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LEONARD v. PEPSICO

August 5, 1999

JOHN D.R. LEONARD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PEPSICO, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kimba M. Wood, District Judge.

OPINION & ORDER

I. Background

This case arises out of a promotional campaign conducted by defendant, the producer and distributor of the soft drinks Pepsi and Diet Pepsi. (See PepsiCo Inc.'s Rule 56.1 Statement ("Def. Stat.") ¶ 2.)*fn1 The promotion, entitled "Pepsi Stuff," encouraged consumers to collect "Pepsi Points" from specially marked packages of Pepsi or Diet Pepsi and redeem these points for merchandise featuring the Pepsi logo. (See id. ¶¶ 4, 8.) Before introducing the promotion nationally, defendant conducted a test of the promotion in the Pacific Northwest from October 1995 to March 1996. (See id. ¶¶ 5-6.) A Pepsi Stuff catalog was distributed to consumers in the test market, including Washington State. (See id. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff is a resident of Seattle, Washington. (See id. ¶ 3.) While living in Seattle, plaintiff saw the Pepsi Stuff commercial (see id. ¶ 22) that he contends constituted an offer of a Harrier Jet.

A. The Alleged Offer

Because whether the television commercial constituted an offer is the central question in this case, the Court will describe the commercial in detail. The commercial opens upon an idyllic, suburban morning, where the chirping of birds in sun-dappled trees welcomes a paperboy on his morning route. As the newspaper hits the stoop of a conventional two-story house, the tattoo of a military drum introduces the subtitle, "MONDAY 7:58 AM." The stirring strains of a martial air mark the appearance of a well-coiffed teenager preparing to leave for school, dressed in a shirt emblazoned with the Pepsi logo, a red-white-and-blue ball. While the teenager confidently preens, the military drumroll again sounds as the subtitle "T-SHIRT 75 PEPSI POINTS" scrolls across the screen. Bursting from his room, the teenager strides down the hallway wearing a leather jacket. The drumroll sounds again, as the subtitle "LEATHER JACKET 1450 PEPSI POINTS" appears. The teenager opens the door of his house and, unfazed by the glare of the early morning sunshine, puts on a pair of sunglasses. The drumroll then accompanies the subtitle "SHADES 175 PEPSI POINTS." A voiceover then intones, "Introducing the new Pepsi Stuff catalog," as the camera focuses on the cover of the catalog. (See Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Stat., Exh. A (the "Catalog").)*fn2

The scene then shifts to three young boys sitting in front of a high school building. The boy in the middle is intent on his Pepsi Stuff Catalog, while the boys on either side are each drinking Pepsi. The three boys gaze in awe at an object rushing overhead, as the military march builds to a crescendo. The Harrier Jet is not yet visible, but the observer senses the presence of a mighty plane as the extreme winds generated by its flight create a paper maelstrom in a classroom devoted to an otherwise dull physics lesson. Finally, the Harrier Jet swings into view and lands by the side of the school building, next to a bicycle rack. Several students run for cover, and the velocity of the wind strips one hapless faculty member down to his underwear. While the faculty member is being deprived of his dignity, the voiceover announces: "Now the more Pepsi you drink, the more great stuff you're gonna get."

The teenager opens the cockpit of the fighter and can be seen, helmetless, holding a Pepsi. "[L]ooking very pleased with himself," (Pl. Mem. at 3,) the teenager exclaims, "Sure beats the bus," and chortles. The military drumroll sounds a final time, as the following words appear: "HARRIER FIGHTER 7,000,000 PEPSI POINTS." A few seconds later, the following appears in more stylized script: "Drink Pepsi — Get Stuff." With that message, the music and the commercial end with a triumphant flourish.

