Judge Rules Case Against Chocolatier will Continue, but Plaintiffs Cannot Seek Injunctive Relief

Steve Hesse and Adam Buxbaum filed a class action lawsuit in January 2019 against Godiva Chocolatier alleging that the phrase “Belgium 1926” found on its chocolate products is misleading. The chocolates are made in Pennsylvania, but the plaintiffs allegedly bought the chocolate because they believed it was made in Belgium.

“A reasonable consumer could view the phrase Belgium 1926 as representing that Godiva’s chocolates are manufactured in Belgium. Godiva attempts to escape this plausible view by noting that it was founded in Belgium in the year 1926,” the court said in an order and opinion.

Alison J. Nathan, a judge in the Southern District of New York, delivered an opinion saying plaintiffs do not have standing to seek relief in a case alleging false representation on chocolates saying their allegations of possible injury in the future were insufficient. Nathan ruled that the plaintiffs’ claims for statutory consumer-protection will be considered further because they adequately showed consumers are likely to be deceived by the representation.

The plaintiffs claimed the label was a violation of New York and California laws. The order says they agreed they were likely to continue purchasing Godiva chocolates but would not purchase them if they continue the false representations.

“Permitting such a theory of future harm requires the Court to put blinders on the fact that Plaintiffs, by virtue of bringing this litigation and the allegations they make in their complaint, know that Godiva’s chocolates are not manufactured in Belgium.  It is difficult to fathom how they could be harmed by Godiva’s continued representation if they know that the company’s chocolates come from Pennsylvania,” the court says.

Hesse and Buxbaum are represented by The Wand Law Firm. Godiva Chocolatier, Inc. is represented by Kasowitz Benson Torres. The chocolatiers use the “Belgium 1926 phrase on its storefronts, packaging, and marketing campaigns. Godiva filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in April 2019 alleging that the plaintiffs failed to state claims. Godiva does have a trademark for Belgium 1926 and explains its connection to Belgium on its website.

“Godiva asks the Court to draw an inference in its favor: that because these documents were public record, reasonable consumers were aware of where its manufacturing occurs.  That inference is couched in assumptions—that everything in the public record is universal knowledge and that, even if this information was widely disseminated, Godiva’s label could not lead a reasonable consumer astray, to name a few,” Judge Nathan states in the opinion claiming that if the court were to listen to Godiva’s request they would be making inferences in Godiva’s favor.

The court says many of the allegations will continue, including violations of New York and California laws regarding advertising, competition, and express warranty, although the plaintiffs will not be able to seek injunctive relief.