A Florida federal court ruled SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act by renewing its annual EZ passes after they expired.
U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven ruled Monday in Tampa that SeaWorld breached its EZ Pay contract by collecting unauthorized payments after the 12 months expired.
The class-action suit included residents of Florida, Texas, Virginia, and California – the four states SeaWorld operates theme parks.
SeaWorld stopped the practice of automatic renewals in 2015.
Under the EZ Pay contract, the one-year annual passes were paid in 12 installments. Michelle Scott, a SeaWorld employee, testified that an EZ Pay pass “may expire but that does not remove someone from the program.”
SeaWorld challenged that the transfers qualified as “preauthorized electric fund transfers.”
The attorney representing SeaWorld claimed that a clause in the contract saying it would “renew automatically on a month-to-month basis following the payment period until I terminate it” allowed them to keep collecting the monthly fee.
James Felman, the attorney representing three Florida residents, said his clients “bargained for a one-year pass, not a pass of indefinite duration.”
The court ruled SeaWorld violated the Electronic Funds Transfer Act that requires preauthorization for bank-account and debit-card transfers made after the EZ Pay contract expired.
A hearing for damages has yet to be set. Felman said they have requested information from SeaWorld that outlines how long the company renewed the annual passes without consent and how many customers were involved.
“Once we get that number, it’s purely a mathematical formula,” said Felman, an attorney with Kynes, Markman & Felman in Tampa.
SeaWorld and their attorney, Christopher Hill, did not return phone calls.