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A Lesson in American Jurisfoodence

Twinkies, Hot Dogs, Hamburgers, Cold Cuts and Halal: Recent Cases Regarding One of Our Favorite Pastimes

A Lesson in American Jurisfoodence

It was a big month for foodies in the legal world as a number of decisions were handed down that will affect both Epicureans and food purveyors alike.  The cyber world was abuzz this past November when Hostess Brands filed for bankruptcy protection. Many people were unsure as to the fate of their childhood snack cakes that filled school lunch boxes and survival bunkers for decades. The iconic treats of Twinkies, Ho-Hos and Wonder Bread might soon begin to fill grocery store shelves. The United States Bankruptcy Court, on Monday, gave Hostess permission to proceed with auctions for some of its remaining brands with bidding to start at $410 million. The baseline offer comes from two private equity firms that are looking to purchase the company for that amount of money. A hearing is scheduled for March 19, 2013 to approve the successful bidder.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled this week that a customer who received tainted food, from the Burger King Corporation, could sue for emotional damages even though he did not eat the food. A police officer in Washington obtained a hamburger at a Burger King drive-through in March of 2009. The police officer became suspicious when the employee handing him the food would not make eye contact. He then inspected his hamburger and discovered a thick cloudy blob of saliva on it. Although he did not eat the food, he claimed ongoing emotional trauma from the incident and sought damages for emotional distress. The Washington Supreme Court held that "common sense tells us that food consumption is a personal matter and contaminated food is closely associated with disgust and other kinds of emotional turmoil."
As an interesting aside, DNA testing was done on the saliva and matched that of a restaurant employee, who later pled guilty to third-degree assault against a police officer and was sentenced to three months in prison. Another employee, who was also involved, was fired as a result of this incident.
A United States District Judge recently dismissed a class action lawsuit and an injunction against ConAgra Foods Inc., the makers of Hebrew National Hot Dogs. The lawsuit alleged that the company's hot dogs and other products were not kosher. The suit also claimed that the packaging was misleading, featuring a symbol that led purchasers to believe that the products were kosher by "the most stringent" Orthodox Jewish standards. The plaintiffs alleged that ConAgra contractors did not follow the proper religious procedures. In dismissing the lawsuit, the Federal District Court Judge stated that Supreme Court precedent does not allow civil judges to resolve disputes that are "intrinsically religious in nature."
Subway Sandwich Shops is now facing a number of lawsuits from plaintiffs claiming that their famous "foot-long" sandwiches are actually only 11 inches long. This revelation was thought to be the result of an Australian teenager's video that went viral on the Internet showing the 11 inch length. Several plaintiffs have sued Subway for compensatory damages and injunctive relief for deceptive advertising practices. One of the plaintiff's lawyers stated, "this is no different than buying a dozen eggs and getting eleven." In an interesting turn of events, Subway Australia stated that "foot-long" is merely a registered trademark and is not a guarantee of the length of each Subway sandwich.
Lastly, McDonald's agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a lawsuit over non-Halal food. The fast food restaurant chain advertises Halal food at two of its locations near Dearborn Michigan, which is home to one of the largest concentrations of Arab and Muslim communities in the U.S. The lawsuit stems from the purchase of a chicken sandwich in November of 2011, which was supposed to be Halal, but was later determined not to be.  The settlement applies to customers who purchased purported Halal products from the two Michigan locations between September of 2005 and January of 2013. Because of the difficulty of identifying these individuals, both sides have reportedly agreed that most of the settlement funds will be provided to local charities that benefit Muslims.
These stories represent an interesting slice of American Jurisprudence for you to chew on and digest.


Richard P. Hastings is a Connecticut personal injury lawyer at Hastings, Cohan & Walsh, LLP, with offices throughout the state. He is a member of the CT DMV Commissioner's Advisory Committee on Teen Safe Driving. He has been named a New England Super Lawyer and is the author of the books: "The Crash Course on Child Injury Claims"; "The Crash Course on Personal Injury Claims in Connecticut" and "The Crash Course on Motorcycle Accidents." He has also co-authored the best selling book "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing- What Your Insurance Company Doesn't Want You to Know and Won't Tell You Until It's Too Late!" He can be reached at 1(888)CTLAW-00 or by visiting www.hcwlaw.com.

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