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Stewart v. Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 27, 2014

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.

Barbara Spillman Schweiger, Esquire, David Benjamin Wolfe, Esquire, Evan Andrew Showell, Esquire, Jane J. Felton, Esquire, Skoloff & Wolfe, P.C., Livingston, New Jersey, Attorneys for Plaintiffs.

John B. Kearney, Esquire, Michael Robert Carroll, Esquire, Ballard Spahr LLP, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Attorneys for Defendants Beam Global Spirits & Wine, LLC, and Jim Beam Brands Co.

David E. Sellinger, Esquire, Greenberg Traurig LLP, Florham Park, New Jersey, and Laura D. Castner Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump & Aldisert LLP, Santa Monica, California, Attorneys for Defendant Bethenny Frankel.

Aaron Van Nostrand, Esquire, David E. Sellinger, Esquire, Greenberg Traurig LLP, Florham Park, New Jersey, Attorneys for Defendant SGC Global, LLC.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court by way of Plaintiffs' motion [Doc. No. 123] for class certification. Defendants oppose Plaintiffs' motion for class certification. The Court has considered the parties' submissions, and decides this matter pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.

For the reasons expressed below, Plaintiffs' motion for class certification will be denied without prejudice.

I. JURISDICTION

The Court exercises jurisdiction over this putative class action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 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 all others similarly situated against Defendants Beam Global Spirits and Wine LLC and Jim Beam Brands Co. (hereinafter, "Beam"), Defendant SGC Global LLC and Skinny Girl Cocktails, LLC (hereinafter, collectively "SGC"), and Defendant Bethenny Frankel (hereinafter, "Frankel"). Plaintiffs essentially allege that despite being marketed and sold as an "all natural" product and a "healthy alternative to other commercial Margarita products[, ]" Defendants' low-calorie, pre-mixed alcoholic beverage product known as "Skinnygirl Margarita" does not live up to these claims. Plaintiffs purportedly purchased Skinnygirl Margarita based on these representations by Defendants in magazine advertisements and on the product packaging. Plaintiffs assert that Defendants' claims are false, deceptive, misleading, and fraudulent.

By way of background, Skinnygirl Margarita "was originally developed by natural foods chef, entrepreneur, and television personality [Defendant] Bethenny Frankel, in conjunction with David Kanbar, [who is not a defendant here], a veteran of the alcoholic beverage industry." (Opp'n of Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. and Jim Beam Brands Co. to Pls.' Mot. for Class Certification [Doc. No. 155] (hereinafter, "Beam's Opp'n"), 3.)[1] Frankel and Kanbar subsequently "formed Skinny Girl Cocktails LLC (now [known as] SGC Global LLC), which began selling Skinnygirl Margarita' in certain markets in approximately August 2009." (Id.) Nearly two years later, in March of 2011, Beam "purchased the Skinnygirl Margarita' trademark, together with certain related assets" pursuant to an asset-purchase agreement. (Id.) Since that time, "Beam has marketed and sold" Skinnygirl Margarita. (Id. at 4.)

III. DISCUSSION

A. Class Certification

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 permits "[o]ne or more members of a class [to] sue... as representative parties on behalf of all members" of the class. FED. R. CIV. P. 23(a). Accordingly, Rule 23 "sets forth a two-pronged standard for class certification." Franco v. Conn. Gen. Life Ins. Co., 289 F.R.D. 121, 129 (D.N.J. 2013) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 23). "To obtain certification, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the putative class meets the threshold requirements of Rule 23(a) as well as one of the three Rule 23(b) categories under which [the plaintiff] wishes to proceed on behalf of a class." Id .; see also Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 2541, 2548-49 (2011)). On a motion for class certification, "[i]t is plaintiff's burden to show that a class action is a proper vehicle for th[e] lawsuit." Hayes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 725 F.3d 349, 354 (3d Cir. 2013); see also Comcast Corp. v. Behrend, ___ U.S. ___, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 1432, 185 L.Ed.2d 515 (2013) ("The class action is an exception to the usual rule that litigation is conducted by and on behalf of the individual named parties only.... To come within the exception, a party seeking to maintain a class action must affirmatively demonstrate his compliance' with Rule 23.") (citations omitted).

