In June 2006 (Overlawyered), a Maryland resident named Arthur Hoyte, in conjunction with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sued Kentucky Fried Chicken for selling food made with trans fats; he claimed that he didn’t realize (despite being a medical doctor!) that fast food might not be the healthiest option for his diet. And this, of course, was KFC’s fault.
Yesterday, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, pointing out that it didn’t even identify any injury suffered by Hoyte, and mocking him for pretending not to realize that fast food might contain trans fats. (“The suggestion is that, by its silence, KFC misled plaintiffs into believing that its products did not contain harmful trans fat. This is a questionable premise at best […] Especially since, as plaintiff submits, consumers have a ‘growing awareness of trans fat and the need to avoid it.’ If consumers are increasingly aware of trans fat, where do they expect to find it if not in fast food restaurants?”)
This is a big victory for restaurateurs — as KFC pointed out in its motion, under the logic espoused by Hoyte (who was seeking class action status), effectively everyone who ever ate a meal at a restaurant would have a cause of action against the restaurant, and could claim a minimum of $1500 in damages. (Although Hoyte’s claim was about trans fats, the same reasoning would apply to virtually every other ingredient in existence, since any one of them might represent a potential health risk if eaten to excess.)
But it certainly won’t end the CSPI’s attempt to achieve via litigation what it can’t through regulation; Hoyte’s claim failed only because D.C. courts have narrowly interpreted the badly-drafted D.C. Consumer Protection Act to require that plaintiffs demonstrate an injury before suing, and because he wasn’t creative enough in drafting his complaint to allege the right kind of injuries. This suit was no more frivolous than the similar suits filed against McDonalds, some of which courts have been extremely tolerant of. (See, e.g. Sep. 2006)
Update: Hans Bader comments over at CEI’s Openmarket blog, noting the irony that at one time, CSPI actually used to teach that trans fats were safer than saturated fats.