|As shown here, Maker's Mark Master Distiller Gregg Davis has hands.|
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle dismissed the complaint of two Florida consumers 'with prejudice,' thereby ending the case. “In all events, the plaintiffs have not stated a claim on which relief can be granted,” the ruling concludes.
“We have asserted all along that the complaints in this case were frivolous and without merit, and we are very pleased the court agreed with our position so emphatically,” said Rob Samuels, chief operating officer of Maker’s Mark. “This ruling is very good news, and it should send a strong message to those who would seek to gain from similar baseless and irresponsible litigation,” added Kent Rose, senior vice president and general counsel of Beam Suntory.
The case is Dimitric Salters and A.G. Waseem, etc. v. Beam Suntory Inc. and Maker’s Mark Distillery, Inc., etc. The full text of the decision is here. Feel free to jump ahead to page four.
While Judge Hinkle's decision is only law in the Northern District of Florida, it will surely influence the judges in other cases. Not all of the facts are the same, of course. Judge Hinkle noted that Maker's Mark is made in batches of no more than 19 barrels. Plaintiffs didn't challenge that fact, though perhaps they should have. There are many ways to break down batch size. For Maker's, those 19 barrels represent the size of a dump tank, 1,000 gallons. That's a bottling batch. A distillation batch is much larger. These are all facts, but their significance is open to dispute.
Judge Hinkle further explains that no reasonable juror would believe Maker's Mark is made entirely by hand, a fact acknowledged by plaintiffs who "offered other possible meanings, including made from scratch or in small units. But the defendants say they make their bourbon from scratch and in small units. The plaintiffs have alleged no contrary facts."
"The plaintiffs suggest 'handmade' implies close attention by a human being, not a high-volume, untended process. But the defendants say their human beings pay close attention and that, while they produce a large volume of bourbon, they do it in small, carefully tended batches. Again, the plaintiffs have alleged no contrary facts."
So, a different judge might find differently. Also, Templeton's case is more about false representation of origin than a strictly 'handmade' claim, and while 'handmade' is at the center of the Tito's case, a court could easily find that his product is not "made from scratch or in small units," thus using Salters against him.
So those other guys aren't out of the woods yet, but Maker's is.