Subway Tuna Lawsuit Gets Canned
Something fishy might be going on in federal court. A longstanding lawsuit against Subway was finally dismissed last week, but under some unusual circumstances: the lady who brought the suit ended it. Yes, we're talking about the "Subway Tuna Lawsuit." Let's dive in.
"100% Tuna" 100% Truthful?
The suit was first brought to a California federal court back in 2022 by a woman named Nilima Amin. She claimed that Subway was lying about the amount of tuna that their “tuna" actually contained. Subway has maintained that their tuna products contained "100% tuna," and has been asking the court to dismiss the suit.
According to the first (initially dismissed) lawsuit filed in 2021, Amin alleged that Subway restaurants "label and advertise the Products as 'tuna,'" but in reality, "the Products do not contain tuna nor have any ingredient that constitutes tuna. The Products lack tuna and are completely bereft of tuna as an ingredient."
Feeling that complaint was too restrictive, Amin and her lawyers filed an amended complaint before Subway could respond. Their new complaint softened the language, alleging instead that Subway's products "do not contain 100% skipjack and yellowtail tuna, and/or do not consist of 100% tuna." The judge, U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar, dismissed the complaint without prejudice. (This happens to be the same judge that recently blocked President Biden's Mexico border asylum law.)
Amin and her lawyers filed a second amended complaint, now alleging that "the Tuna Products partially or wholly lack tuna as an ingredient" and that "they contain other fish species, animal products, or miscellaneous products aside from tuna." Judge Tigar allowed the case to move forward under the less absolutist language.
Fishing for Facts
Amin had two main pillars of support for her case: a claim that she'd ordered Subway tuna products over 100 times between 2013 and 2019, and the findings of a marine biologist at UCLA. The biologist supposedly obtained and tested 20 tuna samples from Subway outposts in southern California. These samples were then tested at UCLA's Barber Lab, which led to some surprising findings.
According to the complaint, the testing at UCLA revealed that all 20 of the samples had chicken DNA, 11 had pork DNA, and 7 had cattle DNA. And as for tuna? Allegedly, 19 of the 20 samples contained no tuna DNA at all. The DNA testing, if replicated for the court, seems like it would have made the case fairly straightforward.
You might think Subway's claim of "100% tuna" would preclude the inclusion of other animal protein in the mix, pretty much guaranteeing Amin the win. But Subway rebutted that "any non-tuna DNA discovered when testing its tuna products must come from the eggs in mayonnaise or from cross-contact with other Subway ingredients." The court didn't exactly take that bait, though; they said that this would be a question for a jury.
Pescatarian Prosecution Proves Porous
If Amin's evidence could hold up under scrutiny, it's hard to see Subway prevailing against her. But in May, Amin suddenly asked to end the lawsuit on the grounds that she was too pregnant to continue. Subway was neither convinced nor mollified.
The press generated by Amin's accusations had cost Subway a not inconsiderable amount of money, and a PR nightmare. The restaurant chain had to run commercials defending its tuna, for one. It even felt the need to create a whole branch of their website for the same purpose. In court, Subway claimed that the media frenzy resulting from Amin's lawsuit caused severe harm. The company asserted that merely dismissing the lawsuit wasn't enough, instead demanding that Amin and her seven lawyers pay at least $618,000 in legal bills.
Subway Sannnnnnnuit Sinks
Judge Tigar dismissed Amin's lawsuit as July came to a close. Amin's lack of proof, her abandonment of the case, and her shifting story and rationale sunk her case. On the other hand, it seems that at least some damage to the restaurant's reputation had already been done. It remains unclear whether she will be held financially responsible for some portion of Subway's losses or legal bills. It also remains unclear what exactly is in those sandwiches. For now, it looks like you'll have to wait for the next lunchtime lawsuit to find out whether you've really been eating fish or just "Eating Fresh."
- Essential Advertising Rules for Your Business (FindLaw's Learn About the Law)
- Something Smells Fishy as Subway Calls for Tuna Lawsuit Dismissal (FindLaw's Legally Weird blog)
- What Your Food Must Legally Tell You (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life blog)
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