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Maureen Stewart and Kelly Lamicella, Individuals, On Behalf of Themselves and All Others Similarly Situated, et al v. Beam Global Spirits & Wine

June 29, 2012

MAUREEN STEWART AND KELLY LAMICELLA, INDIVIDUALS, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BEAM GLOBAL SPIRITS & WINE, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court by way of motion [Doc. No. 10] for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) by Defendants Beam Global Spirits and Wine LLC*fn1 and Jim Beam Brands Co. (hereinafter, "the Beam Defendants") seeking the dismissal with prejudice of Plaintiffs' claim for unjust enrichment as set forth in the second amended class action complaint [Doc. No. 70].*fn2 Plaintiffs oppose the Beam Defendants' motion. The Court has considered the parties' submissions, and decides this matter pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons expressed below, the Beam Defendants' motion is denied.

I. JURISDICTION

The Court exercises jurisdiction over this putative class action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d)(2), the Class Action Fairness Act ("CAFA").

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Maureen Stewart, Kelly Lamicella, and Nicole Bello bring this putative class action on behalf of themselves and a nationwide class of consumers consisting of "[a]ll persons ... who purchased Skinny Girl Margarita products from the launch of the product to" September 6, 2011.*fn3 (Second Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 70] ¶ 36.) Plaintiffs essentially alleged that despite being marketed and sold as "all natural", Defendants' alcoholic beverage product known as "Skinny Girl Margarita" contains a chemical preservative. (Id. ¶¶ 2-3.)

According to Plaintiffs, Defendants engaged in an "extensive media campaign" in several states including, but not limited to, New Jersey, New York, and Florida, wherein Defendants "expressly and impliedly" claimed that Skinny Girl Margarita was "all natural", did not contain any preservatives, was a "healthy alternative to other commercial Margarita products presently available", and used only natural ingredients. (Id. ¶¶ 2, 29.) Plaintiffs contend that these claims by Defendants are false, deceptive, misleading, and fraudulent because Skinny Girl Margarita actually contains sodium benzoate, a chemical preservative, which can become a "potential carcinogen" when mixed with acids such as citric acid from lime juice used in margaritas. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4, 7-9, 30.) Furthermore, Plaintiffs assert that Defendants made these claims "without any reasonable basis for doing so and, in fact, knowing at the time they were made that such claims were in fact false and/or misleading[.]" (Id. ¶ 32.)

Plaintiffs allege that they have been "routinely purchasing" Skinny Girl Margarita for their "own use and enjoyment as well as for entertaining friends" for the past several years. (Id. ¶¶ 7-9.) Plaintiffs, who are "generally health conscious and attempt[] to purchase 'all natural' products when available[,]" allegedly purchased Skinny Girl Margarita based on Defendants' representations in magazine advertisements and on the product packaging that Skinny Girl Margarita was an "'all natural' healthier alternative to other commercially-available Margarita beverage products." (Id. ¶¶ 7-9, 32.) Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs bring claims against all Defendants for violations of the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, negligent misrepresentation, breach of express and implied warranty, and unjust enrichment. (Id. ¶¶ 47-78.)

III. DISCUSSION

The Beam Defendants filed an answer to Plaintiffs' amended class action complaint on November 14, 2011. (See Beam Defs.' Answer [Doc. No. 7].) The Beam Defendants now move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) and seek the dismissal with prejudice of Plaintiffs' unjust enrichment claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Beam Defs.' Mot. for J. on the Pleadings Dismissing Pls.' Unjust Enrichment Claim [Doc. No. 10-1] (hereinafter, "Beam Defs.' Mem.") 2.) Rule 12(c) provides in pertinent part that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed ... a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(c). "A motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the defense that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim is analyzed under the same standards that apply to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." Revell v. Port Auth. of N.Y. & N.J., 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Turbe v. Gov't of the V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991)).

After the Beam Defendants answered Plaintiffs' amended class action complaint and filed the present motion, Plaintiffs filed a second amended class action complaint on June 29, 2012. The Beam Defendants have represented to the Court that they are prepared to rest on the briefing of the present motion because the allegations of the unjust enrichment claim remain unchanged from the amended complaint to the second amended complaint. However, the Court notes that at this time the Beam Defendants cannot move for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) because they have not technically answered Plaintiffs' second amended complaint. Therefore, the Court will construe the Beam Defendants' motion as one brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), particularly because the same standard applies for either motion.

In considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2).

A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks "'not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims[.]'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1953 (2009) ("Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for 'all civil actions[.]'") (citation omitted). First, under the Twombly/Iqbal standard, a district court "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949).

Second, a district court "must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.'" Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211 (citing Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950). "[A] complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 211; see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) ("The Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal ...


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