McDonald's legal cases

McDonald's legal cases
Type Public
Traded as NYSEMCD
Dow Jones Industrial Average Component
Industry Restaurants
Founded May 15, 1940 in San Bernardino, California;
McDonald's Corporation, April 15, 1955 in Des Plaines, Illinois
Founder(s) Richard and Maurice McDonald McDonald's restaurant concept;
Ray Kroc, McDonald's Corporation founder.
Headquarters Oak Brook, Illinois, U.S.
Number of locations 33,000+ worldwide[1]
Area served Worldwide
Key people James A. Skinner
(Chairman & CEO)
Products Fast food
(hamburgers • chicken • french fries • soft drinks • coffee • milkshakes • salads • desserts • breakfast)
Revenue increase US$ 24.075 billion (2010)[2]
Operating income increase US$ 7.473 billion (2010)[2]
Net income increase US$ 4.949 billion (2010)[2]
Total assets increase US$ 31.975 billion (2010)[2]
Total equity increase US$ 14.634 billion (2010)[2]
Employees 400,000 (January 2010)[2]
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McDonald's has been involved in a number of lawsuits and other legal cases in the course of the fast food chain's 70-year history. Many of these have involved trademark issues, but McDonald's has also launched a significant number of defamation suits, including "the biggest corporate PR disaster in history".[3]



Trademark and copyright

MacJoy (Philippines)

In 2004, McDonald's sued Cebu-based fast food restaurant MacJoy for using a very similar trade name. In its defense, MacJoy insisted that it was the first user of the mark under the title "MACJOY & DEVICE" for its business in Cebu City which started in 1987, five years before McDonald's opened its first outlet in the same city. MacJoy stated that the requirement of “actual use” in commerce in the Philippines before one may register a trademark pertains to the territorial jurisdiction on a national scale and is not merely confined to a certain locality or region. It added that "MacJoy" is a term of endearment for the owner's niece whose name is Scarlett Yu Carcel. In response, McDonald's claimed that there was no connection with the name Scarlett Yu Carcel to merit the coinage of the word "MacJoy" and that the only logical conclusion over the name is to help the Cebu restaurant ride high on their (McDonald's) established reputation.

On February 2007, the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the right of McDonald's over its registered and internationally-recognized trademarks.[4] As a result, the owners of MacJoy, the Espina family, was forced to change its trademark into MyJoy,[5] which went into effect with the re-opening of its two branches in Cebu City on August that year.

McCoffee (US)

In 1994, McDonald's successfully forced Elizabeth McCaughey of the San Francisco Bay Area to change the trading name of her coffee shop McCoffee, which had operated under that name for 17 years. "This is the moment I surrendered the little 'c' to corporate America," said Elizabeth McCaughey, who had named it as an adaptation of her surname.[6]

Norman McDonalds' Country Drive-Inn (US)

From the early 1960s to the mid 1980s, Norman McDonald ran a small "Country Drive-Inn" restaurant in Philpot, Kentucky called simply "McDonald's Hamburgers; Country Drive-Inn", which at the time also had a gas station and convenience store. As a play on the real McDonald's, Norman also included a couple of lit "golden arches". McDonald's the restaurant chain forced Norman to remove the arches and add the full Norman McDonald's name to its sign so customers would not be confused into thinking the restaurant was affiliated with the McDonald's restaurant chain. The restaurant is still open to this day (though it no longer has the gas station) and is located in front of the Daviess County Fairgrounds.

McChina Wok Away (UK)

In 2001, McDonald’s lost a nine-year legal action against Frank Yuen, owner of McChina Wok Away, a small chain of Chinese takeaway outlets in London. Justice David Neuberger ruled the McChina name would not cause any confusion among customers and that McDonald's had no right to the prefix Mc.[7]

McMunchies (UK)

In 1996, McDonald's forced Scottish sandwich shop owner Mary Blair of Fenny Stratford, Buckinghamshire to drop McMunchies as her trading name. Mrs. Blair did not sell burgers or chips. She said she chose the name because she liked the word munchies and wanted the cafe to have a Scottish feel. The cafe's sign reflected this, featuring a Scottish thistle and a St Andrew's flag. But in a statement to Mrs. Blair's solicitors, McDonald's said if someone used the Mc prefix, even unintentionally, they were using something that does not belong to them.[8]\

=== McDonald's === (UK) McDonald's filed a lawsuit against McDonald's Family Resturant, located in Grand Cayman. McDonald's lost the case, and in addition, was banned from ever opening a McDonald's location on Grand Cayman. This ruling still stands today.

