False advertising claims under the Lanham Act and corresponding state law claims for food companies can be tough going. Many intersect issues regulated by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA). No private right of enforcement of the FDA regulations exists. Only the FDA is allowed to bring a legal action to enforce its regulations. Lanham Act claims are generally barred where private litigants ask the court to determine preemptively how the FDA will interpret its own regulations.
Now comes the recent decision in POM Wonderful LLC v. Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. POM is aggrieved because Ocean Spray markets pomegranate and cranberry blended juices though, according to POM, the juices are “almost entirely comprised of apple and grape juice.” POM is alleging Lanham Act false advertising claims and California state law false advertising and unfair competition claims.
The court denied a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. Threading the needle, the Court found that the claims were not seeking FFDCA enforcement. According the Court, POM’s claims are not for “mislabeling,” but for false advertising and promotion. The court determined it would not have to interpret FDA regulations and that “POM’s Lanham Act claim ‘extend beyond the packaging and name . . . to its advertising and marketing including . . . website.” Applying similar logic, the court found that the FFDCA did not preempt POM’s state law claims.
Lesson from the POM court: Whether one food company can bring false advertising claims against another depends in part on whether a court believes that the claims are focused on non-FFDCA-regulated issues such as advertising, websites, social media or other marketing efforts.