Feb. 22, 2013

Public Citizen to Court: Ordering Man to Remove His Facebook Comments Violates First Amendment

Michigan Man Should Be Allowed to Post Comments on Facebook Criticizing Class-Action Suit Against McDonald’s

DEARBORN, Mich. – A court order requiring a man to take down his Facebook comments critical of a recent class-action settlement against McDonald’s violates the First Amendment, Public Citizen said today in a motion filed to get the injunction overturned.

Dearborn resident Majed Moughni posted comments to a community Facebook page that were critical of the settlement, which stemmed from a suit in which two local McDonald’s locations admitted to selling non-halal meat to Muslim customers while leading them to believe the meat was halal. Moughni expressed his belief on Facebook that the class action’s proposed settlement – which made no award of damages to Muslims who purchased the non-halal meat – was unfair.

After refusing to allow Moughni to speak in court, a judge on February 7 ordered him to take down the comments. The judge also ordered Moughni to post court-approved language from the proposed settlement to Facebook, and to provide information about community members who had shown support for Moughni’s post by leaving comments and clicking the “like” button. Further, the judge banned Moughni from speaking publicly about the case or with any other person who might be part of the suit – a group that includes his own family.

“The judge’s actions represent a jaw-dropping attack on the First Amendment,” said Paul Alan Levy, the attorney for Public Citizen who is lead counsel representing Moughni. “The court has not shown that Mr. Moughni made false claims or was speaking out of malice. He was simply expressing his frustration at a decision he believed to be harmful to his community. It’s what people do every day on Facebook, and it is protected by the Constitution.”

The suit had alleged that a Dearborn McDonald’s restaurant knowingly sold meat labeled as halal – a dietary requirement for Muslims – that did not meet the guidelines for being halal. Under the proposed settlement agreement, the victims – possibly thousands of people – would release all of their claims for more than seven years of phony halal sales and receive nothing in return. Instead, the owners of the restaurant would pay $700,000, partly to charitable institutions and partly to the lawyers who wanted hundreds of thousands in fee payments.

“Plantiffs in a class-action suit should be allowed to express their disappointment and frustration with what they see as an affront to those they care about,” said Levy. “Such expression is a crucial part of a strong democracy.”

Local counsel is Bill Burdett of the law firm Boyle Burdett.

The full text of the motion can be read at https://www.citizen.org/litigation/forms/cases/getlinkforcase.cfm?cID=813.

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