Originally created 06/28/01

McNugget cursing leads to fine



HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - A judge ruled against a man who used a foul word to describe his charred McDonald's chicken.

The cost of cursing a burned fowl - about $83 per nugget.

John Kendall, 22, of Hilton Head Island, was convicted of disorderly conduct Monday and ordered to pay $500 in fines or spend the next month in jail.

While he said the chicken served behind bars tasted better than the McNuggets that led to his arrest last month, Mr. Kendall has 10 days to pay the fine and avoid additional jail time.

He couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday.

In his ruling, released Tuesday, Municipal Court Judge Dudley Ruffalo noted that Mr. Kendall had been warned three times by a deputy to stop cursing but continued to call his McNuggets a tasteless word for excrement, while pointing at other customers and saying they wouldn't eat them either.

Mr. Kendall was arrested at the Hilton Head Island McDonald's on May 27 on a disorderly conduct charge, taken to the Beaufort County Detention Center and released the next day on bond.

"It is clear from the testimony that Kendall placed himself squarely in the serving line disrupting the normal operations of the business, denying other patrons access to the services. ... He used them as a captured audience to make statements of his dissatisfaction with the culinary skills of the restaurant," Judge Ruffalo wrote.

Judge Ruffalo brushed away Mr. Kendall's contention that his expression was protected by the right to free speech, saying the Founding Fathers would have gone to another tavern if they didn't like their food, instead of hindering other citizens.

"This subject does not evoke passions in the breasts of free men such that one would take the ramparts in revolutionary spirit," Judge Ruffalo said, adding that he agreed with an attorney's remark that, "This case is one where the remedy would ordinarily be for his mother to wash his mouth out with soap."

Judge Ruffalo said most of the U.S. Supreme Court cases that have upheld foul language as free speech involved citizens cursing police officers or public officials to express a political opinion. In this case, Mr. Kendall directed his words and actions at McDonald's patrons and their children, Judge Ruffalo wrote.

Mr. Kendall's attorney, Jack Simrill, disagreed with the decision and said he will recommend an appeal.

"I do think the case is pretty clear, and the Supreme Court cases are pretty clear, and they are the other way," Mr. Simrill said. Mr. Kendall's remarks should be considered free speech "no matter how offensive."

Mr. Simrill also said that the fine was too high and that the state's maximum for disorderly conduct is $100.

Beaufort County Deputy Tom Hodgins, who made the arrest, said he was happy with the ruling and that Mr. Kendall deserved the fine and a night in jail.

He gave Mr. Kendall several chances to tell his story without using obscenity, but when the man continued to curse in front of two children standing nearby, Deputy Hodgins said he had enough.

"Once he looked at those little girls and pointed toward them using that word again, I arrested him," Deputy Hodgins said. "Little girls have a right not to listen to that garbage."