[UPDATE:On April 13, 2018, United States District Court Judge Cecilia M. Altonagadismissedthis lawsuit without prejudice, tossing the case more on account of the plaintiff’s failures than the defendants’ lack-of-standing arguments. In her ruling, Judge Altonaga couched the plaintiff’s somewhat contradictory allegations as “quintessential shotgun pleading”—noting the Eleventh Circuit has time and again chastised such complaints—and scolded the man for failing to address problems with his initial complaint after they were pointed out by the defendants.
“Shame on [the plaintiff] for not heeding the Eleventh Circuit’s repeated pronouncements criticizing shotgun pleadings like his,” Judge Altonaga wrote. She also noted jurisdictional issues with two Delaware-based corporations named by the plaintiff as defendants.
The dismissal order can be readhere. The plaintiff has until April 20 to file an amended complaint.]
Loews Corporation and Loews Hotels Holding Corporation are the defendants in a New York man’s proposed class action lawsuit that alleges the companies’ Florida hotels violate state law by failing to properly disclose that gratuity “equal to or approximately 18-20 percent of” food and beverage charges will be automatically added to customers’ bills. The 15-page lawsuit’s primary allegation is that the defendants present notice of this automatic gratuity in “small, hard-to-read type” and “hide” this disclosure notice on the last page of menus.
The plaintiff charges that the defendants’ alleged conduct violates the Florida Unfair Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
I don’t go on vacation very often. What’s this about?
Before we get into the allegations, it’s helpful to know exactly which Florida hotels we’re talking about here. The complaint mentions the following seven establishments:
The Loews Miami Beach Hotel;
The Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando;
The Loews Don CeSar Hotel in St. Pete Beach;
The Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando;
The Loews Royal Pacific Resort at Universal Orlando;
The Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando; and
“Every public food service establishment which includes an automatic gratuity or service charge in the price of the meal shall include on the food menu and on the face of the bill provided to the customer notice that an automatic gratuity is included.”
While the plaintiff never argues in the suit that the defendants provide customers with no notice regarding automatic gratuities, the man argues that the disclosures Loews does provide are wholly inadequate. The man alleges Loews violates Florida law by not disclosing anywhere on its hotels’ restaurant menus that an automatic gratuity or service charge of any amount will be added to customers’ checks. Somewhat conflictingly, the plaintiff further argues Loews has failed to provide adequate notice of automatic gratuities because menus that do contain such disclosures have them “written in small type, often in a difficult to read italicized font.” Lastly, the plaintiff claims Loews illegally charges tax on gratuities that are automatically pinned to customers’ bills.
Sounds like the plaintiff had an unpleasant experience at some point.
The lawsuit says the plaintiff stayed at one of the defendants’ hotels in April 2017. After a meal, the plaintiff was allegedly presented with a bill that included an automatic 20 percent service charge. Despite the already added gratuity, the suit claims, the check also contained a line where the man could (and did) write in an additional tip.
“There was no mention on the restaurant’s menu, neither on the hard copy provided to [the plaintiff] in the restaurant nor on the menu posted online on the hotel’s website, that an automatic gratuity or service charge of any amount would be added to [the plaintiff’s] check,” the complaint asserts.
This same scenario played out at least one other time during the plaintiff’s April 2017 hotel stay, the lawsuit adds.
Who does this lawsuit hope to cover?
The plaintiff filed this lawsuit on behalf of a proposed class of consumers who, within the last four years and through the date of this case’s resolution, purchased food and/or drinks at a Florida “restaurant, bar, mini-bar, lounge and/or other public food service establishment” owned, operated and/or controlled by Loews Corporation and Loews Hotels Holding Corporation and had an automatic gratuity or service charge added to their bill.