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The Verdict Is In: Subway’s Infamous Tuna Lawsuit Thrown Out by Judge

The world’s largest fast food franchise chain commended the court for taking action on the ‘reckless and improper’ claims, although the actual contents of the brand’s tuna supply remain mysterious.

Subway dodged a bullet last week when a federal court judge dismissed claims by California consumers that it misrepresented its tuna. Two plaintiffs — Karen Dhanowa and Nilima Amin — sued the company earlier this year, seeking $5 million in damages with the claim that Subway’s tuna subs “are completely bereft of tuna as an ingredient” despite customers paying a premium for sandwiches containing tuna.

According to Bloomberg Law, Judge Jon S. Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California said via a Zoom hearing Thursday that he “struggled” to find any reliance claims in the complaint, adding that he was "suspicious" and that the complaint "definitely doesn't identify the specific representation that Subway made.” The judge also said that he would allow the plaintiffs to resubmit their complaint. 

“We commend the court for dismissing the reckless and improper lawsuit surrounding Subway’s tuna,” a Subway spokesperson said in a statement Monday. Subway alleged the plaintiffs failed to prove they bought the sandwiches based on any supposed misrepresentations by the company. 

Notably, the court’s recent decision does not clarify what is actually in the sandwiches. This summer, a lab test commissioned by the New York Times following the lawsuit failed to find any tuna DNA in a series of Subway tuna sandwiches. Subway adamantly defended the integrity of its tuna product, touting its “100% real wild-caught tuna” on its website and offering a 15% discount on foot-long tuna subs under the promo code “ITSREAL.”

This isn’t the first time Subway has battled customers in court. In 2017, an appeals court dismissed another class-action settlement over claims the chain's "footlong subs" were actually only 11 inches. Just last year, the Irish Supreme Court ruled that Subway’s bread could “not legally be considered bread” due to its sugar content.

This also isn’t the first time Subway has had to defend the authenticity of its sandwich protein options. A class action lawsuit filed in Quebec alleged Subway misrepresented the quality of its chicken after a 2017 CBC report found it to be only 53.6% chicken. Subway fought back with a $210 million defamation case of its own against the CBC.

Franchisees have also sued the company in the past, claiming Subway’s inspection process hindered the success of their business. For example, some Subway franchise owners had their franchise license revoked after attempting to switch suppliers in order to source different ingredients. 

Subway is the largest fast-food company in the world by store count, and all locations are franchise-owned, so the false tuna claims could have been a bombshell for a hefty percentage of the franchising world. While the infamous case may not be gone forever and the actual contents of the tuna remain fishy, it appears that the law is on Subway’s side for now.

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