Jim Beam Loses Bid to Squash Skinny Girl Suit

     CAMDEN, N.J. (CN) – A federal judge denied a request from Jim Beam Brands to throw out a class action claim that its Skinny Girl Margarita product, despite being sold and marketed as “all natural,” contains a chemical preservative and therefore deceives consumers.
     In the original complaint, the class maintains that through the defendants misleading “extensive media campaign,” the class was informed that Skinny Girl Margarita was a “healthy alternative to other commercial margarita products presently available” and was “all natural.”
     The class, who are “generally health conscious and attempt to purchase ‘all natural’ products when available,” state they would have not purchased Beam’s Skinny Girl Margarita product if they had known that the product contained sodium benzoate, a chemical preservative and “potential carcinogen” when mixed with citric acid.
     Beam had sought the dismissal with prejudice based upon class members’ unjust enrichment claim in the second amended complaint.
     “According to the Beam defendants, plaintiffs’ cause of action for unjust enrichment ‘is precluded where, as here, plaintiffs claim to have purchased the [Skinny Girl Margarita] product not from the defendants but from a third-party retailer.’ Relying on New Jersey law, the Beam defendants contend that on a claim for unjust enrichment, plaintiffs are required to show that they conferred a benefit upon the Beam defendants. Citing several cases from other courts in this district, the Beam defendants argue that ‘[w]hen purchasers . . . buy a product from a third-party retailer . . . they have not conferred a benefit upon the manufacturer sufficient to support a claim from unjust enrichment.’
     The Beam defendants contend, therefore, that plaintiffs’ claim for unjust enrichment fails because plaintiffs admit in the second amended complaint that they bought Skinny Girl Margarita from various liquor stores in New Jersey and not directly from a manufacturer like the Beam defendants.”
     District Judge Noel Hillman wrote, “This court is of the view that it would be inequitable to suggest that the Beam defendants can insulate themselves from liability on an unjust enrichment claim simply by asserting that retail sales by liquor stores cut off any relationship between the consumers and the manufacturer. This is particularly true in this case where plaintiffs cannot seek a remedy directly from the liquor stores based on misrepresentations allegedly made by the Beam defendants themselves as the to the ‘all-natural’ nature of Skinny Girl Margarita. Accordingly, this court finds that where a plaintiff alleges that a defendant manufacturer has made false claims or misrepresentations directed for the purpose of generating retail sales, and where those retails sales could have the effect of increasing the amount of wholesale sales to the manufacturer, it is plausible that a plaintiff can show evidence of a sufficiently direct relationship between the parties under New Jersey law.”
     “Accepting plaintiffs’ allegations as true that they would not have purchased Skinny Girl Margarita from the liquor store retailers involved if not for the Beam defendants’ alleged misrepresentations and that the these purchases therefore resulted in defendants receiving funds they would not have otherwise received through the wholesale distribution of their products,” Judge Hill noted, “plaintiffs’ second amended complaint sufficiently alleges a plausible claim for relief.”
     He concluded, for the reasons set forth, “the Beam defendants’ motion is denied.”The Skinny Girl franchise was purchased by the defendants from entrepreneur/reality star Bethenny Frankel in 2011 for an undisclosed amount.

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