The Ninth Circuit Appellate Court has ruled that Dr. Pepper Snapple Group’s use of the word “diet” does not deceive consumers into believing Diet Dr. Pepper can aide with weight loss or weight management, holding up U.S. District Judge William H. Orrick’s dismissal of the lawsuit more than a year and a half ago.
The timeline of this case begins in October 2017, with the filing of the lawsuit detailed below. In August 2018, Judge Orrick dismissed the case on the grounds that it was “not plausible that reasonable consumers would believe consuming Diet Dr. Pepper leads to weight loss or healthy weight management absent a change in lifestyle.” In dismissing the case, Judge Orrick also found that the plaintiff failed to plausibly allege the term “diet” as used in “Diet Dr. Pepper” was false or misleading, or that science supported a link between artificial sweetener aspartame and weight gain.
The plaintiff then appealed the dismissal, arguing that contrary to Judge Orrick’s ruling, her lawsuit did in fact adequately allege that consumers were duped by the word “diet.” In early January 2020, however, the Ninth Circuit held firm with Judge Orrick’s decision, issuing an opinion that picked apart the plaintiff’s focus on what she stressed was definitionally promised by calling the soda “diet.”
“When considering the term in its proper context, no reasonable consumer would assume that Diet Dr. Pepper’s use of the term ‘diet’ promises weight loss or management,” the court said. “In context, the use of ‘diet’ in a soft drink’s brand name is understood as a relative claim about the calorie content of that soft drink compared to the same brand’s ‘regular’ (full-caloric) option.”
As consumers understand its common usage, the court added, the word “diet” merely differentiates between Dr. Pepper products in both name and taste. Given the prevalence of diet soda in the marketplace, the word “diet” cannot be found to have been used deceptively by Dr. Pepper Snapple Group just because a few consumers may assume such.
“Just because some consumers may unreasonably interpret the term differently does not render the use of ‘diet’ in a soda’s brand name false or deceptive,” the opinion reads.
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