Jackson v. Anheuser-Busch Inbev SA/NV, LLC

Decision Date18 August 2021
Docket Number20-cv-23392-BLOOM/Louis
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Florida



THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendants' Anheuser-Busch Companies, LLC (AB) and Miami Beer Ventures LLC's (MBV) (collectively Defendants) Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint, ECF No. [65] (Motion to Dismiss) and Plaintiffs Byron Jackson and Mario Mena, Jr.'s (collectively, Plaintiffs) Motion for Leave to Amend Complaint, ECF No. [83] (Motion to Amend), (collectively, the “Motions”).[1] The Court has carefully reviewed the Motions, all opposing and supporting submissions, the record in this case, the applicable law, and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss is granted and Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend is denied as moot.


Plaintiffs initiated this class action on August 14, 2020, see ECF No. [1], and filed an Amended Class Action Complaint for Injunctive and Other Relief against Defendants on August 31, 2020, see ECF No. [17] (“FAC”). Plaintiffs assert claims based on Defendants' alleged misrepresentations regarding their products. Specifically, Defendants operate the Veza Sur Brewing Company (Veza Sur), which they market as a craft brewery with Latin roots. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants misrepresent the authenticity and ownership of Veza Sur beer to deceive consumers into paying a price premium for products that consumers believe are made by an authentic, locally owned craft brewery, rather than by a subsidiary of the world's largest brewer.

Defendants moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' FAC, arguing that the FAC failed to state a claim for relief on any count and that Plaintiffs lacked standing to seek injunctive relief. ECF No. [32]. The Court held a hearing on the motion to dismiss and granted the motion on the record. ECF No. [56]. At that hearing, the Court explained that the factual allegations in the FAC lacked the requisite specificity to survive dismissal but gave Plaintiffs the opportunity to cure these pleading deficiencies by amendment. Plaintiffs ultimately filed a Second Amended Class Action Complaint for Injunctive and Other Relief, attempting to correct the deficiencies noted by the Court, which is the operative pleading in this action. See ECF No. [58] (“SAC”).

The SAC alleges the following facts: AB is one of the largest beer brewers in America and it owns dozens of different specialized brands of beer. Id. ¶ 1. In the midst of a booming craft beer market in the United States, AB took efforts to gain some of the market share of craft beer drinkers. Id. ¶¶ 9, 19-20. As such, in 2017, Defendants, along with a No. of other corporate affiliates, opened a Miami-focused craft brewery, Veza Sur Brewing Company (Veza Sur). Id. ¶¶ 24-25. However, many craft beer enthusiasts prefer authentic, locally owned craft beer to beer brewed by large companies. Id. ¶¶ 14-18. The SAC includes a definition of “craft” that Plaintiffs believe controls in this case:

To qualify as a craft brewer per the Brewers Association (1) a brewery must produce six million barrels of beer or less annually; (2) less than 25 percent of the craft brewery can be owned or controlled-or equivalent economic interest-by a beverage alcohol industry member which is not itself a craft brewer, and (3) a TTB Brewer's Notice must be present.

Id. ¶ 21.

Because Plaintiffs' understanding of a “craft brewer” is limited to small, local, independently owned breweries with ties to the local community, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants engaged in a series of false statements, misrepresentations, and omissions in an effort to deceive consumers into thinking Veza Sur is an authentic craft brewery with significant ties to Miami and Latin American roots. Id. ¶¶ 34-37. For example, although the fact that AB owns Veza Sur was reported on certain media outlets and was publicly available information, the SAC alleges that Defendants go to great lengths to omit any affiliation between AB and Veza Sur on Veza Sur's website, in its marketing and advertising statements, on its social media, and in the brewery itself. See generally Id. ¶¶ 27-43, 64, 67. Additionally, by referring to its beers as “craft” beers and by promoting a deep connection to Miami and to Latin American heritage, Plaintiffs allege that Defendants are attempting to deceive craft beer consumers by giving off the appearance that Veza Sur is an authentic craft brewery because Defendants know they can charge a premium for craft beers. Id. ¶¶ 51-61.

