Fast Food Suits

June 5, 2012

At its annual shareholder meeting on May 24th, the McDonald’s Corporation’s board of directors recently voted to reject a shareholder proposal* to have the company review its effect on childhood obesity.   The proposal, which was backed by a corporate watchdog group called Corporate Accountability International, requested that McDonald’s “issue a report on its ‘health footprint.’”  In response, the company’s directors strongly denied any intention to harm children with its products and they pointed to changes they have already made to their menus as well as future plans to improve their services.   McDonald’s disputes a link to obesity.  See the Chicago Tribune article 2012 WLNR 11045967

*For McDonald’s proxies on this issue, try the following search in the EDGAR database.

TS(mcd) & (child! /2 obes!) (5 Docs, “TS” is for ticker symbol)

Reading about this meeting made me think about how fast food is frequently blamed for Americans’ growing waist-lines.  Pelman v. McDonald’s Corp., 237 F. Supp. 2d 512 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) dealt with this issue.  In that case, the plaintiffs (a group of under-age children and their parents) claimed that McDonald’s deceived them into believing that its food was healthy.  As a result, the children consumed McDonald’s fare and became obese.  The Southern District of New York granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss because it found that the parents failed to allege specific deceptive acts or omissions and that the defendants did not owe any duty to warn consumers of the “products’ well-known attributes.”

Despite the court’s refusal to hold the restaurant chain responsible for the plaintiffs’ health issues in Pelman, many others have since decided to take a crack at suing fast food restaurants for deceiving customers into eating their food.

Try the following search in ALLCASES or DOCK-ALL in Westlaw Classic or All State and Federal materials in WestlawNext to get an idea of the level of activity in this arena in the last few years:

TI(“burger king” “kentucky fried chicken” “taco bell” wendy’s hardee’s arby’s mcdonald’s) & obes! overweight diabetes “heart disease” cholesterol unhealth!

Some interesting examples from the last three years include:

Ctr. For Sci. In The Pub. Interest v. Burger King Corp., 534 F. Supp. 2d 141 (D.D.C. 2008)  The US District Court for the District of Columbia held that a non-profit organization did not have standing to sue Burger King for violations of the District of Columbia’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act;

Monet Parham v. McDonald’s Corporation, 3:11CV00511 (U.S. District Court, Northern District of California) involves a mother of a young child who sued McDonald’s for including toys in Happy Meals and enticing children to eat unhealthy foods.  This suit was dismissed in April of this year.  4/5/12 AP General Fin./Bus. News 17:52:32.

Whether or not you agree that fast food restaurants should bear some or all of the responsibility of making our diets healthier, it is difficult to avoid this topic in the news.  Even the city of New York recently stepped into the conversation by stating that it is planning a ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks.  [5/31/12 APALERTNY 04:09:15]  If you try the following search in News on WestlawNext, you’ll see just how important this issue is to people on both sides of the aisle:

fast food and obesity (7,450)   Content: News