A federal judge in California dismissed a class action suit against Jim Beam on August 21, 2015. The suit—Welk v. Beam Suntory Import Co.—concerned whether Beam’s use of the term “handcrafted” on its Bourbon labels is misleading to consumers. The court’s holding—that it is not misleading—and the case’s dismissal mark yet another win for Beam in a series of consumer fraud suits that have been brought against it (as well as a host of other alcohol producers) since 2014. Beam also did very well in this similar case, concerning Maker’s Mark. Welk began back in February 2015, when Plaintiff Scott Welk filed a class action complaint alleging that Beam’s use of the term “handcrafted” on its Bourbon labels was misleading. According to Welk, “handcrafted” means “created by a hand process rather than by a machine.” Welk argued that the “mechanized” and “automated” process that Beam uses to make its Bourbon could not fairly be characterized as “handcrafted.” In its defense, Beam claimed that TTB federal approval of its label provided it with a safe harbor that insulated it from label-related consumer fraud claims. Beam also argued that reasonable consumers are not actually misled by the term “handcrafted” because it is merely puffery that is not relied upon by consumers when they make their decision...Continue Reading Leave a Comment
In past years Dan was talking about beer law in magazines, podcasts, CLEs, on forums, and on Twitter. Now he has moved on, to radio. He was on CBS radio earlier this week, with Stacy Lyn, regarding the dramatic rise of craft brewing. Listen to Dan Christopherson and Stacy in the sound clips below. In a few years it will be hard to believe, but Dan notes that (in recent generations) “there weren’t any production breweries in the DC area until … 2011.”Continue Reading Leave a Comment
Those three little words, above (CRAFTED BY HAND), are causing a ruckus for Angel’s Envy Rye, in Judge Aspen’s court in Chicago. In the great whiskey wars commencing in 2014, Maker’s Mark had a great day, here, in May. By contrast, Angel’s Envy had a much less propitious day early this week. A federal judge in Illinois dismissed a small part of the class action fraud case against Angel’s Envy, but let big parts go forward. My friends at the Locke Lord law firm, who recently and successfully wrapped up the similar case, against Templeton, explained:
The decision to allow the Angel’s Envy case to proceed past a motion to dismiss is consistent with similar decisions in the cases against Tito’s Handmade Vodka and WhistlePig Rye Whiskey, and signals that the courts are willing to consider consumer-fraud claims against spirits companies that supposedly sell unattributed mass-distilled products while holding themselves out to the market as smaller scale, craft brands. As a result of these rulings, the case will proceed into discovery, which has the potential to be lengthy and expensive.
In my view, the most interesting parts of the 17 page opinion and order are as follows.
1. The potential damages may exceed $5 million, as the brand but not...Continue Reading Leave a Comment
At long last, MillerCoors filed its response, in the Blue Moon case, on July 13. The company makes some good arguments, and to my ear, these seem best:
- MillerCoors is expressly authorized by state and federal law to use the Blue Moon Brewing Company trade name.
- The safe harbor doctrine applies where either state or federal law has blessed the conduct at issue. (Here, MC nemesis, A-B, did the former a huge favor in the form of winning the Lime-A-Rita case just in time.) The company is careful to point out that the laws and regulations, not necessarily the label approvals, create the safe harbor.
- Should a court find liability under these circumstances, where a registered trade name is used instead of the parent company name, it would dramatically change the way that many corporations operate, effectively standing corporate America on its head. Trade names are used in many industries, and many brands have surprising corporate relationships. Just to name a few: Jiffy Lube is owned by Shell Oil Company, Haagen-Dazs is owned by Nestle in the U.S., Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken are owned by Yum! Corporation and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream is owned by Unilever.
- The company’s trade name and trademark registrations put Plaintiff...
Whoa! The first of the “handmade” cases wrapped up within the past week. On May 1, 2015 the U.S. District Court in Tallahassee dismissed the class action lawsuit against Maker’s Mark “with prejudice.” The now-defunct case alleged that Beam Suntory was bs’ing about whether the bourbon was “handmade.” The court seems to be saying “handmade” is a puff term, like “delicious.” The term at issue has been amorphous, over the centuries, and Judge Hinkle seems to have dumped that burden on the plaintiffs:
the plaintiffs have been unable to articulate a consistent, plausible explanation of what they understood ‘handmade’ to mean in this context. This is understandable; nobody could believe a bourbon marketed this widely at this volume is made entirely or predominantly by hand. This order grants the defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted.
The Judge makes a good point, saying:
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But the term ‘handmade’ is no longer used in that sense. The same dictionary now gives a circular definition: ‘handmade’ means ‘[m]ade by hand.’ Id. But the term obviously cannot be used literally to describe bourbon. One can knit a sweater by hand, but one cannot make bourbon by hand. Or at least, one cannot make bourbon by hand at the volume...
Not The Onion. California Man, "Beer Aficionado," Alleges He is Last to Know Blue Moon is Coors and Not a Real Craft Beer. Sues.
Yet another lawsuit about beverage labeling. This time it’s Blue Moon beer. The class action lawsuit (Parent v. MillerCoors LLC) was filed April 24, 2015 in state court, in San Diego. It alleges that MillerCoors is tricking consumers about whether Blue Moon is craft beer. There are now literally dozens of class action lawsuits, filed all around the country in just the past couple of years, in state and federal courts, against many of the most popular beer and spirits products in the country. Wine is notably absent, so far. The complaint alleges that MillerCoors:
- makes more than 2.4 billion gallons of beer a year — about 12 times what the prevailing Brewers Association definition, for a craft brewer, allows
- falsely portrays the product as “artfully crafted,” when in fact it’s a macrobrew
- hides the MillerCoors affiliation under various fake entities
- misleads consumers into paying up to 50% more, via omissions and misrepresentations
For good measure, the suit alleges:
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Defendant’s business practices are immoral, unethical, oppressive, and unscrupulous, and cause substantial injury to consumers, including Plaintiff and the other members of the Class. As a direct and proximate result of Defendant’s unlawful business practices, Class members suffered injury in that they paid a premium price for a product that would...