The plaintiff alleges POM misled consumers with claims that it could benefit atherosclerosis; blood pressure; prostate cancer; erectile function; cardiovascular disease; cholesterol levels and other age related medical conditions.
The action, lodged in August, cites Food and Drug Administration, National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus and the UK Advertising Standards Authority warnings against some of POM’s claim making as grounds for the complaint.
It comes at a time POM is fighting battles on many fronts. Just this week it sued the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over standards the agency is employing when assessing the veracity of claims. Read NutraIngredients-USA’s coverage of that case here.
The week also saw a verdict delivered in a case POM mounted against fellow juice maker Welch’s over its own pomegranate juice claims. Welch’s was told to amend labeling that was found to imply its juices were 100 per cent pomegranate when they were not, but the court found, while this had deceived consumers, it had not damaged POM’s own business and therefore awarded no damages.
Ongoing are actions POM has mounted against Coca Cola Minute Maid, PepsiCo Tropicana and Ocean Spray alleging misleading claims about the contents of their pomegranate-containing juice products.
In its defense Coke said its Minute Maid pomegranate-containing juice met FDA labeling requirements, which the US District Court of California agreed with in a summary judgment. But POM is appealing that verdict in the 9th Circuit Appeals Court.
Ivan Wasserman, a Washington DC-based advertising and labeling attorney at Manatt Phelps & Phillips, said the class action filed by Robbins, Geller, Rudman and Dowd was indicative of a developing claims-skeptical environment in the US.
"Even for companies working diligently to accurately communicate the health benefits of their products, it seems like it is becoming almost inevitable that if you have success in the market at some point you will find yourself defending a class action,” he said. “It is a real shame. In our practice, we are seeing more and more every year."
New York-based food and drug attorney Marc Ullman from Ullman Shapiro and Ullman agreed and questioned the motivation of the Florida action and many others.
“I’m not surprised to see actions like this but most of these actions are not motivated by public health concern, rather firms and individuals chasing a quick buck,” he said.
The class action alleges violations of Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and breach of express warranty. It seeks restitution, disgorgement, declaratory and injunctive relief, a corrective advertising campaign, costs, and attorney’s fees.
POM is also involved in action with its former legal firm, Hogan Lovells, over unpaid legal fees. It was in this case that an FTC investigation into POM’s activities was revealed and which led POM to seek and win an injunction against media reporting of that investigation.