Judge dismisses Subway's $158M lawsuit against CBC over report exposing its chicken

A Canadian judge has dismissed a CA$210 million ($158 million) defamation lawsuit filed by Subway against the CBC, which had reported the sandwich chain may have been selling some poultry products that were only 50 percent chicken DNA.

Justice E.M. Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court ruled on Friday that the CBC investigation met the “public interest test” and is protected under the so-called anti-SLAPP.

The legal code provision allows a defendant to ask the court to dismiss a lawsuit if they can show it was to shield the plaintiff from criticism and prevent free speech on a matter of public interest, the CBC reported.

"The Marketplace report raised a quintessential consumer protection issue. There are few things in society of more acute interest to the public than what they eat," Morgan wrote in his ruling.

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A judge has dismissed a $210-million defamation lawsuit filed by Subway against CBC, which reported it may have been selling poultry products that were only 50 percent chicken DNA. (Photo: iStock)

A judge has dismissed a $210-million defamation lawsuit filed by Subway against CBC, which reported it may have been selling poultry products that were only 50 percent chicken DNA. (Photo: iStock)

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"I consider that CBC has satisfied its burden."

Subway launched the lawsuit in April 2017, claiming that the CBC report caused significant sales losses.

The investigative report at the center of the lawsuit involved the news organization sending samples of chicken from five major fast-food restaurants to a lab for DNA analysis. The results suggested that some of Subway’s chicken products may contain slightly more or slightly less than half chicken DNA.

Subway disputed the report after it aired in February 2017.

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The private food chain later filed a defamation lawsuit that accused the CBC of acting “recklessly and maliciously” in airing the report. The tests conducted on the chicken, the company said, “lacked scientific rigor.”

Subway has also issued a lengthy statement on the Ontario Superior Court's ruling, alleging that the court's decision did not "validate" the results of the DNA analysis.

“The case has not been dismissed in its entirety, and this decision does not validate the tests performed by Trent University," Subway wrote in a statement shared with Fox News. "In fact, the judge’s opinion states: ‘The record submitted by Subway contains a substantial amount of evidence indicating that the Trent laboratory tests were of limited or no value in determining the chicken content of Subway’s products,’ and ‘…there is considerable evidence that suggests the false and harmful nature of the information conveyed to the public in the Marketplace report.’

"The CBC Marketplace story at issue is wholly inaccurate and built on flawed research, which caused significant harm to our network of Franchise Owners. In 2017, two independent laboratories in Canada and the U.S. found our chicken to be 100 percent chicken breast with added seasoning, verified that the soy content was only in the range of 1 percent, and contested the testing methodology.

"The quality and integrity of our food is the foundation of our business, and we will continue to vigorously defend Subway® Franchise Owners against false allegations such as those made by CBC’s Marketplace program. We are reviewing the recent decision by the Ontario court and are confident in the ability to continue our claims against Trent University while an appeal against the CBC is under review.”

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CBC stood by the story in a statement defending the report and pointed out that it gave Subway the chance to refute the findings before it aired and appeared online.

"CBC News has and continues to maintain that our journalism was fair, accurate and within the public interest," CBC news general manager and editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire said in response to Friday’s ruling.

"Needless to say, we are happy with this decision."