Mom Files Lawsuit To Stop Child From Forcing Her To Buy Happy Meals

A woman in California has filed a lawsuit against McDonald's because she is apparently unable to resist her child's incessant demands for a Happy Meal.

The war against fast food meals with toys in them began when Santa Clara, California banned fast food restaurants from selling meals with toys unless they met certain nutritional requirements. Then, last month, the City of San Francisco followed with a similar measure. Now, the battleground has shifted to the courtroom:

A California mother of two and The Center for Science in the Public Interest are suing McDonald’s Corp. to get the fast-food chain to stop using toys to market meals to young children.

They say McDonald’s is violating several consumer protection laws by marketing its Happy Meals directly to young children because it exploits children’s vulnerability.

“What kids see as a fun toy, I now realize is a sophisticated, high-tech marketing scheme that’s designed to put McDonald’s between me and my daughters,” said Monet Parham, of Sacramento, Calif. “For the sake of other parents and their children, I want McDonald’s to stop interfering with my family.”

Parham’s lawyers, who filed the lawsuit in state court in San Francisco on Wednesday, have asked that it be certified as a class action. The lawsuit doesn’t seek damages; it asks the court to bar McDonald’s from advertising any meals that feature toys to California children.

(…)

In this case, the center claims McDonald’s is engaged in a “highly sophisticated scheme to use the bait of toys to exploit children’s developmental immaturity and subvert parental authority.”

The toys encourage children to eat nutritionally unbalanced Happy Meals, which in turn promotes obesity, according to the center’s complaint.

“McDonald’s advertising of Happy Meals with toys is deceptive and unfair to children, unfair to parents, and in violation of California law,” the complaint states.

Let’s take a look at a few of the allegations in the Complaint:

McDonald’s exploits very young California children and harms their health by advertising unhealthy Happy Meals with toys directly to them. Children eight years old and younger do not have the cognitive skills and the developmental maturity to understand the persuasive intent of marketing and advertising.

The last time I checked, there weren’t many children eight years old and younger walking into a McDonald’s on their own and purchasing Happy Meals. If a Happy Meal is purchased, it’s purchased by an adult and unless Ms. Parham is claiming that she, as a mother, lacks the “cognitive skills and the developmental maturity to understand the persuasive intend of marketing and advertising,” this allegation seems to be entirely irrelevant. Sadly, that seems to be exactly what she’s saying:

Children nonetheless influence the purchasing decisions of their parents. McDonald’s exploits that influence, by bombarding children with advertisements for Happy Meals with toys, knowing that it will result in kids nagging parents to purchase nutritionally poor Happy Meals for their children.

So, essentially, because Parham and people like her are unable to say “no” to a four year-old, the power of the state must be used to force her to make the choice that she knows is right for her child but is powerless to make because of the mind control exerted over her by child seduced by the allure of Chicken McNuggets and a toy.

This marketing also interferes with and undermines parental control over the health and welfare of their children. This action seeks to stop one of the most powerful, unfair, and deceptive practices – tempting kids with toys to get them to nag their parents to buy Happy Meals, thereby restoring an environment in which children and their parents can make dietary choices free from unfair and deceptive child targeted marketing.

Here’s an idea Ms. Parham, just say no. You’re the one who controls the meals your daughters eat, don’t feed them fast food and don’t give in to every toddler tantrum for Happy Meal toy. That’s what adults do.

As it turns out though, Monet Parham isn’t an ordinary parent:

Ms. Parham is the same person as “Monet Parham-Lee”. Monet Parham-Lee is an employee of the California Department of Public Health. Interestingly, her name has been scrubbed from the website of Champions for Change, the Network for a Healthy California. She has given numerous presentations and attended conferences on the importance of eating vegetables and whatnot.

She presents herself as an ordinary mother. She is not. She is an advocate, and an employee of a California agency tasked with advocating the eating of vegetables. To the extent that Monet Parham-Lee has EVER taken her daughter to a McDonald’s, she should have known better.

In other words, she’s an activist and this is a manufactured lawsuit. Hopefully, McDonald’s will be able to draw those facts out in discovery and these predators will be hit with sanctions for this nonsense.

The Cato Institute’s Walter Olson hits the nail on the head in his analysis of this frivolous lawsuit:

No one forced Parham to take her daughters to McDonald’s, buy them that particular menu item, and sit by as they ate every last French fry in the bag (if they did).

