SPARTANBURG S.C. A New Jersey Superior Court judge dismissed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing Denny's Corp. of perpetrating fraud by not disclosing the amount of sodium in its food.
The lawsuit, the first sodium-related case against a restaurant company, was filed this summer  by a New Jersey man with help from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer advocacy group.
Spartanburg-based Denny's said the judge dismissed the complaint because the plaintiff, Nick DeBenedetto, could not prove injury under New Jersey’s personal liability and consumer protection laws.
“The New Jersey court dismissed plaintiff’s consumer fraud and implied warranty claims as a matter of law,” the company said in a statement. “The court held that for plaintiff’s claim to survive he had to be able to establish a physical injury under the product liability act and he failed to do so.”
Stephen Gardner, litigation director for the CSPI and an attorney for DeBenedetto, said they planned to amend the lawsuit and appeal the judge's decision.
"Essentially, the judge agreed with Denny’s that New Jersey’s product liability law prevented us from advancing our consumer protection claim," he said. "We are confident we would win on appeal, but we also want to make it clear to the judge that this suit is about consumer deception of a killer food ingredient.”
When DeBenedetto filed the lawsuit, he said he had frequented Denny’s for more than 20 years, and was shocked to find out how much sodium was in his favorite menu items. He said he suffered from high blood pressure and “never would have selected those items” had he known of their sodium content.
Michael Jacobson, executive director for the CSPI, has asserted that the real reason for filing the complaint was to get the restaurant industry’s attention and force them to reduce the amount of salt in the foods they serve to customers.
Jacobson added that 1,500-unit Denny’s was just one of a number of restaurant companies the CSPI had considered targeting in sodium-related lawsuits, something the group had explored for at least a year before the actual filing. He further stated that Denny’s and the CSPI had tried negotiating a deal in which the chain would reduce the amount of sodium in its food, but that talks had broken down.
Earlier this year, Denny's rolled out several menu reformulations  that reduce the amount of salt in hash browns and other items. The chain also cut out higher-sodium items in its kids' menu and introduced more healthful breakfast options.
CSPI has previously used lawsuits to pressure restaurant chains like KFC and Burger King to rid their menus of trans fat.