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Plaintiffs land key victory in suit against Kings Island owner over 2020 season passes

Any reasonable consumer would have expected a refund from the park, the judge ruled.
Kings Island’s Vortex spun its last rides on Sunday
Kings Island’s Vortex, which closed permanently in November 2021.(tcw-wave)
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 9:50 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WXIX) - A federal judge on Thursday ruled that a suit can proceed against Cedar Fair over nonrefunded season passes during the pandemic.

US District Court Judge James Carr denied a Cedar Fair dismissal motion in the class action suit, saying a reasonable passholder, faced with the pandemic closures, would have expected a prorated refund based on how Cedar Fair advertised its passes.

“While proving that such is the case might well be difficult for the plaintiffs,” Carr acknowledged, “at this point I believe that they have adequately stated a claim for relief under §1345.03 to survive dismissal.”

The ruling is provided in full at the end of this story.

A Cedar Fair spokesperson told FOX19 the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Cedar Fair owns Ohio’s Kings Island and Cedar Point as well as 11 other amusement parks, nine waterparks and fourteen hotels in North America.

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cedar Fair kept its parks closed past their usual opening dates in 2020. Many parks remained closed for substantial portions of the season, and those that reopened, such as Kings Island in July 2020, did so with significant restrictions.

A group of plaintiffs represented by law firm Dovel and Luner argue Cedar Fair refused to offer a prorated refund for that portion of the regularly scheduled season when the parks remained closed.

The suit claims a violation of Ohio’s consumer protection laws on the grounds that, prior to the pandemic, Cedar Fair advertised passholders would have “unlimited access for all the 2020 season” and that its parks would have operating days lasting 130-140 days.

Cedar Fair, the plaintiffs argue, failed to clearly state that the parks wouldn’t offer full or prorated refunds in the event of an unexpected long-term closure such as the pandemic.

Cedar Fair counters a reasonable consumer wouldn’t have expected a prorated refund based on disclaimers on the park’s websites and on the passes themselves (quoted in full from Carr’s ruling:)

  • I agree that all ticket sales are final. There are no refunds or exchanges.
  • ALL SALES ARE FINAL – NO REFUNDS, NO TRANSFERS OR EXCHANGES, NO RAIN CHECKS, NOT VALID FOR CASH.
  • All operating dates and hours are subject to change without notice.
  • All rides and attractions are subject to closings and cancellations for weather or other conditions.
  • Operating dates are subject to change without notice.
  • All attractions are subject to closing and cancellations for weather or other conditions.

Carr notes in his ruling Ohio law does not require a company to knowingly deceive a consumer for a violation to exist. That is, even if Cedar Fair didn’t mean to mislead passholders, it could still be liable.

Of the disclaimers above, Carr wrote: “I cannot find as a matter of law that a reasonable consumer would have understood that those disclaimers applied to these circumstances.”

Cedar Fair argues it gave consumers an equal trade by making 2020 season passes valid through 2021. Carr explained that and other questions of fact can’t be resolved in a dismissal motion.

Cedar Fair also contends the season passes should be legally classified as licenses (allowing passholders to come to the park for whatever a season may comprise) rather than binding contracts (granting passholders entrance on a set number of days, as do season tickets for a sports team.)

Carr rejected that contention, though he didn’t himself decide whether the passes are, legally speaking, one or the other. That matter is currently before the Ohio Supreme Court deriving from a state case the plaintiffs filed prior to their federal filing.

Carr only said a reasonable, ordinary consumer would not understand the difference, so the difference is immaterial for a consumer protections claim under Ohio law. The law in question, after all, is to be “liberally construed in favor of the consumer,” Carr wrote citing state precedent.

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