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Too Much or Too Little–Starbucks Faces Lawsuits over Amount of Product in Their Cups

The corporate coffee giant, Starbucks, is facing a series of lawsuits from both sides: one claiming they put too much ice in their cups, the other claiming they put too little latte. Both suits agree, however, that they are misleading consumers about the quantity of product paying customers are receiving.

Underfilling Lattes

The first lawsuit of this type came at Starbucks in March, when Siera Strumlauf and Benjamin Robles filed a claim that Starbucks chronically underfills their latte cups. The concern cites a “standardized recipe” that was allegedly instituted in 2009 to save the mega coffee retailer money on milk. This is apparently one of Starbucks most expensive ingredients.

According to the suit, the standardized recipe leaves the consumer with 25 percent less of the beverage they ordered than what is advertised on the menu.

The suit claims that the fill lines etched on the milk frothing pitchers cause drinks to not measure up to the consumer expected volume. According to Starbucks menu, the tall should be 12 ounces, the grande should be 16 ounces, and the venti should be 20 ounces.

(In case you’ve ever wondered, the company originally had only a short and tall size, which is why the cup sizes seem so out-of-whack today).

The suit claims that “by underfilling its lattes, thereby shortchanging its customers, Starbucks has saved countless millions of dollars in the cost of goods sold and was unjustly enriched by taking payment for more product than it delivers.”

The lawsuit continues by stating, “Moreover, Starbucks refuses to fill any hot beverage up to the brim of the cup. Thus, under no circumstances will Starbucks ever serve a Grande Latte that actually meets the fluid ounces represented on the menu.”

The lawsuit claims that Starbucks is in breach of implied and express warranties, and liable for unjust enrichment. Basically, they are being sued for fraud.

According to TopClassActions.com, if the class action lawsuit is approved, it will be open to all U.S. citizens who purchased a Starbucks latte. They also filed a subclass-action suit for Californians who purchased the beverage.

With Starbucks serving 60 million customers a week (according to their website), there could be millions of people ready to hop on the bandwagon. And if they’ve spent as much on coffee as I have, it couldn’t hurt to have some of it back.

A Starbucks spokesperson said, “We are aware of the plaintiffs’ claims, which we fully believe to be without merit. We are proud to serve our customers high-quality, handcrafted and customized beverages, and we inform customers of the likelihood of variations.”

Overfilling Ice

Once someone was suing for the hot drinks having too little product in them, the cold drinks were sure to follow.

Just two months later a lawsuit was filed claiming that Starbucks puts too much ice in their drinks, greatly limiting the amount of actual liquid a person receives.

The first case came, again, from California (they do have a lot of Starbucks with over 2,000 stores) and the second one in Illinois.

The Illinois class-action suit, which is claiming $5 million in damages, accuses the coffee chain of filling nearly half of their cold beverages with ice as a way to reduce the amount of actual product the customer gets.

For example, the suit claims that a venti coffee which is 24-ounce only has 14 ounces of actual coffee in it. The other 10 ounces is filled with ice. The customer also notes that Starbuck’s cold drinks are usually more expensive than their hot drinks, even though the hot drinks are filled to the top with the product (though she clearly hasn’t worked this out with the people suing over the lattes).

This class-action lawsuit also claims fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and unjust enrichment–much like the iced drink suit.

This class-action case, like the latte lawsuit, would include a lot of people if it was to go through; perhaps, millions and millions of people.

A Starbucks spokesperson, of course, said that the claims were “without merit.”

So, where do they stand?

Here’s a short updated on where each case stands within the court system:

The hot latte lawsuit:

A California federal judge recently refused to dismiss the lawsuit against Starbucks.

In June, U.S. District Judge Thelton Henderson allowed the claimants to continue on. This was in response to a motion to dismiss that Starbucks filed in April.

The judge ruled instead that the lawsuit should proceed.

In fact, the judge said in his 14-page declaration that the plaintiffs had sufficiently alleged three legal theories.

In Starbucks’s motion, they argued that a latte is defined as an espresso drink made with steamed milk and topped with foamed milk. Therefore, the milk, in both liquid and froth form, should be considered part of the drink’s fluid-ounce total.

The Judge did not agree. He wrote that a “significant portion of the latte-consuming public” would assume that the beverage they’re ordering contains the amount of fluid ounces listed on the menu “measured without milk foam or in its cooled state.”

The over icing lawsuit:

The judge in the California icing suit dismissed the case filed by the plaintiff. Unlike the latte case, this judge stated that the plaintiffs had “not alleged any viable claims” against the company.

The judge went on to say:

“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.

In addition, the judge noted that Starbuck’s menu only lists the size of the cups in ounces, but does not say how much liquid will be in the cup.

“The cups Starbucks uses for its cold drinks… are clear, and therefore make it easy to see that the drink consists of a combination of liquid and ice, he continued.

A Starbucks spokeswoman told CNBC, who originally published the story, “We are pleased with the court’s decision and the judge’s comments on the matter.”

No ruling has yet been made on the Illinois over-icing case.

No matter where you stand on companies underfilling their drinks or cutting their meat with corn to make a little go a long way, there is no doubt that there is some deception involved. Perhaps these lawsuits will shine just a glimmer of honesty onto the consumer market.

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