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McDonald's: Lift injunction on lawyer critical of settlement over halal food claims

crains-detroit-businessArticle Curtesy of
By:  Jeff Karoub, Associated Press
Publish Date:  03/09/2013
McDonald's: Lift injunction on lawyer critical of settlement over halal food claims

McDonald's Corp. and members of Michigan's Muslim community are seeking to settle a $700,000 lawsuit, but first will aim to end a legal tussle with an attorney who's critical of the proposed agreement.

The Illinois-based fast food chain filed a motion Thursday for a Detroit judge to lift an injunction on Dearborn lawyer Majed Moughni, who criticized the class-action settlement on Facebook. Documents supporting McDonald's also were filed by a restaurant franchise owner and a group suing both McDonald's and the franchise owner.

Wayne County Circuit Judge Kathleen Macdonald is expected Monday to consider the motions, which includes a request to extend the public comment period an additional 28 days. The settlement originally was scheduled to be finalized March 1.

The lawsuit alleges a Dearborn McDonald's falsely advertised its food was halal, or prepared according to Islamic law. Islam forbids consumption of pork, and God's name must be invoked before an animal providing meat for consumption is slaughtered. The restaurant and corporation deny any liability.

Ahmed Ahmed, the Dearborn Heights man who represents plaintiffs in the class-action suit, claimed he bought a chicken sandwich in September 2011 at the restaurant but found it wasn't halal.

The McDonald's restaurant chain and one of its franchise owners agreed in January to the tentative settlement that would be shared by Ahmed, as well as a Detroit health clinic, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn and lawyers. Ahmed's portion is considered an "incentive award" and represents his work on the case, his attorneys say.

McDonald's issued an injunction against Moughni last month to halt communications with members and potential members of the suit regarding the case, including on a Facebook page he administered. McDonald's said in its motion that his page "contains numerous legal errors" and offered the impression that Moughni was acting as a legal representative of the plaintiffs and the court or soliciting for individual clients.

Consumer advocacy group Public Citizen filed its own motion to have the injunction removed, claiming it violated Moughni's constitutional rights.

"I think it's the right decision," Moughni told The Associated Press on Friday. "This injunction should have never been placed in the first place. ... The settlement should have gone to the people who were harmed and it didn't."

The lawsuit technically covers anyone who bought the halal-advertised products between September 2005 and January from the restaurant and another McDonald's in the city with a different owner. The other location wasn't a defendant or a focus of the investigation.

Michael Jaafar, whose firm represents Ahmed and oversees the class-action suit, said the proposed financial settlement represents "the closest possible resolution" and would go to groups "who are likely to benefit those who may have been harmed."

Jaafar added removing the injunction ensures that he won't have to be talking about the still unresolved case "five years from now."

"This is a move that our side is taking even though we don't legally need to take this approach," he said. "This is an action our firm is taking on behalf of the class (to) put an end to any other objection."

Ahmed's attorneys say there are only two McDonald's in the United States that sell halal products and both are in Dearborn, which has one of the nation's largest Arab and Muslim communities. Overall, the Detroit area is home to about 150,000 Muslims of many different ethnicities.