In a SeaWorld auto-renewal lawsuit filed by a class of consumers, the court sided with the consumers over the theme park’s automatic renewal of annual passes.
The court decided that SeaWorld breached its contracts with consumers and violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act when it continued to collect payments that were unauthorized by consumers to renew their annual passes.
U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven responded to the class of consumers who filed the motion for summary judgment by ruling in their favor and denied the partial summary judgment request on behalf of SeaWorld regarding its breach of contract claim.
Judge Scriven ruled that “SeaWorld’s failure to terminate the contract unquestionably goes to the ‘essence’ of the contract. Plaintiffs bargained for a one-year pass, not a passive indefinite duration.” She continued, “And it is undisputed that plaintiffs suffered damages in the form of unauthorized charges. Although those charges may have occurred after the contract expired, they are ’damages flowing from the breach.’”
The SeaWorld auto-renewal lawsuit was initially filed by Jason Herman in December 2014. Herman stated that he purchased two one-year passes to SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa in March of the previous year. After being charged 11 subsequent monthly payments, Herman realized that his card was still being charged in March 2014.
Herman stated that the contract provided by SeaWorld, which he says was not available on his initial email receipt or on the annual pass itself, stated that annual passes would only be automatically renewed if they were not paid in full in less than a year, but that he had paid off the balance of the annual passes by February, according to the SeaWorld auto-renewal lawsuit.
The motion for partial summary judgment by SeaWorld stated that if the court sided with SeaWorld’s interpretation of the contract for annual passes, then the claim of the consumers failed because they had an obligation to continue making the monthly payments. SeaWorld stated that if the court sided with the consumers’ interpretation of the contract, the claim would also fail because the contract had already ended at the time the alleged breach had taken place.
Following SeaWorld’s motion for summary judgment, the consumers filed their own summary judgment motion by arguing their interpretation of SeaWorld’s contract for auto-renewal. The consumers issued an additional response to SeaWorld’s motion, reiterating their argument and stating that the contract was still valid when the alleged breaches occurred.
“The EZ Pay contract’s payment period began with a down payment on the date of purchase and, if the customer timely made all payments, concluded on the date 11 months later when the customer made the 12th and final payment the contract required,” the consumers stated in response to SeaWorld’s motion. “Automatic renewal, therefore, took place approximately 11 months into the life of the contract, while it was still in effect.”
In response to SeaWorld’s arguments, Judge Scriven said, “SeaWorld maintains that, as a matter of contract law, it could not have renewed the EZ Pay contract without Plaintiffs’ consent. SeaWorld is correct, but as Plaintiffs point out, that is precisely why SeaWorld breached the renewal provision. A breach, by definition, is an unauthorized act.”
Judge Scriven goes on to point out that despite Sea World saying it committed no act, “SeaWorld overlooks the well-settled principle that a contract may be breached by a failure to perform,” and granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs in the SeaWorld auto-renewal lawsuit while denying partial summary judgment to the theme park.
The SeaWorld Auto-Renewal Lawsuit is Herman et al. v. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc., Case No. 8:14-cv-03028, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
If you were hit with charges due to an automatic renewal of a subscription that you did not authorize, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the experienced consumer attorneys at Bradley/Grombacher today for a FREE case evaluation.
Note: The attorneys at Bradley/Grombacher are not representing the plaintiff in this class action lawsuit.