GREEN BROOK, N.J. – A dispute over $2.18 at Taco Bell literally has become a federal case.
Nelson Estrella-Rojas and his wife, Joann Estrella, of Middlesex Borough, are suing Taco Bell and its parent company, Yum! Brands, which also owns KFC and Pizza Hut, because they were charged $12.18 for two Chalupa Cravings Boxes, which they say were advertised for $5 apiece.
In May 2018, the lawsuit says, the couple saw Taco Bell's "Librarian" TV commercial for the $5 boxes and decided to drive to the Taco Bell on Route 22 for the deal that included a Chalupa Supreme, Five-Layer Burrito, Crunchy Taco, Cinnamon Twist and medium drink.
After ordering two boxes, the couple was charged $12.99, which included 81 cents of state sales tax.
The couple then questioned the management why they were charged $12.18 for two $5 Chalupa Craving Boxes that they said should have cost only $10, according to the commercial.
But, the lawsuit alleges, they were told that Taco Bell did not have to charge what was advertised because there was "legal fine print" at the end of the commercial.
The commercial contains a disclaimer that "prices may vary" and the $5 price is valid "at participating locations for a limited time."
The couple claims in the lawsuit that the disclaimer violated the state's Consumer Fraud Statue and other sections of the state's administrative code, which requires disclaimers in ads to be "in a type size and style that is clear and conspicuous relative to the other type sizes and styles used in the advertisement."
In a corporate statement on Wednesday, the restaurant chain said, “Taco Bell and its franchisees are proud to provide millions of guests with delicious, affordable food every day. Our advertisements are truthful and accurate, and we will defend this case vigorously.”
The lawsuit says that while the $5 price was "prominently" displayed throughout the 30-second commercial, the disclaimer was visible for only 3 seconds at the bottom of the screen.
Because of what the lawsuit calls a "false and misleading advertisement," the couple has "sustained an ascertainable loss, in the form of time wasted driving to the subject Taco Bell, the gasoline expended to drive their vehicle to the subject Taco Bell, and the amount of $2.18, which is the difference between what they should have been charged ($10 before taxes) and what they were charged ($12.18 before taxes)."
The couple is not including the extra sales tax they were charged in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges Taco Bell engaged in the practice because of "a desire to secure increase profits" and "capture the largest market sale possible."
Because of the misrepresentation, the lawsuit argues, Taco Bell "reaped huge profits."
The couple is asking for both compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees and court costs. The cost of filing a civil lawsuit in Superior Court is $250.
The lawsuit was originally filed in state Superior Court in Middlesex County, but Taco Bell's lawyer, Allen Burton, filed a successful motion to transfer it to federal court because the headquarters for both Taco Bell and Yum! are not in New Jersey, and the potential award of punitive damages could be more than $75,000, the threshold for federal court cases.
Burton and the lawyers for the couple – Douglas Schwartz and Matthew Mendelsohn – did not reply to requests for comment.
Staff Writer Mike Deak covers legal matters for MyCentralJersey.com. He can be reached at 908-243-6607 or mdeak@gannettnj.
This article originally appeared on Bridgewater Courier News: Taco Bell sued over Chalupa Cravings Box price dispute