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2 Burning Questions Answered Re: Inherited IRAs and Lanham Claims

By William Peacock, Esq. on June 12, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Have you ever stayed up late at night, unable to sleep, wondering if maybe, just maybe, your inherited IRA assets might be exposed to creditors in bankruptcy? Don't worry, you are not alone.

Or perhaps, maybe, just maybe, you thought to yourself: Pomegranate juice? Coca Cola, dag nabbit, there ain't hardly any juice in this here drink at all! And instead of lying there, disillusioned over the lies of a corporate behemoth, you sought to strike back. Have you ever wondered if you could, perhaps using the Lanham Act?

"But, what about preemption by the FDCA," your conscience nags. Again, you are not alone.

Folks, some might tell you that today's two unanimous decisions are unimportant. They might be right.

Clark v. Rameker: Get Your Hand Out of My Pocketed IRA

Creditors rejoice!

Unlike a traditional IRA, one that is inherited does not face the same restrictions, specifically, the inability to withdraw funds pre-retirement. Instead, the possessor of an inherited IRA can pull funds at will. This distinction was enough for a unanimous Court, in an opinion penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, to make an inherited IRA more like a savings account than a retirement fund, and by extension, fair game for creditors.

Otherwise, the possessor of an inherited IRA could escape a debt and instead spend the money "on a vacation home or a sports car immediately after her bankruptcy proceedings are complete," Sotomayor noted.

POM Wonderful LLC. v. Coca Cola Co: How Much Juice in the Juice Man's Juice if the Juice Just Ain't Just Juice?

Rather than our dream scenario of ordinary man v. corporate behemoth, this battle was actually competitor v. competitor.

  • POM makes pomegranate juice that isn't selling. Coca Cola makes pomegranate "juice" as well.
  • POM's juice is 100 percent juice. Coke? They're at a whopping 0.5 percent.

POM sought to file a lawsuit under the Lanham Act, which permits one competitor to sue another for unfair competition arising from false or misleading product descriptions. But the district court and the Ninth Circuit sided with Coca Cola, which argued that the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), which in part regulates food labeling, along with FDA regulations, already governs false labels and precluded any suit.

The Supreme Court disagreed, and sided with POM, holding that the laws were complementary. Justice Kennedy wrote on behalf of an 8-0 court, with Justice Stephen Breyer benched (or not on the bench, actually). Justice Alito was almost recused as well, before a switch in time almost made nine.

Sleep easy folks -- justice has been done. And if today's slate of cases has you practically somnolent, fear not: we have fun in store for tomorrow.

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