Lawsuit claims TGI Friday’s-branded ‘mozzarella stick snacks’ lack mozzarella

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The wheels of cheese justice might turn slowly, but they do grate on: A federal judge last week ruled that a lawsuit may continue by a woman suing because her bags of TGI Friday’s-branded “Mozzarella Sticks Snacks” contained no mozzarella, only cheddar.

Amy Joseph of Illinois purchased the shelf-stable crispy treats, which prominently feature a picture of mozzarella sticks, and claimed she was misled after discovering that mozzarella was not, in fact, an ingredient.

Judge Robert Dow Jr., issued a ruling on Nov. 28 agreeing that it was a “reasonable interpretation” for her to expect the product to contain mozzarella cheese. But he granted TGI Friday’s request to be dropped from the lawsuit, agreeing with the restaurant chain that it was merely a “licensor” who allowed his name to be used on the packaging. Dow allowed the lawsuit to continue with the actual manufacturer of the product, snack-food maker Inventory Foods, as the sole defendant.

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The lawsuit is seeking unspecified “monetary relief” for the “premium” products that Joseph and other customers purchased.

Dow said it was reasonable “that a product labeled ‘Mozzarella Stick Snacks’ with an image of mozzarella sticks would bear some resemblance to mozzarella sticks, which presumably contain some mozzarella cheese.”

The companies had argued that Joseph should have known that such a product couldn’t actually contain mozzarella, since the snack she purchased is a shelf-stable product, often sold alongside potato chips and other similar snacks.

Dow’s ruling whey-ed in on this question, parsing the legal aspects of different types of cheese. He cited a previous decision in which a court found that parmesan was shelf stable. And he found merit in Joseph’s argument that plenty of crunchy, shelf-stable snacks contain other kinds of cheeses. “Defendant has not indicated why mozzarella is inherently not shelf-stable,” he wrote.

Inventory foods in a filing had called Joseph a “serial class action plaintiff,” having filed eight such lawsuits in the last decade, and noted that her lawsuit followed a similar one in New York. And the company said that it wasn’t clear what Joseph’s expectations were about the product, which discloses on the back of its packaging that it contains no mozzarella.

“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,” Inventory’s filing states.

Her mac and cheese took more than 3.5 minutes to make. She’s suing.

Attorneys for Inventory and Joseph did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

“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,” Joseph’s attorney, Thomas Zimmerman, told USA TODAY in a statement. “We intend to proceed against Inventory Foods on behalf of the nationwide class of purchasers of TGI Friday’s mozzarella sticks.”

Dow wrote that he was skeptical of Joseph’s efforts to bring a nationwide class-action lawsuit. But he said it was too soon to declare that such litigation would be “unmanageable” given the differences in various state laws. “The Court is hard-pressed to state that Plaintiff’s class action is inherently unmanageable based on variations in state law at this early stage when it is not clear which state law will ultimately present an issue or whether similarities in some — though not all — state laws would justify class treatment,” he wrote.

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