No, she’s suing because when she said no, her kids became disagreeable and “pouted” – for which she wants class action status. If she gets it, McDonald’s isn’t the only company that should worry. Other kids pout because parents won’t get them 800-piece Lego sets, Madame Alexander dolls and Disney World vacations. Are those companies going to be liable too?

If someone cane make a health based claim in favor of it, why not ? What’s really important about this case — and about the laws in Santa Clara and San Francisco — is that this is one of those precedent setters. If the Nanny State crowd wins here, what credible basis is left to deny them the right, next time, to go after something else? It’s a legitimate question. Because, if they win, they aren’t going to stop with regulating what kind of toy can go in what kind of meal in a restaurant. Once they know they can get away with that, there isn’t must left to restrain them from using the power of the state to take control of every other aspect of your life. for “your own good,” of course.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Maggie Mama says:

    Monet Parham is obviously letting her children WATCH TV!

    Horrors! What a BAD MOTHER!

    If the children watch NO TV, then they see NO COMMERCIALS!

    Better mothering-skills might save these children….CALL CPS RIGHT NOW!

  2. john personna says:

    There was an interesting article at The Atlantic, How Junk Food and Obesity Became Politicized

    What’s sad is that we’ve gone so far in the wrong direction that our average years of good health are declining.

    Longer Lives But Fewer Healthy Years

  3. Herb says:

    “If the Nanny State crowd wins here, what credible basis is left to deny them the right, next time, to go after something else?”

    1, 2, Wickard’s coming for you
    3,4 Better lock your door

    Well….if it’s any consolation, I don’t think there’s a “Nanny State crowd.” I think there are some activist types (such as this lady) who go all Nanny State on very narrow, specific issues, and they’re found on the entire political spectrum, from left to right and back again.

    For example, this lady is clearly a Nanny State type, but just because she’s going after McDonald’s toys doesn’t means she’s now going to demand prayer in public schools.

    In other words, the fears of “what will they do next” is a bit overstated. Because the answer is…..probably nothing.

  4. JKB says:

    Perhaps she should reduce her activism activities so that she has the time to prepare daily hot, fresh, nutritious meals for her children as traditional mothers have done for hundreds of years. I’d like to see McDonald’s conduct discovery into how she feeds her children to see if she uses nutritionally unbalanced frozen pizza, etc. to make up for her busy schedule. It’s conceivable that the Happy Meal is one of the most balanced meals the kids get.

  5. JKB says:

    @Herb – “Because the answer is…..probably nothing.”

    You must be young and unfamiliar with how the anti-smoking inquisition started. Which, of course, emboldened the nanny staters into going after soda and Happy Meals. I don’t like smoking but if we’d held a united front then, things would be better now.

  6. King of Fools says:

    Maybe there is no “nanny state” crowd, but there are definitely a relatively large segment of the population whose response to every issue and concern is: “the government should do something about that.” The activists in the public eye are just the fringe members of that segment.

    And I’m not anti government by any means. I just believe there are certain roles that the government needs to fulfill (civil law, justice, money supply, military) along with other roles that are really not their responsibility and that they do much poorer at then the private sector.

  7. john personna says:

    King, what do you think:

    And from military leaders who tell us that when more than one in four young people are unqualified for military service because of their weight, they tell us that childhood obesity isn’t just a public health issue; they tell us that it is not just an economic threat — it is a national security threat as well. [Accessed at whitehouse.gov on 12/14/10]

    At what point does it matter to society at large?

  8. Maggie Mama says:

    If we are really concerned about “national security threats”, then why aren’t we teaching high school and college age Americans how to properly use weapons, how to do search and seizures, how to recognize abherrent behavior a terrorist might display, et al????

    How about teaching them critical thinking? But no……..

    It’s just their WEIGHT that’s a NATIONAL SECURITY issue?

    We are even discussing this crap?

  9. george says:

    There’s a definite nanny state crowd out there. They’re the people who created and maintain the war on drugs, who want to outlaw bad eating behavior, who want to regulate people’s morals, who are against gay marriage … they cover the political spectrum.

  10. Cui bono?

  11. Herb says:

    “You must be young and unfamiliar with how the anti-smoking inquisition started. Which, of course, emboldened the nanny staters into going after soda and Happy Meals.”

    Well, I am young, but not unfamiliar with the anti-smoking inquisition. Indeed, the anti-smoking inquisition was predated by the anti-drug inquisition which was predated by the anti-alcohol inquisition.

    There is no shortage of nanny staters out there, old and young, left and right. Most of them (nearly all?) believe in their pet issue much more than they believe in the concept of an all-powerful state that controls every aspect of your life.

