TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - A March New Jersey appeals court decision in a case involving drink prices at TGI Friday's restaurants raised the evidence bar for plaintiffs, a Philadelphia attorney says.
Gregory Hauck, a partner with the firm Pepper Hamilton, said the decision by the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court in Dugan v. TGI Friday's Inc. could serve as a possible disincentive to plaintiffs filing class action lawsuits and help root out frivolous lawsuits.
“The case was initiated in January 2010 and went on for years,” Hauck told Legal Newsline. “And at the end of the day, plaintiffs lawyers are getting nothing.”
The class action lawsuit was filed against TGI Friday's because certain restaurants in the state did not disclose prices on beer, mixed drinks and sodas on their menus, despite an alleged requirement to do so by the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.
The plaintiffs in the class action were attempting to recover the price differences between what they paid for the drinks and their actual value.
The company, however, argued that those class action members who may not have received a menu could not prove a causal connection between the alleged violation and the overpayment of the beverage. It was on this point the appeals court agreed, concluding that some customers may have decided to purchase beverages with undisclosed pricing without reflecting on any pricing information.
“The plaintiffs claimed that customers didn't know the prices before buying their drinks, but the court said that a lot of them may not have even looked at the menu before ordering," Hauck said.
The trial court had certified the class to encompass TGI Friday's customers who bought one of the beverages in question at one of 14 restaurants over a timespan of more than a decade.
That court also decided that members of the class did not have to demonstrate that they used the menu when they purchased their beverages – a point the appeals court reversed.
The plaintiffs attorneys argued that class certification requirements were satisfied by the restaurant chain’s policy of providing all customers with menus.
Hauck said that the Appellate Division’s holding in the Dugan case can make things more challenging for plaintiffs. He advised defendants that if they have facts to demonstrate a plaintiff would not be able to prove their claims using common evidence, they should consider fighting class certification.
“In a class action, plaintiffs must demonstrate that they can use common evidence to prove the elements of their claims,” Hauck said.