As the Third Circuit has explained, the "party seeking class certification must first establish the four requirements of Rule 23(a): (1) the class is so numerous that joinder of all members is impracticable [numerosity]; (2) there are questions of law or fact common to the class [commonality]; (3) the claims or defenses of the representative parties are typical of the claims or defenses of the class [typicality]; and (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class [adequacy].'" In re Hydrogen Peroxide Antitrust Litig., 552 F.3d 305, 309 n.6 (3d Cir. 2008). "[Class] certification is proper only if the trial court is satisfied, after a rigorous analysis, that the prerequisites of Rule 23(a) have been satisfied. Frequently that rigorous analysis will entail some overlap with the merits of the plaintiff's underlying claim. That cannot be helped." Hayes, 725 F.3d at 353-54 (citing Dukes, 131 S.Ct. at 2551) (internal quotations omitted).

Where the plaintiff satisfies all four prerequisites under Rule 23(a) - numerosity, commonality, typicality, and adequacy - "a class of one of three types [set forth in Rule 23(b)] (each with additional requirements) may be certified." In re Hydrogen Peroxide, 552 F.3d at 309 n.6. Plaintiffs in this case seek certification under Rule 23(b)(3). (Br. in Supp. of Pls.' Mot. for Class Certification [Doc. No. 123-1] (hereinafter, "Pls.' Br."), 21.) A class action may be maintained under Rule 23(b)(3) if "the court finds that the questions of law or fact common to class members predominate over any questions affecting only individual members, and that a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and efficiently adjudicating the controversy." FED. R. CIV. P. 23(b)(3); see also (Pls.' Br. 21) ("Plaintiffs bring a Rule 23(b)(3) action because common questions predominate over individual ones and a class action is superior to other available methods for fairly and effectively adjudicating the controversy.").

In ruling on the present motion, the Court notes that "[f]actual determinations supporting Rule 23 findings must be made by a preponderance of the evidence." In re Hydrogen Peroxide, 552 F.3d at 307. "A party's assurance to the court that it intends or plans to meet the requirements is insufficient.'" Hayes, 725 F.3d at 354 (citing In re Hydrogen Peroxide, 552 F.3d at 307).

B. Ascertainability of the Class

In recent years, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has increasingly emphasized the importance of ascertainability of the class with respect to classes certified under Rule 23(b)(3) when examining class certification orders on appeal. See, e.g., Carrera v. Bayer Corp., 727 F.3d 300, 305-08 (3d Cir. 2013); Hayes, 725 F.3d at 354-56; Marcus v. BMW of N. Am., LLC, 687 F.3d 583, 592-94 (3d Cir. 2012).[2] Beginning in Marcus, the Third Circuit recognized that "an essential prerequisite of a class action, at least with respect to actions [brought] under Rule 23(b)(3), is that the class must be currently and readily ascertainable based on objective criteria." Marcus, 687 F.3d at 592-93; see also Hayes, 725 F.3d at 355 ("As an essential prerequisite' to class certification, ... plaintiff must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the class is ascertainable.") (citations omitted); Carrera, 727 F.3d at 306 ("a plaintiff must show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the class is currently and readily ascertainable based on objective criteria, ' and a trial court must undertake a rigorous analysis of the evidence to determine if the standard is met.") (citations omitted).

The Third Circuit has determined that several important objectives are served by virtue of the ascertainability requirement for Rule 23(b)(3) class actions: (1) the requirement "eliminates serious administrative burdens that are incongruous with the efficiencies expected in a class action' by insisting on the easy identification of class members[;]" (2) the requirement "protects absent class members by facilitating the best notice practicable' under Rule 23(c)(2)[;]" and (3) the requirement "protects defendants by ensuring that ...


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