  12. JKB says:

    You know what’s a national security threat? The US military being unable to go onto the campuses of elite colleges to recruit the “best and brightest” to lead men and women into battle. How will we survive when the Harvard Man has no knowledge of the manual of arms?

    So 25% of the potential cannon fodder are unfit due to weight. Well, if you’ve ever been through basic, barring other problems, being over weight isn’t a problem after the first week. But wait, any conflict requiring the mobilization of all able-bodied men will be over before they can send out the email. Nukes kind of made wartime mobilizations obsolete. And in the post-apocalyptic world we’ll render the fat of the obese for lamp oil. So think of the obese as self-propelled batteries.

  13. john personna says:

    You can train a healthy young adult to fill a security role pretty quickly. How long does Basic take these days? But you can’t do that if you don’t have the healthy young adult.

    Anyway, this all frustrates me because it is conservative apology for failure.

    “Conservatives, defending your right to be fat and stupid since 1999”

    (To put a year on the rise of teh stupid party.)

  14. G.A.Phillips says:

    Who ever the lawyer is that filled this stupid **** should be disbarred,And if I was the judge, my ruling would be “get the **** out of my courtroom, idiots…….

  15. wr says:

    McDonald’s spends millions, maybe billions of dollars a year targeting children, and the libertarian response to a parent’s complaint is a shrug. McDonald’s has colonized the airwaves? Turn off the TV! The kid has been brainwashed into wanting to eat crap? Tell the brat no! The fact that you’re spending hours fighting this desire simply because a bunch of strangers have spent a thousand times more than you’ll make in your life doesn’t mean you have any right to object.

    It’s the libertarian approach, exactly the same as their view of labor issues — each individual cashier at Wal-Mart should have the right to negotiate individually with the largest retailer in the world, because any attempt at collective bargaining somehow destroys our freedom.

    Is it a game for libertarians to pretend that all actors on every side of an issue are equally powerful, and thus all that’s necessary for a mututally agreeable outcome is that they both come to the table? Or have none of you ever actually lived in the real world?

  16. floyd says:

    Huxley, Kipling, Zola, even Shakespeare warned us, still, much later, Paul Simon laments in “The Boxer”…

    “I have squandered my resistance
    For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises
    All lies and jests
    Still a man hears what he wants to hear
    And disregards the rest “……

    “Lie la lie…..”

    (still) “it isn’t strange
    After changes upon changes
    We are more or less the same
    After changes we are more or less the same”

  17. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Soon the idea of liberty will be something old people remember. The woman who files this suit should have her children removed from her custody and placed in foster care. She is obviously incapable of parenting. When does the revolution start? The french had the solution to the left. Mme. Defarge said it best. “Guillotine”.

  18. john personna says:

    The suit is stupid, but so is the predictable hog-wallowing that comes in its wake.

    It would be very different if we were becoming a healthier, stronger, people, and if we could point to all freedom fries as the source of it. But we can’t. We are sicker and weaker, and angry (off with their heads!) that anyone would complain on the road to ruin.

  19. wr says:

    Zels — So your idea of liberty is that anyone who objects to the actions of a multi-billion dollar corporation trying to influence her children against her will should be killed?

  20. george says:

    “Is it a game for libertarians to pretend that all actors on every side of an issue are equally powerful, and thus all that’s necessary for a mututally agreeable outcome is that they both come to the table? Or have none of you ever actually lived in the real world?”

    Of course not, but the idea that McDonald’s has more power over this woman’s daughter than she does is equally ridiculous. There are always bad influences out there, and always have been. Wait til her daughter becomes a teenager and is exposed to all the choices, some very dangerous, that will come her way. The only protection is education (and having classes on proper eating in school can more than counter-balance ads by companies like McDonald’s) and parental example, especially at that age.

  21. Drew says:

    So. We are (master) debating McDonald’s Happy Meals. I’m really impressed with the thread, and this is a very important topic. My view:

    Hey, hey Momma like the way you move, gonna make you sting gonna make you groove!
    Ah, baby when you walk that way, once your honey drip can’t keep away…………..

