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Class Certification Denied in Skinnygirl False-Advertising Case Because Class Representative Didn’t Rely on Label

Posted in Adequacy, Class Certification, Typicality

Plaintiff Christopher Rapczynski testified that he purchased Skinnygirl Margarita mix “because I love my wife,” she “said she liked it,” and she “has my three children and works very hard.” Those all may be good reasons for a nice Valentine’s Day present, but not for bringing a class action. As the Southern District of New York recently held, Rapczynski was an inadequate class representative—not for lack of love—but because he hadn’t relied on the allegedly false claim on the product’s label about which he was suing. For that and other reasons, the court denied certification of a putative class of Skinnygirl purchasers. See Rapczinsky v. Skinnygirl Cocktails LLC (pdf), 2013 WL 93636 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2013).

Rapczynski had filed a putative false advertising class action against the makers and distributors of Skinnygirl Margaritas, alleging that the “All Natural” statement on the product label was misleading because the product contains sodium benzoate (a preservative) and mixto (a tequila byproduct). (The Skinnygirl brand was created by reality TV star Bethenny Frankel, but as fans of her show know (and non-fans can learn from Wikipedia), she sold the brand for an obscene amount.)

The court found that Rapczynski was not an adequate representative of the class and that his claims were not typical of those of the putative class members because his deposition testimony confirmed that he hadn’t relied on the allegedly false statement, a necessary element of claims for breach of express warranty and promissory estoppel under New York law. Rapczynski admitted that he had bought the product to thank his wife and because he knew that she enjoyed it, rather than because of anything on the label. His statements further established that “he would have bought that product regardless of price” and that “his belief with respect to its naturalness was irrelevant to his purchasing decision.”

The court also held that Rapczynski’s claims were not typical of those of a putative class of New York purchasers because he had bought the product outside of New York state and thus was attempting “to assert the class’s rights under at least two statutes that do not guard against the [out-of-state] transactions which allegedly caused him injury.”

The court’s denial of class certification serves as a reminder that the deposition of a class representative can be the key to defeating class certification. It is also a reminder that consumers buy products for all sorts of reasons—including ones that have absolutely nothing to do with the representations alleged in a false-advertising or breach-of-warranty complaint. Although not every class representative may be as candid as Rapczynski, the cases serves as a good illustration of the kinds of arguments that defendants in false advertising class actions can develop to show either that the proposed class representative is atypical and inadequate or that the reliance or causation elements of the plaintiffs’ claims turn on an endless series of individualized determinations, thus precluding class certification.