A few weeks ago, I received an email that began with “Your Settlement Payment”. Thinking it was spam, I reached for the delete key before remembering what it was for.

Common in the United States, class actions are “a type of lawsuit where one of the parties is a group of people who are represented collectively by a member of that group”. Let’s say a company causes minor harm to a large group of consumers in a similar way. Individually, it would not be worth anyone’s time to initiate legal action. However, suing as a group might lead to a judgement or settlement large enough to justify the endeavor.

Class actions are easily discovered. Numerous websites exist to feature any and all class action lawsuits currently taking place. It was on one of these that I discovered Broomfield v. Craft Brew Alliance, Inc., United States District Court, Northern District of California San Jose Division, Case No. 5:17-cv-01027-BLF.

In 2017, two California shoppers sued the makers of Kona beer for allegedly marketing it as brewed in Hawaii. Craft Brew Alliance makes the vast majority of Kona beer in New Hampshire, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington state.

The plaintiffs said the alleged deception includes the use on labels of hula dancers, surfers, the Kilauea volcano, Waikiki beach, and other images and phrases associated with Hawaii, as well as beer names such as Big Wave Golden Ale, Castaway IPA, Fire Rock Pale Ale and Longboard Island Lager.

It’s not uncommon for beer makers to be sued for deceptive marketing. AB InBev, the world’s largest beer company, has been the target of three such class action lawsuits involving Beck’s, Leffe, and Kirin.

Is it reasonable for North American consumers to be upset that import beers, like Sapporo, aren’t actually made in their country of origin?1Canadians get their Sapporo from Guelph, Ontario and Americans get it from La Crosse, Wisconsin. I can see both sides. At least it’s not as egregious as Coca-Cola arguing that no reasonable person could possibly think “Vitaminwater” was good for you.

Craft Brew Alliance chose to settle. Aggrieved parties could claim up to $20 with a receipt or $10 without, depending on how much Kona beer they purchased between 2013 and 2019. I had bought a fair amount myself, as the beers were the subject of an in-joke with some friends and also quite delicious. Alas, I could only claim $10 as I didn’t have any receipts. You could have too even if you’d never bought any Kona, assuming you’re comfortable with perjuring yourself.

Not sponsored by Craft Brew Alliance.

I had completely forgotten about the class action until a check for $10 arrived in my inbox. It was a pleasant surprise, not unlike finding a ten dollar bill in an old pair of jeans. Sure, the original plaintiffs received $5,000 each and the lawyers took home up to $2.9MM in fees. But I’m happy with my ten dollars. Maybe I’ll spend it on more Kona.