By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - Calling Hawaii "a state as well as a state of mind," a federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit accusing the maker of Kona craft beer of misleading consumers into believing the beer was actually made in the 50th U.S. state, causing them to overpay.
In a decision issued late on Friday, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose, California, said the plaintiffs could pursue claims for damages over Craft Brew Alliance Inc's packaging for six- and 12-packs of Kona.
Freeman said that while the defendant's use of the phrase "Liquid Aloha" and images such as hula dancers, surfers and volcanoes was acceptable, other images could prove problematic.
She said this was despite a disclaimer on Kona packaging saying the beer was brewed in New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington state, as well as Hawaii."The Hawaiian address, the map of Hawaii identifying Kona's brewery on the Big Island, and the statement 'visit our brewery and pubs whenever you are in Hawaii' ... are specific and measurable representations of fact that could deceive a reasonable consumer," Freeman wrote.
Freeman also said the disclaimer left a reasonable consumer with "no way to tell" where such Kona beers as Big Wave Golden Ale, Castaway IPA and Wailua Wheat were brewed.
Lawyers for Craft Brew Alliance and a company spokeswoman did not immediately respond on Tuesday to requests for comment.
The Portland, Oregon-based company also owns the Redhook and Widmer Brothers brands, among others, and is nearly one-third owned by an affiliate of Anheuser-Busch InBev NV.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The case is one of several lawsuits accusing beer producers of deceptive marketing.
In 2015, Anheuser won U.S. court approval for a roughly $20 million settlement of claims it tricked consumers into thinking its St. Louis-brewed Beck's beer was actually a German pilsner.
The case is Broomfield et al v Craft Brew Alliance Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 17-01027.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)