Well, you’ve got to hand it to her for making a creative argument, at least – even though a federal judge didn’t buy it.
A judge has dismissed an Ohio woman’s lawsuit against Coach Factory outlet stores. Her complaint? The store was offering too many coupons.
Back in September 2011, Julie Pattie visited a Coach outlet store in Aurora, Ohio. As soon as she walked in the door, she says she was handed a coupon offering 50% off her entire purchase, valid “today only”.
So Pattie purchased several items, got her discount, and went on her way, grateful for her good fortune in shopping on a day when the store was so generous with its coupons.
But later, she discovered that other shoppers were getting the same coupon – “valid today only” – virtually every day. That, she argued, amounted to an “ongoing, constant sale” in which “the prices of Defendant’s products were never actually discounted but were, in fact, Defendant’s regular prices for these products.”
So she sued. By law, a sale must actually be a sale. If a price is advertised as being reduced, then the retailer must actually have charged the higher price for “a reasonably substantial period of time.”
But since Coach outlets were always offering 50% off coupons, Pattie argued, its “regular” prices were in fact fictitious, and the post-coupon prices were its de facto regular prices. For the coupon to be meaningful then, instead of getting 50% off a fictitious regular price, Pattie thought she deserved 50% off the price that she ultimately paid.
Coach disagreed. And so did the judge. In a ruling issued Friday, U.S. District Judge Patricia Gaughan poked so many holes in Pattie’s argument, that it didn’t hold water anymore.
“The evidence is inconsistent with the allegations in the complaint,” Gaughan wrote. Pattie actually received a 30% off coupon, the judge pointed out, not the 50% coupon that she claimed. That 30% coupon was indeed pretty common – it was handed out to customers on a total of 270 days in 2011. But on other days, the coupon was as low as 10%, as high as 70% off clearance items, and sometimes no coupon was offered at all.
So even though Coach outlet customers got 30% off for nine months out of the year, the varied prices offered in the remaining three months were enough to meet that “reasonably substantial period of time” test.
“Simply put, plaintiff fails to offer any evidence that plaintiff did not receive a discount,” Gaughan ruled. “Because the prices varied over time and applied to different items at different locations, plaintiff’s argument that the coupon falsely offered a discount is rejected.”
So Pattie may have been right that retailers can’t claim they’re offering a discount when that discount is essentially their regular price. But her oversimplified argument that Coach “always advertises these discounts” and that its 50% off offers “never end, but continue week in and week out” didn’t stand up – nor did her claim that she herself received a 50% off coupon instead of the 30% coupon she actually used.
Pattie, by the way, is “an employee of her attorneys’ law firm,” Gaughan noted in her ruling. It’s the very same law firm that’s in the midst of suing Kohl’s over its own coupon policy.
So if you’re a retailer offering coupons at a store in Ohio, be sure not to rub Pattie’s law firm the wrong way. They just might take you to court.
And one day, they might even win.
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