Jewish World Review Jan. 28, 2003 / 25 Shevat, 5763
You can't always eat what you want
But you still can, for a while
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Americans are supposed to live and let live, refrain from coercion, and mind their own business. Telling someone else how to live or work-or, in a case settled last week, eat-has long been a quick way to a well-deserved punch in the mouth. Last week, though, two greedy families, a lawyer, and a misguided judge took us all a little farther down the widening path of "getting up in everybody's business."
In the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, two families named Pelman and Bradley saw their "personal injury" lawsuit dismissed. The party they were suing hadn't injured them, or anybody else-though this shouldn't shock anyone who understands the greed lottery that torts have become.
The first real shock is that their bizarre claim got as far as it did. The second is that Judge Robert Sweet delivered a decision that included detailed instruction to the Pelmans and Bradleys (and anyone else who wants in on the big-dollar action) on how to more successfully file their strange claims. And the third shock is that they would claim what they did at all: They asserted that McDonald's is to blame for their obesity and sundry health problems, because they themselves ate too much.
One assumes that America's cake decorators and grocery store clerks were too shallow in the pockets to go after.
The mind reels at this case-and not simply because so many Americans now blame others for the consequences of their own choices. No, the problem is that certain representatives of the court-attorney Samuel Hirsch, and Judge Robert Sweet, in this case-are unwilling to imagine the consequences of their actions. Thanks to their ministrations, a claim that could make the tobacco lawsuits look like small change has been seriously entertained for adjudication, and invited back when its roughest edges have been burred off.
Judge Sweet dismissed the silly charges-but not because they were silly. The press didn't seem to have read the thick decision, and instead played it for laughs if they covered it at all. CBS and others focused on the judge's one funny quote, that diners should know what happens if they seek "to satiate their appetite with a surfeit of supersized McDonald's products," ha, ha. The Washington Post managed to squeeze in a squib on page 13 of the Style section.
What they missed was that Judge Sweet was actually sympathetic with the motivation behind the case, so much so that he took 64 pages to dismiss it.
By contrast, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation fits on two pages. The key Supreme Court decision in the 2000 election fits on seven.
The fundamental problem with the judge's dismissal is that he offered thousands of words and complex defenses where a clear rejection was called for; that is, that American courts shall not entertain claims based on "I don't like you," instead of a violation of law.
Or he could have set his pen aside when they walked in and said, "You're a disgrace. Get out of my courtroom."
Judge Sweet went lovingly over every detail. He indicated precisely where the claims failed to show violation of law. He suggested other laws that the defendant might be breaking, if only the plaintiffs would do more research. On page 63, he listed a number of specific offenses the plaintiffs might consider and file over later. He even included a book-report-style statement on childhood obesity for no discernable reason other than to create a written record for some lawyer who will later come fishing for credibility in the case law.
Silly-minded organizations such as the ironically named Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) have serious agendas that already include prohibitive taxes on foods they deem unhealthy. How they must have been, um, salivating at the notion that a judge might turn the screws on McDonald's, a company providing food of which they disapprove-even though it's food at a reasonable price that people buy millions of times a day because they want to.
The possibilities suggested by this case were surely not lost on them. As a part of their agenda against many consumer choices, they understand that nearly any goals that fly in the face of popular opinion and common sense can eventually be hammered through with the right public relations.
For instance, they understand the powerful appeal of asserting that chronic problems like being overweight are caused by others, and not by failing to help oneself.
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01/10/03: What They Believe For The Moment