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Federal Judge Freezes Starbucks Cold Drinks Lawsuit

Published onOct 07, 2016
Federal Judge Freezes Starbucks Cold Drinks Lawsuit

A federal judge recently threw out a proposed class action lawsuit that accused Starbucks of misleading customers about the amount of ice in its cold drinks.  The Plaintiff alleged that Starbucks “systematically defrauds its customers by advertising its cold drinks as containing more liquid than they do by ‘underfilling’ its cups with liquid and then adding ice to make the cups appear full.”  The complaint alleged that because Starbucks fills its cups to a “fill” line and then adds ice, that the actual amount of drink does not correspond to the listed amount.  The complaint cites the Venti Starbucks drink as an example.  As a result of the fill lines, the Plaintiff alleged that a Venti will contain approximately 14 ounces of liquid instead of the 24 ounces listed on the menu.   The complaint alleged claims for breach of express warranty, breach of implied warranty, negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, fraud, and violation of California’s Consumer Legal Remedies Act.

The judge tossed out the lawsuit based on the reasoning that a reasonable customer would know that their iced drink would have a portion taken up by ice.  The judge also noted that because the cups are clear, that the customer would be able to see the ice.  The judge pointed out that when ice is added, and increases the volume of liquids, this does not constitute fraud.  Because no reasonable consumer could be confused, the judge said that the plaintiff had failed to state a viable claim under California consumer or advertising law.

The judge also said that if children can figure out that the amount of ice in a beverage decreases the amount of liquid they will get, then a reasonable consumer should not be deceived.  Starbucks had maintained that the measurements do not indicate the amount of liquid, only what size the cups are.  Following this reasoning, the judge also said that a reasonable consumer would understand that the fluid-ounce figures on the menu size could refer to the total size of the beverage (including ice), not just the “drinkable” portions.

This suit follows a number of other similar lawsuits against Starbucks.  A cold drinks lawsuit was filed in Chicago in May, alleging that Starbucks was telling its baristas to under-fill drinks to make money.  The suit says that claims could exceed $5 million. Following the dismissal of the California cold drinks suit, Starbucks filed for dismissal of the Chicago case.

Two separate actions were also filed in New York and California related to Starbucks’ hot drinks.  Those two separate actions allege that Starbucks underfills its lattes and other various hot drinks.   The California hot drinks suit survived dismissal in June.  Starbucks had sought consolidation of actions in Washington federal court, but was denied based on the reasoning that the suits do not sufficiently overlap and are not complex enough to warrant centralization.  So while the judge in the California cold drinks suit told the plaintiff to chill, Starbucks is still in hot water over their lattes and other hot drinks.

Libby Casale is a second year law student at Wake Forest University School of Law. She holds a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Entrepreneurship from Oregon State University. Upon graduation, she plans to practice in the areas of privacy and cybersecurity law. 

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