Even as a federal judge in San Francisco has given
plaintiffs a green light to move ahead with a class action lawsuit against
Starbucks over the amount of coffee in its lattes, the international coffee
drink purveyor awaits an answer from a federal judicial panel on its request to
blend that class action with others concerning how full Starbucks fills its
cups, and transfer all the percolating litigation to courtrooms in Starbucks’
home city of Seattle.
On June 20, U.S. District Judge Thelton E. Henderson said
two California residents should have the chance to press their claims in the
California’s Northern District federal court against Starbucks over fraud and
false advertising claims that Starbucks has overcharged its customers to the
tune of millions of dollars by instructing its employees to systematically
underfill lattes and other beverages in its tall, grande and venti cup sizes,
which, respectively, are advertised to equate to 12, 16 and 20 ounce sizes.
“The court finds it
probable that a significant portion of the latte-consuming public could believe
that a ‘Grande’ contains 16 ounces of fluid,” Henderson wrote in his opinion.
That decision comes after a woman had filed suit in Chicago
federal court in April, accusing Starbucks of similarly underfilling its cold
drinks by overfilling the cups with the ice needed to make the drinks cold.
That case, which generated huge attention nationwide, was brought
by plaintiff Stacy Pincus through her attorneys from the firm of Hart McLaughlin
& Eldridge, of Chicago. It centered largely on the question of whether ice
should qualify as a “fluid” when measuring a drink’s fluid ounces.
At the same time, Starbucks also faces similar class actions
brought in Los Angeles and New York.
On May 31, Starbucks filed a request with the U.S. Judicial
Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, asking the judges of the panel to combine
the cases into a single proceeding and transfer them to the Western District of
While the lawsuits may each address different beverages,
Starbucks said the cases all center on three common allegations:
That Starbucks “engages in deceptive marketing practices by
misrepresenting the quantity of fluid ounces in certain hot and cold beverages
sold at the cafes. Common to all actions is the allegation that Starbucks cups
are not large enough to deliver the amount of beverage identified on its menu
boards and that following Starbucks' standardized recipes results in beverages
that are under-filled.”
Starbucks said it will most likely call the same witnesses
and present much of the same evidence in fighting all of the cases, even should
new ones arise – and most of those witnesses and pieces of evidence are located
at Starbucks’ headquarters in Seattle.
Starbucks also noted the courts run the risk of “inconsistent
rulings” on the merits of the cases, as well as on the question of whether the
cases can proceed as class actions, unless the cases are consolidated.
And, Starbucks noted Seattle’s federal courts are less busy
than those in Chicago, New York or California.
Starbucks is represented in the action by attorneys with the
firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hamilton LLP, with offices in San
Francisco and Los Angeles.