A California federal judge is allowing a class action lawsuit against Starbucks Corp. to continue related to a claim that the coffee company puts the same amount of caffeine in their different cup sizes.
In his order, U.S. District Judge James V. Selna opined that, in general, the issue of whether a business practice is deceptive is a question that usually cannot be properly resolved in a motion to dismiss.
According to the judge’s opinion, Starbucks argued that plaintiff Teresa Adams’ claims should fail because no reasonable consumer would be deceived by Starbucks about the amount of caffeine in their products.
Adams claims that Starbucks engages in widespread and deceptive marketing by engaging in a scheme that makes customers spend more money for the larger, venti-size coffee under the belief that it contains more espresso than a grande drink.
As an example, Adams claims that while a hot grande Grande Caffe Latte contains 150 mg of caffeine, the venti size of the same drink also contains 150 mg of caffeine. She states that, to confuse matters more, the vast majority of the iced versions of the drinks actually do increase in espresso and caffeine content as the cups get larger.
Adams maintains that she purchased a venti Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks in San Clemente, Calif., on Nov. 20, 2019. She says she normally purchases grande-sized drinks from Starbucks, but this time she wanted an “extra boost” and decided to purchase a larger drink.
According to the judge’s opinion, Adams “relied on Starbucks’ representations that the Venti sizes contained more espresso and therefore, more caffeine than the Grande size, and would not have purchased the Venti size drink if they had known the truth.”
The judge’s opinion notes that Starbucks’ arguments are based on the fact that Adams does not allege Starbucks makes a misrepresentation on its menu boards about the caffeine content on the made-to-order beverages.
Starbucks alleges that the menu boards only contain information about the type of beverage, size, calorie content and price.
Starbucks thus argues there was no false statement made regarding the espresso and caffeine content and says Adams could have inquired at Starbucks or could have gone to the website, which discloses the caffeine content of the company’s drinks.
Also, Starbucks notes in their motion to dismiss, the drive-thru menu board directs consumers to visit the Starbucks website for full information about its drinks.
“A reasonable consumer may look to the increased caffeine between the Tall and Grande sizes and assume that the Venti would also have an increase in caffeine over the Grande size,” the judge goes on to state.
Adams also cited posts on the Top Class Actions website that support the conclusion that consumers are misled by the lack of difference in caffeine between the venti and grande sizes. Starbucks then argued that subjective opinions posted in the context of asking to join the lawsuit are irrelevant.
The judge disagreed, opining that the comments on Top Class Actions were posted in the context of asking the public to join the lawsuit and that the comments included in the complaint suggest many consumers have been deceived by Starbucks’ practices. The judge says that Adams has sufficiently alleged anecdotal evidence that consumers have been deceived or would be deceived.
In addition, the judge says Adams has satisfied the Rule 9(b) requirements by stating that Starbucks failed to disclose that the level of caffeine between between the grande and venti Pumpkin Spice Latte was the same when she purchased the drink, which misled her into believing that the venti Pumpkin Spice Latte had more caffeine than the cheaper grande size.
Thus, the judge stated, the Starbucks class action lawsuit “clearly explains that what Adams relied upon was the difference in the sizes, calories, and prices advertised by Starbucks which led her to believe the larger drink had more caffeine.”
Starbucks argued that Adams has failed to plead sufficient facts under an omission theory because it has no duty to disclose the quantity or amount of caffeine in its hot espresso drinks.
Adams states that she did not make such allegations because she read the menu and believed the venti size contained more caffeine because the menu identifies all three sizes and their corresponding calorie count and price.
The court disagreed, opining that Adams has pled sufficient facts to support an omission theory of deception.
Did you purchase Starbucks venti coffee thinking it contained more caffeine than a grande? Leave a message in the comments section below.
The plaintiff is represented by Jae Kook Kim, Todd D. Carpenter and Scott G. Braden of Carlson Lynch LLP.
The Starbucks Caffeine Content Class Action Lawsuit is Teresa Adams v. Starbucks Corp., a Washington Corporation, et al., Case No. 8:20-cv-00225, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
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