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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Auto-Renewing SeaWorld Memberships Contested

SAN DIEGO (CN) - SeaWorld defrauds customers by automatically renewing their memberships without making them aware that they signed up for continuous service, a woman hoping to represent a class claims in court.

Lead plaintiff Shery Gargir says the failure by SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment to conspicuously disclose its automatic-renewal agreements means that all services rendered to consumers like her in the last four years "are deemed to be an unconditional gift."

The specifics of how and when Gargir made her subscription are not apparent in the 24-page complaint she filed Tuesday in San Diego, which says only that the Los Angeles woman purchased a two-year membership from SeaWorld in California within the last four years.

"At the end of the two-year period, the membership automatically renewed on a month-to-month basis," the complaint states. "Plaintiff's payment method was charged, and continues to be charged, every month on a recurring basis."

Gargir says SeaWorld generated about $693 million in revenue from subscription fees during the first three quarters of 2014, and that "approximately 30% of [its] admission ticket purchases are made online."

A basic two-year membership to SeaWorld San Diego costs $155, before tax, according to its website. These memberships cost the same for adults and children.

Instead of selecting the $155 pass for this membership, customers on SeaWorld's website can choose the EZpay option for $24.82.

Once they add the EZpay pass to their cart, the cart preview displays a red box with a white exclamation point alongside that $24.82 charge.

Clicking that exclamation point opens a window that says "plus 23 additional monthly payments of $5.66 (with tax)."

Gargir says that once customers confirm their purchases, SeaWorld charges their cards.

"Defendant thus made, and continues to make, an automatic renewal or continuous service offer to consumers," the complaint states.

"But defendant failed, and continues to fail, to present the automatic renewal offer terms, or continuous service offer terms, in a clear and conspicuous manner and in visual proximity to the request for consent to the offer before the subscription or purchasing agreement was and is fulfilled," Gargir added.

Claiming that SeaWorld must first obtain affirmative consent to its automatic-renewal agreement, Gargir says the park has violated various aspects of California law.

She says SeaWorld furthermore "failed to provide an acknowledgment that includes the automatic renewal or continuous service offer terms, cancellation policy, and information regarding how to cancel in a manner that is capable of being retained by the consumer."

Gargir wants to represent a class of similarly situated California consumers who bought automatically renewing, one- or two-year memberships from SeaWorld within the last four years.

SeaWorld has 11 marine-themed parks in the United States, several of which exist at its hubs in Orland and San Diego.

"As of December 2013, defendant purportedly served approximately 23 million consumers," the complaint states.

Gargir says SeaWorld earns approximately 20% of its revenue in California.

The class is represented by Todd Seaver with Berman DeValerio in San Francisco. It seeks damages and restitution for unfair competition and other claims.

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