As San Francisco -- and its elected leaders -- discovered, it will require more than the legislative branch of government to vanquish the specter of the McDonald's Happy Meal. It turns out it'll take more than the judicial branch, too.
A San Francisco judge has shot down a lawsuit filed by a frustrated mother who claimed the Golden Arches was engaged "in the unfair, unlawful, deceptive and fraudulent practice of promoting and advertising McDonald's Happy Meal products to very young California children, using the inducement of various toys."
Judge Richard Kramer didn't see it that way, on Wednesday dismissing Monet Parham's class-action suit with prejudice. Per the court, California parents can still be cajoled into buying Happy Meals for their toy-obsessed young ones.
Parham's suit had claimed that McDonald's overt practice of catering to children was "inherently deceptive and unfair" as "children eight years old and younger do not have the cognitive skills and the developmental maturity to understand the persuasive intent of marketing and advertising."
Furthermore, the the restaurant chain's business model of using toys to hawk Happy Meals "interfere with and undermine parental control over the health and welfare of their children. This action seeks to stop one of the most powerful, unfair, and deceptive practices -- tempting kids with toys to get them to nag their parents to buy Happy Meals, thereby restoring an environment in which children and their parents can make dietary choices free from unfair and deceptive child-targeted marketing."
Parham claimed her daughter, Maya, successfully wheedled the her into buying her Happy Meals to obtain the following toys: I-Carly lip gloss and note pad; Barbie lip gloss and small comb; Shrek movie character figures; Strawberry Shortcake mini-dolls with paper and mini-stamps; and an American Idol toy. As a result, Maya's health has been harmed "without her knowledge or comprehension.... Given the choice, Maya wants to eat Happy Meals instead of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains because McDonald's has convinced her that she needs to get the toy.... McDonald's has unfairly interfered with Parham's relationship with Maya."
Finally, arguments over Happy Meals have caused "needless and unwarranted dissension in their parent-child relationship."
Parham's suit had charged McDonald's with two counts of engaging in deceptive marketing and business practices; and two counts of engaging in unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices. Kaplan yesterday sustained
on all of Parham's complaints.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which was supporting Parham's case, has not yet ruled out an appeal. In December of last year, a city ordinance forbidding fast food restaurants from giving away a toy
with a meal unless that meal met agreed-upon health standards. McDonald's and other fast food outlets emasculated that law, however, by simply charging 10 cents for the toy in a separate transaction. Not only has San Francisco's heavy-handed effort not made local children healthier or spared parents the hell of whiny kids demanding a Happy Meal -- it has, arguably, worsened the problem. Before the "Healthy Meal Incentive Ordinance," parents could simply buy the toys for a low price and forgo the fast food. Now that is no longer an option -- in order to obtain the toy, one must buy the Happy Meal and then make a 10-cent charitable donation.
Politically -- and now, legally -- it seems vast fast-food corporations continue to toy with this city.
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