August 25th, 2016

Starbucks Iced Coffee Suit is (Shocker!) Dismissed

Starbucks Iced OffeeBad lawsuits would be bee in my bonnet, if I wore bonnets. And that is because bad lawsuits injure good lawsuits.

The bone-headed suit makes news because it is an outlier, but then because it is in the news, helps to form negative opinions about lawyers and lawsuits that negatively effect the perfectly reasonable legal action by tainting the jury pool.

And that was my opinion back in May when suit was brought against Starbucks because there was too much ice in the iced coffee, thereby (so the claim went) leaving the consumer with less coffee than he paid for.

My response at the time was a parody post, wherein Dunkin’ Donuts was sued for not enough jelly in its jelly donuts, and it contained one of my favorite paragraphs:

The class action lawsuit in New York’s Supreme Court accuses the doughnut maker of false advertising, fraud, and unjust enrichment. It calls Dunkin’s jelly doughnuts “defective and deficient due to their skimpy, scanty, paltry, pitiful, meager and otherwise insufficient quantities of jelly within each said doughnut unit.”

In my follow-up post, I’d written how easy it is to “have it your way” and simply ask for less ice.

And now, as expected, the iced coffee lawsuit has been tossed out. (Decision – Forouzesh v. StarbucksFor the same reason that I wrote. And for that matter, the same reason that countless others no doubt had written. Even a child knows you can ask for less ice:

But as young children learn, they can increase the amount of beverage they receive if they order “no ice.” If children have figured out that including ice in a cold beverage decreases the amount of liquid they will receive, the Court has no difficulty concluding that a reasonable consumer would not be deceived into thinking that when they order an iced tea, that the drink they receive will include both ice and tea and that for a given size cup, some portion of the drink will be ice rather than whatever liquid beverage the consumer ordered.

This conclusion is supported by the fact that the cups Starbucks uses for its Cold Drinks, as shown in the Complaint, are clear, and therefore make it easy to see that the drink consists of a combination of liquid and ice.

As I (and countless others) had indicated, an iced drink contains ice as an obvious ingredient. The court (shocker!) concurs on the obviousness of it all:

When a reasonable consumer walks into a Starbucks and orders a Grande iced tea, that consumer knows the size of the cup that drink will be served in and that a portion of the drink will consist of ice.

Case dismissed.

The problem with bad suits is that they form public opinion based on anecdotes, not empirical evidence. Empirical evidence can be boring. But an idiotic suit — even if it is one in ten thousand — sells papers.

Updated with posts from elsewhere:

No, You Can’t Sue Starbucks For Putting Too Much Ice In Your Drink, Judge Rules (LAist, including interview with the litigant.)

Class action: too much ice in Starbucks iced drinks (Overlawyered, earlier)

 

May 5th, 2016

The Great Jelly Donut Parody (Hey, why’d you do dat?)

Dunkin Donuts LogoYesterday I ran a parody, wherein Dunkin’ Donuts was sued for not putting enough jelly in its jelly donuts. I didn’t do it just for the hell of it. There is (usually) a method to my madness.

Specifically, Dunkin’ was “sued” because their jelly doughnuts were “defective and deficient due to their skimpy, scanty, paltry, pitiful, meager and otherwise insufficient quantities of jelly within each said doughnut unit.”

My posting was spurred on, as noted in the post, by a suit out in Chicago where Starbucks was sued for putting too much ice in an iced coffee. My point was to mock that idiotic suit.

Now why would a guy that does personal injury law mock the work of another, who purports to represent consumers? Don’t lawyers on the same side of the “v” protect each other like cops and doctors do?

But regular readers know that I call ’em as I see ’em, and what I see is that bad lawsuits damage those with good lawsuits. It’s the headlines from poorly considered, outlier lawsuits that make the headlines and then go on to infect the jury pool by making people more cynical.  When jury selection starts, the scales of justice are already tipped in favor of the defendants due to those “damn lawyers” and this makes it more difficult for others in the courthouse to prevail.

