By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK, May 14 (Reuters) - It's Just Lunch International, a matchmaking and dating service for single professionals, was ordered by a U.S. judge to face a nationwide class-action lawsuit by clients who claimed they were defrauded into paying for its services.
U.S. District Judge Sidney Stein in Manhattan said the plaintiffs had enough in common to pursue their fraud claims as a group. He also said a group of New York plaintiffs could pursue claims under that state's law alleging deceptive business practices and unjust enrichment.
The complaint accused It's Just Lunch of falsely promising clients, including many affluent and highly educated women, that its staff would "hand select" appropriate matches for dates. It also said the company would charge $1,000 or more per person per year for services it did not deliver.
"In short, virtually all evidence in the record indicates that during the period at issue, IJL staff relied on a uniform script to inform prospective customers during initial interviews that IJL already had at least two matches in mind for those customers' first dates regardless of whether or not that was true," Stein wrote.
The fraud case will "substantially rise or fall" on whether this script was materially misleading, he added.
Stein refused to certify a nationwide class alleging unjust enrichment, citing too many differences in state laws. The class periods run from Oct. 15, 2001 to the present. A class action can make it easier to obtain a larger settlement at lower cost.
It's Just Lunch did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Peter Shapiro, a lawyer for the company, did not immediately respond to similar requests.
John Balestriere, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the decision means potentially tens of thousands of clients can now seek to collectively try to recoup fees and recover damages.
"We consider this a complete victory," he said.
According to its website, It's Just Lunch was founded in 1991, has "matched" tens of thousands of single professionals, and has arranged more than 2 million first dates.
The company said the process involves an initial client interview; the selection of a potential partner based on a client's desires, goals and motivations; and the arranging of lunch at a restaurant, an after-work drink or a weekend brunch.
It's Just Lunch is based in San Diego, but said it operates in most U.S. states and Washington, D.C, as well as in Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, Australia and Singapore. The company has trademarked the phrase "Dating for Busy Professionals," federal records show.
The case is Rodriguez et al v. It's Just Lunch International et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 07-09227 (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)
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