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Godiva Consumers Urge Early Nod for $15 Million False-Ad Deal

Oct. 13, 2021, 2:21 PM

Godiva Chocolatier Inc. customers asked a New York federal court to green-light a $15 million class settlement in a false-ad suit that challenged the marketing phrase “Belgium 1926.”

New Yorker Steve Hesse and Californian Adam Buxbaum alleged that they and others paid a premium for Godiva chocolate products because the phrase led them to believe Pennsylvania-made confections were produced in Belgium, known for fine chocolate.

The proposed settlement covers all persons who purchased any Godiva chocolate product in the U.S. after Jan. 31, 2015. Godiva has agreed to pay up to $15 million in valid claims, according to a motion for preliminary approval filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Class members with proof of purchase may claim $1.25 per Godiva chocolate product, up to a maximum recovery of $25 (20 purchases). Those without proof of purchase may claim $1.25 per product, up to a maximum recovery of $15 (12 purchases).

If the claims exceed $15 million, each class member’s benefit will be reduced.

Separately, the deal allows the plaintiffs’ lawyers to seek up to $5 million for attorneys’ fees and litigation costs. They may also seek $5,000 service awards for Hesse and Buxbaum.

The settlement agreement isn’t conditioned on court approval of the attorneys’ fees and incentive awards, which are in addition to the monetary relief for settlement class members, the motion says.

The plaintiffs negotiated attorneys’ fees and costs after reaching agreement on the relief for the class, the motion says.

Godiva had argued consumers wouldn’t be deceived because the statement means it was founded in Belgium in the year 1926, and is a factually accurate phrase that imparts an unambiguous and historically accurate message.

Last year, the court advanced some of the plaintiffs’ claims, saying “an equally, if not more, plausible inference is that the phrase represents both the provenance of the company—Belgium, in 1926—and a representation that its chocolates continue to be manufactured there.”

“The settlement is not a concession or acknowledgment of liability or wrongdoing of any kind,” according to a company statement provided to Bloomberg Law.

Faruqi & Faruqi LLP and the Wand Law Firm PC represent the plaintiffs. Perkins Coie LLP represents Godiva.

The case is Hesse v. Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., S.D.N.Y., No. 1:19-cv-00972, motion 10/12/21.

To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Steinberg in Washington at jsteinberg@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com