* Toys in Happy Meals unfairly lure children-lawsuit
* Plaintiff mother can always say no, says McDonald's
* Lawsuit should be dismissed, company says
(Adds plaintiff attorney comment, background)
By Dan Levine
SAN FRANCISCO, April 19 A lawsuit seeking to
stop McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) from offering toys with Happy
Meals must be dismissed because parents can always choose not
to buy the meals for their children, the hamburger giant said
in a court filing late on Monday.
The lawsuit accuses McDonald's of unfairly using toys to
lure children into its restaurants. The plaintiff, Monet
Parham, a Sacramento, California mother of two, charges that
the company's advertising violates California consumer
The Happy Meal has been a huge hit for McDonald's -- making
the company one of the world's largest toy distributors -- and
spawning me-too offerings at most other fast-food chains.
One recent and very successful Happy Meal promotion was a
tie-in with the popular DreamWorks Animation DWA.O film
"Shrek Forever After." The meals included toy watches fashioned
after the movie's characters Shrek, Donkey, Gingy and Puss in
McDonald's use of Happy Meal toys also has come under fire
from public health officials, parents and lawmakers who are
frustrated with rising childhood obesity rates and weak
anti-obesity efforts from restaurant operators, which are
Parham, who filed suit last December, is represented by the
Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nutrition advocacy
In the lawsuit, Parham admits she frequently tells her
children "no" when they ask for Happy Meals, McDonald's said in
Monday's court filing.
"She was not misled by any advertising, nor did she rely on
any information from McDonald's," said the company.
McDonald's had the suit moved to federal court, but the
plaintiff plans to fight to get the case back before a
California state judge.
Should Parham's lawsuit be allowed, it would spawn a host
of other problematic legal proceedings, McDonald's said.
"In short, advertising to children any product that a child
asks for but the parent does not want to buy would constitute
an unfair trade practice," the company said.
Stephen Gardner, litigation attorney for the public
interest group, said McDonald's is using a cookie cutter
approach to dismissing the lawsuit, with one key difference.
"What is different about this motion is that McDonald's has
chosen to blame the victim -- saying that it's all Monet
Parham's fault if she doesn't force her daughter to ignore the
onslaught of McDonald's marketing messages," Gardner said.
"McDonald's makes a lot of money by going around parents
direct to kids, and it wants to continue with that strategy."
Most food companies have pledged not to advertise directly
to children, but it is largely up to the industry to police its
own actions on that front. Industry also has argued that
government attempts to limit advertising crimp free speech
The U.S. food industry has successfully fended off
obesity-related lawsuits for years, including helping push
through state laws that ban obesity-related lawsuits.
The proposed class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court,
Northern District of California, is Parham v. McDonald's
Corporation et al, 11-511.
(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco, additional
reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Tim