A lawsuit claiming that McDonald’s deceived the public about ingredients in its french fries and hash browns will not proceed as a class action. A federal judge in Chicago has denied the plaintiffs’ motion for class certification, characterizing the proposed class and subclasses as “too indefinite and overbroad.”
According to the court’s opinion, the potato suppliers who provide McDonald’s with its french fries and hash browns par-fry the potatoes in oil made of 99 percent vegetable oil and one percent natural beef flavor. The beef flavor is partly made from wheat bran and casein (a dairy product). McDonald’s restaurants then fry the potatoes in 100% vegetable oil prior to serving the products to customers. Plaintiffs allege that McDonald’s falsely claimed its french fries and hash browns were gluten, wheat, and dairy-free. They say that they never would have purchased the potato products if they knew that the fries and hash browns were partially fried in oil containing wheat bran and casein. McDonald’s corrected its disclosure in 2006.
The plaintiffs proposed a class consisting of all persons residing in the United States who purchased McDonald’s french fries or hash browns between February 2002 and February 2006 and who, at the time of purchase, had been diagnosed with celiac disease, galactosemia, autism, and/or wheat, gluten, or dairy allergies.
In rejecting class certification, U.S. District Judge Elaine Bucklo noted that none of the plaintiffs has suffered any physical injury from eating the potato products; indeed, she noted that “plaintiffs testified in their depositions that they were quite satisfied with the Potato Products they consumed.” Additionally, Judge Bucklo noted that proving economic damage would be an “evidentiary headache” because the court would be required to review potentially millions of letters proving plaintiffs’ medical diagnoses and the damage to each potential class member would be nominal: between $1.00 and $1.50. Finally, the court ruled a nationwide class action would be unmanageable because state laws at issue in the case vary too much to apply to plaintiffs from across the country.
The case is In re McDonald’s French Fries Litigation, MDL No. 1784.