by Nancy Stiles
Anheuser-Busch InBev just got back some of its street cred. Judge Donald Nugent ruled Monday that A-B isn't watering down its beer by dismissing the case against it. Several people in California, New Jersey, Texas, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania filed lawsuits last year claiming that A-B used water and carbon dioxide to lower the alcohol content and save money.
The complaint claimed that:
Plaintiffs allege that Anheuser-Busch possesses technology that allows it to precisely identify and control the alcohol content of its malt beverages to within "hundredths of one percent (0.01%) Plaintiffs further allege that, nonetheless, Anheuser-Busch routinely and intentionally adds extra water to its finished product to produce malt beverages that "consistently have significantly lower alcohol content than the percentages displayed on its labels." This practice allegedly results in consumers receiving "watered-down beer containing less alcohol than is stated on the labels of Anheuser-Busch's products."
Lead attorney Josh Boxer told us last February that he would show A-B intentionally sent out weak beers. ""Consumers shoud be able to rely on what A-B tells them," he said. "By watering down the beer, A-B is able to save tens of millions of dollars on ingredient costs -- that's all out of your pocket and my pocket."
Judge Nugent disagreed. The Federal Alcohol Administration requires alcohol content to be within 0.3 percent of the stated amount (for A-B products, it's generally 5 percent). Nugent writes that the law is very clear and unambiguous, and A-B is within the 0.3 percent range.
"Despite this seemingly straightforward match between the regulation and the agreed upon facts in this case, Plaintiffs present several arguments in an attempt to modify or, in their words, 'clarify' the plain and unambiguous language set forth in the regulation," he says in his ruling, throwing some major shade.
Nugent then says that if the citizens find the regulation unsatisfactory, it's up to the legislature to change it, not the courts. And besides, A-B is completely within its rights to increase or lower the alcohol content by 0.3 percent, intentionally or unintentionally.
"An intentional 0.3 percent misstatement of alcohol content by volume has no different effect on the nature or adequacy of information available to the consumer than does an unintentional misstatement of the same degree," he says. "Every principle of statutory construction requires this Court to apply the tolerance as written, without modification or limitation. Consequently, there is no legal basis upon which to allow this case to continue. As such, the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss must be granted."
We contacted A-B for comment and it sent us this official statement:
We are pleased with the judge's decision to dismiss these lawsuits, as our products are made to the highest brewing standards by our expert brewmasters and our labels accurately reflect that dedication. We strongly objected to these claims because the relationships we hold with our many customers will always be our top priority.
There you have it, folks. Keep on sippin' that Bud. You can read Nugent's entire ruling here:
Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. E-mail the author at Nancy.Stiles@RiverfrontTimes.com.
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