The SAC also alleges that Defendants further misrepresent Veza Sur as being “Miami-born . . . with Latin-American roots, ” and they include the slogan #HechaenMiami, which translates to “Made in Miami, ” on the individual bottles of beer for sale, on the cartons, and in most, if not all, of their marketing and promotional materials. Id. ¶¶ 42-48. Despite this claimed connection to Miami, the SAC alleges that a portion of Veza Sur beer is brewed and bottled at a facility in Fort Pierce by Islamorada Brewing Company, LLC, rather than being brewed exclusively by Veza Sur at the Miami brewery. Id. ¶¶ 47-54. In light of this additional brewing facility, Plaintiffs allege that certain portions of the labels on Veza Sur's beer and their packaging are misleading or are entirely false, thus further contributing to consumer deception. Id.

The SAC further describes each named Plaintiff's experience visiting Veza Sur's brewery and consuming its beers at home. Id. ¶¶ 64-69. Plaintiffs each visited the Veza Sur brewery in Miami on numerous occasions, believing it to be a locally-owned, authentic, Miami craft brewery. Id. They also purchased Veza Sur beer from third-party retailers to drink at home based on this same mistaken belief. Id. Plaintiffs both allege that they were willing to pay a premium for these allegedly authentic crafted beers, and they did so to their detriment because of the misrepresentations, omissions, and false statements Defendants perpetuated to earn greater profits. Id.

In the SAC, Plaintiffs assert the following seven claims for relief: Count One[2] - Violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (“FDUTPA”), Fla. Stat. § 501.201, et seq.; Count Two - Fraudulent Misrepresentation; Count Three - Unjust Enrichment; Count Four - Breach of Express Warranty, Fla. Stat. § 672.313; Count Five - Breach of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (“MMWA”), 15 U.S.C. § 2301, et seq.; Count Six - Negligent Misrepresentation; and Count Seven - Misleading Advertising, Fla. Stat. § 817.41. See generally Id.

Defendants now file their Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), arguing that the SAC should be dismissed with prejudice because Plaintiffs failed to cure the deficiencies noted by the Court at the hearing on the prior motion to dismiss, and Plaintiffs still lack standing to pursue injunctive relief. Plaintiffs oppose the Motion and have filed their Motion to Amend, seeking leave to file a third amended complaint to allege additional facts (but no new claims for relief) based on information that was uncovered during discovery in this case. Defendants oppose Plaintiffs' request.

A. Lack of Standing Under Rule 12(b)(1)

One element of the case-or-controversy requirement under Article III of the United States Constitution is that plaintiffs “must establish that they have standing to sue.” Raines v. Byrd, 521 U.S. 811, 818 (1997). It is a threshold question of “whether the litigant is entitled to have the court decide the merits of the dispute or of particular issues.” Sims v. Fla. Dep't of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, 862 F.2d 1449, 1458 (11th Cir. 1989). ‘The law of Article III standing . . . serves to prevent the judicial process from being used to usurp the powers of the political branches,' and confines the federal courts to a properly judicial role.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (citing Clapper v. Amnesty Int'l USA, 568 U.S. 398, 408 (2013); Warth v Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498 (1975)). Further, “standing requirements ‘are not mere pleading requirements but rather [are] an indispensable part of the plaintiff's case.' Church v. City of Huntsville, 30 F.3d 1332, 1336 (11th Cir. 1994) (quoting Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992)). “Indeed, standing is a threshold question that must be explored at the outset of any case.” Corbett v. Transp. Sec. Admin., 930 F.3d 1225, 1232 (11th Cir. 2019) (citing Bochese v. Town of Ponce Inlet, 405 F.3d 964, 974 (11th Cir. 2005)), cert. denied, 140 S.Ct. 900 (2020). “In its absence, ‘a court is not free to opine in an advisory capacity about the merits of a plaintiff's claim.' Id. (quoting Bochese, 405 F.3d at 974). “In fact, standing is ‘perhaps the most important jurisdictional' requirement, and without it, [federal courts] have no power to judge the merits.” Id. (footnote omitted) (quoting Bochese, 405 F.3d at 974); see also Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church & State, 454 U.S. 464, 472 (1982) (describing the standing requirements as “an irreducible minimum”).

To establish standing under Article III, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) it “suffered an injury in fact that is (a) concrete and particularized, and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical;” (2) “the injury is fairly traceable to conduct of the defendant;” and (3) “it is likely, not just merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.” Kelly v. Harris, 331 F.3d 817, 819-20 (11th Cir. 2003). “The party invoking...

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