McAllan (Denmark)

In 1996, McDonald's lost a legal battle at the Danish Supreme Court to force Allan Pedersen, a hotdog vendor, to drop his shop name McAllan.[9] Pedersen had previously visited Scotland on whisky-tasting tours. He named his business after his favorite brand of whisky, MacAllan's, after contacting the distillery to see if they would object. They did not, but McDonald's did. However, the court ruled customers could tell the difference between a one-man vendor and a multi-national chain and ordered McDonald's to pay 40,000 kroner ($6,900) in court costs. The verdict cannot be appealed.

McCurry (Malaysia)

In 2006, McDonald's won a five-year legal battle in Malaysia against a small restaurant named "McCurry". The defendant claimed that McCurry stood for Malaysian Chicken Curry, but a High Court judge ruled that the prefix Mc and the use of colors distinctive of the McDonald's brand could confuse and deceive customers.[10]

In April 2009, however, McCurry won the case after a retrial. Again in September 2009, McDonald’s lost an eight-year trademark battle in a precedent-setting judgment by Malaysia’s highest court. The Federal Court ruled that McDonald’s cannot appeal against another court’s verdict that had allowed McCurry to use "Mc" in its name. The ruling by a three-member panel of the Federal Court ends all legal avenues for McDonald’s to protect its name from what it said was a trademark infringement. “On the basis of unanimous decision, our view is that McDonald’s plea to carry the case forward has no merit," said chief judge Arifin Zakaria. “It is unfortunate that we have to dismiss the application with costs,” he said. McDonald’s will have to pay RM10,000 to McCurry, a popular eatery in Jalan Ipoh on the edge of Kuala Lumpur’s downtown.[11][12]

McDonald’s lawyers refused to comment, except to say the company will abide by the judgment. A three-member Appeal Court panel had ruled in favour of McCurry Restaurant in April, 2009, when it overturned a 2006 High Court ruling that had upheld McDonald’s contention. Arifin said McDonald’s lawyers were unable to point out faults in the Appeal Court judgment, which had said there was no evidence to show that McCurry was passing off McDonald’s business as its own. The Appeals Court also said McDonald’s cannot claim an exclusive right to the "Mc" prefix in the country.

South African trademark law

Apartheid politics had prevented earlier expansion into South Africa, but as the apartheid regime came to an end in the early 1990s, McDonald's decided to expand there. The company had already recognized South Africa as a potentially significant market and had registered its name as a trademark there in 1968.

Under South African law, trademarks cease to be the property of a company if they are not used for a certain amount of time. McDonald's had renewed the 1968 registration several times, but missed a renewal deadline. The registration expired and McDonald’s discovered two fast food restaurants in South Africa were trading under the name MacDonalds. Moreover, a businessman had applied to register the McDonald’s name.

Multiple lawsuits were filed. The fast food chain was stunned when the court ruled it had lost the rights to its world-famous name in South Africa. However, the company eventually won on appeal.[13]

The real Ronald McDonald (US)

The company waged an unsuccessful 26-year legal action against McDonald's Family Restaurant which was opened by a man legally named Ronald McDonald in Fairbury, Illinois in 1956.[14] Mr. McDonald ultimately continued to use his name on his restaurant, despite objections by the franchise.[15]

Cases brought against McDonald's

H.R. Pufnstuf / McDonaldland

In 1973, Sid and Marty Krofft, the creators of H.R. Pufnstuf, successfully sued McDonald's, arguing that the entire McDonaldland premise was essentially a ripoff of their television show. In specific, the Kroffts claimed that the character Mayor McCheese was a direct copy of their character, "H.R. Pufnstuf" (being a mayor himself). McDonald's initially was ordered to pay $50,000. The case was later remanded as to damages, and McDonald's was ordered to pay the Kroffts more than $1 million.

McDonaldland itself, as it was depicted in the commercials, was a magical place where plants, foods, and inanimate objects were living, speaking characters. In addition to being the home to Ronald and the other core characters, McDonaldland boasted "Thick shake volcanoes", anthropomorphized "Apple pie trees", "The Hamburger Patch" (where McDonald's hamburgers grew out of the ground like plants), "Filet-O-Fish Lake", and many other fanciful features based around various McDonald's menu items. In the commercials, the various beings are played by puppets or costumed performers, very similar to the popular H.R. Pufnstuf program.

McDonald's had originally hoped the Kroffts would agree to license its characters for commercial promotions. When they declined, McDonaldland was created, purposely based on the H.R. Pufnstuf show in an attempt to duplicate the appeal.

