December 2019 Millar's JurisDiction - Paradise Lost

by Richard W. Millar, Jr.

When John Milton wrote his epic poem in the mid-1600s he was concerned with man dealing with the temptations of Satan. He was not concerned with whether paradise was or was not legal. He was, after all, a poet, not a lawyer.

Or even a legislator.

He also lived in England, not Florida.

Florida has long billed itself as a place to live as close to paradise as possible in the United States, despite swamps, mosquitoes, alligators, and other earthly distractions. Now, it turns out that in 1858, over 160 years ago, Florida legislators banned paradise, or at least pieces of it. As in “felony.”

Whoever adulterates, for the purpose of sale, any liquor used or intended for drink with cocculus indicus, vitriol, grains of paradise, opium, alum, capsicum, copperas, laurel water, logwood, Brazil wood, cochineal, sugar of lead or any other substance which is poisonous or injurious to health, and whoever knowingly sells any such liquor so adulterated shall be punished by imprisonment in the State Prison not exceeding three years . . . [emphasis added].

I have no idea what most of those things are, and it certainly never occurred to me when I was last in Miami for an American Bar Association meeting that I could have gone to the hoosegow if I was picked up walking around with paradise in my pockets.

But, then again, I am not a class action lawyer.

It seems that, one day, Miami lawyer Roniel Rodriguez and his friend, businessman Urri Marrache, were sitting around drinking Bombay Gin, when one of them noticed that the ingredients on the label included grains of paradise. (After a couple of Bombays I am not sure I could have read anything, much less the label on the bottle, but I digress.)

Thus was born Marrache v Bacardi, first filed in state court and later removed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The suit alleges that Bacardi, which owns Bombay, and Winn-Dixie supermarkets, which sell it, are knowingly selling adulterated liquor, which is a deceptive and unfair trade practice.

In a statement to the Miami Herald, Bacardi said its gin was perfectly safe and complied with “all relevant environment, health, and safety laws and regulations.” (I didn’t know that an environmental impact statement was required for gin, but, again, I digress.)

Historically, after the English government in the 1700s encouraged home distilleries to create tax revenue, people began to put pretty much everything into their home brews, leading King George III to ban all sorts of things, including grains of paradise.

Now, grains of paradise is common in West Africa for cooking and, although it is not well known here, it can be purchased online and in specialty stores. It is also present in some dietary supplements. Reportedly, about 10% of the gins made worldwide contain this “botanical,” as it is sometimes called.

There are no current studies, as opposed to King George III’s almost three-century-old proclamation, of the good or bad effects of grains of paradise, but that didn’t deter Mr. Rodriguez’s probably counterproductive demand for warning labels. A label stating: “Warning: this gin contains grains of paradise” might be just the ticket for a phenomenal increase in sales.

Mr. Rodriguez purportedly told the newspaper that the lawsuit is not about getting money or publicity, only public safety. Of course he did. If it were me, I would say the same thing.

I wouldn’t want everyone to think I was just trying to gin up a lawsuit.

Richard W. Millar, Jr. is Of Counsel with the firm of Friedman Stroffe & Gerard in Irvine. He can be reached at rmillar@fsglawyers.com.