Pizza Chains Fight it Out in Court

Monday, March 19th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -Papa John's says its pizza is better than Pizza Hut's because it uses superior ingredients. On Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear Pizza Hut's argument that the claim should be considered false advertising.

The court, without comment, turned down an appeal by Pizza Hut, which won, and then lost, a false-advertising lawsuit against Papa John's.

Pizza Hut said it should not have to prove that its rival's ads actually affected people's choices on what pizza to buy.

Pizza Hut is the nation's largest pizza chain, and Papa John's is the third-largest. In 1995, Papa John's adopted a new slogan: ``Better ingredients. Better pizza,'' and later it started a major national advertising campaign using the slogan.

One of the ads boasted that Papa John's ``won big time'' in taste tests against Pizza Hut. Other ads said its sauce and dough were better than Pizza Hut's because they were made with fresh tomatoes and filtered water.

Pizza Hut filed a federal false-advertising lawsuit against Papa John's in Dallas in 1998, saying scientific evidence showed that Papa John's methods and ingredients made no difference in the pizza's taste.

A jury ruled that Papa John's claims of better sauce and dough were false or misleading. The judge barred the pizza chain from using the ``Better ingredients. Better pizza'' slogan and awarded Pizza Hut $467,619 in damages.

But a federal appeals court threw out the verdict last September and ruled for Papa John's. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the jurors were asked whether the ads were likely to deceive consumers, but they were never asked whether consumers actually relied on the claims in deciding what pizza to buy.

In the appeal acted on Monday, Pizza Hut's lawyers said ads like Papa John's violate federal law even without proof that customers relied on them in deciding what product to buy.

Papa John's lawyers said the ads did not make false statements but instead were statements of personal taste, ``what pizza tastes like, which kinds of tastes are better.''