A New Jersey federal court has again denied class certification to a trio of women suing Beam Global Spirits & Wine for allegedly misrepresenting Skinnygirl® Margaritas as using “only natural ingredients” despite containing sodium benzoate. Stewart v. Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc., No. 11-5149 (D.N.J., order entered June 8, 2015). Details about the court’s previous examination of certification appear in Issue 529 of this Update.
The plaintiffs argued that the class could be ascertained through a three-level screening process designed to limit the number of fraudulent claims. The process would require potential claimants to provide a (i) claim form and receipt for the purchase of the product or (ii) a sworn affidavit with the dates, locations and prices of their Skinnygirl® Margarita purchases as well as a description of the bottle. In the latter case, the screeners would then check the potential claimants’ affidavits for accuracy to determine, for example, if the retailers listed actually sold the product at the cited times.
Rejecting the plaintiffs’ approach, the court found that the proposed screening was administratively unfeasible and unreliable. Most of the potential class members probably have not kept their receipts, the court noted, and even if they had, the screeners could not determine if the same receipt had been used for multiple claims. Further, true potential claimants may forget information required by the affidavits, while fraudulent claimants could gather the information for a claim without actually purchasing a bottle of the product. The plaintiffs also could not show that the method was reliable, the court found, because it had only been used to determine potential claimants in class actions that had already been settled.
Skinnygirl and a consumer settled a similar lawsuit in May 2015 after an Illinois federal court refused to certify the proposed class on similar grounds. Details about that stipulation appear in Issue 564 of this Update.