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Joe Deegan 8:30 a.m., Aug. 18
A food safety advocate with a hunger for lawsuits now has her sights set on Doug Manchester.
Dr. Whitney Leeman, an environmental engineer from Northern California, has filed a formal complaint against Manchester Grand Resorts and his flagship property The Grand Del Mar for cooking up toxic chargrilled cheeseburgers, thus violating the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, also known by Proposition 65.
In a complaint filed on August 16, 2012, Leeman claims that Manchester's company failed to notify guests and employees of the chemicals present in flame-grilled burgers such as the Clubhouse Cheeseburger. The chemicals found in flame-grilled burgers are said to be cancerous.
A state website states that list of potentially harmful chemicals has grown since 1987, to more than 800 chemicals.
According to the notice sent to Manchester Resorts, California's Attorney General, and city attorneys in five cities across the state, the Clubhouse Cheeseburger contains Benz[a]anthracene, Benzo[a]pyrene, Benz[b]flouranthene, Benzo[k]flouranthene, and Indeno[1,2,3-cd]pyrene, all toxins known to have caused cancer.
"The sales of these products in California dating as far back as August 16, 2009 are subject to this notice. As a result of the sales of these products, exposure to the listed chemicals have been occurring without clear and reasonable warnings as required by Proposition 65," reads the notice from Leeman.
The 44-year-old Leeman is no stranger to court. Nor is she scared of taking on big corporations that fail to list dioxins known to cause cancer.
Reports from the state attorney general show that by 2004, Leeman had settled eight cases against companies accused of violating Proposition 65 for a total of $1.75 million.
In more recent years, Leeman has taken on the cosmetic industry and the American Meat Institute. In 2009, PepsiCo agreed to pay the state $2.25 million for using labels made with lead-based paint. Other companies that Leeman has targeted include Burger King and Carl's Jr. for serving chargrilled burgers without listing the chemicals involved. In a October 2009 article from Bloomberg News Businessweek, Leeman was said to have nearly three-dozen settlements under her belt, totaling approximately $11.4 million in fines.
Now, Leeman is coming after Manchester. In order to avoid "time-consuming and expensive litigation," Manchester must ensure that both former customers and new customers are warned about the health risks. In addition, Leeman says the hotel company must pay "appropriate civil penalties."
Niether attorneys from the firm representing Leeman nor representatives from Manchester Financial Group have returned calls for comment.