Lawsuit Time: Foie Gras Out, No-Tipping Conspiracy Swatted Down

The Supreme Court allowed the state to ban the force-feeding of geese, while a California judge swats down a suit alleging a conspiracy among restaurateurs.

Fatty goose liver may not be long for this world — or this state. (Courtesy image)

On Monday, two high-profile lawsuits with considerable repercussions for San Francisco restaurants and diners reached their respective ends.

The more heated of the two pertains to the now-15-year-old attempt to ban foie gras from California. Technically, the use of gavage — the insertion of a tube down the esophagus of a goose to overfeed it, fattening its liver — has been illegal in the state ever since 2004, although the ban on production was only enforced as of July 1, 2012. The state’s only licensed foie gras producer eventually shuttered, and while restaurants were forbidden from selling foie gras to diners, several evaded the ban by “giving it away.”

The industry retaliated in 2015, and a U.S. court blocked the state’s ban. But in 2017, another court overturned that ruling, giving California a green-light to enforce the prohibition — although it was held in abeyance until a final ruling. (Nonetheless, in December 2018, Amazon paid $100,000 in fines related to selling foie gras and agreed not to sell it in the state.) Now, in declining to hear an appeal, the United States Supreme Court has effectively banned foie gras permanently.

Chefs have vowed to find a way to circumvent the prohibition. Should any clever entrepreneur find a way to produce foie gras without birds, we can expect further litigation akin to the brouhahas surrounding meatless meats, eggless mayonnaises, and “riced” vegetables.

Separately, Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California threw out a proposed class-action lawsuit alleging collusion among several high profile-restaurateurs in New York and the Bay Area who implemented a no-tipping policy in their respective restaurants. Danny Meyer and David Chang, both major players in the New York restaurant scene, were the most prominent defendants, but S.F.’s Thad Vogler (of Bar Agricole, Trou Normand, and Obispo) and the owners of Comal and the recently shuttered Camino were also named, as was celebrity chef Tom Colicchio.

Crucially, the suit wasn’t about no-tipping policies per se, but about an alleged 2014 conspiracy among restaurateurs to enact them, effectively jacking up prices by 20 percent or more as a cartel might. But Judge White determined that the plaintiffs lacked standing to file in the first place, and now no-tipping policies are free to continue dying quietly.

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