Let me be clear: Your bad lawsuit hurts my clients.

So why does the Starbucks suit suck the big wazoo (a legal term of art for you newbies to this site)? Well first off, ice is actually an ingredient in an iced drink. Take out the ice and you have a different drink.

A Starbucks spokesman said:

“Our customers understand and expect that ice is an essential component of any ‘iced’ beverage. If a customer is not satisfied with their beverage preparation, we will gladly remake it.”

So the issue isn’t really that there’s ice in the drink because there’s supposed to be ice in the drink, but rather, how much ice is in there. In other words, it’s an issue of judgment as to how much the customer will like. Different strokes for different folks and all that.

Which leads us to the second issue: Americans are accustomed to having it like we want it when ordering food and drink:

Too much ice? Less ice, please.

Don’t like potatoes with the chicken? Can I substitute rice?

Hold the mayo on that sandwich please.

I’d like the dressing on the side, please.

I’d like extra dressing, please.

Restaurant customers are accustomed to ordering things that are vegan, vegetarian, nut-free, gluten-free, egg-free, lactose-free, shellfish-free, hold the onions, or I’d like my sushi cooked well done.

Burger King has, for decades, had Have it your Way as it’s advertising campaign. In Harry met Sally, it was a running joke when Meg Ryan special ordered everything in a restaurant.

Here’s the thing about Starbucks: It was born and raised in a capitalist society. They offer a premium product and therefore it must cater to the whims of its clientele. This is not a discount chain cutting staff to the bone to save a few bucks.

If Starbucks drops the ball on customer service — and that means giving people what they want at the counter — then they have lost a customer.  Less ice isn’t exactly a tall order, nor even a Grande or Venti one.  Can anyone imagine the diner that Jack Nicholson visited in  Five Easy Pieces, where he tried to get a side order of toast actually surviving as a business?

Since solving this “problem” was not difficult — it would be difficult to find an easier problem to solve since it isn’t actually a problem — the suit is destined for the trash heap of history. Ice is part of the drink, and if there is too much for your liking they will make it the way you like.

So here is my message to my brethren of the bar (in this case, Hart McLaughlin & Eldridge in Chicago) who bring crappy suits and stir headline writers to spew about lawyers which in turn piss of the populace about lawyers and lawsuits: Your suit is manna from heaven for tort “reformers” and insurance companies. They get to “promote” your outlier lawsuit and portray it as typical, and thereby poison the jury pool.

Stop hurting the people I represent.

Addendum, see also:  Starbucks Iced Coffee Lawsuit – A Rebuttal

 

May 4th, 2016

Dunkin’ Donuts Sued Over “Meager” Jelly in Doughnuts

Dunkin Donuts Logo Dunkin’ Donuts finds itself in sticky trouble today as suit was filed against it for failing to put enough jelly in its jelly doughnuts. The class action, filed on behalf of all similarly aggrieved individuals, was filed by local attorney Harlan Wittenstein.

Charging that the doughnuts are no longer “jelly filled” as they used to be, but are now merely “jelly flavored,” Wittenstein said, “Consumers are sick and tired of being short-changed on the jelly.”

Wittenstein admitted that the recent Starbucks lawsuit over putting too much ice in the iced coffee was the inspiration for going forward with the food-fleecing lawsuit. “If Starbucks can be sued for putting too much ice in the iced coffee,” he continued, “then certainly Dunkin’ can be sued for not enough jelly.”

“I mean, let’s face it,” Wittenstein said comparing the two suits, “you can always ask for less ice in the coffee cup, but how the hell are you going to get more jelly in the doughnut?”

For the past 10 years, plaintiff Beignet Sinker has purchased jelly doughnuts from Dunkin’ and found herself repeatedly chagrined by the diminished jelly, according to the suit. So rather than buying her doughnuts elsewhere, Sinker decided to take legal action.

