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Venti Litigation

February 10, 2020

When you order a large cup of coffee, do you do it to get extra caffeine or because you want more to drink?

Milt Policzer

By Milt Policzer

Courthouse News columnist; racehorse owner and breeder; one of those guys who always got picked last.

When you order a large cup of coffee, do you do it to get extra caffeine or because you want more to drink?

This is an idle question — there’s no right or wrong answer — but I’ve been wondering about it since reading a proposed class action filed last week in federal court in Los Angeles against Starbucks Corporation for selling some of its largest hot drinks with the same amount of caffeine as the medium sizes of the same drinks.

The suit says the practice misleads consumers because they expect a proportionately larger amount of caffeine with their larger amount of liquid. Instead, they’re getting a different drink if they order the larger size. “This misleading practice offends reasonable consumer expectations,” the suit said.

I suppose that’s logical if you stop to think about it, but how many people stop to think about it? Are there reasonable consumer expectations for morning coffee?

If you really cared about the amount of caffeine in your drink, wouldn’t you do a little research? The complaint says that “at no time does Starbucks inform consumers as to the true amount of espresso or the caffeine content of its Venti-sized espresso beverages.”

At this point, you may be wondering how the plaintiff (or her lawyers) discovered the caffeine discrepancy if Starbucks wasn’t telling. Did someone have an insufficient buzz?

The lawsuit explains: The caffeine amounts are listed on the Starbucks website — where Starbucks informs consumers.

But I’m being picky (since that’s my job). Let’s suppose the plaintiff wins, or more likely, gets a settlement. What does that look like? How do you find and verify all the people who ordered venti drinks? How do you know which of those expected more caffeine and how do you know how many ventis they had?

Here’s what I think the inevitable settlement will be: Starbucks will promise to increase the espresso in ventis or reduce it in grandes. Customers will get coupons for a free drink if they buy a bunch of other stuff. And the plaintiff lawyers will get $1 million in fees.

Everyone will be happily buzzed.

Pro bono. I have nothing against creative entrepreneurship, but shouldn’t the creativity be your own?

I guess not — especially if you can get other people to be creative for you for free.

I bring this up because of the unexpected response to a Reddit posting last week from someone asking for help with a poster. He or she wanted common phrases used by lawyers that don’t necessarily mean what they say.

This could be an entertaining exercise until you realize — or should realize — that the person issuing the challenge wants to sell the posters for between $35 and $49 apiece on their website.

I do realize I’m much more cynical than most people, but you’d think lawyers would pay more attention. When I looked at the posting there were 109 comments and the request was only 11 hours old. Everyone was trying to be helpful.

I underestimate the charitability of the legal profession.

Or maybe someone is trying to set a copyright infringement trap ...

Sign of the times? Here’s my favorite scene description of the week from a federal judge’s ruling in Texas: “Both families frequently called the local police station, Harris County Constable Precinct 4, to complain about the other. The complaints ranged from the Koczmans allegedly throwing tree limbs into the Gorskys’ yard and dog feces into their pool, to the Gorskys allegedly directing rainwater into the Koczmans’ yard and using a loud pool pump.”

Someone needs to introduce these people to video games.

Wildlife. Raccoons aren’t the only enemies of humanity. It turns out that according to a  Second Circuit ruling, there’s been an increase in “the number of undesirable human-deer interactions.”

Considering how cute deer are, I find this hard to believe, and it turns out, according to the ruling, that the deer population in the Fire Island National Seashore grew as more humans settled there. You’d think both deer and humans would be happy.

Alas, the deer started chomping on the local vegetation and spreading Lyme disease — and now we have litigation over whether the National Park Service should put up a fence. That’s right — the government wants to put up a wall to keep out illegal immigrant deer. I don’t know who’s supposed to pay for it.

I’m not taking a position on something this controversial.

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