Inspired by this commercial, plaintiff set out to obtain a Harrier Jet. Plaintiff explains that he is "typical of the `Pepsi Generation' . . . he is young, has an adventurous spirit, and the notion of obtaining a Harrier Jet appealed to him enormously." (Pl. Mem. at 3.) Plaintiff consulted the Pepsi Stuff Catalog. The Catalog features youths dressed in Pepsi Stuff regalia or enjoying Pepsi Stuff accessories, such as "Blue Shades" ("As if you need another reason to look forward to sunny days."), "Pepsi Tees" ("Live in `em. Laugh in `em. Get in `em."), "Bag of Balls" ("Three balls. One bag. No rules."), and "Pepsi Phone Card" ("Call your mom!"). The Catalog specifies the number of Pepsi Points required to obtain promotional merchandise. (See Catalog, at rear foldout pages.) The Catalog includes an Order Form which lists, on one side, fifty-three items of Pepsi Stuff merchandise redeemable for Pepsi Points (see id. (the "Order Form")). Conspicuously absent from the Order Form is any entry or description of a Harrier Jet. (See id.) The amount of Pepsi Points required to obtain the listed merchandise ranges from 15 (for a "Jacket Tattoo" ("Sew `em on your jacket, not your arm.")) to 3300 (for a "Fila Mountain Bike" ("Rugged. All-terrain. Exclusively for Pepsi.")). It should be noted that plaintiff objects to the implication that because an item was not shown in the Catalog, it was unavailable. (See Pl. Stat. ¶¶ 23-26, 29.)

The rear foldout pages of the Catalog contain directions for redeeming Pepsi Points for merchandise. (See Catalog, at rear foldout pages.) These directions note that merchandise may be ordered "only" with the original Order Form. (See id.) The Catalog notes that in the event that a consumer lacks enough Pepsi Points to obtain a desired item, additional Pepsi Points may be purchased for ten cents each; however, at least fifteen original Pepsi Points must accompany each order. (See id.)

Although plaintiff initially set out to collect 7,000,000 Pepsi Points by consuming Pepsi products, it soon became clear to him that he "would not be able to buy (let alone drink) enough Pepsi to collect the necessary Pepsi Points fast enough." (Affidavit of John D.R. Leonard, Mar. 30, 1999 ("Leonard Aff."), ¶ 5.) Reevaluating his strategy, plaintiff "focused for the first time on the packaging materials in the Pepsi Stuff promotion," (id.,) and realized that buying Pepsi Points would be a more promising option. (See id.) Through acquaintances, plaintiff ultimately raised about $700,000. (See id. ¶ 6.)

B. Plaintiff's Efforts to Redeem the Alleged Offer

On or about March 27, 1996, plaintiff submitted an Order Form, fifteen original Pepsi Points, and a check for $700,008.50. (See Def. Stat. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff appears to have been represented by counsel at the time he mailed his check; the check is drawn on an account of plaintiff's first set of attorneys. (See Defendant's Notice of Motion, Exh. B (first).) At the bottom of the Order Form, plaintiff wrote in "1 Harrier Jet" in the "Item" column and "7,000,000" in the "Total Points" column. (See id.) In a letter accompanying his submission, plaintiff stated that the check was to purchase additional Pepsi Points "expressly for obtaining a new Harrier jet as advertised in your Pepsi Stuff commercial." (See Declaration of David Wynn, Mar. 18, 1999 ("Wynn Dec."), Exh. A.)

On or about May 7, 1996, defendant's fulfillment house rejected plaintiff's submission and returned the check, explaining that:

    The item that you have requested is not part of the
  Pepsi Stuff collection. It is not included in the
  catalogue or on the order form, and only catalogue
  merchandise can be redeemed under this program.
    The Harrier jet in the Pepsi commercial is fanciful
  and is simply included to create a humorous and
  entertaining ad. We apologize for any
  misunderstanding or confusion that you may have
  experienced and are enclosing some free product
  coupons for your use.

(Wynn Aff. Exh. B (second).) Plaintiff's previous counsel responded on or about May 14, 1996, as follows:

    Your letter of May 7, 1996 is totally unacceptable.
  We have reviewed the video tape of the Pepsi Stuff
  commercial . . . and it clearly offers the new
  Harrier jet for 7,000,000 Pepsi Points. Our client
  followed your rules explicitly. . . .
    This is a formal demand that you honor your
  commitment and make immediate arrangements to
  transfer the new Harrier jet to our client. If we do
  not receive transfer instructions within ten (10)
  business days of the date of this letter you will
  leave us no choice but to file an appropriate action
  against Pepsi. . . .

