Thursday, February 11, 2010

The line between puffery and misprepresentation? Domino's Pizza tells you on TV.

In Pizza Hut, Inc. v. Papa John's International, Inc. 227. F.3d 489 (5th Cir. 2000), Pizza Hut had sued Papa John's on the grounds that the latter's slogan, "Better Ingredients. Better Pizza." was a misrepresentation of fact and therefore violated the Lanham Act. The trial court held in Pizza Hut's favor, but on appeal the 5th Circuit reversed and ordered judgment entered in Papa John's favor. The court discussed the term "puffery" at length (albeit with respect to the Lanham Act rather than contract law):
One form of non-actionable statements of general opinion under section 43(a) of the Lanham Act has been referred to as "puffery." Puffery has been discussed at some length by other circuits. The Third Circuit has described "puffing" as "advertising that is not deceptive for no one would rely on its exaggerated claims." U.S. Healthcare, Inc. v. Blue Cross of Greater Philadelphia, 898 F.2d 914 (3d Cir. 1990). Similarly, the Ninth Circuit has defined "puffing" as "exaggerated advertising, blustering and boasting upon which no reasonable buyer would rely and is not actionable under 43(a)." Southland Sod Farms v. Stover Seed Co., 108 F.3d 1134, 1145 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting 3 J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademarks and Unfair Competition §27.04[4][d] (3d ed. 1994)); see also Cook, 911 F.2d at 246 (stating that "[p]uffing has been described by most courts as involving outrageous generalized statements, not making specific claims, that are so exaggerated as to preclude reliance by consumers").
These definitions of puffery are consistent with the definitions provided by the leading commentaries in trademark law. A leading authority on unfair competition has defined "puffery" as an "exaggerated advertising, blustering, and boasting upon which no reasonable buyer would rely," or "a general claim of superiority over a comparative product that is so vague, it would be understood as a mere expression of opinion." 4 J. Thomas McCarthy, McCarthy on Trademark and Unfair Competition § 27.38 (4th ed. 1996).7 Similarly, Prosser and Keeton on Torts defines "puffing" as "a seller's privilege to lie his head off, so long as he says nothing specific, on the theory that no reasonable man would believe him, or that no reasonable man would be influenced by such talk." W. Page Keeton, et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 109, at 757 (5th ed. 1984).
Drawing guidance from the writings of our sister circuits and the leadingcommentators, we think that non-actionable "puffery" comes in at least two possible forms: (1) an exaggerated, blustering, and boasting statement upon which no reasonable buyer would be justified in relying; or (2) a general claim of superiority over comparable products that is so vague that it can be understood as nothing more than a mere expression of opinion.

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