Why it matters: Starbucks won a dismissal of a putative class action over underfilled drinks when a California federal court judge poured the lawsuit out of federal court. The court had no patience with the plaintiff's interpretation of Starbucks' menu and held that no reasonable consumer would believe the size of the drink would consist solely of liquid. While the decision was a victory for the coffee chain, similar suits based on hot drinks remain pending as does another challenge to the store's use of ice in cold drinks.
Detailed discussion: Alexander Forouzesh alleged that the coffee giant tricked consumers by stating that Tall size cold drinks contain 12 ounces, Grande drinks contain 16 ounces, and Venti drinks have 24. Despite listing these sizes on the menu, Starbucks employees were instructed to make the drinks according to standard practices that included filling the clear cup with the selected beverage up to a fill line and then topping it off with ice.
The result for customers: less liquid than promised, Forouzesh told the court, and that Grande had just 12 ounces of beverage and Venti had only 14. He claimed that ice is not a beverage, and alleged that Starbucks was guilty of breach of warranty, negligent misrepresentation, and violations of California's Consumer Legal Remedies Act, Unfair Competition Law and the state's False Advertising Law.
Starbucks countered with a motion to dismiss, arguing that the iced beverages it sold met the expectations of reasonable consumers.
U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson agreed.
Reasonable consumers would not be misled by Starbucks beverages and neither would young children, he found. "[A]s young children learn, they can increase the amount of beverage they receive if they order 'no ice,' " the court wrote. "If children have figured out that including ice in a cold beverage decreases the amount of liquid they will receive, the Court has no difficulty concluding that a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into thinking that when they order an iced tea, that the drink they receive will include both ice and tea and that for a given size cup, some portion of the drink will be ice rather than whatever liquid beverage the consumer ordered."
This conclusion was supported by the fact Starbucks uses clear cups for its cold drinks, making "it easy to see that the drink consists of a combination of liquid and ice," the court said. "Moreover, [since] neither the menu nor signage Plaintiff has reproduced and incorporated into his Complaint explicitly state that the drinks consist of the identified ounces of liquid, Starbucks has [not] made a representation about the size of its 'beverages.' "
The plaintiff's interpretation of Starbucks' menu was "strained" and "inconsistent with the understanding of a reasonable consumer," the court noted.
"When a reasonable consumer walks into a Starbucks and orders a Grande iced tea, that consumer knows the size of the cup that drink will be served in and that a portion of the drink will consist of ice," Judge Anderson concluded. "Because no reasonable consumer could be confused by this," he dismissed the plaintiff's lawsuit with prejudice.
To read the order in Forouzesh v. Starbucks Corp., click here.