March 20, 2015 – Beam Suntory hopes a federal court hearing scheduled for May 4 in San Diego will lead to the dismissal of a second class-action lawsuit filed against the distiller over labeling claims. Lawyers representing the company’s Jim Beam Brands unit filed a motion Wednesday to dismiss the lawsuit filed by Kazerouni Law Group and Hyde & Swigart on behalf of plaintiff Scott Belk and other California consumers. The lawsuit filed in February accuses Jim Beam of misleading consumers by using the word “handcrafted” on its label, and seeks more than $5 million in damages on behalf of all California consumers who purchased Jim Beam Bourbon between February of 2011 and February of 2015. As plaintiff’s attorney Abbas Kazerounian noted in an interview on Episode 524 of WhiskyCast earlier this month, the suit makes similar allegations to another lawsuit his firm filed in December against Beam Suntory’s Maker’s Mark Bourbon for claiming to be “handmade” on its label. A ruling is expected soon on Beam Suntory’s motion to dismiss that lawsuit, which is also pending in US District Court in San Diego before a different judge.
Beam Suntory has routinely declined to comment on the dual lawsuits, citing a company policy against discussing pending litigation. In the motion to dismiss the Jim Beam lawsuit, Beam Suntory’s attorneys argue that the lawsuit “defies common sense” and stretches the limits of California consumer protection laws while also ignoring the “safe harbor” protection provided with the label’s approval by the US Treasury Department’s Tax & Trade Bureau.
“Plaintiff presents a first-of-its-kind labeling claim: that a 1/16” high, 12-letter word (“handcrafted”) on the side of a bourbon bottle—not even visible to consumers unless they pull the bottle off the shelf and turn it—fraudulently induced consumers to buy Jim Beam white label bourbon.”
The motion includes an actual-size version of the label, while accusing the plaintiffs of overstating the size of the “handcrafted” claim in their filings. In two emails to WhiskyCast, Abbas Kazerounian called it “interesting that they are making a big deal out of how the label is presented” and described the Beam argument as feeling “like a last resort argument – not actually a legal one!” As for the Beam argument that the plaintiffs’ filing distorted the label, Kazerounian responded:
“I do not think that is relevant to the legal argument. We are alleging that they made false representations and they are responding with the fact that they are distorted. That does not respond to the allegation and tries to ignore divert the allegation. Once they respond to the whether that allegation is true or false, I will respond to that.”
This story will be updated with additional information as needed.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a response from Abbas Kazerounian, and includes links to court filings in the Jim Beam case. Please note that in civil cases, filings only represent one side’s position and should not be considered proven as fact until they are argued and ruled upon in court.