The lawsuit alleges that a frozen version of TGI Fridays Mozzarella Sticks Snack contains no mozzarella whatsoever.
A federal judge has dismissed a class action lawsuit alleging that TGI Fridays-branded mozzarella sticks are misleading because they contain no actual mozzarella cheese.
However, in his ruling, Illinois-based U.S. District Judge Robert Dow, Jr., allowed a similar claim to proceed against the appetizer’s manufacturer.
According to USA Today, the lawsuit was first filed in federal court by plaintiff Amy Joseph against TGI Fridays and snack-maker Inventure Foods.
The complaint specifically alleges that the popular “TGI Fridays Mozzarella Sticks Snacks” contain no actual mozzarella cheese.
In her lawsuit, Joseph says that the product is misbranded and misleads consumers into believing that it contains mozzarella.
However, TGI Fridays Mozzarella Sticks Snacks are made exclusively with cheddar cheese.
While both TGI Fridays and Inventure had petitioned the court to dismiss the lawsuit, Dow refused, granting only TGI Fridays’ request to be removed from the complaint.
Since TGI Fridays neither manufactures nor names the product, Dow found, its sole role is that of a licensor, and the restaurant chain cannot therefore be held liable in a deceptive marketing claim.
“While Plaintiff makes wide-ranging allegations in her complaint about TGIF’s role in the creation of the Product, the Product’s packaging – and the complaint – show that TGI Fridays is only the licensor of the mark,” wrote Dow in a memorandum released on Monday.
Dow, adds USA Today, wrote that a company allowing its trademark to be used on a product is not sufficient for the same company to be found liable for misleading advertising practices.
While the packaging for the frozen mozzarella sticks contains a disclaimer that the mozzarella flavor is “artificial,” Joseph and her attorney allege that the product’s branding would lead “reasonable” consumers to believe that the product more likely than not contained actual mozzarella.
Joseph, for example, noted that the words “Mozzarella Sticks” are featured prominently on the product’s packaging.
She also said that “her reasonable understanding that mozzarella sticks, by definition, contain mozzarella cheese,” would preclude any assumption that TGI Fridays Mozzarella Sticks Snacks do not actually include mozzarella.
However, attorneys for Inventure Foods pushed back against Joseph’s claims, characterizing her as a “serial class action plaintiff” who has filed numerous other class action lawsuits in Illinois in the past 10 years.
Inventure Foods further argued that Joseph had simply “cherry-picked” a single, potentially objectionable phrase from the product’s packaging and used to it form the basis of a legal claim.
“It is well-established … that a single statement on a product’s label cannot be taken in isolation and the totality of labeling must be analyzed to assess whether a reasonable consumer could be misled,” Inventure Foods’ attorneys wrote in a memorandum supporting the motion to dismiss the case last year.
Joseph’s lawyers have since praised Dow’s ruling, noting that the lawsuit may continue against Inventure Foods.
“We are pleased with the judge’s ruling. The judge agreed with us that the claims in the lawsuit have merit, the case should not be dismissed,” attorney Thomas Zimmerman Jr., told USA TODAY in a statement. “We intend to proceed against Inventure Foods on behalf of the nationwide class of purchasers of TGI Fridays mozzarella sticks.”