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Burger King Corp. faces a civil-rights lawsuit after an employee at a Boston location accused a man of trying to pay for food with an allegedly counterfeit $10 bill, refused to return the bill and called the police when the man would not leave the restaurant. Ellis v. Burger King Corp., No. 1884-CV-01489 (Mass. Super. Ct., Suffolk Cty., filed May 14, 2018). The plaintiff, who is homeless and black, alleges that when he was arraigned, he was charged with possession of counterfeit notes and a probation violation and was subsequently held without bail from November 12, 2015, until February 19, 2016. He was reportedly released when the U.S. Secret Service notified the prosecutor that the $10 bill was authentic and not counterfeit. Burger King allegedly did not return the $10 bill to the man. Claiming conversion, defamation, negligence and violation of the Massachusetts Civil Rights Act, the plaintiff seeks attorney's fees and $950,000…

An Arizona woman has sued Red Lobster Hospitality alleging that she contracted E. coli from eating a salad at a Red Lobster in Phoenix. Styles v. Red Lobster Hospitality, LLC, No. 18-1361 (D. Ariz., filed May 1, 2018). The plaintiff alleged she ate the salad, which contained romaine lettuce, on March 23, 2018, and became ill around March 29, 2018. After she was hospitalized, she tested positive for E. coli O157:H7 bacteria, which has been linked to an outbreak of E. coli from romaine lettuce grown near Yuma, Arizona. Claiming breach of warranty, strict liability and negligence, the plaintiff seeks damages and attorney’s fees. A similar lawsuit was filed against Panera Bread Co. in April 2018.

The U.K. Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has upheld an advocacy group's challenge to the use of the term “natural” by Pret A Manger but rejected a challenge to the company’s advertising claim that its breads are fresh-baked at each location. Ads on Pret A Manger’s website and Facebook page claimed that the chain makes “handmade natural food,” “avoiding the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the ‘prepared’ and ‘fast food’ on the market.” Pret A Manger argued that the ads did not imply that it uses only natural ingredients or that its food is additive- and preservative-free; rather, the terminology was used to express the company's mission, which is partly to “avoid (as opposed to entirely eliminate) ‘obscure’ (as opposed to all)” chemicals. ASA upheld the challenge, determining that consumers were likely to interpret the claims to mean that the chain’s food was “natural” and free from…

Panera Bread Co. faces a putative class action alleging that a data breach exposed the personal data of thousands of customers to hackers, increasing their risk of fraud and identity theft. Boykin v. Panera Bread Co., No. 18-2461 (N.D. Ill., filed April 5, 2018). The complaint alleges that the company failed to protect the personally identifiable information of Panera’s My Rewards card and My Panera app users, including names, credit and debit card numbers, expiration dates and verification codes, email addresses, telephone numbers and birth dates. In August 2017, a “white-hat hacker” apparently accessed the information and notified Panera about the potential security breach. Although Panera reportedly told the hacker it was developing a solution, the complaint alleges that the hacker “checked it every month or so” and ultimately contacted the publisher of Krebs on Security in 2018 to bring attention to the issue. The plaintiffs assert that in the…

Ruling that the jury instructions were misleading, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has reversed a jury verdict finding for a seafood restaurant in a lawsuit involving allegations of foodborne illness. Rhodes v. Lazy Flamingo 2 Inc., No. 17-11338 (M.D. Fla., entered March 29, 2018). The plaintiffs alleged negligence per se after one ate Lazy Flamingo's oysters, which were contaminated with Vibrio vulnificus and caused an illness requiring five days of hospitalization. A Florida regulation requires foodservice establishments serving raw oysters to display a health-risk warning on menus or table placards; the jury was instructed that it could consider the text of the regulation as well as a Florida foodservice industry bulletin indicating the warning “may be on menus, table placards, or elsewhere in plain view of all customers.” The appeals court found no evidence that the bulletin offered a "reasonable interpretation” of the regulation, reversed the verdict…

A federal court in New York has dismissed with prejudice a shareholder suit against Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., finding the plaintiffs were unable to allege that the company made “demonstrably false” statements about foodborne illness outbreaks linked to its restaurants. Ong v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, No. 16-0141 (S.D.N.Y., entered March 22, 2018). The plaintiffs alleged that Chipotle and three of its executives misled shareholders and the public in 2015 and 2016 statements after outbreaks of norovirus, E. coli and Salmonella were linked to its restaurants. In addition to finding Chipotle’s annual reports contained sufficient disclosures about its processes, the court found that the plaintiffs failed to adequately allege that executives who knew about the outbreaks' connection to Chipotle sold more than $214 million in stock because the stock sales occurred months before the outbreaks were linked to the company.

In-N-Out Burger has reportedly requested a restraining order against a YouTube video creator who allegedly posed as the company's CEO at two of its restaurants. The man allegedly argued with employees, demanded that kitchen employees prepare him food for a “taste test,” and took food out of a customer's hand, threw it on the floor and stepped on it. In a statement, a company executive reportedly said, “We have recently seen an increase of visitors to our stores, who are not customers but instead are intentionally disruptive and who then try to promote themselves through social media.” The lawsuit also petitions the Los Angeles Superior Court to impose a $1,000 fine for each violation of the restraining order and seeks damages of more than $25,000 for fraud, trespass, nuisance and criminal violations.

American Dairy Queen Corp. has filed a lawsuit challenging W.B. Mason Co.'s application for a “Blizzard” trademark for its bottled water. Am. Dairy Queen Corp. v. W.B. Mason Co., Inc., No. 18-0693 (D. Minn., filed March 12, 2018). Dairy Queen alleges that it trademarked “Blizzard” for milkshakes in 1946 and has extended the mark to ice milk, ice cream, soft serve, machinery and restaurant services. The complaint asserts that the Blizzard marks are “widely recognized by the general consuming public of the United States as a designation of source of Dairy Queen’s goods and services.” Alleging trademark infringement, unfair competition by false designation, trademark dilution, unfair competition and violation of Minnesota’s deceptive trade practices law, Dairy Queen seeks an injunction barring W.B. Mason from using the Blizzard mark, destruction of packaging and advertising materials, award of profits generated from use of the infringing mark and attorney’s fees.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that the Guinness World Records holder for hacky sack kicks has no valid claims for false advertisement, false endorsement or right of publicity against Wendy’s International Inc., which distributed a hacky sack with a children’s meal and challenged children to break the plaintiff's record. Martin v. Wendy's Int'l Inc., No. 15-6998 (7th Cir., entered March 9, 2018). An Illinois district court previously dismissed the plaintiff’s suit for failure to state a claim. “No reasonable consumer would think [the plaintiff] endorsed the footbags,” the appellate court held, because “Guinness World Records” was printed on both the toy and its packaging and the instructional card identified the plaintiff as the holder of the record rather than an endorser. The court also found that “no reasonable consumer would believe that free toys accompanying kids’ meals to encourage intra-family play were the same…

An alert appearing on Yelp that discloses San Francisco health inspection scores may “improve the functioning of markets” and help consumers make “better decisions," but critics reportedly say the posted scores illustrate the failures of the city's food-safety inspection system. Two researchers, who authored “Digitizing Disclosures: The Case of Restaurant Hygiene Scores,” previously helped Yelp design the alert boxes, which appear on pages for about five percent of San Francisco restaurants. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the alert boxes reduced Yelp users’ “intention to visit” by 21 percent, despite the intention of the alerts to be a system of accountability rather than a warning of deterrence. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) told the Chronicle that the scores are based on routine inspections conducted every six to 18 months. If restaurants earn a low inspection score, they have a week to correct the violations or face closure. “If you see [a low…

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