Last May, a New Jersey couple caught a Taco Bell commercial on TV, and they were excited enough by the chalupa-based combo that were being advertised that they drove to the nearest 'Bell to get one. Although the TV spot said that the Chalupa Cravings Box was 5 bucks, when Nelson Estrella-Rojas and Joann Estrella each ordered one, they were charged $6.06 each, before tax. Instead of just shrugging off the $2.18 difference and enjoying a shit-ton of fast food, they decided to hire an attorney.
According to NJ.com, the couple was "taken aback" by the price of each Chalupa Cravings Box, which contained one Chalupa Supreme, one 5-Layer burrito, one crunchy taco, an order of cinnamon twists and a medium drink. Because the Estrellas sound like loads of fun, they asked to speak to a manager, who told them that the commercial in question did say that prices may vary.
That answer wasn't good enough, so they hired an attorney who was willing to type out a complaint alleging that the couple "sustained an ascertainable loss" with their slightly more expensive visit to Taco Bell, including their "wasted time," the gas it took to make the six mile round trip, and that crucial $2.18. They have filed a lawsuit against both Taco Bell and Yum! Brands, its parent company. (And here's where it's worth noting that it costs $250––the equivalent of roughly forty-one $6.06 Chalupa Cravings Boxes––to file a civil lawsuit in a New Jersey state Superior Court.)
"You can’t tell someone you are going to charge them $5 in big bold print and then take it away with a fine print disclaimer," their attorney, Douglas Schwartz, said. "You can’t do that. It’s against the law.”
The lawsuit alleges that Taco Bell has violated the state's Consumer Fraud Statute, which requires disclaimers to be printed onscreen "in a type size and style that is clear and conspicuous relative to the other type sizes and styles" used in the rest of the advertisement. In the :30 second commercial that the Estrellas saw, one called "Librarian," the "prices may vary" disclaimer was 1/16 the size of the text that announced the arrival of the $5 Chalupa Cravings Box. The lawsuit also says that the disclaimer was only onscreen for three seconds.
"Defendants knew or should have known that the ‘Librarian’ television advertising and other similar advertising would be viewed by members of the public including the plaintiffs and/or other prospective purchasers,” the lawsuit states, before adding “Defendants committed conduct likely to deceive plaintiffs by engaging in acts and/or practices as aforesaid with the intent to induce plaintiffs and other consumers to purchase its cravings boxes."
"It’s a classic bait and switch," Schwartz told NJ.com. "It’s consumer fraud being perpetrated upon not only citizens of New Jersey, but all over the country. Taco Bell has reaped huge profits from their false, misleading and deceptive advertising.”
The Bridgewater Courier News reports that, although the lawsuit was initially filed in Superior Court in Middlesex County, Taco Bell successfully had it transferred to federal court, because neither the Taco Bell nor the Yum! Brands headquarters are in New Jersey, and because there is the potential for punitive damages of more than $75,000.
"Taco Bell and its franchisees are proud to provide millions of guests with delicious, affordable food every day," the company told VICE in a statement. "Our advertisements are truthful and accurate, and we will defend this case vigorously."
Regardless of the outcome, it's gonna cost somebody more than 2 bucks and a handful of change.