U.S. Supreme Court Holds That FDA Rules Do Not Preclude Competitor Claim for Misleading Food Label: Court Clarifies Relationship Between Lanham Act Private Right of Action and FDA Authority

Sullivan & Cromwell LLP - June 13, 2014

In POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co., the Supreme Court yesterday resolved a split among the federal courts of appeals over whether private parties can assert claims that food or beverage labels are false or misleading, in violation of the Lanham Act, even though such labels are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).  The Court held that competitors may bring such claims.  It reasoned that the Lanham Act’s focus on unfair competition and the FDCA’s focus on health and safety are complementary, and that Congress did not intend the FDCA to preclude suit under the Lanham Act.  The Court’s decision means that food and beverage manufacturers may be sued by competitors over the content of their product labels, even if those labels comply with FDA regulations.