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Taco Bell Allowed to Defend Toxic Container Suit in Federal Court

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Fast food giant, Taco Bell of America LLC, won a bid in federal court Wednesday to litigate a personal injury lawsuit over alleged toxic food packaging in the company’s to-go containers. A Florida federal judge rejected a woman’s bid to remand her suit to state court. In the complaint, the woman contends Taco Bell sold her food in a carcinogenic container. Her demand for damages in excess of the $75,000 threshold for federal court jurisdiction led to her pursuit to keep the claim in state court.

The April lawsuit, filed initially in Miami-Dade County Court, features plaintiff Ileana Echevarria who claims she purchased food from Taco Bell that was provided in a polystyrene container. The suit states that the polystyrene contained a dangerous chemical — 1,3,5-Triphenylcyclohexane — which is a known carcinogen and cancer-causing benzene impurity. The suit alleges she became violently ill following consuming food from the container.

Taco Bell was able to have the case removed to federal court in July given that Echevarria’s $500,000 settlement demand put the case in a category exceeding the threshold for federal jurisdiction. A week later, however, Echevarria filed a motion to remand the lawsuit to state court.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom’s order called the plaintiff’s new demand “inherently self-serving” noting that Echevarria’s arguments were “unpersuasive.” Echevarria had presented a position to the court arguing that an updated settlement demand of “only $74,000” qualified the suit to remain in state court.

Part of Judge Bloom’s decision hinged on the court’s consideration of the $500,000 demand figure that was being contended when the case was first removed. However, in her decision, Judge Bloom wrote that even if the court considered only the $74,000 demand increase, the case would still pass the threshold for belonging in federal court given that the demand does not include attorney fees (to which Echevarria would be entitled if the case were successful).

“It is more than reasonable to infer that the total fees generated for the tasks listed above total more than $1,000,” Judge Brown wrote.

Additionally, Judge Bloom examined the record detailing the amount of work Echevarria’s attorneys had already undertaken in the case before it was removed. Bloom specifically cited actions completed by the plaintiff’s attorneys including three complaints being drafted and filed, as well as research conducted into the causes of actions, and the review of pending motions to dismiss.

Thus, the judge ruled the case belonged in federal court.

Court records indicate that upon filing her case against Taco Bell, Echevarria also filed identical suits against food companies Burger King, Wendy’s, Panda Express, and Dunkin’ Donuts. All of the suits were filed in Miami-Dade court, with the Dunkin’ Donuts suit also being removed to federal court (prior to being voluntarily dismissed by Echevarria in May).

Echevarria is reportedly represented by Forrest Sygman and Marlene Collazo of Miami’s Forrest Sygman PA.

Taco Bell is reportedly represented by Seth V. Alhadeff, Todd R. Ehrenreich, and David L. Luck of Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP.