NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A lawsuit that began over a $1.59 discrepancy for a drink at TGI Friday's cannot proceed as a class action, a New Jersey appeals court has ruled.
The court's ruling published Thursday is the latest development in a six-year saga that began when a southern New Jersey woman sued the chain after she realized she had been charged $2.00 for a drink at the bar and, later, $3.59 for a similar drink while sitting at a table.
Debra Dugan claimed the price difference and the fact the restaurants don't print drink prices on their menus amounted to violations of state consumer protection laws. She claimed the practice amounted to "menu engineering" and sought to exploit customers.
Two other plaintiffs eventually joined the lawsuit. One testified at his deposition that he ordered three mixed drinks at a TGI Friday's in Cherry Hill and "went ballistic" when he saw the bill for $6.99 per drink.
A judge granted class action status in 2012, meaning anyone who ordered unpriced drinks at 14 company-owned New Jersey restaurants from 2004 through 2014 could make a claim.
A three-judge panel of the state appeals court reversed that finding, writing that people who either didn't look at the menus or ask the prices before ordering couldn't necessarily claim damages.
"The class definition erroneously includes all persons who purchased an unpriced soda, beer or mixed drink regardless of whether they reviewed the menu before purchasing the beverages," the panel wrote. "If a person did not look at the beverage section of the menu, TGIF's failure to list prices on the menu had no causal nexus to the person's decision to purchase a particular beverage."
The court decision allows the individual plaintiffs to go ahead with their claims.
An attorney for TGI Friday's declined to comment Friday. An attorney for the plaintiffs didn't return a message seeking comment.