CSPI files frivolous “consumer protection” lawsuit—so what else is new?


Author: Timothy Sandefur

The Center for Science in The Public Interest, a liberal activist group, has joined with a California resident named Monet Parham, to file a lawsuit against McDonald’s for putting toys in Happy Meals. They claim that McDonald’s “uses toys as bait to induce [Ms. Parham’s] kids to clamor to go to McDonald’s and to develop a preference for nutritionally poor Happy Meals.” In other words, McDonald’s goes out of its way to make children happy, and the New Puritans of the Nanny State don’t like that. Moreover, Ms Parham can’t be expected to say no to her kids.

This is probably the most baseless lawsuit I’ve seen in my career. The responsibility for ensuring that Ms. Parham’s children follow good nutrition belongs with Ms. Parham; she has an obligation to discipline her children. That may not be an easy thing to do, but what this lawsuit attempts to do is to force the rest of us to bear the burden of disciplining her children. She thinks she has a right to a trouble-free child-rearing experience, at our expense. (Actually, at the expense of McDonald’s customers, who will have to pay higher food prices to compensate for the cost of the company’s legal defense.)

McDonald’s is one of America’s great companies. It has brought joy to countless millions of people who have come to look upon it as one of the touchstones of our culture. That isn’t to be taken lightly. Even aside from its charity work, McDonald’s has provided economic opportunity to possibly billions of Americans in need of jobs. More importantly, it’s offered each of us a fair deal: palatable food at good prices. That is where their obligation ends. If you don’t like McDonald’s, don’t eat there—and if you don’t want your kids to eat Happy Meals, don’t take them there.

Giving children toys with Happy Meals is simply a way of making their lives just a little bit more joyful. It’s a perfectly legal, harmless contribution to a kid’s pleasant day—like a stick of bubble gum in a pack of trading cards, or “free sample” day at the grocery store. I once collected proofs of purchase from marshmallow packages to get some Star Trek walkie-talkies. (Wish I still had those!) In what way, exactly, was I harmed by this?

Sadly, California’s poorly-written “consumer protection” laws are so vague that they enable interest groups like CSPI to grandstand in this way—suing businesses over perfectly legitimate, legal behavior. The ultimate goal is to require responsible, hardworking people to pay the debts—financial, social, or psychological—of those who are not responsible or hardworking. That’s bad morality, and it makes for bad law.