A state court gave Harrah’s Atlantic City a belated birthday present.

A three-judge state Appellate Division panel ordered the vacating of more than $500,000 in legal fees associated with a case in which a Middlesex County women accused Harrah’s Atlantic City of violating state law by failing to honor a $15 birthday coupon.

According to the panel, Debra Smerling, the lead plaintiff in the case, did not meet the description of a consumer because she didn’t purchase the coupon in August 2003. Since the casino did nothing wrong the panel ruled that there was no reason for the awarding of the legal fees for the case.

“Because there was no viable TCCWNA (Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act) claim here, there is no basis for an award of counsel fees related to that claim,” according to the ruling by the panel dated Sept. 9.

The panel was comprised of Judges Marianne Espinosa, Garry Rothstadt and Heidi Currier.

Smerling alleged that she was unable to use the coupon after she decided to celebrate her birthday in Atlantic City in August 2003.

”She attempted to claim her ‘birthday cash’ sometime between midnight and 12:30 a.m. on Sunday, August 10, 2003, at the Total Rewards Center, the manager on duty told her she could not claim the money until 6 a.m. on August 10,” according to the ruling. “Debra never redeemed her $15 coupon.”

After the incident, Smerling then filed a three-count class-action complaint alleging the casino violated the Consumer Fraud Act, as well as other state laws. The initial complaint was dismissed, but in May 2009 Superior Court Judge Ann McCormick ruled in favor of Smerling claim.

During the appeal of the ruling, Harrah’s argued that Smerling was not a customer under state law.

Contact: 609-272-7046

NHuba@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPressHuba

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