Ticketmaster Customers Must Arbitrate COVID-19 Refund Row

By Hannah Albarazi
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Law360, San Francisco (December 10, 2020, 10:40 PM EST) -- A customer accusing Ticketmaster and its parent Live Nation of failing to refund tickets for events disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic must arbitrate his claims, a California federal judge ruled from the bench Thursday, finding the online ticket sellers had made their terms of use easily accessible.

U.S. District Judge Edward Chen said he would grant Ticketmaster and Live Nation's motion to compel arbitration in a lawsuit filed by San Francisco resident and would-be concertgoer Derek Hansen, saying that Ticketmaster's terms of use notice and agreement is "easy to get to."

Hansen's attorney, Seth A. Safier of Gutride Safier LLP, told Judge Chen that he "highly disagreed" that the hyperlink on the Ticketmaster website leading to the terms of use, and the arbitration agreement, was conspicuous or obvious enough for a reasonable consumer to be placed on reasonable notice.

Safier also argued that Ticketmaster customers are given a limited amount of time to read the terms of use and proceed to checkout before losing their chance to purchase tickets.

But the companies' attorney, Timothy L. O'Mara of Latham & Watkins LLP, argued that Safier had the record "completely wrong." He said Hansen was a repeat purchaser who had affirmatively agreed to Ticketmaster's terms of use multiple times.

O'Mara said Hansen agreed to the terms of use — and to arbitrate any disputes — when he first created his Ticketmaster account, when he signed in to purchase tickets and again at the time of purchase.

Judge Chen said that while he thinks the companies could use clearer language to tell customers that by signing into their website they agree to the terms of use, he found that the companies had provided reasonable notice to a reasonable consumer.

Judge Chen ordered the parties to arbitrate the dispute and stayed the matter.

Hansen filed suit against Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. and its parent Live Nation Entertainment Co. in mid-April on behalf of all customers who are alleged victims of the companies' refusal to offer refunds for postponed events.

Hansen claimed Ticketmaster changed its policy in March — once the pandemic had begun — to say it will only refund canceled events, and not postponed concerts, even if the event has been indefinitely postponed, as was the case for two April 2020 Rage Against the Machine shows to which Hansen bought four tickets for a total of $590.

Hansen alleged that up until at least March 13, the Ticketmaster website said refunds are available for events that are postponed, rescheduled or canceled, but that the policy then changed to only cover cancellations.

Hansen alleged in his complaint that under the defendants' "new, post-hoc policy revisions, he will only be provided a refund if, and when, the events are officially canceled rather than 'postponed.'"

Ticketmaster and Live Nation's terms of use contain unconscionable provisions that allow the companies to change the terms at any time, Hansen claimed in his lawsuit.

The same day the suit was filed, Ticketmaster's president announced that the company had no intention of withholding refunds on postponed shows.

A wave of proposed class actions have been filed against major corporations over COVID-19 cancellation policies, including against ticket resale giant StubHub, several major airlines, Six Flags Magic Mountain and others.

Ticketmaster did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hansen is represented by Seth A. Safier of Gutride Safier LLP.

Ticketmaster is represented by Timothy L. O'Mara of Latham & Watkins LLP.

The case is Derek Hansen v. Ticketmaster Entertainment Inc. et al., case number 3:20-cv-02685, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

--Additional reporting by Craig Clough. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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