are pomegranate and blueberry juice.
Coke counters that the label accurately tells consumers the drink is a blend of fruits and tastes like pomegranate and blueberry.
The case involves conflicting federal laws and has broad ramifications regarding which ones have the ultimate say in determining if product labels are false or misleading.
POM Wonderful contends the label constitutes an unfair trade practice and sued Coke under trademark law. Coke says that because the Food and Drug Administration hasn't taken action against the company for the label, it's in the clear. Lower courts sided with Coke.
But POM Wonderful says Coke violated another federal law that regulates product labels – the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA). The lower courts rejected POM Wonderful's claim, but the debate has created legal confusion as to which entity has the authority to regular drink labels.
The Obama administration filed a brief urging the court not to hear the case, though technically it hasn't taken a position.
Justices Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer initially recused themselves from the case. As is the high court's custom, they gave no reason. But court documents disclosed Wednesday that Alito would take part.
SCOTUSBlog's Lyle Denniston said there has been no indication of a change in Breyer’s position.
A ruling on the case is expected by late June.