Starbucks Hot Tea Lawsuit Dismissed

In 1994, a woman successfully sued McDonald’s over a hot coffee incident. In 2008, a 76-year old New York woman attempted to sue Starbucks over a similar incident. In 2010, the plaintiff received word that her personal injury lawsuit reached a dead end after several appeals.

Rachel Moltner alleged that her injuries included severe burns on her leg and foot with Starbucks tea. According to her complaint, she was trying to remove the lid from her Venti hot tea, at a local Starbucks, when she spilled the tea on her left leg and foot. The burns were severe enough to require skin grafts and her hospital stay added bedsores, fractured sacrum and a herniated disc.

The original lawsuit against Starbucks came in July 2008, but plaintiff neglected to include a request for damages. Starbucks responded to the complaint and asked her to specify demand for damages. Moltner responded with a request for $3 million. Three months after Moltner first sued, Starbucks filed for a notice of removal. A district court judge ruled, denying Moltner’s motion and dismissing the case.

Moltner filed an appeal, arguing Starbucks should have deduced from the description of her injuries that her demand would be in excess of $75,000, or the jurisdictional threshold for removal. The court agreed with Starbucks that the removal clock does not start to run until the plaintiff serves the defendant with a paper explicitly specifying the amount of monetary damages. Moltner’s response was that such a rule would encourage “gamesmanship.”

The federal appeals court in Manhattan upheld a federal judge’s dismissal of Rachel Moltner’s claim that the case deserved a state court hearing because Starbucks had filed a petition for removal more than 30 days after receiving her complaint.



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