  22. sam says:

    I think it’s a bullshit suit and deserves to be thrown out for frivolity. I would point out, though, lest some think these kinds of things are relatively new, this kind of impulse has been with us for, oh I dunno, ever since the beginning of the country. (As far as the anti-smoking thing goes, how many are old enough to recall that Reader’s Digest engaged in an anti-smoking crusade years and years before the anti’s really gained any traction?) This strikes me, in a way, as just another instance of the puritanism Mencken so tellingly captured as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time.” These fools will be with us forever, and don’t for a moment think this impulse is not distributed throughout the political spectrum. Puritanism has no natural political home in America, or rather, it is at home in everywhere in our fair land.

  23. michael reynolds says:

    My life would be so great if the only thing my kids nagged me about were Happy Meals. Can we sue Apple and Miley Cyrus next? Because they’ve cost me some money.

    Eat your Happy Meal with chicken and the apples they’ll sub for fries, leave out the caramel dipping sauce, and take bottled water or unsweetened iced tea in lieu of soda and it’s really fairly healthy.

  24. sam says:

    And besides, no less than Julia Childs said the McDonald’s has the best french fries she’d ever eaten. So there.

  25. anjin-san says:

    > And besides, no less than Julia Childs said the McDonald’s has the best french fries she’d ever eaten. So there.

    Yea, they were good. But that was back when they used beef tallow as a flavoring agent.

  26. Grewgills says:

    Let’s hope the suit is dismissed as frivolous.

    You know what’s a national security threat? The US military being unable to go onto the campuses of elite colleges to recruit the “best and brightest” to lead men and women into battle.

    BS

    Well, if you’ve ever been through basic, barring other problems, being over weight isn’t a problem after the first week.

    Certainly not by then, the question is how many 0 weeks it takes you to get to the beginning of the first week.

    Soon the idea of liberty will be something old people remember. The woman who files this suit should have her children removed from her custody and placed in foster care…

    POE!
    That was great Ragshaft. We’re all losing our freedoms, quick take away their children and cut off their heads.

  27. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    First we must storm the Bastille. I don’t want the implementation of a nation razor but rather the return of “common sense”. There appears to be those who ask government to take responsibility which they themselves should wield. In their zeal to have govenment prevent “evil corportations like McDonald’s for “targeting children” with thier subversive ads, all of our freedoms are being attacked. If what is called for is the elimination of the elites, so be it. Elites do not know what is best for me, and if they think they do, best they keep it to themselves. I think it is far better to live in a place that can produce people like Bill Gates and those who make fortunes because they see something they can improve upon, like Ray Kroc who got rich late in life because he saw something he though would sell, then in a place that produces men like Josef Stalin, or Vald Putin. Someone please explain to me why it is progressive to move toward a system that has failed every time it is implemented.

  28. MarkedMan says:

    I absolutely agree the suit is pure BS, as probably does 99.9% of the country. So I’ll use this space to comment on another comment in this thread. I want to take exception to the comment that the war against smoking is an example of an overreaching Nanny State. Tobacco smoke is a highly addictive substance, more difficult to quit than heroin, and one that causes debilitating illness and early death. We know from court documents that the tobacco companies a) deliberately engineered tobacco to be more addictive, b) marketed this to children at as early an age as possible, c) paid so-called scientists to gin up phony controversy over whether there were any health affects, and d) denied publicly and continuously that smoking was addictive. (Those four, and others like them, are not debatable. Actual corporate documents were introduced that showed this was the normal business practice.) In response, the “Nanny State” mandated that manufacturers be truthful about their products and put warnings on their packaging, stop promoting their product to children, and after it was shown that second hand smoke could also be dangerous, wrote rules to protect those that were in public places and didn’t want to have someone else’ choice imposed on them.

    That is just not in the same category as anti-happy meal laws, or even motorcycle helmet laws. I’m not a big fan of the nanny state, but in the case of smoking the government was the only entity that could take on the tobacco companies who had endless resources to peddle lies and junk science – they literally financed the media, or at least were responsible for such a high percentage of revenue that no countervailing message could get out. In my opinion this was a case of the power of government used judiciously and correctly.

  29. george says:

    “There appears to be those who ask government to take responsibility which they themselves should wield.”

    I agree. Which is why the drug laws and the ban on gay marriage should be repealed – people have to be left to decide things for themselves.

  30. Rick DeMent says:

    While this case is a load of horse hockey, the fact is the silliness of it pales in comparison to the thousands and thousands of BS suits suits that corporations and businesses files every day (which have huge impacts on all of us to enrich a few) and there is never any outrage or libertarian hyperventilating about that if they get mentioned at all.

  31. matt says:

    Markedman : The drug that more people are addicted to then any other drug in the world? Caffeine.. look up the negative side effects sometime..