New Jersey Couple Taking Taco Bell to Federal Court for $2.18

Nelson Estrella-Rojas and wife Joann Estrella have filed suit in federal court against Taco Bell and parent company Yum! Brands for what they allege are deceptive advertising and pricing practices, reports My Central Jersey.

The suit claims that in May 2018 the New Jersey couple saw a TV commercial for Taco Bell's Chalupa Cravings Boxes that advertised the price as five dollars for a Chalupa Supreme, Five-Layer Burrito, Crunchy Taco, Cinnamon Twist and medium drink. Intrigued, they drove out to Route 22 and ordered two of the meals.

The couple were shocked when the cashier charged them $12.99 instead of the $10 they were expecting. Besides sales tax amounting to $0.81, the location charged the couple an additional $1.09 for each of their meals. They raised the issue to the manager and claim that he told them that the commercial contained "legal fine print" that prices could vary by location.

In reviewing the commercial, it does display a disclaimer at the end stating that the promotion is at "participating locations" and "prices may vary."

The lawsuit alleges that the advertisement and the restaurant's failure to honor the advertised price violates New Jersey's Consumer Fraud Statute. That statute requires disclaimers to be presented "in a type size and style that is clear and conspicuous relative to the other type sizes and styles used in the advertisement."

Taco Bell at night
A Taco Bell restaurant at night Taco Bell

In the suit, the couple claim they sustained damages including not only the additional charge but also the cost of gasoline to drive to Taco Bell and the time spent in the process. They are requesting both compensatory and punitive damages, alleging that Taco Bell intentionally misrepresented the price for "a desire to secure increased profits." They are not seeking to recover the cost of the sales tax.

When asked for comment, Taco Bell provided Newsweek with a statement reading "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 suit was originally filed in Superior Court in Middlesex County, but Taco Bell's attorneys successfully petitioned to have it transferred to federal court because the company's headquarters are not in the state.

Because 93 percent of individual Taco Bell restaurants are owned by franchisees, not the company, they have significant power to set pricing. This has raised issues with other fast food chains.

In 2009, Burger King was sued by a group of franchisees complaining that the company's $1 double cheeseburger promotion caused their businesses to lose too much money, according to CBS News. Two years later, both sides settled with the promise of granting more power to individual owners.

In 2011, Taco Bell was the defendant in another false advertising suit, that one claiming the restaurant's "seasoned ground beef" ingredient contained only 35 percent actual beef, with much of the remainder composed of "isolated oat product." U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations require beef taco filling to be at least 40 percent beef. The plaintiffs dropped the suit after the chain released more detailed information revealing that their product consisted of 88 percent actual meat.