After the lawsuit, the concept of the "magical place" was all but phased out of the commercials, as were many of the original characters. Those that remained would be Ronald, Grimace, The Hamburglar, and the Fry Kids.

McSleep (Quality Inns International)

In 1988, Quality Inns was planning to open a new chain of economy hotels under the name "McSleep." After McDonald's demanded that Quality Inns not use the name because it infringed, the hotel company filed a suit in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that "McSleep" did not infringe. McDonald's counterclaimed, alleging trademark infringement and unfair competition. Eventually, McDonald's prevailed. The court's opinion noted that the prefix "Mc" added to a generic word has acquired secondary meaning, so that in the eyes of the public it means McDonalds, and therefore the name "McSleep" would infringe on McDonald's trademarks.[16]

Viz top tips (UK)

In 1996, British adult comic Viz accused McDonald's of plagiarizing the name and format of its longstanding Top Tips feature, in which readers offer sarcastic tips. McDonald's had created an advertising campaign of the same name, which showcased the Top Tips (and then suggested the money-saving alternative - going to McDonald's). Some of the similarities were almost word-for-word:

"Save a fortune on laundry bills. Give your dirty shirts to Oxfam. They will wash and iron them, and then you can buy them back for 50p." – Viz Top Tip, published May 1989.
"Save a fortune on laundry bills. Give your dirty shirts to a second-hand shop. They will wash and iron them, and then you can buy them back for 50p." – McDonald's advert, 1996

The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum, which was donated to the charity appeal Comic Relief. However, many Viz readers believed that the comic had given permission for their use, leading to Top Tips submissions such as: "Geordie magazine editors. Continue paying your mortgage and buying expensive train sets ... by simply licensing the Top Tips concept to a multinational burger corporation."[17]

Beef french fries

Lawsuits were brought against the McDonald's Corporation in the early 1990s for including beef in its French fries despite claims that the fries were vegetarian. In fact, beef flavoring is added to the fries during the production phase.[18] The case revolved around a 1990 McDonald’s press release stating that the company's French fries would be cooked in 100% vegetable oil and a 1993 letter to a customer that claimed their French fries are vegetarian.[19] McDonald's refuted this.[20] The lawsuits ended in 2002 when McDonald's announced it would issue another apology and pay 10 million dollars to vegetarians and religious groups. Subsequent oversight by the courts was required to ensure that the money that was paid by McDonald's: "to use the funds for programs serving the interests of people following vegetarian dietary practices in the broadest sense." There was some controversy in this ruling, as it benefited non-vegetarian groups such as research institutions that research vegetarian diets but do not benefit vegetarians. In 2005, the appeal filed by vegetarians against the list of recipients in this case was denied, and the recipients of the 10 million dollars chosen by McDonald's was upheld.

Further ingredient-related lawsuits have been brought against McDonald's since 2006. McDonald's had included its French fries on its website in a list of gluten-free products; these lawsuits claim children suffered severe intestinal damage as a result of unpublicized changes to McDonald's French fry recipe. McDonald's has provided a more complete ingredient list for its french fries more recently. Over 20 lawsuits have been brought against McDonald's regarding this issue, which the McDonald's Corporation has attempted to consolidate.


Coalition of Immokalee workers (US)

In March 2001, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a group of South Florida farmworkers, began a campaign demanding better wages for the people who pick the tomatoes used by McDonald's and other fast food companies.[21] McDonald's was the second target after the group succeeded against Taco Bell.[22]

McDonald's Corporation has claimed that their SAFE (Socially Accountable Farm Employer) program is equal to or superior to the agreement between the CIW and Taco Bell. SAFE was initially represented, in November 2005, by CBR Public Relations Firm. According to their website, CBR-PR has "in-depth" experience handling "activist response management." SAFE, unlike the Taco Bell agreement, does not include a wage increase, worker participation, worker support, or basic buying transparency. The program is run by the Florida Fruit and Beverage Association and the Redlands Christian Migrant Association, a childcare provider with no experience in labor issues. As the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association represents farmers who have an interest in reducing costs, often at the expense of farm workers, this represents a conflict of interests. Under SAFE, farm workers themselves continue to be excluded from monitoring the conditions under which they work.[citation needed]

According to the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights, "By partnering with SAFE and embracing its weak expectations — which do not include even such fundamental labor standards such as the right to overtime pay and freedom of association — McDonald's is setting the bar even lower for its American agricultural producers than it does for its suppliers in communist China."[23]

Strip search Suit (US)


Fries advertisement (UK)

In 2003, a ruling by the UK Advertising Standards Authority determined that the corporation had acted in breach of the codes of practice in describing how its french fries were prepared.[24] A McDonald's print ad stated that "after selecting certain potatoes", "we peel them, slice them, fry them and that's it." It showed a picture of a potato in a McDonald's fries box. In fact, the product was sliced, pre-fried, sometimes had dextrose added, was then frozen, shipped, and re-fried and then had salt added.

"McMatch and Win Monopoly" Promotion (Australia)

In 2001, 34 claimants (representing some 7,000 claimants)[25] failed in a class action against McDonald's for false and misleading conduct arising from the "McMatch & Win Monopoly" promotion before Justice John Dowsett of the Federal Court of Australia.[26] The claimants had attempted to claim prizes from the 1999 promotion using game tokens from the 1998 promotion, arguing unsuccessfully that that remaining 1998 tokens may have been distributed accidentally by McDonald's in 1999.

Health and safety

Also known as the "McDonald's coffee case", Liebeck v. McDonald's is a well-known product liability lawsuit that became a flash point in the debate in the U.S. over tort reform after a jury awarded $2.9 million to Stella Liabeck, a 79-year-old woman from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who sued McDonald's after she suffered third-degree burns from hot coffee that she spilled on herself at one of the company's drive-thrus in 1992.[27] The trial judge reduced the total award to $640,000, and the parties settled for a confidential amount before an appeal was decided. The case entered popular understanding as an example of frivolous litigation;[28] ABC News calls the case "the poster child of excessive lawsuits."[29] Trial-lawyer groups such as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America and other opponents of tort reform sometimes argue that the suit was justified because of the extent of Liebeck's injuries.[30]

See also

External links


  1. ^ McDonald's publication. "Corporate FAQ". McDonald's Corporation. Retrieved 2007-11-24. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "2010 Form 10-K, McDonald's Corporation". United States Securities and Exchange Commission. Retrieved 2011-03-03. 
  3. ^ Timmons, Heather (2005-02-16). "The infamous McLibel case". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-12. 
  4. ^ Philippine Supreme Court upholds McDonald's trademark rights. MarketWatch. February 7, 2007.
  5. ^ "MyJoy: Smiling through it all". Sun.Star Cebu.. July 30, 2007. 
  6. ^ " article on the McCoffee lawsuit". 
  7. ^ Elan, Elissa (2001). "McChina UK vs McDonald's USA". Nation's Restaurant News. 
  8. ^ "McSpotlight article on the McMunchies lawsuit". 
  9. ^ " article on the McAllan lawsuit". 
  10. ^ "'McCurry' to pay damages over name". September 8, 2006.,,20374788-462,00.html?from=rss. [dead link]
  11. ^ "McDonald's loses court battle against McCurry". 
  12. ^ "Malaysia McCurry beats McDonald over trademark". Bangkok Post. 
  13. ^ " article on the South African trademark lawsuits". 
  14. ^ " article on the 26-year real Ronald McDonald legal action". 
  15. ^ "Seattle Times reports on outcome of lawsuit". The Seattle Times. August 16, 1996. 
  16. ^ Quality Inns Int'l v. McDonald's Corp, PDF 695 F. Supp. 198 ((D. Md. 1988).
  17. ^ "Press article: 'Viz' challenges McDonald's over TV money tips". 
  18. ^ (Block vs. McDonald's Corp., Sharma vs. McDonald's Corp., Bansal v. McDonald's Corp., Zimmerman v. McDonald's Corp.) PDF
  19. ^ "McDonald's Letter: May 5, 1993". 
  20. ^ "Fat flap at McDonald's: McDonald's refutes class action suit alleging deceptive use of beef flavoring". CNN Money. May 3, 2001. 
  21. ^ " article on the Coalition of Immokalee workers demands". 
  22. ^ " article on the Coalition of Immokalee workers". 
  23. ^ "". 
  24. ^ "Article on Fries advertisement at". 
  25. ^ "ABC News Australia (The World Today) - report on March 9, 2001". 
  26. ^ "Hurley v McDonald's Limited 2001 FCA 209". 
  27. ^ Liebeck v. McDonald's Restaurants, P.T.S., Inc., No. D-202 CV-93-02419, 1995 WL 360309 (Bernalillo County, N.M. Dist. Ct. Aug. 18, 1994) details from
  28. ^ Mark B. Greenlee, "Kramer v. Java World: Images, Issues, and Idols in the Debate Over Tort Reform," 26 Cap. U.L. Rev. 701
  29. ^ ABC News, "I'm Being Sued for What?", May 2, 2007
  30. ^ See Gerlin. See also Ralph Nader & Wesley J. Smith, No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America (1996) ISBN 0-375-75258-7, 268

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