POM Wonderful is no longer just spilling over into new product areas; it is now also spilling over into other legal claims. In a recent post, we examined how the U.S. Supreme Court’s POM Wonderful decision about food and beverage labeling has already leaked into other product areas, including textile labeling. In that landmark case, the Court ruled that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FDCA) does not preclude claims brought under similar provisions of the Lanham Act. According to the Court, even though both acts “touch on” food and beverage labeling, they complement—rather than supplant—each other. The Lanham Act protects commercial interests, while the FDCA protects public health and safety (the Court apparently disregarded the economic adulteration components of the FDCA, despite the fact that labels and labeling are core components to how the FDCA regulates foods). A recent decision in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois has broadened POM Wonderful’s reach even further, beyond the Lanham Act and into state consumer protection laws.
In Ibarrola v. Kind, LLC, the plaintiff filed suit against Kind, a snack food manufacturer, alleging that Kind’s use of the term “evaporated cane juice” was misleading and deceptive. The plaintiff sought damages under the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The Ibarrola court dismissed the case for lack of standing and ruled that the plaintiff had no injury because she failed to allege what she thought evaporated cane juice was, if not some kind of sugar. Separately, the court considered the defendant’s primary jurisdiction argument—a concept that says that courts should stay or dismiss claims pending the resolution of an issue within the “special expertise” of an administrative agency, such as the FDA. (See our earlier post for more on this topic.) The defendant argued that, in light of the FDA’s recent announcement that it soon planned to issue guidance on the proper use of the term “evaporated cane juice,” the court should put the action on hold until the FDA had spoken definitively on the issue. The Ibarrola court was not convinced, however, and noted that POM Wonderful cast doubt on the defendant’s rationale because the Lanham Act is similar to the Illinois statute “in many respects.” Ultimately, the court declined to consider the argument in more depth, having already dismissed the case on other grounds.
Particularly because the court did not need to address the issue at all, its decision to analyze (even briefly) POM Wonderful in this context is telling. It suggests that POM Wonderful may be applied beyond the Lanham Act to claims brought under similar state consumer protection statutes. It also suggests that POM Wonderful might stand for the proposition that courts do not need the FDA’s “expertise” to determine whether a plaintiff has a claim, further emboldening plaintiffs to pursue actions against food companies. At the very least, Ibarrola is an example of how food labeling litigation is an ever-changing and unsettled area of law, one in which POM Wonderful’s reach continues to expand and grow.