SeaWorld Dodges Claims It Misled Parkgoers

     SAN DIEGO (CN) — A federal judge dismissed a class action against SeaWorld by former parkgoers who claimed that had they known the theme park mistreated its orcas they would have never purchased tickets.
     On May 13, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo found the plaintiffs failed to address the problems identified this past December when Bencivengo granted them leave to amend their complaint.
     The consolidated complaint began as three separate class actions brought against SeaWorld by consumers who bought tickets to attend the company’s parks in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando. The plaintiffs filed a consolidated 91-page complaint in August 2015 with five named plaintiffs.
     In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed they would have not purchased tickets to attend the theme parks had they known what they know now about the treatment and condition of the killer whales held in captivity at the parks. SeaWorld misled and deceived the plaintiffs and other consumers about its treatment of the whales, in violation of consumer statutes in California, Texas and Florida, the plaintiffs claimed.
     SeaWorld’s massive marketing campaign masked “the ugly truth about the unhealthy and despairing lives of these whales,” which the plaintiffs claimed “die many years before they would in the wild.”
     In her December dismissal with leave to amend, Bencivengo found the San Diego class claims were all fraud claims and needed to be pleaded as such. But Bencivengo found the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring any fraud claims because “the complaint does not allege that any of the named plaintiffs saw and relied on SeaWorld’s statements about its treatment of whales when purchasing their tickets.”
     Bencivengo also found “most of the alleged statements were made after plaintiffs purchased their tickets, meaning plaintiffs could not have relied on them when making their purchase.” Since most of plaintiffs’ claims are based on alleged fraud, they are subject to the heightened pleading standard.
     Pointing out additional flaws with the plaintiffs’ amended complaint, Bencivengo called their claims “minimal and superficial” in her latest 12-page order dismissing the case in its entirety.
     “It appears that plaintiffs have treated this court’s grant of leave to file the second amended complaint more as an opportunity to seek reconsideration of the court’s prior dismissal order than as a chance to remedy the pleading deficiencies identified by the court in that order,” Bencivengo wrote.
     One “deficiency” Bencivengo addressed in her previous order was that the plaintiffs’ claims lacked any reference to any advertising or statements made by SeaWorld prior to purchasing their tickets. In their second attempt, plaintiffs merely noted they had visited SeaWorld and attended the Shamu show in previous visits to the park and that during the shows SeaWorld did not disclose the “true facts” about the health and conditions of the orcas in their care.
     SeaWorld did not have a duty to disclose information about the health or condition of the whales and claiming the company failed to disclose that information to park attendees does not hold up, Bencivengo wrote in her dismissal.
     By also failing to address the specifics of which plaintiffs actually saw false statements or omissions made by SeaWorld and when they saw them, the plaintiffs are unable to prove they relied on the statements before purchasing their tickets, Bencivengo said.
     When Bencivengo found plaintiffs could assert an omission claim if they proved that omission “is directly contrary to a representation actually made by the defendant,” they dropped the ball and “made no effort to comply with this limitation” — instead re-arguing that SeaWorld did have a general duty to disclose the conditions of the whales, which Bencivengo noted she had already dismissed in her December judgment.
     The consolidated class only spent a small portion of their brief on the claims for the San Antonio class and Orlando class, and while they attempted to beef up their claims in their second amended complaint, Bencivengo found they still fell short and asserted “no new substantive factual allegations unique to these claims.”
     SeaWorld San Diego communications director Dave Koontz said the dismissal is a big win for SeaWorld.
     “This significant win for SeaWorld underscores that we have never misled consumers about our orcas or their lives at SeaWorld. After multiple tries, these plaintiffs could not establish their false allegations. And while it is possible they may attempt to appeal, we are confident that courts will continue to see through these baseless claims,” Koontz said.
     The class members are represented by Shayne Stevenson, Steve Berman, Lee Gordon and Elaine Byszewski of Hagens Berman in Seattle, who did not return phone and email requests for comment.

%d bloggers like this: