A “Whopper” of a Case for Sanctions

Established wisdom tells us that Rule 11 serves as a guardrail in the world of litigation. Its core mission? To make litigants pause, reflect, and proceed with care when filing legal papers, all with the aim of smoothing the operation and process of federal courts. However, how this rule applies to the curious case of the “Whopper that isn’t” remains an intriguing question.

On October 19, 2023, Defendants in the case of Walter Coleman, et al. v. Burger King Corporation, taking place in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida under case number 1:22-cv-20295, played their hand. They filed a Rule 11 motion for sanctions in response to Plaintiffs, who have been making global headlines since filing their complaint in March 2023. Plaintiffs allege that Burger King has been intentionally misleading consumers by showing its burgers as 35% bigger and meatier than they actually are. So, the jury’s task, it seems, will be to decide whether Burger King used chunkier beef patties in pictures compared to what they serve to hungry customers. Or is this just a clever bit of photography?

When the Ads Don’t Add Up to a Case

Burger King (“BKS”) led by Venable and Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP (find out about how these firms stack up here), contends that Plaintiffs had information in their possession that should have given them pause or pushed them to reshape their legal arguments. According to Burger King, Plaintiffs knew that the evidence would not support their claim that the burger giant used larger patties in ads compared to what they serve to the masses in their restaurants.

Burger King isn’t beating around the bush. They have asked the court to strike down these misleading claims and want the court to take a good, hard look at the parts of the discovery record that matter when they decide on Burger King’s upcoming motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint (SAC). To show they’re serious about this, they’re also looking to be compensated for the legal expenses they’ve incurred.

Another Way to Wrap It Up

But hold the ketchup; this isn’t the only time the Whopper has made a legal appearance. In two separate legal sagas launched in 2022, plaintiffs in Florida State Court and California Federal Court brought a class-action lawsuits, asserting that packaging used to wrap Whoppers and other menu items carry substances known as “PFAS,” or “forever chemicals.” However, these cases ended in voluntary dismissals – a head-scratcher in its own right.

In August of this year, U.S. District Judge Roy Altman in Miami denied Burger King’s initial motion to dismiss the Coleman lawsuit. The judge’s decision compelled Burger King to confront allegations that its depiction of Whoppers on in-store menu boards was sufficiently misleading to constitute a breach of contract. Will this case survive another motion to dismiss? Will Plaintiffs be sanctioned for bringing an allegedly frivolous claim? Stay with our coverage of this and other interesting, headline-making cases. To learn about Trellis for searching state trial court cases, visit http://www.trellis.law.