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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Tito's Vodka wins summary judgment in false advertising suit

By Michelle de Leon | Nov 23, 2016

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TALLAHASSEE – A Florida district court granted a summary judgment in favor of Fifth Generation Inc. and Mockingbird Distillery Corp. with regard the false advertising case filed against its Tito’s “Handmade” Vodka line.

The Tallahassee division of the Northern District of Florida granted the motion for summary judgment of Fifth Generation and Mockingbird Distillery Corp., asserting that the company did not employ any false advertising measures to trick the consumers into buying their Tito’s Vodka products.

In the order released by US District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, he declared that the plaintiffs failed to prove that a reasonable person would have been misled by the label used by the defendants in their vodka bottles.

The plaintiffs, Shalinus Pye and Raisha Licht, claimed that their purchase of Tito’s Vodka products were made in reliance of the label in the bottle which said that the drink was “handmade” and created in “an old-fashioned pot still.” In their lawsuit, the petitioners aimed to represent a class of Florida consumers who bought Tito’s Vodka under the impression that the bottle’s label was accurate.

The point of contention in this case is the use of the term “old-fashioned pot still.” According to the plaintiffs, the defendants tricked them into thinking that they have been using an “old-fashioned pot still” in the creation of the drinks. While it has not yet been fully established, it is widely believed that vodka made from “pot” stills are smoother compared with those made using other methods. The petitioners asserted that the modifications made by the vodka manufacturers would no longer make the process “old-fashioned.” Based on these allegations, the petitioners asserted their right to an express warranty claim.

An express warranty, which may either be verbal or written, is primarily a guarantee to the consumers that a product or item would meet a certain level of quality and reliability. Should the customers find that the product failed to reach the set expectations by the manufacturers, then they are entitled to a replacement or repair of the item without any cost on their part.

In its decision, the district court made a distinction between the two types of stills used in creating vodka. One is the “pot” still and the other is the “column” still. Based on historical records, the use of the “pot” still dated back before the Civil War. Using the said timeline, the district court stated that the “pot” still process can be reasonably categorized “old-fashioned” both in absolute terms and in comparison to the “column” still.

The district court also pointed out that the plaintiffs did not present any evidentiary support to their claims – an observation that came in contrast to the proof presented by the defendants. Without documents to back their statements, the district court also dismissed the express warranty claim of the petitioners. In addition to the summary judgment in favor of the defendants, the district court also declared that the plaintiffs will not recover anything from the defendants as all their claims have been dismissed.

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Tallahassee Division