In a March 16, 2017 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a putative consumer class action against Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC. In this action, plaintiffs alleged that the labeling on defendant’s “Rita” malt beverages (including Bud Light Lime-a-Rita) was misleading and asserted claims for false advertising, omission, and breach of warranty under California law. Plaintiffs alleged that use of the word “Light” was misleading because the products contained considerably more calories and carbohydrates per ounce than other Budweiser products. The Ninth Circuit was called upon to review the District Court’s dismissal of the action with prejudice under Rule 12(b)(6).
In affirming the District Court, the Ninth Circuit held that “no reasonable consumer would be deceived by the label on the carton into thinking that ‘Bud Light Lime Lime-a-Rita,’ which the label calls a ‘Margarita With a Twist,’ is a low calorie, low carbohydrate beverage, or that it contains fewer calories or carbohydrates than a regular beer.” The Ninth Circuit noted that the label makes clear that the product is “not a normal beer” and that the label picture shows a bright green drink served over ice in a margarita glass. According to the Ninth Circuit, comparable products would include a hypothetical Budweiser Lime-a-Rita product (as opposed to a Bud Light) or a tequila margarita, both of which would contain more calories and carbohydrates than the product at issue. For these reasons, the Ninth Circuit dismissed both the false advertising and omission claims.
While this decision is not binding in New Jersey, New Jersey businesses should take note of the Ninth Circuit’s reasoning regarding what constitutes a comparable product for purposes of consumer deception.