January 01, 2015

Cheers! Skinnygirl Successfully Defends a Motion for Class Certification

Erin E. Rhinehart

A recent dispute involving former Real Housewives star and burgeoning mogul Bethenny Frankel didn’t amount to an exchange of insults among housewives, though it did land Frankel’s famous creation—the Skinnygirl Margarita—in the middle of a case in federal court.

Earlier this year, a federal district court in New York denied a motion for class certification against the owners of the Skinnygirl Margarita, Skinnygirl Cocktails, LLC, SGC Global, LLC, and Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. (Frankel and her business partner sold the Skinnygirl Margarita trademark to Jim Beam in 2011.)

Well known as a natural-food chef and author of the best-selling book Naturally Thin, Frankel helped develop a line of all-natural Skinnygirl cocktails, starting with the margarita. The complaint alleged, however, that Skinnygirl Margaritas contain the preservative sodium benzoate, as well as other additives that challenge the all-natural claim. In particular, lead plaintiff Christopher Rapczynsky asserted claims under New York statutory law protecting consumers from deceptive acts (i.e., New York General Business Law and Agriculture and Markets Law), as well as state common law claims of promissory estoppel and breach of warranty.

Applying the requisite rigorous analysis, the court found that Rapczynsky was atypical of the putative class members. Rapczynsky testified that he bought the drink in Massachusetts for his wife because he “love[s] her” and wanted to “appease” her.

Under Rapczynsky’s New York statutory claims, the prohibited act must occur in New York. The court found that “having not purchased his products in the New York State, [he] is an atypical representative of the New York class he purports to represent.” Likewise, the court refused to certify Rapczynsky’s common-law claims because of his causation problems. “A baseline inquiry into Rapczynski’s [sic] belief revealed that he bought the product to thank his wife for all she does in the home,” not because it was purportedly an all-natural product.

While the decision is not groundbreaking, it is an excellent example of how a trial court should conduct its rigorous analysis. The decision includes an uncomplicated summary of a lead plaintiff’s burden at the class certification stage, as well as the trial court’s role when evaluating a motion for class certification. I’ll drink to that.

Resource: Rapczynsky v. Skinnygirl Cocktails, LLC, Case No. 11-civ-6546 (JBO), Memorandum and Order (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2013).

Skinnygirl® Margarita, Made with Silver Tequila, Triple Sec, Natural Flavor and Caramel Color, 12.7% Alc./Vol. ©201_ Skinnygirl Cocktails, Deerfield, IL (Per 1.5 oz – Average Analysis: Calories 37.3, Carbohydrates 1.7g, Protein 0g, Fat 0g)

Erin E. Rhinehart

Erin E. Rhinehart is a partner with the commercial litigation firm of Faruki Ireland & Cox P.L.L. in Dayton, Ohio.