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NBTY vitamins

If you frequently seek out coupons online, this has probably happened to you at some point: a company asks for your email address in exchange for access to a coupon. So you comply, handing over your contact information, only to be told, “oops, sorry for the inconvenience, we don’t have any more coupons available!”

So now the company has your email address, but you have no coupon. It’s annoying – a bait-and-switch, even – but is it grounds for a lawsuit?

A New York man thought so. But now two separate courts have disagreed.

Michael Amalfitano sued NBTY, the manufacturer of vitamin brands including Nature’s Bounty and Sundown Naturals, several years ago. But a New York court dismissed the case in 2013. Amalfitano appealed the decision. And last week, a state appeals court upheld the dismissal.

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The vitamin maker offered a $1 coupon to customers who visited its website, and provided their email address. Amalfitano said he did so, and never got a coupon. That, he argued in his lawsuit, was deceptive marketing.

But the state court found, and the appeals court agreed, that NBTY had adequately covered its bases in the fine print. “The promotion expressly stated that the supply of coupons was limited,” the appeals court ruled. And the promotion could only be considered deceptive if NBTY made an outright promise and didn’t deliver. Splitting hairs, the appeals court found that “the online promotion did not constitute an offer. Rather, it constituted only an invitation for offers.”

In addition, the court found that giving up an email address was not so serious as to warrant a lawsuit. Amalfitano “suffered no actual injury, apart from the alleged deceptive act itself,” the court ruled.

Amalfitano had hoped to make his lawsuit a class action, on behalf of all others who were similarly denied a coupon. Instead, he now has no coupon and no case.

So consider that, the next time a company asks for your personal information in exchange for a coupon. If the company wants to avoid bad publicity, and having to defend itself against a lawsuit, it might want to ensure you get that coupon. But if you don’t, there’s little you can do – aside from sue, lose, appeal and lose again. And unfortunately, they don’t make coupons to cover your court costs.

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