Supreme Court Allows POM to Sue Coke, Woman Seeks Canadian Refuge from US Conviction, Man Freed After Juror Error

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jun 13, 2014

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This week, the Supreme Court permitted POM Wonderful to proceed with its misleading labeling lawsuit against Coca-Cola, a Florida woman finds refuge in Canada from her statutory rape conviction, and a man is acquitted of burglary after juror error.

Supreme Court Allows POM Wonderful to Sue Coca Cola for Misleading Product Labeling

Earlier this week, juice company POM Wonderful LLC was granted the legal right to proceed with its misleading advertising lawsuit against Coca-Cola under the Lanham Act – a federal statute that allows one competitor to sue another competitor for false or misleading product labeling.  The case arose when Minute Maid, owned by Coca-Cola, labeled a juice blend containing pomegranate as “pomegranate-blueberry” flavored despite the fact that the product is 99.4% apple and grape and contains only trace amounts of pomegranate and blueberry. POM filed the Lanham Act suit alleging Minute Maid’s product was labeled pomegranate-blueberry improperly by highlighting two flavors that directly compete with POM’s pomegranate-blueberry juice.

Coca-Cola argued that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) precluded a Lanham Act lawsuit because it gave authority to regulate misleading labels solely to the FDA.  The Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed with Coca-Cola, holding that the FDCA demonstrated Congress’s intent to “entrust matters of juice beverage labeling to the FDA,” thus taking the authority to determine whether or not Minute Maid’s label was misleading away from the courts.  In a unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court determined that Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on juice labeling were not barriers to lawsuits for misleading advertising under the Lanham Act.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion held that the FDCA and the Lanham complement each other in the regulation of food and beverage labels.  Pointing out that the FDA has authority to govern juice labeling, but it does not preapprove labels or pursue enforcement in all cases, the Court did not agree that the FDA had exclusive authority to regulate misleading juice labels.  Holding that the FDCA and Lanham Act, which serve two different purposes and provide two separate remedies, are not conflicting statutes, the Supreme Court rejected Coca-Cola’s claim that the Lanham Act cannot be used to enforce misleading juice branding, and allowed POM to proceed with its lawsuit. 

US Woman Convicted of Having Sex with a Teen Finds Asylum in Canada

Canada gave a Florida woman permission to apply for permanent residency after she fled across the border to avoid a lengthy prison sentence in the United States.  Florida resident Denise Harvey, 47, was convicted in 2008 for having sex with a 16-year-old boy on her son’s baseball team and sentenced to 30 years in prison.  In 2009, Harvey, her husband, and her son fled to Saskatchewan in order for Denise to avoid jail.  In 2011 she was arrested by Canadian authorities, and has spent the last three years fighting for refugee protection, claiming her sentence was cruel and unusual punishment.

Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board granted Harvey’s petition, noting that there was no evidence that the sexual relationship was not consensual, and that encounter was only a crime because of the age difference.  In Canada, where the age of consent is 16, officials determined that the lengthy sentence Harvey faced was not only cruel and unusual punishment by Canadian standards, but by also by “accepted international standards.”  Last July, a Canadian judge overturned the IRB’s decision on appeal, however, the country’s immigration officials have thus far declined to take additional action – giving Harvey the opportunity to remain in Saskatchewan and even renew her claim for refugee status.

Accused Burglar Freed After Jury Mistake

A California man accused of burglary was set free when the jury in his trial signed a not-guilty verdict on a form by mistake.  Fresno County Superior Court Judge, W. Kent Hamlin, ordered that Bobby Lee Pearson be released after a not-guilty verdict had been put on the record.  After the order releasing Pearson was executed, jurors reported to Judge Hamlin that they had not actually reached a decision, but were deadlocked after 8 jurors voted guilty against 4 who voted not-guilty.  Typically a hung jury results in a judge declaring a mistrial, but in Mr. Pearson’s case the jury’s failure to fill out the verdict form led the court to believe that the trial resulted in a unanimous not-guilty verdict.

The mistake is not correctable due to double jeopardy protections that prevent prosecutors from trying a defendant for the same crime after acquittal – regardless of how the acquittal came into effect.  Had the jury correctly communicated its deadlock, Mr. Pearson could have been retried by prosecutors at a later date.  Jurors claimed the verdict form was confusing, making it unclear what to do in the event of a deadlock.  Mr. Pearson, who was accused of burglarizing an apartment last year, did not have opportunity to enjoy the judicial error in his favor as he was stabbed to death only hours after his release.  

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