StubHub Owner Tries To Block Class In COVID-19 Refund Suit

By Nathan Hale
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Law360 (June 9, 2021, 3:57 PM EDT) -- Ticket reseller Viagogo has opposed a Florida woman's bid to certify a nationwide class of ticket buyers who accuse the company of refusing to refund tickets for events canceled due to the pandemic, telling a Florida federal court it will be burdened by individual issues and the suit's aims may conflict with class members' desires.

The Switzerland-based owner of StubHub is seeking to limit the scope of Lauren Shiflett's case after the Tampa-based district court denied its motions to dismiss her suit or strike its class allegations. Filed last August, Shiflett's suit claims Viagogo's offer to give vouchers worth 125% of consumers' purchases or to apply the ticket to rescheduled events is inadequate and that it is trying to retroactively discontinue a guarantee for full refunds for any canceled events.

In its response to Shiflett's class certification motion, Viagogo argued Tuesday that she is an inadequate class representative because she has "fundamental conflicts" with the proposed class members.

"She seeks to force them to give up something of value (a 125% voucher or tickets to a valid event) without regard to their preferences or desires," the company said. "Plaintiff's theory is that the 125% voucher itself and that holding tickets to postponed events are inherently worth nothing and all class members should be refunded. But that is not the case."

Viagogo also contended that Shiflett's class definitions are not adequate or ascertainable because the court will have to ask each customer for their personal preference regarding taking a voucher or retaining their tickets instead of receiving a cash refund.

Individual issues will also dominate the court's findings on liability and damages, as it will have to look into the facts surrounding each buyer and each event.

Additionally, the company argued that Shiflett lacks standing to pursue claims for events for which she did not purchase tickets, and it said she cannot pursue a nationwide class because she has not provided any analysis of any possible conflicts posed by different state laws.

Shiflett is pursuing claims of violations of Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act as well as breach of contract and unjust enrichment, after the court dismissed a conversion claim from her amended complaint. She seeks actual, punitive, and statutory damages and attorney fees.

She moved on May 11 to represent a nationwide class of all people who used Viagogo to buy tickets to any event that was subsequently canceled due to COVID-19 and who have not received any refund, as well as a Florida consumer class.

Shiflett said she used Viagogo on March 3, 2020, to buy two tickets to a Tool concert scheduled for April 19, 2020, in Tampa. She paid about $410 for the tickets but never heard from Viagogo when the concert was canceled, according to the suit.

Despite contacting Viagogo multiple times from April through July, Shiflett claims the company simply informed her that the tickets would remain good for the concert once it was rescheduled. She was told that Viagogo could not cancel her order or give her a refund, according to the suit.

In its motion to dismiss, Viagogo argued unsuccessfully that Shiflett could not pursue her claims because she accepted a voucher for 125% of her purchase price. It also said that its terms and conditions give it "absolute discretion" whether to provide a refund.

The suit is one of several that were filed over refunds in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. Baseball fans filed a proposed class action in California against Major League Baseball, its teams and its online ticket seller. Ticketmaster and Live Nation also were hit with a proposed class action in California federal court over their refund policies for events postponed due to COVID-19.

The organizers of the SXSW festival in Texas and the Ultra Music Festival in Miami also were sued over denied refunds.

Representatives for the parties did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Shiflett is represented by Gary F. Lynch, Jamisen A. Etzel and Nicholas A. Colella of Carlson Lynch LLP, and Scott Edelsberg of Edelsberg Law PA.

Viagogo is represented by Emily Y. Rottmann and Frank Talbott V of McGuireWoods LLP.

The suit is Shiflett v. Viagogo Entertainment Inc., case number 8:20-cv-01880, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

--Additional reporting by Lauren Berg. Editing by Adam LoBelia.

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