TRENTON, N.J. – A lawsuit accusing restaurant chain TGI Friday's violated consumer fraud laws with its drink pricing can't go ahead as a class action that could have included millions of members, but a similar case involving Carrabba's Italian Grill restaurants can, New Jersey's state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
Debra Dugan sued TGI Friday's after she was charged one price for a drink at the bar and a higher price at a table in 2008. The restaurant didn't list drink prices on its menus, according to the lawsuit.
A lower court in 2012 granted class-action status to anyone who ordered unpriced drinks at 14 of the company's restaurants in New Jersey from 2004 through 2014. TGI Friday's had estimated that could have amounted to as many as 14 million customers, according to court filings. But the plaintiffs disputed that figure.
According to the lawsuit, TGI Friday's conducted research that showed that customers spent an average of $1.72 less on drinks if the prices were displayed than if the prices weren't displayed. The lawsuit sought to prove that that amount could be considered a loss for anyone who had ordered a drink at the restaurants.
Wednesday's 5-1 ruling rejected that argument, but said individual claims could still proceed.
Justice Barry Albin, the sole dissenter, wrote that TGI Friday's "engaged in an unconscionable commercial practice that caused an ascertainable loss to its patrons" and that the majority's decision "ensures that thousands of patrons victimized by TGIF's violation of our consumer-fraud laws have no meaningful remedy."
In the similar case involving Carrabba's Italian Grill restaurants, the court ruled a class action claim could proceed if the definition of the class is narrow.
In the Carrabba's lawsuit, a customer said he was charged $3.25 for a beer and $4.25 for a second beer of the same brand and size and was told the restaurant's computer automatically changed the prices at certain times.
The court ruled that the suit can proceed as a class action "if the class is limited to claimants who were charged different prices for beverages of the same brand, type, and volume in the course of the same restaurant visit."
Lawyers for the plaintiff have estimated the class would include about 263,000 customers, according to Wednesday's ruling.
Attorneys representing Dugan, TGI Friday's and Carrabba's didn't immediately return messages seeking comment Thursday.