SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment Inc. appeared to jump the gun on an attempt to dismiss a lower court’s April 17 ruling that the theme park breached customers’ EZ Pay contracts and violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act by automatically renewing their annual passes.
On August 28, the 11th Circuit Court in Florida dismissed Sea World’s appeal of U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven’s ruling in the SeaWorld auto-renewal lawsuit, which granted summary judgment to a class of SeaWorld pass customers from Florida, Texas, Virginia and California — states in which SeaWorld operates its parks.
The 11th Circuit Court determined that the ruling was not an appealable or a final order, and therefore the 11th Circuit lacked jurisdiction.
Seaworld Auto-Renewal Lawsuit Claims Recurring Charges Outside of Contract Scope
According to the Sea World auto-renewal lawsuit, lead plaintiff Jason Herman purchased two annual passes to SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa in 2013. After making 11 monthly payments, he found that he was still being charged by SeaWorld for what was advertised as “annual” — or yearly — passes. Herman alleged these automatic withdrawal of payments violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act and breached customers’ contracts.
The plaintiff presented the original contract that he had with the animal theme park as stating that auto-renewal would only happen if the yearly passes were not completely paid off within a year. However, the plaintiff paid off his yearly passes in less than the 12-month timeframe.
After discovering the charges, the plaintiff reached out directly to Sea World to request a refund of the automatic renewal charges made after his payments for the first year of the pass.
According to the SeaWorld auto-renewal lawsuit, the representative he spoke with told him that the contract included a clause allowing SeaWorld to engage in auto-renewal practices. The language, according to the customer service representative, was in an email the plaintiff would have received after enrolling in the program, but the plaintiff reported not being able to locate that language anywhere.
After examining the physical pass, the emailed tickets, or the receipt itself, the plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of himself and others due to the lack of clarity regarding the company’s auto-renewal policies.
Judge Rules Seaworld Violated Automatic Renewal Law
Under California automatic renewal law, businesses are required to adhere to strict guidelines, including the use of “clear and conspicuous” language set apart from the surrounding text that “clearly calls attention to the language” of the company’s automatic renewal terms.
Judge Scriven’s order identified that SeaWorld was liable for breaching its contract with annual pass holders but did not make any rulings regarding damages or findings regarding those damages owed to named representatives or the entire class.
“SeaWorld’s failure to terminate the contract unquestionably goes to the ‘essence’ of the contract,” Judge Scriven said. “Plaintiffs bargained for a one-year pass, not a pass of indefinite duration. 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 three-judge appeals panel heard the request for the SeaWorld auto-renewal lawsuit appeal but ultimately determined that there was no actual value assigned for damages and no steps taken to determine which class members could be subject to the affirmative defenses made by SeaWorld.
The SeaWorld Auto-Renewal Lawsuit is Case No. 17-12223 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
Were You Charged Improper Auto-Renewal Fees?
If you believe a company may have violated automatic renewal laws, you may be eligible to file an automatic renewal lawsuit in order to recover damages.
Fill out the form on this page now for a FREE case evaluation. The lawyers at Bradley/Grombacher represent plaintiffs in legal cases involving auto-renewal problems.