Evan Parent would frequently stop into San Diego stores like Ralphs, Vons and 7-Eleven to pick up some Blue Moon. Now, he has filed a class action lawsuit against MillerCoors, brewers of that popular wheat beer.
How did Parent go from buying Blue Moon to suing its maker? The lawsuit (which you can read here) was filed on April 24, and maintains that Parent purchased Blue Moon because the beer’s ads, price and placement among craft beers led him to believe it was also a craft beer.
That myth was shattered when, in the summer of 2012, Parent’s friends informed him this wasn’t the case. Though he didn’t believe them at first, after some research he discovered they were right. He hasn’t purchased a Blue Moon since.
The lawsuit, which was filed by the Clark and Treglio law firm in San Diego, accuses MillerCoors of violating California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act, deceptive and misleading advertising, and unfair business practices.
It notes that the name MillerCoors is not found on bottles of Blue Moon, nor is it anywhere on the Blue Moon Brewing Co. website. It also points out that while Blue Moon Brewing Co. is a small brewery located inside Coors Field in Denver, the beer sold in stores across the nation is actually produced at large breweries in Golden, Colorado and Eden, North Carolina, in the same facilities that turn out brands like “Coors, Milwaukee’s Best, Miller High Life, Hamm’s, Icehouse and Olde English.” The lawsuit also takes issue with Blue Moon’s use of the phrase “artfully crafted.”
While the law firm can’t disclose certain details about the case, attorney James Treglio thinks this may be “the first lawsuit regarding ‘crafty’ beer.” Treglio did cite a similar case in which two Miami residents sued Anheuser-Busch for misrepresenting Kirin Ichiban as a brand imported from Japan, rather than one produced in multiple breweries here in the United States. In January, a Florida judge signed off on a settlement that would reimburse those affected up to $50.
Will Parent’s case play out similarly? It’s too early to tell, but Eugene Pak — who leads the craft breweries and brewpubs practice at Wendel, Rosen, Black & Dean LLP in Oakland, California, thinks it is possible people could be deceived.
“I do think there is some sort of legitimate gripe here,” Pak said. “There might be a small subset of consumers who think Blue Moon is a small craft brewery.”
Like Treglio, Pak can’t recall a case in which a brewery has been sued for false advertising. He has read of cases in which plaintiffs sue food and beverage manufacturers for misusing terms like “natural,” “organic” and “handcrafted.”
Cases like this one, Pak said, rarely get to the stage of deciding if something is misleading or in violation of the law; they are usually settled or the defendants are able to have the case dismissed because California’s laws are preempted by federal law. In other words, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) has approved the label, and that preempts the state-level courts.
And if Parent does win? The brewery could potentially set up a fund and allow anyone who purchased Blue Moon to apply for a refund, or they might instead make coupons available. Additionally, there might also be requirements to change the wording on the label, as Anheuser-Busch is doing with Kirin Ichiban.