McDonald’s was accused of unfairly using toys to lure children into its restaurants. The proposed class action lawsuit in a California state court sought to stop the company from using free toys to promote its Happy Meals in the Golden State.
The Happy Meal has been a huge hit for McDonald’s — making the company one of the world’s largest toy distributors — and causing other fast-food chains to make similar offerings to stay competitive.
But it also has come under fire from public health officials, parents, and lawmakers who are frustrated with rising childhood obesity rates and weak anti-obesity efforts from restaurant operators, which are largely self-regulated.
Plaintiff Monet Parham, a mother of two, was represented by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy group. CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson said CSPI would discuss the possibility of an appeal with Parham.
“In time, the practice of using toys to market junk food will seem as inappropriate and anachronistic as lead paint, child labor, and asbestos,” Jacobson said.
Court documents show that Judge Richard Kramer dismissed Parham’s claims on Wednesday, without giving her a chance to file an amended lawsuit. The documents do not contain any details of Kramer’s legal analysis.
McDonald’s spokeswoman Danya Proud said the company was pleased with Kramer’s decision.
“We are proud of our Happy Meals and will vigorously defend our brand, our reputation, and our food,” Proud said.
Without getting into the merits of the case or opining whether the court got it right or wrong, let us assume that this case was indeed a “frivolous lawsuit.” Let us assume that McDonald’s, big corporate interests, and tort reform advocates, who, at the time of the filing of this lawsuit, ridiculed it as just another in a long line of examples of frivolous lawsuits initiated against one of the most profitable, job-providing companies in the world, were correct. The ability of one to file such a puportedly frivolous lawsuit, they argued, evidenced a need to further expand tort reform and limit access of such plaintiffs to the court system.
Opponents of tort reform, however, have long contended that tort reform limits citizens’ constitutional rights and that the court system already has mechanisms in place to deal with any purportedly frivolous lawsuit. If this case were truly frivolous, they contended, then the court already has a number of tools at its disposal to deal with it. Assuming this case was indeed a frivolous lawsuit, then yesterday, the public observed a demonstration of one of those tools successfully utilized. The judge dismissed the plaintiff’s claims as a matter of law.
Nevertheless, there has been no media coverage by tort reform advocates celebrating the decision. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce did not fund any media blitz. Fox News did not empanel its usual talking heads to congratulate the court on a job well done. Drudge Report did not even link to the article regarding the decision. Why? Because it does not fit the narrative of the conservative mainstream media when it comes to tort reform.
Instead, it is just another in a long line of examples of an obvious inconsistency: how, on the one hand, big corporate interests and tort reform advocates propagandize and politicize a small percentage of questionable court filings to trigger public resentment and vitriol for a court system that has worked for well over two centuries; yet, on the other hand, fail to acknowledge the fact that the vast majority of such court filings are bounced by the court and never even reach a jury. This case is a perfect example of that inconsistency.
Next time the topic of tort reform is raised on a campaign trail or at the water cooler, do not leave this McDonald’s case out of the discussion.
The case in the San Francisco County Superior Court was Monet Parham, on behalf of herself and those similarly situated vs. McDonald’s Corp. et al., Case No. 10-506178.