The class action lawsuit in New York’s Supreme Court accuses the doughnut maker of false advertising, fraud, and unjust enrichment. It calls Dunkin’s jelly doughnuts “defective and deficient due to their skimpy, scanty, paltry, pitiful, meager and otherwise insufficient quantities of jelly within each said doughnut unit.”

The suit calls for $42 million in damages on behalf of herself and the millions of Americans who have purchased a Dunkin’ jelly doughnut over the past 10 years.

The defective jelly issue is very well known to Dunkin’, as this NSFW viral 2012 video from Angry Grandpa makes abundantly clear.

Hmm DonutsIn an email to me, a Dunkin’ spokesman said he was aware of Sinker’s suit, but that they had not yet been served with the papers. He went on to say, “We put exactly the amount of jelly in our donuts that we think they deserve. If Sinker doesn’t like it, she can start her own donut store. We’ll be happy to open a franchise next door to see who is favored by the public.  We’ll even give away free samples for awhile to make sure people taste ours.”

The Dunkin’ spokesman also insisted that if he was being quoted, that doughnut be spelled “donut.”

The suit looks to me like a good one. It’s about time, after all, that consumers spending hard-earned money get what they paid for — more jelly in our doughnuts.

While some may want to demonize this suit as part of the problem of overzealous lawyering, perhaps we should step back and salute this woman for her courage taking a stand and risking her name and reputation taking on this giant food conglomerate.

Dunkin’ Brands, after all, also owns Baskin-Robbins, which has been rumored to face accusations of diminishing chip size in its legendary chocolate chip ice cream. A success with either Starbucks or Dunkin’ would seem to benefit millions of consumers in a wide variety of claims against food-fleecing companies affecting the quality of their purchases.

AddendumThe Great Jelly Donut Parody (Hey, why’d you do dat?)

Addendum 2Starbucks Iced Coffee Lawsuit – A Rebuttal

 

March 10th, 2016

Thank You, Donald Trump!

Donald Trump speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor MD on February 27, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Malet)

Donald Trump speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor MD on February 27, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Malet)

Thank you Donald Trump!!! For you did the Constitution and the First Amendment a tremendous service.

You exposed for the entire nation that there are people out there that wish to shut down free speech, and that some are willing to abuse the courts in order to accomplish that goal. Specifically, you exposed that there are some that will bring utterly frivolous defamation suits for the purpose of curtailing criticism, otherwise known as chilling free speech.

As someone that has been twice sued for defamation, and argued in an op-ed that New York needs robust Anti-SLAPP legislation, we can fairly say the issue is dear to my heart.

You did this, Donald Trump. And I am not referring to your recent tirade where you promised to “open up” libel laws which you promised to change if you’re elected president, despite the fact that the president doesn’t hold such power.

No, your service came in comment you made over someone who had sued a reporter over an investigation of the net worth of a loud mouthed real estate developer who was claiming to be worth 5-6 billion when the reporter, Timothy L. O’Brien, said the guy was worth “only” 150M and 250M.

I know! Could you believe someone would bring such a moronic suit!

And to juice his net worth in defense of himself, you wouldn’t believe that the developer actually claimed his net worth varied based on his “feelings” (emphasis added):

Q. Let me just understand that a little bit. Let’s talk about net worth for a second. You said that the net worth goes up and down based upon your own feelings?

A. Yes, even my own feelings, as to where the world is, where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day. Then you have a September 11th, and you don’t feel so good about yourself and you don’t feel so good about the world and you don’t feel so good about New York City. Then you have a year later, and the city is as hot as a pistol. Even months after that it was a different feeling. So yeah, even my own feelings affect my value to myself.

Q. When you publicly state what you’re worth, what do you base that number on?

A. I would say it’s my general attitude at the time that the question may be asked. And as I say, it varies.

Here is what the bellicose developer said about the suit that he brought despite knowing he would lose:

Trump said in an interview that he knew he couldn’t win the suit but brought it anyway to make a point. “I spent a couple of bucks on legal fees, and they spent a whole lot more. I did it to make his life miserable, which I’m happy about.”

