A Southern California man with a big appetite for lawsuits is taking a bite out of something much bigger than a Big Mac. In his latest bit of litigation, Webster Lucas is suing McDonald’s for $1.5 million after an incident that started with a napkin.
On Jan. 29, Lucas sat down to enjoy a Quarter Cheese Deluxe Burger at a Pacoima McDonald’s when he noticed only one napkin in his bag. The lawsuit states Lucas approached the counter and asked the manager for more.
The suit alleges the manager "developed a nasty attitude and mumbled a few words" before Lucas told him that "he does not have to act like that."
According to court documents, the manager continued his rude behavior, prompting Lucas to say, "I should have went to Jack-In-The-Box, because I didn’t come here to argue over napkins, I came here to eat."
This is where the verbal bout becomes nasty. The lawsuit alleges the manager began to curse, yelling across the aisle. Offended, Lucas said, “Is it because I’m black?”
The manager allegedly responded to this question by saying “You people,” leading Lucas to believe that he is being discriminated against, according to the lawsuit.
The subsequent lawsuit, filed Feb. 27 against the manager, general manager and the McDonald’s Corporation, claims Lucas suffered undue mental anguish, emotional distress and was discriminated against.
The defense claims McDonald’s "“made every effort to ‘sooth the situation over in favor of their store manager.’" In an email to Lucas, the general manager apologized for his “unsatisfactory visit” and thanked him for his feedback.
Lucas responded, “I am unable to work because of the undue mental anguish and the intentional infliction of emotional distress cause by your employee... who played around when asked for the proper spelling of his last name…that I still don’t have. Take care.”
In a statement, McDonald’s director of U.S. media relations Lisa McComb said, “We understand this customer was disappointed with his visit. We have made every effort to make it right for him. We have not been served with a lawsuit.”
This case against McDonald’s is not the first time Lucas has taken on a fast-food joint. He has filed lawsuits against Jack-In-The-Box on two separate occasions and has not received any compensation for his claims, according to court documents.
Over the last decade he has brought cases against Walmart and Denny’s among others. All but a small claims suit against an auto body shop were dismissed. In each case Lucas did not hire a lawyer.
According to NBC4 legal analyst Royal Oakes, Lucas is what is known as a vexatious litigant.
“He is just one of those people who files frivolous lawsuits,” Oakes said. “They go out and consume the time and resources of the courts.”
To be named a vexatious litigant in California, a person has to file at least five suits, other than in small claims courts, that have gone against them or have left cases pending for at least two years without bringing them to a trial or hearing. Repeatedly re-litigating or filing cases without merit is also grounds for being named a vexatious litigant.
California updates a list of vexatious litigants every month, preventing them from filing suits for a short period of time. Lucas is not currently listed.
The state is very careful in who it names to this list to avoid infringing on people’s right to sue. Oakes believes this allows people to abuse the system.
“A case like the one against McDonald’s is a shakedown,” Oakes said. “The party who is sued has to think about if it is worth the money to continue the suit and take it to court. Because they have deep pockets they also need to consider how bad it might be if they lose. So, people who sue big company’s like McDonald’s know they have a chance of getting some money to get them to go away.”
While settlements may be the ultimate goal of frivolous suits being taken to court is not necessarily a bad outcome for vexatious litigants.
“If a company puts up a solid fight, it is possible the frivolous filer will drop the suit,” Oakes said. “They have to pay some costs for doing so but those usually add up to a few hundred or thousand dollars. It’s a small amount considering that the amount of suits they file will likely put them out ahead.”