Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Consumer Class Action Denied in McDonald's French Fries Case

This posting was written by Jody Coultas, Editor of CCH State Unfair Trade Practices Law.

Certification of a nationwide class was denied in a consumer protection lawsuit against McDonald's because individual issues predominated, according to the federal district court in Chicago.

The action alleged false advertising about ingredients in McDonald's potato products in violation of the unfair trade practices laws of 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Gluten, Wheat, and Dairy-Free

McDonald's French fries and hash browns are fried in an oil made of 99% vegetable oil and 1% natural beef flavor, which contains wheat and dairy products. A group of McDonald's customers alleged that McDonald's falsely advertised its potato products as gluten, wheat, and dairy-free on its website and in literature at restaurants. The customers argued that, but for McDonald's representations, they would not have purchased the potato products.

In order to obtain class certification, the customers needed to show that: (1) common issues of law and fact predominated, and (2) a class action was superior to other forms of adjudication.

Individual Reliance

The customers failed to show that common issues of law and fact predominated, according to the court. Class treatment was inappropriate because the class was over-inclusive and each class member would have to be interviewed to determine whether they actually relied on McDonald's representations, the court ruled.

When a separate evidentiary hearing is necessary for each member's claim, the benefits of class treatment are outweighed by the challenges presented to the court.

Conflicts Among State Laws

Material conflicts between various state consumer protection laws also weighed against class certification, according to the court. Numerous courts have pointed out the material conflicts among the 50 states' laws, and have denied class certification on that basis. In this case, the court concluded that individual issues of law predominated and class treatment was not appropriate.

The decision is In re: McDonald's French Fries Litigation, ND Ill., CCH State Unfair Trade Practices Law ¶31,813.

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