Court Finds Blue Moon Marketing Neither Misleading Nor Deceptive...For Now
A California Federal Court dismissed the class-action lawsuit against MillerCoors yesterday (10/26/15) which alleged MillerCoors created the deceptive and misleading impression that Blue Moon is a craft beer. As OBC reported in August, MillerCoors argued (1) the use of its "Blue Moon Brewing Company" (BMBC) trade name on bottles and packaging is permitted by California and Federal law, and (2) the reference to Blue Moon on its website as "craft" beer is not misleading.
The Court found MillerCoors' legal use of a trade name on bottles and packaging falls under California's "safe-harbor" exception to consumer protection laws. Thus, no claim can exist to the extent it relies on "MillerCoors' omission of their ownership interest, or their designation of BMBC as the brewer, on the label or packaging of Blue Moon beers."
The Court also found a reasonable consumer would not have been deceived by several representations MillerCoors made about Blue Moon. Again, under California law, "a likelihood of deception means that it is probable that a significant portion of the general consuming public or of targeted consumers, acting reasonably in the circumstances, could be misled." "Conduct is deceptive or misleading if it is likely to deceive an ordinary, reasonable consumer." The Court made the following determinations:
- A reasonable consumer would not be deceived by the lack of reference to MillerCoors on the BMBC website because Blue Moon is prominently displayed on the MillerCoors website.
- A reasonable consumer would not be misled to believe Blue Moon is an "independently brewed, hand-crafted beer" not owned by MillerCoors because Blue Moon is prominently displayed on the MillerCoors website.
"Craft Brewer," as defined by the Brewers Association, was directly at issue as it was relied upon by plaintiff as the controlling definition of "craft beer." MillerCoors disagreed arguing there is no controlling definition of craft beer. The Court declined to resolve the issue one way or the other.
It's important to remember a motion to dismiss a lawsuit only tests the sufficiency of the alleged facts in a complaint and whether they allow a court to make the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Here, the court determined the alleged facts did not.
However, the Court gave plaintiff a second bite at the apple and the opportunity to "cure the deficiencies identified in the complaint" within the next 30 days.
OBC will provide relevant updates as they are available.