Court: Man’s legal crusade against TGI Fridays can proceed

It’s not yet last call for a New Jersey man’s lawsuit claiming TGI Fridays broke consumer fraud laws by not publishing drink prices.

A state appeals court ruled Thursday that a lower court erred when it denied class action status to Robert Cameron’s lawsuit.

The suit claims Cameron was “shocked” when he dined at a location in Toms River in 2012 and discovered upon paying that his “mass produced” beer cost more than $5 and his soda cost nearly $3.

Cameron claims he wouldn’t have ordered the drinks if he had known the prices beforehand, and he alleges the chain purposely hasn’t listed them because it has conducted studies showing it can charge more by doing so.

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His lawsuit seeks to force TGI Fridays to admit that it violated consumer laws and to include the prices on menus, on behalf of anyone who “received a menu and ordered a beverage from a menu without a price” over a span of several years at two TGI Fridays at the New Jersey shore, according to the court filing.

TGI Fridays, which denies that its policies break the law, says it has added the prices to its menus.

But that isn’t enough, according to Sander Friedman, an attorney who argued the case for Cameron.

“The reason you need a class for this kind of thing is they could change back to their old practices and the only thing that could monitor that is Bob Cameron,” Friedman said.

Cameron’s suit had initially sought monetary damages for all customers who had ordered drinks at restaurants in Toms River and Manahawkin. But that claim was later dropped.

An attorney who argued on behalf of the company didn’t return a message Friday seeking comment on the ruling.

The suit is similar to another one filed against the chain several years ago. The state Supreme Court ruled in that case in 2017 that individuals could seek monetary damages, but it denied class action status that could have led to thousands of consolidated claims.

Debra Dugan had alleged consumer fraud laws were violated because prices weren’t listed and she was charged one price for a drink at the bar and a higher price at a table.

In Thursday’s 2-1 ruling, the state appeals court wrote that while the Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in the Dugan case rightly noted that no case law supports requiring a restaurant to list its drink prices, “there is no legal authority that holds to the contrary — that the omission is in fact lawful.”

In his dissent, Judge Joseph Yannotti wrote that granting class action status would ignore that many patrons may not actually have suffered financial harm.

“Other patrons may have been return customers, who knew the prices that defendant would charge for beverages,” Yannotti wrote. “In addition, other patrons may have had no concern as to the amounts defendant would charge for drinks. Thus, there is a lack of cohesiveness among the putative class members as to whether they were, in fact, harmed by the lack of beverage pricing on the menus.”

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