(Wynn Aff., Exh. C.) This letter was apparently sent onward to the advertising company responsible for the actual commercial, BBDO New York ("BBDO"). In a letter dated May 30, 1996, BBDO Vice President Raymond E. McGovern, Jr., explained to plaintiff that:

  I find it hard to believe that you are of the opinion
  that the Pepsi Stuff commercial ("Commercial") really
  offers a new Harrier Jet. The use of the Jet was
  clearly a joke that was meant to make the Commercial
  more humorous and entertaining. In my opinion, no
  reasonable person would agree with your analysis of
  the Commercial.

(Wynn Aff. Exh. A.) On or about June 17, 1996, plaintiff mailed a similar demand letter to defendant. (See Wynn Aff., Exh. D.)

Litigation of this case initially involved two lawsuits, the first a declaratory judgment action brought by PepsiCo in this district (the "declaratory judgment action"), and the second an action brought by Leonard in Florida state court (the "Florida action").*fn3 PepsiCo brought suit in this Court on July 18, 1996, seeking a declaratory judgment stating that it had no obligation to furnish plaintiff with a Harrier Jet. That case was filed under docket number 96 Civ. 5320. In response to PepsiCo's suit in New York, Leonard brought suit in Florida state court on August 6, 1996, although this case had nothing to do with Florida.*fn4 That suit was removed to the Southern District of Florida in September 1996. In an Order dated November 6, 1996, United States District Judge James Lawrence King found that, "Obviously this case has been filed in a form that has no meaningful relationship to the controversy and warrants a transfer pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)." Leonard v. PepsiCo, 96-2555 Civ.-King, at 1 (S.D.Fla. Nov. 6, 1996). The Florida suit was transferred to this Court on December 2, 1996, and assigned the docket number 96 Civ. 9069.

Once the Florida action had been transferred, Leonard moved to dismiss the declaratory judgment action for lack of personal jurisdiction. In an Order dated November 24, 1997, the Court granted the motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction in case 96 Civ. 5320, from which PepsiCo appealed. Leonard also moved to voluntarily dismiss the Florida action. While the Court indicated that the motion was proper, it noted that PepsiCo was entitled to some compensation for the costs of litigating this case in Florida, a forum that had no meaningful relationship to the case. (See Transcript of Proceedings Before Hon. Kimba M. Wood, Dec. 9, 1997, at 3.) In an Order dated December 15, 1997, the Court granted Leonard's motion to voluntarily dismiss this case without prejudice, but did so on condition that Leonard pay certain attorneys' fees.

In an Order dated October 1, 1998, the Court ordered Leonard to pay $88,162 in attorneys' fees within thirty days. Leonard failed to do so, yet sought nonetheless to appeal from his voluntary dismissal and the imposition of fees. In an Order dated January 5, 1999, the Court noted that Leonard's strategy was "`clearly an end-run around the final judgment rule.'" (Order at 2 (quoting Palmieri v. Defaria, 88 F.3d 136 (2d Cir. 1996)).) Accordingly, the Court ordered Leonard either to pay the amount due or withdraw his voluntary dismissal, as well as his appeals therefrom, and continue litigation before this Court. (See Order at 3.) Rather than pay the attorneys' fees, Leonard elected to proceed with litigation, and shortly thereafter retained present counsel.

On February 22, 1999, the Second Circuit endorsed the parties' stipulations to the dismissal of any appeals taken thus far in this case. Those stipulations noted that Leonard had consented to the jurisdiction of this Court and that PepsiCo agreed not to seek enforcement of the attorneys' fees award. With these issues having been waived, PepsiCo moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The present motion thus follows three years of jurisdictional and procedural wrangling.

II. Discussion

A. The Legal ...


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