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Last Call for “Craft Beer” Lawsuit

Beer2By Alexander M. Smith

Last week, Judge Gonzalo Curiel of the Southern District of California dismissed a lawsuit alleging that MillerCoors falsely marketed Blue Moon as “craft beer” and denied the plaintiffs leave to amend.  The plaintiffs alleged that Blue Moon was not a “craft beer” because it did not satisfy either the dictionary definition of a “craft beer” or the definition used by the Brewers Association, a trade association of independent brewers.  The plaintiffs then alleged that MillerCoors deceived consumers into believing Blue Moon was a craft beer by concealing that it was manufactured by MillerCoors, creating advertisements that suggested that it was brewed in a small brewery, requiring that it be stocked with other “craft beers” in stores and restaurants, and charging a premium price to suggest that it was of higher quality than MillerCoors’ other offerings.  

The court held that none of these allegations established that MillerCoors misrepresented Blue Moon as a “craft beer.”  It first held that a series of online videos showing “brewmasters” brewing Blue Moon in small tanks at the “Sandlot Brewery” did not constitute an actionable misrepresentation, as those videos did not contain any “specific and measurable” claims about the provenance of Blue Moon.  It then held that even if retailers, restaurants, and entertainment venues marketed Blue Moon as a “craft beer,” MillerCoors was not vicariously liable for representations made by those parties.  Even if MillerCoors allowed those parties to use the Blue Moon trademark, the court reasoned, its decision to permit the use of its trademark did not constitute an endorsement of the “craft beer” characterization and therefore did not render MillerCoors liable for those representations.  Finally, the court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that MillerCoors’ pricing misled consumers into believing Blue Moon was a craft beer on the basis that pricing could not constitute an actionable misrepresentation under California law.  

While Judge Curiel dismissed this lawsuit with prejudice, the decision leaves open the question of whether MillerCoors—or any other brewery—could be held liable if it expressly characterized its offerings as a “craft beer.”  

Parent v. MillerCoors LLC, No. 15-1204, 2016 WL 3348818 (S.D. Cal. June 16, 2016).