SANDUSKY, Ohio — Editor's note: Video in the player at the top of this story features a front-seat ride from the Steel Vengeance roller coaster at Cedar Point.
A lawsuit against the parent company of Cedar Point regarding season passes will move forward after a judge rejected a request to dismiss the proceedings.
The lawsuit is connected to how Cedar Fair amusement parks handled season pass operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In 2020, Cedar Fair amusement parks closed early or did not open at all,” officials with law firm Dovel and Luner tell 3News. “But instead of giving season passholders proportionate refunds, Cedar Fair kept 100% of their money. Our class action against Cedar Fair seeks fair refunds for season passholders who did not get what they paid for.”
When asked for a response to the judge’s decision to allow the lawsuit to continue, a Cedar Fair spokesperson told 3News the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
So what does this actually mean? What is each side arguing and what has the judge said about the lawsuit? We break it all down for you below...
Debating the season pass extension from 2020 through 2021
Cedar Fair argues they honored 2020 season passes through the 2021 season, providing a substitute of equal or greater value.
The plaintiffs, however, argued the 2021 season was not of equal or greater value because of COVID-related restrictions, citing reopening protocols that imposed COVID-related limitations and restrictions.
What the judge said: “These factual questions regarding whether the 2021 season passes constituted equal or greater value than the passes the plaintiffs believed they were purchasing cannot be answered as a matter of law. Thus, at this stage in the proceeding, I cannot say as a matter of law that Cedar Fair is entitled to the statutory defense that it provided a substitution of equal or greater value.”
Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in a previous story on April 14, 2020.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Cedar Point extends 2020 season passes through 2021 amid coronavirus
What are the plaintiffs claiming in the lawsuit?
The lawsuit states that Cedar Fair “closed all remaining parks for a substantial portion of the season (and imposed heavy restrictions when a park was open” like reservation requirements and “substantially restricted ride and attraction access.”
Here are more highlights of the plaintiffs' claims:
- At the time Cedar Fair sold the season passes, it posted the expected dates of the open season for each park. The parks are generally open during weekends beginning in April or May and then daily from Memorial Day until Labor Day. In other words, the parks have an approximately 130 to 140-day operating season. Plaintiffs allege that Cedar Fair refused to provide them with a refund for the portion of the regularly scheduled year that its parks remain closed.
- Plaintiffs allege that Cedar Fair made the following misrepresentations on its sites:
- That the passholders would have unlimited access for all of the 2020 season
- That its parks would have an operating season lasting 130-140 days, beginning in April or May
- Plaintiffs allege that the parks failed to disclose on their websites that if an unexpected event or force majeure forced them to close for a substantial portion of the year, the parks would not return any of the season-pass holders’ purchase price.
- Plaintiffs allege that, based on those misrepresentations and omission, a reasonable consumer would believe that if Cedar Fair closed its parks for all or a substantial portion of the season, it would return a proportionate amount of the passes’ purchase price for the time the parks remained closed. They contend that Cedar Fair’s conduct, in making its representations and omission, was deceptive and unfair.
Here’s what Cedar Fair is arguing
Cedar Fair argues that a reasonable consumer would not believe that it would return a proportionate portion of the pass purchase price based on the following disclaimers on its parks’ websites and/or on the passes themselves:
- I agree that all ticket sales are final. There are no refunds or exchanges.
- ALL SALES ARE FINAL – NO REFUNDS, NO TRANSFERS OR CHANGES, 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.
Cedar Fair also argues that it could not have foreseen COVID. It further argues that plaintiffs’ version of what a reasonable consumer would have believed is unreasonable based on those disclaimers.
What the judge said: I disagree that these disclaimers were sufficiently clear regarding what rights plaintiffs would have in the case of a closure for all or a substantial part of the season. The passholders could reasonably have understood the statements that all sales were final and no refunds or exchanges to mean that they could not obtain a refund or make an exchange if they desired to do so. They would not understand that language to entitle Cedar Fair to keep their entire purchase price even if it failed to open its parks for all or a substantial portion of the season.
Similarly, the statements that operating dates are subject to change and that Cedar Fair could close rides for weather or other conditions do not clearly address the situation where Cedar Fair failed to open its parks for all or a substantial portion of their season, regardless of the reason. The question here is whether the plaintiffs’ alleged understanding of those terms was reasonable. Whatever the Ohio courts may determine those disclaimers mean for contract-law purposes is all but irrelevant to plaintiffs’ OCSPA claim. I cannot find as a matter of law that a reasonable consumer would have understood those disclaimers applied to these circumstances.
I conclude that, for this stage in the proceeding, plaintiffs have adequately pled that a reasonable purchaser might not have understood the disclaimers to mean that Cedar Fair would not provide any compensation of it closed its parks for all or a substantial part of the season.
More from the judge
- "Cedar Fair argues that it could not have acted knowingly because it could not have foreseen the COVID pandemic. However, plaintiffs did not plead that Cedar Fair foresaw the pandemic. Nor were they required to do so to state a claim."
- “The crux of plaintiffs’ claim is that Cedar Fair knew that a force majeure event possibly could force it to close its parks for some or all of a season. They assert that Cedar Fair wrote its website’s terms and conditions – the contract – in a way that it believed would put the risk of such an occurrence on them. Plaintiffs claim that Cedar Fair did so intending that if such an event occurred, it would not refund any portion of the pass fees. They further assert that Cedar Fair wrote its terms in a way that would not have led a reasonable consumer to understand that intent. And, when COVID forced Cedar Fair to close its parks for all or a substantial part of the 2020 season, it refused to return any portion of the pass fees.”
- “The facts plaintiffs have alleged in their complaint suffice at this stage to state a claim that Cedar Fair unconscionably, intentionally chose not to include a force majeure clause on its websites, thereby obscuring or concealing from the plaintiffs that they and not Cedar Fair would bear the financial consequences of a force majeure event."
- “While proving that such is the case might well be difficult for the plaintiffs, at this point I believe that they have adequately stated a claim for relief under 1345.03 to survive dismissal. For the foregoing reason, I conclude that plaintiffs’ complaint adequately pleads its 1345 claims. Therefore, it is hereby ORDERED THAT Defendants’ motion to dismiss be, and the same hereby is DENIED.”
Explore the document: Judge denies motion to dismiss
What does this mean for you?
As the case continues, it's possible Cedar Fair would be ordered to reimburse season passholders in some form -- but that's not what has happened at this point. The judge's decision here was to only reject Cedar Fair's motion to dismiss, meaning the lawsuit can move forward in its proceedings.
Editor's note: Video in the player above features a front-seat ride from the Maverick roller coaster at Cedar Point.