In California Wine Country, Court Spits Out Motion


A federal judge in Northern California—a premier region for producing not only wines but disputes over wine brands—knew just what to do with one motion he apparently found without merit.

The plaintiff in the case is JaM Cellars Inc., owner of the “Butter” trademark for its California chardonnay. JaM sued Vintage Wine Estates Inc., which with Kroger developed two wine brands, Butter Bomb and Butter Knife, as private labels for the grocery chain.

Judge Charles R. Breyer, after noting that JaM sued Vintage “over concerns that its loyal customers will mistakenly purchase Vintage's offerings, only to declare, "I Can't Believe It's Not BUTTER,” rejected Vintage’s motion to kill JaM’s claims under the California anti-SLAPP law.

“As the Court indicated from the bench, it hereby DENIES the motion and will allow the case to ferment further,” Breyer wrote in the court’s June 12 opinion.

The anti-SLAPP law, which stands for “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” is intended to prevent a deep-pocketed plaintiff from suppressing someone’s speech by bringing lawsuits that the other party can’t afford to defend.

But Breyer didn’t buy Vintage’s argument that JaM’s trademark complaint was just a sham to suppress its speech.

The court, the judge said, “sends this motion to the spit bucket.”