Who knew that former Real Housewives star and burgeoning mogul Bethenny Frankel would have a hand in shaping federal class action law. On January 9, a federal district court in New York denied the motion for class certification of Lead Plaintiff, Christopher Rapczynsky, against the owners of the , Skinnygirl Cocktails, LLC, SGC Global, LLC and Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. Rapczynsky v. Skinnygirl Cocktails, LLC, et al., Case No. 11-civ-6546 (JBO), Memorandum and Order (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2013). (As you may recall, in March 2011, Frankel and her business partner sold the Skinnygirl Margarita trademark, as well as other related assets, to a subsidiary of Jim Beam for a reported $120 million.)
Well known as a “natural food chef” and author of the best-selling book Naturally Thin, Frankel helped develop a line of “all natural” Skinnygirl cocktails, starting with the Skinnygirl Margarita. The complaint alleges, however, that Skinnygirl Margaritas contain the preservative sodium benzoate, as well as other additives that challenge the “all natural” claim. In particular, Rapczynsky asserts claims under New York statutory law protecting consumers from deceptive acts (i.e., New York General Business Law and Agriculture and Markets Law), as well as state common law claims of promissory estoppel and breach of warranty.
Applying the requisite rigorous analysis, the court found that Rapczynsky was atypical of the putative class members. Rapczynsky testified that he bought the drink in Massachusetts for his wife because he “love[s] her” and wanted to “appease” her.
Under Rapczynsky’s New York statutory claims, the prohibited act must occur in New York. The court found that, “having not purchased his products in the New York State, [he] is an atypical representative of the New York class he purports to represent.” Likewise, the court refused to certify Rapczynsky’s common law claims because of his causation problems. “A baseline inquiry into Rapczynski’s belief has revealed that he bought the product to thank his wife for all she does in the home.” Not because it was purportedly an “all natural” product.
While the decision is not groundbreaking, it is an excellent example of how a trial court should conduct its rigorous analysis. The decision includes an uncomplicated summary of a lead plaintiff’s burden at the class certification stage, as well as the trial court’s role when evaluating a motion for class certification. I’ll drink to that.