Yes, Trump, we are talking about you. As if anyone reading this couldn’t have already figured that out.

Your confession published yesterday that you abuse the courts in an attempt to silence critics will no doubt be a nice little weapon in the gun belt of First Amendment defense, and will hopefully go a long way to make sure that such things don’t happen —  by raising awareness of the issue and the way you abuse the courts.

Perhaps our legislators will take notice, as it pertains to the pending anti-SLAPP legislation.

And if there are any judges that happen to be reading this, this is why you shouldn’t be gun-shy with the sanctions when idiotic defamation cases are brought. If you would lower the hammer on vexatious litigants, you would see fewer patently frivolous suits, and proper speech protections for the citizenry.

Here’s a suggestion for the next worthless defamation suit Trump brings: Take his demand for damages — which will be a ludicrous amount — and use that as the barometer for sanctions.

See also:

 

December 8th, 2015

Can Trump Claim His Campaign Was A Hoax?

Donald Trump speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor MD on February 27, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Malet)

Donald Trump speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor MD on February 27, 2015. (Photo by Jeff Malet)

When I first saw the news that Donald Trump wanted to ban all Muslims from coming to America (“a total and complete shutdown“), I scratched my head.

Was this a parody or the real thing? As he utters more and more outrageous and bigoted comments, it becomes difficult to know.

But the bigger issue, lurking in the backs of many minds, was this: Will Trump claim one day that his whole campaign was an elaborate hoax, concocted to expose the bigotry and racism of others?

Or, perhaps, as some have said, this is a “false flag” campaign to help Hillary Clinton.

These related ideas seem to be far more reasonable at this point, than this being an actual campaign to become president. Because other than the overt Archie Bunker bigots, there isn’t anyone else that would vote for him.

Would anyone really be surprised if he turned around one day and said, “Ha! The joke’s on you!  Look at all those extremists out there that I have uncovered!”  (Always done with exclamation marks, of course.)

The problem is that, if he tries it, he runs headlong into an altogether different problem. In federal court. Where judges might not find the humor in what he claims he had done.

Remember, if you will, that in July Trump filed a $500M defamation and breach of contract lawsuit against Univision, a Spanish language station. The station dumped Trump’s Miss USA and Miss Universe contests, after his comments about Mexicans being rapists.

That case was then removed from New York’s state court to federal court where a motion to dismiss by Univision is now pending.

So what happens if Trump tries to claim that his campaign was just a giant ruse to expose the ugly underbelly of American bigotry and racism? Or that he deliberately mocked the worst part of the Republican base with his bigoted comments to help Hillary? It means he will have effectively conceded that, by bringing the lawsuit, he had committed a fraud on the court.

And you know what? Judges don’t like to see their courts used in that fashion.

While the sanctions of case dismissal and legal fees may be a drop in the bucket at this early point in that litigation, courts retain an inherent power to police themselves. And that inherent power includes the imposition of sanctions for bad-faith conduct, which is not displaced or limited by any particular sanction scheme set forth by statutes and rules. (See Chambers v, NASCO).

The sanctions could also affect his lawyers for having perpetuated a charade on the court. And not just monetary ones, but disciplinary ones. Which lawyers want to risk their licenses for Trump?

And since he is involved in dozens of other lawsuits, there could be fallout there, as he would have acknowledged dishonesty not just out of court with the hoax, but in court as well. Pulling a joke or hoax to prove a point may well be a fair thing to do, but  you can’t involve the courts. Trump, after all, signed the verification to his lawsuit.

So Trump, it seems, doesn’t really have an escape hatch from his bigotry. If he tries to claim it was all a joke, he (and his lawyers) will likely have a very mad judiciary to deal with. And they may not give a damn about confining themselves to the limited amount in legal fees already wasted. If he tries to do this, will a judge decide to test the limits of the power to sanction?