Man sues Disneyland for ending membership to exclusive Club 33

Man sues Disneyland for ending membership to exclusive Club 33
Guest relations guide Victoria Dale holds open the door to Club 33 for visitors on a special VIP tour of Disneyland in Anaheim. A former Club 33 member is suing Disneyland, claiming that his membership was unfairly revoked. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

One of the original members of the ultra-exclusive Club 33 at Disneyland has sued the theme park, claiming that his annual membership was unfairly terminated.

Joseph Cosgrove, 84, of Lake Forest, describes himself as one of the first 100 members of the private club that has operated in Disneyland's New Orleans Square since 1967. But he said in a lawsuit that Disneyland ended his membership after a friend auctioned charity passes that Cosgrove provided.

Club 33's rules forbid members from auctioning off membership passes to charities, according to the lawsuit. In the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, Cosgrove said he didn't realize that his friend had auctioned off the passes but claims that Disneyland should have put his membership on temporary hold to give him time to appeal.


Suzi Brown, a spokeswoman for Disneyland, said the incident was not Cosgrove's first offense.

"Over the years, the Cosgroves repeatedly transferred and sold their membership privileges, which was a clear violation of membership rules," she said. "Unfortunately, we were left with no other choice in order to preserve the integrity of membership."

Club 33 was conceived by Walt Disney as a place to entertain dignitaries, investors and other VIPs at a cost to most members of $11,000 a year. Disney officials refuse to divulge how many members are allowed into the club but Disney experts say the waiting list is probably several years long.

The club includes two dining halls and several adjoining areas, featuring antique furniture and historic photos of Walt Disney on the wall.

A change in the club's rules recently drew the ire of platinum members, the highest level of noncorporate membership.

In the past, such members got three extra VIP cards that allowed friends of the members to access the park and the club. But Disneyland announced that starting in 2015, only the member and a spouse or domestic partner would have access to the club benefits. Also, the membership fee rose this year to $12,000.

Cosgrove, a retired public relations and marketing expert, said he is a lifetime fan of Walt Disney Co. and the author of "Walt Dreamers Me," a book about Walt Disney.

The lawsuit asks the court to force Disneyland to pay Cosgrove at least $100,000 for mental anguish, legal fees and punitive damages, among other considerations.

An attorney for Cosgrove, Mark Corrinet, said Disney has provided no evidence that Cosgrove has previously violated the club's rules. He said he doubts that the company would want to fight the lawsuit against an elderly, longtime Disney devotee.

"He really is a huge fan of Walt Disney and Walt Disney's dream," Corrinet said. "The focus of his retired life has been yanked from him."

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