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SeaWorld sued for collecting monthly fees on annual passes while parks are closed

SeaWorld Parks
(Associated Press)

A SeaWorld annual pass holder in San Diego has sued the theme park operator for continuing to collect membership fees while its parks remain closed amid coronavirus lockdowns.

The lawsuit, filed last week in San Diego federal court, seeks nationwide class action status for people with season passes. It accuses the Orlando, Fla.-based company of violating California’s unfair competition, false advertising and consumer legal remedies laws, as well as breach of contract and unjust enrichment.

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment declined to comment on pending litigation. The company offers silver, gold and platinum annual memberships for $10 to $17.75 per month. They provide unlimited access, free parking and other perks. Under terms and conditions, SeaWorld season passes are nonrefundable and subject to change or cancellation without notice.

A single-day ticket to SeaWorld San Diego costs $94.

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According to the lawsuit, Lisa Kouball purchased four annual memberships to SeaWorld San Diego for a total of $48.99 per month. Even though the park shut down in mid-March, SeaWorld charged Kouball’s credit card on April 23 for the full amount.

“SeaWorld has made the unconscionable decision to keep charging its thousands of customers monthly membership fees while closing its amusement parks as the novel coronavirus rages throughout the world and the United States economy has gone into deep recession,” says the complaint.

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SeaWorld offers an EZPay plan to annual membership holders that automatically charges dues on a month-to-month basis from a registered credit or debit card.

“Unlike most of its competitors, [SeaWorld] continued charging its customers monthly membership fees — at full price,” said the complaint. The company “has made a deliberate decision to bilk its customers out of a monthly membership fee while its members do not have access to defendant’s amusement parks and water parks.”

San Diego lawyer Ronald Marron filed the complaint. It seeks undeclared amounts of actual and punitive damages for a court or jury trial. The lawsuit expects claims from annual pass holders to exceed $5 million.

In addition to seeking class action status nationwide, the lawsuit asks for a subclass certification for annual pass holders in California.

While the sudden shock of coronavirus-related sales losses ultimately undid the company, J.C. Penney has struggled for years under a multibillion-dollar debt load.

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The timing for reopening SeaWorld and other attractions in San Diego and nationwide remains unclear. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday asked the state’s theme park operators to submit plans on how to safely resume operations, boosting the share prices for both SeaWorld and Disney.

SeaWorld’s shares ended trading Friday up 7.6 percent at $13.80 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Freeman writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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