Drink Up! TGI Fridays Ducks Class Action Based On Alleged Failure To List Drink Prices On Menu

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

TGIFOn a ski trip a few years back, a friend of mine decided to spend his day at a local bar instead of on the slopes. He spent the afternoon drinking with a friend and a man they met at the bar. Later in the day, the man, who had been drinking with them the whole time, said he had to go to work. He stood up, walked around to the other side of the bar, and clocked in for his shift as the bartender. He promptly gave my friend one more drink on the house, and then told him he was cut off. That is consumer fraud if you ask me. But, alas, that issue was not before the New Jersey Supreme Court in Dugan v. TGI Friday’s, Inc.

In Dugan, plaintiffs alleged that TGIF violated the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (CFA) and the Truth in Consumer Contract Warranty and Notice Act (TCCWNA) by (1) failing to list prices for alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks on its menus and (2) charging different prices for the same beverage depending upon where in the restaurant the beverage was served (i.e., at the bar as opposed to at a table). Plaintiffs sought to certify a class comprised of "all customers who had purchased items from the menu that did not have a disclosed price."

The first-named plaintiff alleged in the complaint that she only "became aware of the prices [of drinks she purchased at the bar] after she had consumed the beverages and was presented with a check," and that she was "charged $2.00 for a beer at the bar and later charged $3.59 for the same beer at a table in the restaurant." She was later deposed and admitted that she did not review the menu at the bar, or review the price of the beer indicated on her receipt from the bar, or review the beverage section of the menu at the table, or review the final bill before she paid it. Rather, she testified that she reviewed the receipts when she got home and noticed the discrepancies, and also noticed that she paid a "steep" price for a soda. 

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Exception To The Rule: Ambulance Service Providers Are “Learned Professionals” And Not Subject To New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Ambulance (pd)New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Act ("CFA") is generally recognized as one of the strongest consumer protection laws in the country. It prohibits "any unconscionable commercial practice, deception, fraud, false pretense, false promise or misrepresentation" that leads to an "ascertainable loss." But, certain "learned professionals" — doctors, lawyers, hospitals, etc. — are insulated from liability under the CFA. In Atlantic Ambulance Corporation v. Cullum, the Appellate Division added ambulance service providers to the list of "learned professionals" who are not subject to the CFA. 

In Atlantic Ambulance, defendants received services from plaintiff, an ambulance service provider. After they failed to pay the bills for those services, plaintiff sued. In response, defendants filed a counterclaim alleging that they were overbilled by plaintiff in violation of the CFA. Defendants sought to bring their counterclaim as a class action on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated people who were allegedly overcharged during a six-year period.

After five years of discovery, defendants moved for class certification. The trial court denied the motion for a number of reasons, only one of which is relevant for this post. Plaintiff argued that defendants could not maintain a cause of action under the CFA because they did not pay their bills, therefore they had not suffered any "ascertainable loss." The trial court agreed, expressly rejecting defendants' argument that an excessive bill from plaintiff, by itself, was enough to prove an ascertainable loss. Defendants appealed. 

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Legal Fees Incurred Defending Against Counterclaim Recoverable Under New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

FireplacePerhaps no three letters strike fear in the heart of New Jersey defense attorneys more than C-F-A. It is the common abbreviation for the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act, a consumer protection statute that, among other things, allows successful plaintiffs to recover their attorney's fees. Until recently, however, it was not clear whether the fees incurred in defense of a counterclaim raised in response to a CFA lawsuit, as opposed to fees incurred in prosecuting the affirmative CFA claim, were recoverable. In Garmeaux v. DNV Concepts, Inc., a case of first impression, the Appellate Division held that they are, provided that the counterclaim is "inextricably caught up with" the CFA claim.

Plaintiffs in Garmeaux visited a store named The Bright Acre (operated by defendant, DNV Concepts Inc t/a The Bright Acre) for the purpose of replacing their gas fireplace which had been damaged in a storm. The store manager agreed to sell them a new fireplace and help them file an insurance claim for the costs associated with the purchase and installation. During the visit, Plaintiffs met defendant, James Risa, who the manager introduced as "[plaintiffs'] installer Jim." What plaintiffs did not know at the time, however, was that Risa owned and operated an independent fireplace installation company — defendant, Professional Fireplace Services — and that Bright Acre had a practice of referring installation work to its own employees who, like Risa, owned installation service companies. In other words, Risa would be installing the fireplace in his capacity as the owner of Professional Fireplace Services, not as an employee of Bright Acre.

Shortly after their visit to the store, plaintiffs received a proposal from Risa for the installation. They accepted and made the first installment payment. Unfortunately, not long after he began the installation, plaintiffs became dissatisfied with Risa's work habits — they alleged that he "kept an unpredictable schedule" — and the quality of his workmanship. Around the same time, they also learned that he was performing the installation in his capacity as owner of Professional Fireplace Services, not Bright Acre. After several calls to Bright Acre to attempt to resolve their issues were ignored, plaintiffs sued. 

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Frau Blucher a/k/a The Real Housekeepers of Germany

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)

Young Frankenstein is a classic movie and one of my all time favorites. One of the running jokes in the movie involves Frau Blucher, the housekeeper at Dr. Frankenstein's castle. Every time her name is uttered, horses neigh and react violently, even when her name is uttered in part's of the castle where there are no horses around. Check out the clip below for a sample:    

 

Other than the fact that Frau Blucher is a German housekeeper, there is almost no connection to the recent Appellate Division decision in Von Wilke v. Pastorius Home Association, Inc. But I really like Young Frankenstein so I thought that was connection enough to reference it here.

 

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Good Vibrations: Ticketmaster Not Responsible For Fans Failure To Get Prime Seats To Beach Boys Concert

by: Peter J. Gallagher

Wouldn’t it be nice if Ticketmaster had to reimburse you every time you did not get the seats you wanted to a concert? God only knows that Ticketmaster would not be happy with this policy, but it would be fun, fun, fun for the rest of us. Unfortunately, a New Jersey court recently struck down a Beach Boys fan’s efforts to hold Ticketmaster liable under this theory. In Mierzwa v. Wal-Mart, Inc., et al., plaintiff went to a self-serve Ticketmaster kiosk located inside a Walmart store — the opinion is silent on whether he drove to the Walmart in his little Honda or little deuce coupe — to purchase “reserved seats” for an upcoming Beach Boys concert. He alleged that, because a Wal-Mart employee was not immediately available to assist him in completing the purchase, he missed out on the “reserved seats” and had to settle for “outer perimeter" tickets. Plaintiff sued Ticketmaster under the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act (“CFA”) because he allegedly was "unable to obtain the choicest reserved seats."

The trial court dismissed the complaint, calling it the "the most frivolous complaint [it had] ever seen." Specifically, the trial judge held that "[t]here was no contract to provide [plaintiff] with specific seats, it was to provide him with an ability to enter his order and then give him the best seats available at the time his order was entered[.]" The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that the CFA requires proof of three elements — unlawful conduct by defendant, an ascertainable loss by plaintiff, and a causal relationship between the unlawful conduct and the ascertainable loss — and that Plaintiff had not offered any evidence in support of any of them.  For this reason, the court shut down plaintiff’s efforts to hold both Wal-Mart and Ticketmaster liable.