By Jay Leonard and Jasmine Rodenburg
Earlier this month, a Federal Court in California dismissed a home brewer’s lawsuit alleging MillerCoors created the deceptive impression that Blue Moon was a “craft beer” in order to “capture a slice of the burgeoning craft beer market.”
The home brewer sued under a slew of California consumer protection statutes, alleging:
- MillerCoors inaccurately portrays Blue Moon as “a craft beer” on the Blue Moon website, in YouTube videos, and at various venues and retailers;
- The Blue Moon website suggests the developer of the recipe invented Blue Moon independently;
MillerCoors inaccurately portrayed Blue Moon as brewed in small batches at a tiny brewpub called The SandLot Brewery;
- Certain retailers place Blue Moon alongside other craft beers and some non-retail venues allegedly identify Blue Moon as craft beer;
- Blue Moon’s price that is higher than similar macrobrews is a representation that Blue Moon is a craft beer worthy of a premium price.
The court dismissed this lawsuit twice, the first time allowing the Plaintiff to re-plead the case properly. In its final analysis, the court repeatedly noted the lack of any actual representation by MillerCoors that Blue Moon is a craft beer. Essentially, because MillerCoors made no representation, the Plaintiff would never be able prove that MillerCoors made any misrepresentation. The court concluded:
- The advertisements and videos the Plaintiff used as the basis of his claims contained no false representations. The person identified as the brewmaster did create Blue Moon, and the advertisements do not assert that he was an independent brewer.
- Blue Moon is produced at the SandLot Brewery, and the advertisements do not say it is not also produced elsewhere;
- Plaintiff’s allegations about retailers and other venues do not give any basis for concluding that MillerCoors exercised “unbridled control” over where the third-parties display Blue Moon;
- The price of a product is not a representation or statement about that product’s nature; and
- The advertisements do not claim that Blue Moon is a “craft beer;” consequently, the Court did not rule on whether calling a product “craft beer” could ever be the basis of a misrepresentation claim.
While breweries and other companies are required to avoid deceptive practices and advertising under a number of state and federal statutes, this decision highlights that absent actual misrepresentations by a defendant, courts are hesitant to allow these claims to survive.
Sherman & Howard L.L.C. has prepared this advisory to provide general information on recent legal developments that may be of interest. This advisory does not provide legal advice for any specific situation and does not create an attorney-client relationship between any reader and the Firm.
July 13, 2016