Chaos in the restaurant business has been averted.
A federal court in Miami dismissed a lawsuit claiming fast-food giant McDonald’s overcharged customers who ordered cheeseless Quarter Pounders by forcing them to pay its full normal price for the Quarter Pounder with Cheese.
McDonald’s had argued that a ruling favoring plaintiffs Cynthia Kissner and Leonard Werner would set a precedent forcing restaurants to reduce menu item prices to reflect a customer’s decision to hold or delete an ingredient. And that would unleash “utter chaos” in the retail food business, the chain told the court.
Kissner and Werner said it was unfair that McDonald’s failed to give a break to cheeseless Quarter Pounder customers ordering at the chain’s restaurant counters because the plain version was available through the chain’s mobile apps for 30 cents to 90 cents less than the version with cheese.
Quarter Pounders without cheese were available as a standard menu item for years, but disappeared from the company’s menu boards in recent years, the plaintiffs said. They were seeking class-action certification and damages exceeding $5 million.
In his ruling, U.S. District Judge William P. Dimitrouleas said the plaintiffs failed to establish that they were entitled to relief for their “unwanted cheese vexation” based on any of the three legal standards they claimed McDonald’s violated.
The claim that McDonald’s violated federal antitrust laws by tying the sale of cheese to the burger “is absurd and fails,” the judge wrote, because the plaintiffs did not establish that cheese is a standalone item offered for sale.
“Under any common sense analysis, there is no market for a customer to come into a McDonald’s restaurant and order a slice or two of ‘cheese’ as a product that is separate, distinct, and independent from any other product or menu item. Nor is there a separate product market for a customer to order a slice of tomato, or a slice of lettuce, or a slice of pickle, etc.,” Dimitrouleas wrote.
The plaintiffs’ claim that McDonald’s violated the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act “fails from the start,” the judge wrote. “If a particular McDonald’s restaurant does not list an item on its counter or drive-through menu, and a customer placing his order at the counter or drive-through requests a customization of the offered product, a customer is not being deceived or otherwise treated unfairly by not being charged less.”
While the judge called the claim that McDonald’s was unjustly enriched by the policy “nonsensical,” he added that even if it met a legal standard, it would also be barred by Florida’s voluntary payment doctrine that provides that “where one makes a payment of any sum under a claim of right with knowledge of the facts, such a payment is voluntary and cannot be recovered.”
McDonald’s attorneys from Miami-based Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney P.C. declined to comment on the court ruling.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based attorney Russell B. Adler, a member of the legal team that filed the suit on behalf of Kissner and Werner, said he was disappointed by the court’s ruling but happy that McDonald’s customers can save money by ordering the cheeseless Quarter Pounder through its mobile app.
Tribune News Service