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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Federal court keeps alive much of class action over '8' on bottles of Old Charter Bourbon

By Chandra Lye | Feb 22, 2018

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ST. LOUIS (Legal Newsline) – A federal court has granted parts of a motion to dismiss a lawsuit that claims Old Charter Bourbon is reaping the benefits of a false and misleading label.

The class action lawsuit against Buffalo Trace Distillery, Old Charter Distillery Co and Sazerac Co. Inc. questions whether the companies are fraudulently advertising on their product. The case - which was filed by Stephen Penrose, James Thomas, Joseph Guardino and Daniel Pope - is being heard in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

The court agreed to dismiss plaintiffs' claims against the defendants of violating the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act, implied warranty of merchantability and negligent misrepresentation without prejudice.

Yitzchak Kopel is representing the plaintiffs in a class action over Old Charter Bourbon

The defendants previously attempted to have the case moved to Kentucky’s western district court, a motion that was denied. 

In this case, the court decided to dismiss three counts of the plaintiffs' complaints but refused to dismiss other elements of the litigation.

The case stems from claims that the label implies the bourbon is aged for eight years before being put on the shelf. 

“Old Charter used to be aged for eight years, but defendants stopped that practice in approximately January 2014,” the court decision stated.

Thus plaintiffs claim that the product, which is aged less than eight years, is inferior to the previous product. 

"The misrepresentation appears in three places on the bottle: on the neck, on its own label on the top of the body, and in the text portion which reads 'gently matured for eight seasons in century old brick warehouses,'" the decision says.

"The label from before and after the switch is unchanged with one minor exception. Defendants omitted the words 'aged' and 'years' from the label, but still repeatedly touted the now-meaningless number eight.”

According to the court decision, the plaintiffs claim the defendants’ neglect to change the label reveals an intention to deceive consumers. 

“This misrepresentation could not have occurred by accident or happenstance,” it states.

As part of their evidence for their case, the plaintiffs presented customer reviews of Old Charter, including one where a “reviewer wrote that he had 'mistakenly purchased a handle of Old Charter 8 in Louisiana thinking it was the eight year and had then found a[n old] bottle of the eight year [and] decided that we needed to do another comparison...After sampling both, the reviewer concluded that 'for Old Charter 8 the NAS [non age-stated] release was strikingly inferior to the age-stated product.'”

The court decision notes that there was no price change for the drink when the company changed to an “inferior product.”

“Consumers therefore paid the premium price of an eight-year bourbon for a much lower-value product,” the decision says

According to the claim, the defendants might have violated consumer protection laws in four states: Missouri, Florida, New York and South Carolina.

“Defendant's motion in this matter represents a facial attack on the court's jurisdiction, in that it challenges the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint to support the court's jurisdiction. Therefore, the court will accept all of plaintiff's factual claims as true and construe the allegations in plaintiff's favor,” the court decision states. 

“Consumers rely on defendants’ labels to be truthful and not misleading when making purchasing decisions, and they have a right to so rely. Plaintiff's claim they would not have purchased defendants’ product had they been aware of the false or misleading nature of Defendants’ labels. Through this lens, it appears to this court that it would be unjust to permit defendants to retain the monetary benefit derived from plaintiffs’ purchases if, in fact, its labels are false or misleading,” the court decision stated. 

Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages, injunctive relief and attorney’s fees and expenses and costs.

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri