Justice Kennedy Loves Pomegranate Juice, Won't Let Coca-Cola Hoodwink Him Any Longer
Do beverage companies have the right to mislead you and hurt competitors with their labels? Not anymore, according to the Supreme Court. On Thursday morning, the Supreme Court permitted false advertising lawsuits against beverage companies like Coca-Cola to move forward if the products' labels were intentionally tricking consumers. Coca-Cola's Minute Maid brand had been sued by juice competitor Pom Wonderful, which alleged that Coke was selling a "pomegranate" fruit drink that had almost zero pomegranate in it.
So what's up with the Minute Maid Enhanced Pomegranate Blueberry drink? Despite the product's label, the actual drink contains 99 percent apple and grape juice. Just 0.3 percent of the beverage is pomegranate juice, and only 0.2 percent is blueberry juice. Pom Wonderful, which has its own pomegranate beverage, was offended by the misleading label, claiming that it harmed its business.
The case pitted together two federal laws: the Lanham Act, which allows private lawsuits from competing businesses over false advertising, and the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, which is primarily enforced by federal regulators. Lower courts previously dismissed the Pom Wonderful-Coca-Cola case, claiming that the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for the regulation of drink labels. However, the Supreme Court concluded that these two laws complement each other, and so the lawsuit is valid.
Although the high court was unanimous in its decision, there was one justice who showed a little more enthusiasm than the rest. As it turns out, Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the opinion, has a lot of feelings about juice. Like, a lot.
Kennedy Swears By The Label
During the oral arguments last April, Kennedy admitted that he was confused by the label when he first purchased the drink. Specifically, he couldn't understand how a beverage that clearly said "pomegranate" on the label had only 0.3 percent of pomegranate juice in it. (We don't really get that one, either.)
Once again, Kennedy again emphasized his confusion over the Minute Maid label in the court's opinion, going into elaborate detail:
Despite the minuscule amount of pomegranate and blueberry juices in the blend, the front label of the Coca-Cola product displays the words “pomegranate blueberry” in all capital letters, on two separate lines. ... The product’s front label also displays a vignette of blueberries, grapes and raspberries in front of a halved pomegranate and a halved apple.
He Feels Cheated
After discovering that the alleged pomegranate juice he just spent $3 on is really just apple juice with a few drops of pomegranate, Kennedy felt he — and every American citizen — was hoodwinked by Coca-Cola.
“I think it’s relevant for us to ask whether people are cheated in buying this product," Kennedy said during the arugments. He added that if Coca-Cola could "stand behind this label," then they don't have much of a case.
Don't Make Him Feel Bad About It
During the oral arguments, Kathleen Sullivan, defending Coca-Cola in the case, asserted that Pom Wonderful was underestimating juice drinkers. All juice consumers know they're receiving a blend rather than real juice, right? “We don’t think that consumers are quite as unintelligent as POM must think they are," Sullivan said.
Kennedy didn't like that answer very much. In fact, he felt insulted by it. “Don’t make me feel bad because I thought that this was pomegranate juice," Kennedy told her.
He Has A Friend In Justice Alito
While Kennedy was the only justice to admit being fooled by the Minute Maid product during the arguments, Justice Alito did step in to defend him.
"There are a lot of people who buy pomegranate juice because they think it has health benefits," Alito said. "They would be very surprised to find when they bring home this bottle [that is has] what is it, less than one-half of one percent pomegranate juice."
Justice Kennedy, as we know, was one of them.