And You Thought Lawyers Were Expensive . . . .

At first glance, a threatened lawsuit against The Cheesecake Factory restaurant in Massachusetts sounds like it could be yet another the-sky-is-falling example of lawsuit abuse from those who are – shall we say – not big fans of the legal system. But like most of these headlines, a closer look at the facts reveals our legal system is working like it is supposed to.   

Newton, Mass.-based attorney Ross Mitchell notified the popular restaurant chain of his intentions to sue under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act after a friend was charged $11 for a margarita without being told about the rather exorbitant price beforehand. Apparently, this slight-of-hand is part of a new trend in the restaurant industry to conceal the price of a drink or meal until the bill arrives, after the meal/drink has been consumed.  
 
The law, as it turns out, is not silent on this practice. In a recent media report about a $275 order of pasta and truffles served at a New York restaurant, Texas Wesleyan School of Law Professor Franklin Snyder described how Article 2 of the Uniform Commercial Code provides a potential solution: 

“The code provides that where the buyer and seller have agreed to a contract but have not agreed on the price, the price is not what the seller subsequently demands. It’s a reasonable price for the goods at issue.”

Armed with the UCC and Massachusetts law, Mitchell was able to convince The Cheesecake Factory to post drink prices on its menus statewide. Except for the cost of reprinting a few menus, it’s hard to imagine how this could have worked out any better: Consumers were being deceived. A concerned lawyer sought compliance based on existing laws. No lawsuit was filed. No huge legal bills incurred. Fairness was restored. The law is now being obeyed.

So, next time you hear about how attorneys drive up the cost of goods, think of lawyers like Ross Mitchell and maybe drink a toast to him with a margarita that costs considerably less than $11. 
 
P.S. –  Sometimes life imitates art.  Or in this case, an old joke:  

An alligator walks into a bar and orders a martini. The bartender is somewhat taken aback, but quickly figures that an alligator has no idea how much a martini costs, so he pours the drink and says “that’ll be $20.” The alligator pays the bartender and begins to sip his drink, but the bartender is overcome with curiosity.  He says, “You know, we don’t get many alligators in here.”  The alligator dryly replies, “At $20 a martini, I’m not surprised!”   

 

Posted: 2/29/2012 2:48:29 PM by On the Merits Editor | with 0 comments

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Thanks for stopping by On the Merits, the first blog from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. On the Merits will take a close look at significant legal stories with an eye toward addressing the legal myths and misconceptions that turn up in news stories, movies, TV programs, websites, anonymous emails and other forms of mass communications. Our goal at On the Merits is to provide readers with a thoughtful examination of what the media and others are saying about the legal profession and to apply the frequently-absent context of how the legal system actually works.

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