Who knew buying a 12-pack could be classy?
The federal judge overseeing a lawsuit against the Craft Brew Alliance Inc.—maker of the Hawaiian-themed Kona Brewing Co. line of beers—has certified classes of consumers who purchased six- or 12-packs of certain of the brand’s brews to pursue claims that the company misled class members about where the beer was brewed.
In a class certification order issued on Sept. 25 and unsealed Tuesday, Judge Beth Labson Freeman of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California certified classes of consumers who bought any of the beers—Longboard Island Lager, Hanalei IPA, Castaway IPA, Big Wave Golden Ale, Lemongrass Luau, Wailua Wheat, Fire Rock Pale Ale and Pipeline Porter—from four years before the suit was filed in February 2017 to the present. Freeman also appointed Faruqi & Faruqi LLP and the Wand Law Firm P.C. as lead counsel for the classes.
Freeman found that common questions of law and fact predominate the case, including whether CBA materially misrepresented that its beers were brewed in the Aloha state, whether consumers reasonably relied on those representations and whether CBA intentionally misled consumers and what price premium, if any, consumers paid based on the beers were brewed on the Big Island of Hawaii.
“Poi, spam musubi, pineapple. These are just a few of the foods that make most people think of Hawaii,” Freeman wrote. “But what about Kona beer?”
That, in essence, wrote the judge is what the suit is seeking to answer.
The lawsuit is one of a few that have popped up targeting craft brewers who make regionally themed beers with claims that the misleadingly cool locales allow them to charge a premium to unwitting consumers.
In the case of Kona Brewing, plaintiffs allege that six- and 12-packs sold on the mainland come from breweries in Oregon, Washington, New Hampshire and Tennessee. Plaintiffs claim CBA obscured that fact on external packaging by only listing the company’s Hawaii address, including a map pinpointing Kona’s Big Island Brewery and inviting consumers to visit its brewery and pubs when in Hawaii.
CBA’s lawyers at Shook, Hardy & Bacon argued earlier in the case that labels on individual bottles and cans of Kona beer indicate the various brewing locations and the company’s claims of selling “Liquid Aloha” were at most “puffery.” At the class certification stage, the company’s lawyers again argued that the class representatives had seen disclaimers about the various breweries on individual bottles.
But Freeman found that the class representatives had acted as any “reasonable consumer” would. “Reasonable consumers are not expected to remove outer packaging to see labels obscured by that packaging,” she wrote.
Faruqi & Faruqi’s Benjamin Heikali, who represents the plaintiffs, wasn’t immediately available Tuesday afternoon.
Likewise Shook Hardy’s Tammy Webb didn’t immediately respond to an emailed message.