A Chicago federal judge has dumped a lawsuit against
Starbucks over the amount of ice in its iced drinks, saying the reasoning undergirding
the class action lawsuit against the purveyor of hot and cold coffee drinks and
other beverages was too far over the top.
On October 14, U.S. District Judge Thomas M. Durkin granted
the request by Starbucks to dismiss the class action litigation introduced
first by plaintiff Stacy Pincus, and now led by plaintiff Steve Galanis.
“If the consumer chooses an ‘iced’ drink, the reasonable
consumer knows that the container (whatever its volume) will be filled with
both solid ice and a fluid beverage,” Durkin wrote. “The fact that the volume
of the container the drink is served in is measured using ‘fluid ounces’ would
not cause the reasonable consumer to be surprised by the presence of ice in the
“Indeed, a reasonable consumer who purchases an ‘iced’
drink, expects there to be ice in the drink, and would be upset if there wasn’t,”
the judge said.
Pincus had filed the lawsuit in April, alleging the
Seattle-based drink seller had violated its warranty to its customers and
committed fraud by “underfilling” its cold drinks by overfilling its cups with
the ice needed to make the drinks cold.
The lawsuit specifically targeted Starbucks’ practice of
selling its drinks by the fluid ounce. The complaint noted Starbucks sells four
primary sizes of drinks. While the sizes are given special proprietary names,
including Tall, Grande, Venti and Trenta, those labels correspond to real
volume measurements, ranging from 12-30 fluid ounces.
The plaintiffs in this case, however, argued the Starbucks’
measurements deceived customers ordering cold drinks, as the volume of the
drink, as measured by the cup, now included ice. The plaintiffs noted Starbucks
uses cups inscribed with “3 black lines” and premeasured ice scoopers “to
ensure that employees fill these cups with less fluid ounces than are
advertised on Starbucks’ menu.”
Essentially, the plaintiffs argued customers ordering a
Venti-sized drink should receive 24 ounces of the specific beverage, apart from
the ice. Under Starbucks’ current practice, however, they alleged such
customers are only getting 14 ounces of beverage, while believing they are paying
for 24 ounces.
The case was filed by attorney Steven A. Hart and the firm
of Hart McLaughlin & Eldridge, of Chicago.
Over the summer months, Starbucks challenged the reasoning
underlying the lawsuit, and asked a federal judicial panel to consolidate the
Chicago lawsuit with other, similar lawsuits pending against it in other
jurisdictions, including in California.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys substituted Galanis as the lead named
plaintiff on the case in August.
However, no matter who may assume that role, Durkin said he
believed the case should end, as the plaintiffs’ claims cannot hold up against
an examination of how a “reasonable” customer would react to the Starbucks
And Durkin sided with Starbucks, saying he agreed with
Starbucks’ assertion that “no reasonable consumer ordering an iced tea expects
to receive a cup of tea with a side of ice.”
“Because Starbucks uses the phrase ‘fluid ounces’ in the
section of the menus that describes container sizes, a reasonable consumer would
understand that phrase to refer to volume, as opposed to a drink’s contents,”
Durkin said. “The reasonable consumer would also draw this conclusion from the
mere fact that ‘fluid ounces’ is a measurement of a drink’s volume, not a
description of a drink’s contents.
“The common sense nature of this analysis is exemplified by
imagining a consumer who tried to order simply ‘24 fluid ounces.’ That request
would obviously be met with the question, ‘Of what?’”
Durkin ordered the case dismissed without prejudice. But he
gave the plaintiffs until Nov. 14 to ask his permission to file an amended
complaint, or the dismissal would be with prejudice.
Starbucks was represented in the action by attorneys with
the firm of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, with offices in Chicago, San
Francisco and Los Angeles.