Supreme Court Finds Lanham Act False Advertising Claim Not Preempted By FDCA

Today (June 12, 2014), the Supreme Court issued its opinion in POM Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co. The POM case raised the question of whether a private suit for false advertising under Section 43 of the Lanham Act (15 USC 1125) was preempted by the provisions of the federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”), which sets forth requirements for product labelling and advertising.

In POM, the Supreme Court found that false advertising claims under Section 43 are not preempted by the FDCA. In so holding, the Court found that there was no statutory text or established interpretive principle to support the contention that the FDCA precluded Lanham Act suits like the one brought by POM. Instead, the Court explained that the FDCA and the Lanham Act complemented each other in the federal regulation of misleading food and beverage labels. The FDCA statutory regime was designed primarily to protect the health and safety of the public at large. Unlike the Lanham Act, which relied in substantial part for its enforcement on private suits brought by injured competitors, the FDCA provided the United States with nearly exclusive enforcement authority. Neither the Lanham Act nor the FDCA, in express terms, prohibited or limited Lanham Act claims challenging labels that were regulated by the FDCA.

In the final analysis, the Supreme Court emphasized that the Lanham Act protected commercial interests against unfair competition, while the FDCA protected public health and safety, and therefore concluded there was no preemption.

The POM decision can be found here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/12-761_6k47.pdf

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