Posts Tagged ‘policy’
I don’t mean to keep harping on the Tito’s Vodka cases — but there sure are a lot of them — and they are important. Because there are so many, it is not easy to keep track of how it’s going, hence this handy Scorecard. Most of the cases are slowly grinding along, with no clear winner or loser (as shown with the ⇔ symbol). At one extreme, the Aliano case went especially well for Tito (⇑). At the other extreme is the Hofmann case (⇓). In late November Judge Miller allowed Hofmann, the first-filed case, to go forward, past the defendant’s motion for summary judgment. It got even worse, five days later, when the court gave the plaintiffs permission to go into the plant and see exactly how Tito’s Vodka is made, despite the company’s strong objections.
|Plaintiff (State)||Status (Filed Date)||Notes|
|Aliano (IL)||Closed. Dismissed 9/24/2015. (11/7/2014)||⇑⇑ Big win for Tito.|
|Cabrera (CA)||Open. On 11/20/2015 Judge Miller denied Tito's motion for summary judgment. (12/22/2014)||⇓ This case is not going well for the defendant.|
|Consolidation||Closed. The Hofmann lawyers withdrew their motion to consolidate the cases listed on this table on 5/15/2015. (4/6/2015)||⇔|
|Emanuello (MA)||Open. (4/3/2015)||⇔|
|Grayson (NV)||Open. (1/26/2015)||⇔|
|Hofmann (CA)||Open. On 11/20/2015 Judge Miller denied Tito's motion for summary judgment , and on 11/25/2015 the court ok'd a site visit. (9/15/2014)||⇓⇓ This case is not going well for the defendant.|
|McBrearty (NJ)||Open. (10/24/2014)||⇔|
|Pye (FL)||Open. On 9/23/2015 the federal court dismissed the statutory deception-type claims but let stand the warranty-type claims. (9/25/2014)||⇔|
|Singleton (NY)||Open. (4/7/2015)||⇔|
|Terlesky (OH)||Open. 11/17/2015 the court dismissed the statutory deception-type claims but let stand the warranty-type claims. (6/4/2015)||⇔|
|Wilson (AL)||Closed. Dismissed 9/30/2015. (8/4/2015)||⇑ Win for Tito.|
We reached out to Tito and his lead lawyer to make sure we are not missing anything important, and to ask a few questions, as follows. From early on, Tito said he knew it was going to be a long haul.
How’s it going? Business has continued to be good. The lawsuits have been a distraction. But our consumer base is growing, and they have been extremely loyal. They appreciate Tito’s Handmade Vodka for what it is: a premium quality vodka at a price they can afford. That’s what we set out to make, and the fact that our fans appreciate it makes it all worthwhile.
Do you still think you are going to win? Yes, we do believe we will win. So far, the cases that have been decided on the merits have gone our way. The others are still in the early stages.
Anything you want to say and can say that has not already been in the media? As the courts get more into the issues, they are starting to understand that the regulatory process we have to go through to get label approval means something. And when the federal government issues an approval for our labels, it means they have found them to be in compliance and not misleading to consumers. Everyone in the industry should be able to rely on their approved labels to do business.
Why not just settle or compromise? Settling cases like these simply invites more people to bring more cases. Some principles are worth fighting for.
Biggest surprises about our legal system, so far? Things move slowly in the court system. And in the early stages, people can make a lot of baseless accusations and get the benefit of the doubt for a long time, with no real skin in the game and no downside when those accusations are disproven.
How if at all have the cases affected sales? I haven’t had anyone tell me they won’t buy the product because we’ve been sued. To the contrary, I’ve had people tell me that this means I’ve arrived. All I know is we keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing for years; we just do more of it.
What else? On the Florida case … continued here.
With so many cases pending, and so much at stake, it won’t be long until this scorecard needs a major update.
There is big news out of a federal court in San Diego. On Friday, the judge in two of the Tito’s labeling cases said it, loud and clear. Words matter — on labels. This is important because it was starting to get very confusing, what with all the label cases floating around, and many dismissals. There are at least eight separate Tito’s cases scattered around the country, and a couple dozen alcohol beverage litigations pending in recent months. Along the way, Judge Miller made it clear he is not too impressed with the rigor of TTB’s label review system, or the fact that the Tito’s “Handmade” Vodka labels have been approved on many occasions.
On Friday, November 20, 2015, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Judge Jeffrey Miller issued two very similar Orders in two separate cases against Tito’s Vodka. The cases are:
– Hofmann v. Fifth Generation
– Cabrera v. Fifth Generation
In hindsight, Judge Miller’s November 20th Orders seem obvious. If the claim meant little to nothing, why would Tito spend zillions of dollars to make sure everyone knows his vodka is “handmade”? Why else would it be the main word on the main label, and throughout his marketing? Why else would it work so well, to shoot this brand to the top of a tall and slippery pole? In recent months Tito has argued that the term is mere puff. But I can’t think of any puff term that has a prayer of moving the bottles as well as a term, such as the one at issue, with a little more grit and traction. I don’t see the terms “premium,” “finest,” “smooth,” or any other agreed-upon puff terms getting anyone far, as compared to a term that is much more likely to actually mean something.
