Law360 (July 16, 2020, 10:16 PM EDT) -- A Florida federal judge has recused herself from a proposed class action against a Walt Disney Company subsidiary because the judge has an annual pass to a Disney theme park, making her a potential class member in the suit alleging pass holders were overcharged.
U.S. District Judge Leslie R. Hoffman recused herself in a brief order Thursday and ordered that the case, which concerns the way Disney has handled charges to annual pass holders during the COVID-19 pandemic, be assigned to another judge. The lawsuit was filed earlier this month, accusing Disney both of overcharging annual pass holders and failing to live up to the promises it made when selling the passes in the first place.
According to the pass holders behind the suit, Disney suspended the monthly charges for the annual pass in April when it closed its parks in response to the pandemic. However, when the parks began reopening in July, the company charged pass holders for several months of payments at once.
Melissa and Ramon Rodriguez, two of the plaintiffs in the suit, alleged that Disney deducted $346 from their account, more than twice their agreed-upon monthly payment of $170. The resulting lack of funds forced the couple to skip a car payment, according to the complaint.
Another couple, Matthew and Duria Schweri, alleged that they were charged $803, over four months' worth of payments, which caused the couple's account to be overdrawn and forced them to pay a late fee. That caused another automatic bill payment to be denied for lack of funds.
In addition to the alleged overbilling, the complaint argued that Disney has violated its agreement with annual pass holders because many of the perks that the pass is meant to secure are currently unavailable due to the pandemic.
"Upon reopening, the broad access previously given to annual passholders will be severely restricted," the complaint said.
According to the Disney website, all four of its theme parks are currently open, but guests must reserve a spot in the park in order to enter and face coverings are required. The parks have also introduced enhanced cleaning protocols and modifications to "promote physical distancing."
The suit seeks to represent a class of Florida residents who were allegedly overcharged, a separate class of all overcharged pass holders in the United States, and a class for those who continue to be charged for the passes without having the promised access to the parks.
Brian Shrader, an attorney for the pass holders, said of Judge Hoffman's recusal, "Based on the enormous popularity of the defendant's parks in Orlando, it is not surprising that members of the judiciary may be potential class members."
His email continued, "The issues raised in the lawsuit have impacted thousands of Floridians who did nothing wrong, but have suffered similar harms. We are optimistic that Disney will do the right thing and come to the table to resolve these issues. In this case, the system worked exactly as intended so that both parties can have a fair chance to be heard by a neutral party."
The Walt Disney Corporation did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.
The plaintiffs are represented by Katherine E. Yanes and Gus M. Centrone of Kynes Markman & Felman and Brian L. Shrader of Shrader Law PLLC and Christie D. Arkovich of Christie D. Arkovich PA.
Counsel information for Disney was not available Thursday.
The case is Leonard Leon et al. v. Disney Destinations LLC, case number 6:20-cv-01227, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
--Editing by Emily Kokoll.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from a plaintiff's attorney.
For a reprint of this article, please contact email@example.com.