A California federal court has dismissed a putative class action alleging that Jim Beam Brands and Beam Suntory Import mislabel Jim Beam® bourbon bottles because the label calls the product “handcrafted” despite its machine-based manufacturing process. Welk v. Beam Suntory Imp. Co., No. 15-0328 (S.D. Cal., order entered August 21, 2015). The plaintiff had alleged that a reasonable consumer would be fooled by the bourbon label because the production process for the “handmade” product requires “little to no human supervision, assistance or involvement.” Details about the complaint appear in Issue 556 of this Update.
The court first denied the distillery’s motion to dismiss under California’s safe harbor doctrine, finding that although Jim Beam could prove the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau had approved the label, the evidence did not indicate whether the agency investigated and approved the use of “handcrafted.” The court then considered similar cases,including decisions finding for Jim Beam and its sibling brand Maker’s Mark®, and concluded that the precedents were persuasive. “A reasonable consumer wouldn’t interpret the word ‘handcrafted’ on a bourbon bottle to mean that the product is literally ‘created by a hand process rather than by a machine.’ Thus, it isn’t ‘reasonably interpreted as a statement of objective fact.’” Accordingly, the court granted Jim Beam’s motion to dismiss. Additional information about the Maker’s Mark® dismissal appears in Issue 564 of this Update.