In a 17 page Order, Judge Miller denied Tito’s motion for summary judgment in Hofmann v. Fifth Generation, the first of many such cases. The Judge did likewise in a 14 page Order, in the Cabrera case. This means both cases have much greater odds of ending up at trial someday, even though most such cases are settled well before that. This also means the odds are much higher, that a judge or jury might actually tell us, someday in our lifetimes, what this inscrutable term actually means, and whether Tito’s is made thusly. Without having a strong opinion on whether Tito should win or lose, I do have a strong opinion that it is a huge copout to say, the term is simply too hard to define, or, as so many people on the internet like to say about it, “who cares.” For better or worse, my job is more or less about what words do, don’t, should, or shouldn’t mean, hence my deep interest in this case. A term like “bourbon” or “straight” means a lot, and that is good.
The Orders tend to say that TTB approval of the label and term at issue are determinative only to the extent TTB conducted a rigorous review. It is hard to say TTB’s review is other than non-rigorous, inasmuch as TTB quite clearly said they don’t even have any standards or rules around such a term. The plaintiffs argued, and the Judge agreed (in the Hofmann and Cabrera Orders), that “a federal regulator’s actions create a safe harbor only … where the agency’s actions ‘were the result of a formal, deliberative process akin to notice and comment rulemaking or an adjudicative enforcement action,’ and are therefore sufficiently formal to merit Chevron deference.” I have been interacting with TTB’s label review system on a daily basis for more than 25 years now. It would be preposterous to claim that the system has been anything close to formal, deliberative, or similar to an adjudication. Most of the time, no lawyers or neutrals are involved. Most of the time there is no evidence, and there are no evidentiary rules. Many times the system has all the rigor of a bouncer, at the trendiest nightclub, deciding whether you are cool enough to enter the club. Far less often, the system involves knowledgeable people, on opposing sides of an issue, with a plausibly neutral decisionmaker.
It is quite easy to illustrate this. Take a competing vodka; let’s call it Pedro’s. Pretend Pedro’s Vodka is demonstrably distilled in a humongous vodka plant, outside Texas, and shipped to Dallas in railroad …
Last week I had the honor of participating in AHPA‘s webinar on kombucha law. Part of the recording is above and here. The American Herbal Products Association has been active since 1982, and now has more than 300 food, beverage and supplement members. It was an honor because of the eminence of my co-presenters:
- Justin Prochnow, FDA lawyer at Greenberg Traurig, Denver
- Will Garvin, FDA lawyer at Buchanan Ingersoll, Washington
- Peter Evich, Lobbyist, Van Scoyoc Associates, Washington
- Art Libertucci, Consultant, The Buckles Group, Washington
Justin spoke on bottle bills issues. Will covered FDA labeling. Peter covered pending legislative issues. Art helped organize the webinar. I spoke on the various TTB issues raised by kombucha.
It was also an honor because the issues are so timely and challenging. Kombucha is surging in popularity. It raises difficult issues such as:
- is it beer, wine, cereal beverage, malt beverage, food, supplement, or some combination
- what TTB permits may be needed
- does it need FDA or TTB labeling, or both
- what taxes apply
- what penalties may apply, if you blow it
The entire video is about 2 hours, but I have chopped it down to the 30 minutes or so that covers the TTB issues (1-5 as listed above). The entirety, with about 20 minutes of questions and answers, is available from AHPA as here.
Is it just a matter of time before TTB is scutinizing cannabis labels — for sneaky references to — wine?
I hope so. That would be great.
Did TTB approve the label yet? Not that I can see. I don’t find any Indica label approved for this Colorado brewery so far. But I do find this Dank label, which is pretty close. The label mentions a run-in with “the man” and pounds of resinous west coast Cannabacae. Dad and Dudes (the brewer) did a wonderful job of securing some trademark rights in this important term (DANK) sure to be much and more in demand in the future. But the label oddly implies that the company has a trademark registration on the term DANK in and of itself, when it does not appear that anyone does. I wonder if D&D’s registration will be sufficient, someday, to block pot purveyors from using the term DANK as part of their branding, and if pot will be considered highly-related to beer/wine/spirits.
Thanks to LabelVision, it’s quite easy to see that TTB has allowed only two “cannabis” labels so far: vodka with cannabis sativa, and Cabernet Franc with notes of cannabis (“pairs well with baked food or an after dinner smoke”).
There are quite a few Indica labels (not including the one in the drinks business article). There are plenty of pot labels wafting around already, and it seems clear there are many more on the way, in one form or another.
Here we are, checking in a year later, after this post on GMO labeling. TTB still does not allow GMO labeling of the sort depicted above. This sort of labeling seems to be sweeping across the grocery store, but not in the alcohol beverage aisle. We have at least two bases for saying this. First of all, there is this recent Needs Correction (NC) notice. It says the GMO talk is misleading, therapeutic and not acceptable.
Second, we checked through LabelVision and see essentially no GMO-related labels. It is pretty amazing that few if any seem to have slipped through, even though this list tends to say quite a few alcohol beverage products meet the Non-GMO Profect standards.
This NC notice is good because it also happens to cover a few other issues. It reminds us that grape varietal terms should not be used on flavored wine products. It also reminds us that if you have something like a margarita-flavored wine product, it may be necessary to clearly mention that it’s a “wine cocktail.”