May 5, 2015 – While the “handmade” class-action lawsuit against Maker’s Mark in California remains in the hands of a San Diego federal court judge, the distillery has won its bid to dismiss a similar lawsuit filed in a Florida federal court. Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle granted the Beam Suntory-owned distillery’s motion to dismiss a proposed class-action lawsuit by attorneys for plaintiffs Dimitric Salters and A.G. Waseem based on the same arguments as the California lawsuit.

In his ruling, Hinkle said the plaintiffs failed to make their case that Maker’s Mark violated Florida consumer protection laws with claims that its Bourbon is handmade, and that there was no possible way the plaintiffs could have not known that Maker’s Mark is a mass-marketed product available nationally. From the ruling:

“The term “handmade” goes back many years. The original meaning was “distinguished from the work of nature.” (Oxford English Dictionary 1251, 9th ed. 1971). In that sense all bourbon is handmade; bourbon, unlike coffee or orange juice, cannot be grown in the wild.

But the term “handmade” is no longer used in that sense. The same dictionary now gives a circular definition: “handmade” means “[m]ade by hand.” Id. But the term obviously cannot be used literally to describe bourbon. One can knit a sweater by hand, but one cannot make bourbon by hand. Or at least, one cannot make bourbon by hand at the volume required for a nationally marketed brand like Maker’s Mark. No reasonable consumer could believe otherwise.”

Beam Suntory and Maker’s Mark executives praised the ruling. In a news release, Maker’s Mark Chief Operating Officer Rob Samuels said “We have asserted all along that the complaints in this case were frivolous and without merit, and we are very pleased the court agreed with our position so emphatically.”

Tallahassee attorney Tim Howard responded to Judge Hinkle’s ruling by email:

“This Judge couldn’t understand what a consumer would understand “handmade” to mean in making a purchase.  While this is normally not an issue at this stage of litigation, we are researching this issue and will make some key decisions on this case over the next week.  A similar case that we have against Tito’s Handmade Vodka was upheld with similar facts.”

Howard will decide over the next several days whether to ask the judge to reconsider his ruling or appeal to a higher court.

The judge in the California case has not issued his ruling on a similar motion by Maker’s Mark and Beam Suntory to dismiss that case. The judge decided in late March that no hearings were necessary on the motion, and intends to issue a written ruling.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with a response from attorney Tim Howard, who represents the plaintiffs in the case. A PDF file of the judge’s ruling is available at our web site.

Links: Maker’s Mark