Americans are a litigious group. It's common for businesses to bemoan the constant threat of lawsuits and the impact legal fees have on industry.
But for every person who files an outlandish lawsuit against a perfectly innocent company, there are dozens more in which the defendant is the one who has behaved in outlandish fashion.
Here's our look at some of the more interesting, troubling and/or amusing false-advertising lawsuits in recent food-industry history.
Pom Wonderful LLC v. Coca-Cola Co.
Several weeks ago the Supreme Court ruled that Pom Wonderful, maker of pomegranate juices, could sue rival Coca-Cola, the holding company of Minute Maid, for false advertising. That opened the way for what could turn into a deluge of stop-the-competitor lawsuits, both frivolous and otherwise.
But before we point the finger at Pom, it's worth noting that it's lawsuit against Minute Maid was about some pretty serious stuff -- whether or not a product must contain what's advertised on the label. In this particular case, Pom argued that Minute Maid could not sell a juice bend that is made of less than 1% of both pomegranate and blueberry juice as "Pomegranate Blueberry Flavored Blend of Five Juices."
Kellogg's Frosted Mini-Wheats vs. parents
Back in 2008, at about the peak in the controversy surrounding diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders among children, Kellogg made the dubious claim in two ads that the sugar-coated cereal could help.
Two families thought that sounded pretty far-fetched, and were upset that the company was misleading parents. So they hit Kellogg with a class action lawsuit.
After several years, Kellogg was forced to pay up and come clean. It turned out that the scientific research Kellogg cited in its ads for Frosted Mini-Wheats actually didn't support the claims made by Kellogg.
A short time later Kellogg was also forced to admit that Rice Krispies wouldn't actually boost children's immunity during flu epidemics.
Correa v. Sensa Products, LLC
Science, or the lack thereof, was also the basis of legal action against Sensa Powder. Ads for that product touted the remarkable ingredients in the powder that would trigger that part of the brain that notes satiety. "Feel full faster!" The ads said, suggesting that sprinkling Sensa Powder on food would help folks eat less, and thus lose weight.
The FTC begged to differ. The agency said that a company-produced six month survey claiming that 1,400 users lost an average of 30.5 pounds using the product was based on faulty science, and accused Sensa of deceptive advertising.
Earlier this year, the federal regulatory agency ordered Sensa to return some $26.5 million to consumers.
Trader Joe's Co. v. Gristedes Foods Inc.
One interesting subset of the false-advertising legal world involves trademark infringement. In those cases one company, presumably well-known, sues another company for using a trademarked name that is confusingly similar or identical. That's the premise, for example, of a recent lawsuit involving Anheuser-Busch and a North Caroina craft brewer.
But our favorite lawsuit in this subset of false-claims law involves two giants of the supermarket world.
In 2008 Trader Joe's came to New York City and became an instant hit. The low-price grocer won fans and market share at a rapid clip.
Late that year though, a sign appeared on a shuttered Gristedes supermarket announcing that a "Trader John's" supermarket would open soon.
Local foodies, journalists, and others scrambled to find out what was happening.
By early 2009, the truth emerged in a 51-page lawsuit filed by Trader Joe's. It seemed that Trader John's was owed by John Catsimatidis, owner of Gristedes and then a candidate for mayor.
The lesson here for mayoral candidates, and anyone else who wants to steal Trader Joe's brand reputation, is to do it in Canada.
Hershey v. Tincturbelle and Conscious Care Cooperative
The laws regarding marijuana have changed considerably in recent years. It's legal for doctors to prescribe pot in 20 states. And two states -- Washington and Colorado -- allow for recreational sales too.
That's leading to a legal education for some pot sellers too.
Hershey has taken to suing manufacturers who sell dope with candy-sounding names like "Reefers Peanut Butter Cups" and " Mr. Dankbar." (That's apparently a bit of a marketing trend in the nascent industry where the munchies are part of the process.)
It seems unlikely that Mr. Dankbar will win this fight. The pot companies may want to cut their losses and invest now in some brand-name consultants. Or move to Canada.