Court Rules Starbucks Didn’t Defraud Customers by Adding Ice

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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A California federal judge has dismissed a proposed class action against Starbucks based on a claim that the coffee chain intentionally put too much ice in its cold drinks.

According to the judge’s opinion, plaintiff Alexander Forouzesh claimed that Starbucks

systematically defrauds its customers by advertising its cold drinks as containing more liquid than they do by “underfilling” its cups with liquid and then adding ice to make the cups appear full.

Specifically, the plaintiff’s complaint said, the menu on the Starbucks website says that

if [consumers] order a Tall Cold Drink, they will receive 12 fluid ounces of that drink; in a Grande Cold Drink, they will receive 16 fluid ounces of that drink; in a Venti Cold Drink, they will receive 24 fluid ounces of that drink; and in a Trenta Cold Drink, they will receive 30 fluid ounces of that drink.

Starbucks DrinkThe plaintiff claimed that it was standard practice at Starbucks outlets to fill a clear cup up to a designated fill line and then add ice on top of that.

Doing this, he claimed, would produce a “Grande” sized beverage with only 12 ounces of liquid instead of 16. A Venti would have 14 ounces instead of 24, he claimed.

The complaint alleged causes of action for breach of warranty, negligent misrepresentation, and false advertising. among others.

The plaintiff sought to represent “All persons in the state of California who purchased one or more the Defendant’s Cold Drinks at any time between April 27, 2006 and the present.”

The plaintiff claimed that a “reasonable consumer” would be deceived into believing that Starbucks cold drinks included more beverages than they actually did.

Even a Child Would Know Better

The judge disagreed, saying

as young children learn, they can increase the amount of beverage they receive if they order “no ice.” If children have figured out that including ice in a cold beverage decreases the amount of liquid they will receive, the Court has no difficulty concluding that a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into thinking that when they order an iced tea, that the drink they receive will include both ice and tea and that for a given size cup, some portion of the drink will be ice rather than whatever liquid beverage the consumer ordered.

The Guardian reported that “tarbucks has insisted that ice is an “essential component of any ‘ice’ beverage,” and that customers unhappy with a drink can ask to get a new one.

The judge noted that his conclusion was supported by the fact that Starbucks cold beverage cups are clear, which makes it “easy to see that the drink consists of a combination of liquid and ice.”

Is a “Drink” Only Liquid?

Also, said the judge,

Starbucks lists the sizes of its “drinks,” not, as Plaintiff attempts to allege … that Starbucks has made a representation about the size of its “beverages,” and that a reasonable consumer would understand that a beverage must only be a reference to the “drinkable liquid.”

According to the court,

When a reasonable consumer walks into a Starbucks and orders a Grande iced tea, that consumer knows the size of the cup that drink will be served in and that a portion of the drink will consist of ice. Because no reasonable consumer could be confused by this, Plaintiff fails to state viable … claims.

More Coffee Cases

The Wall Street Journal reports that a similar lawsuit is pending against Starbucks in federal court in Illinois.

According to The Guardian, the Illinois complaint also says that cold Starbucks drinks cost more than hot ones and that Starbucks was making more money from customers that ordered cold drinks.

The plaintiff in a San Francisco case claims that Starbucks is deceiving customers by giving them too much foam in their lattes, and thus 25% less coffee than advertised.

In June, a federal judge allowed the San Francisco case to go forward.

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