After nearly eight months of litigation, LA Fitness and its parent company, Fitness International LLC, last Thursday reached an out-of-court settlement in a class action lawsuit in which the health club chain was accused of misrepresenting one-month membership renewals. The sum of the settlement has not been disclosed.
The lawsuit was first filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in January, when plaintiff Beau Briones and his lawyers alleged LA Fitness misled Briones into renewing his membership and subsequently withdrew unauthorized funds from his bank account. When Briones’ gym membership expired in November 2014, an LA Fitness sales representative persuaded him to renew for another month at his pre-existing $140 rate, according to the suit. Briones confirmed the renewal only with an electronic signature, claiming he was never shown a written copy of the terms.
From November 2014 to March 2015, $110 was withdrawn every other week from Briones’ bank account, in addition to the $140 up-front sum he intended to pay in cash. None of the account withdrawals were authorized, according to the suit; rather, they were concurrent with a yearlong contract through the gym for $2,860.
The suit states: “When Defendants advertised the availability of the extra month membership, Defendants had no intent to sell Plaintiff such a membership, but always intended to sell Plaintiff a 52 week membership at a higher price than was quoted to Plaintiff.”
On Aug. 5, presiding U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton rejected LA Fitness’ request to arbitrate the suit. LA Fitness presented the court with membership agreements, signed by Briones, containing arbitration clauses stating the health club chain and its members consent to settle any contract issues before a single arbiter, rather than to litigate in court. Briones claimed the clause was never explained verbally or in writing.
According to the judge’s denial order, “Arbitration is a matter of contract and a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit.” The order also states arbitration contracts can “be invalidated by ‘generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress, or unconscionability.’”
This is not the first time LA Fitness has settled with former members over contract disputes. In October 2013 the health club chain reimbursed plaintiff Sophia Martina for $14,065, in addition to $200,000 in legal fees, according to documents from the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Martina had alleged LA Fitness continued charging her unwarranted fees after she canceled her membership.
LA Fitness Director of Marketing Andrea R. Ojeda declined to comment on the settlement citing confidentiality. Todd M. Freidman, Briones’ lawyer, has not responded to a request for comment.