Robert Cameron was apparently a thirsty man when he went to a TGI Fridays on a long-ago Wednesday.
In August 2012, the Pemberton Township man ordered a water, a beer, and a soda, plus his meal at the Toms River restaurant, according to a lawsuit he filed against the eatery. He believed that all of this, plus tip, would cost about $20. But he said he was “shocked” when he got the bill that charged him more than $5 for a “mass-produced beer” and almost $3 for the soda.
It later dawned on him that the menu did not list the drink prices, according to his complaint. Had he known how much he would be charged, Cameron claims, he never would have ordered the soda and would have asked for a cheaper beer.
Cameron’s 2014 suit over the restaurant’s alleged failure to disclose drink prices can now proceed as a class action, a New Jersey appeals court ruled, 2-1, on Thursday. The decision reverses a judge’s ruling in state Superior Court in Burlington County that denied Cameron’s motion to certify a class of the restaurant owner’s customers who ordered from menus missing prices. The owner, South Jersey Pubs Inc., also runs a TGI Fridays franchise in Manahawkin, according to court filings.
Cameron claims that South Jersey Pubs intentionally withheld beverage prices because market studies showed it could charge patrons more when prices were not disclosed. His suit alleges that the practice violates New Jersey laws requiring prices to be disclosed for most goods.
A lawyer for South Jersey Pubs and the TGI Fridays in Toms River did not return requests for comment. In court filings, the company denied it violated state consumer protection laws and said it has had drink prices on its menus since August 2017.
“We allege that a TGI Fridays restaurant owned by a franchisee selectively withheld prices from otherwise comprehensively priced menus as part of a carefully researched scheme to charge higher prices than the fully informed market could sustain,” West Berlin-based lawyer Sander Friedman, who represents Cameron, said in a statement.
Unlike other class actions that seek damages for the entire class, Cameron’s lawyers are asking only for their client to be compensated. They have asked a judge for an order requiring the restaurant owner to disclose drink prices on its menus, arguing it would correct an illegal practice without imposing “devastating damages” on the business or providing lawyers with “windfall fees.”
By certifying a class, customers could enforce the order without filing their own suit, said Wesley Hanna, another lawyer for Cameron.
In reversing the lower court’s ruling, appellate Judges Garry Rothstadt and Arnold Natali wrote that such a court order would provide relief to the entire class, if the eatery’s omission of menu prices is found to violate state laws.
The allegedly overpriced “mass-produced beer” was a Stella Artois, Friedman said.