Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Weight Watchers' pandemic termination of in-person services didn't violate consumer protection law

Quintanilla v. WW Int’l, Inc., 2021 WL 2077935, No. 20 Civ. 6261 (PAE) (S.D.N.Y. May 24, 2021)

Weight Watchers shut down in-person services due to the pandemic. Quintanilla alleged that WW’s cancellation of in-person services, and transition of its workshop services online, without issuing refunds or any reduction in membership fees, violated the usual California consumer-protection statutes and constituted breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and money had and received.

WW offered three types of subscription-based memberships: (1) the Digital Membership, which provided access only to WW’s website and app; (2) the Workshop + Digital Membership, which added weekly in-person group workshops led by a WW coach; and (3) the Personal Coaching + Digital Membership, which added one-on-one personal coaching.

Quintanilla alleged that she chose the Workshop + Digital Membership “in part, because she wanted to participate in the weekly in-person support meetings.” WW’s T&C state that “[i]n [WW]’s sole discretion and without prior notice or liability, we may discontinue or modify any aspect of the Offerings.”

While Quintanilla had standing to claim damages, she lacked standing to seek injunctive relief. Her continued subscription couldn’t manufacture standing now that she knew the truth. She “ ‘will not again be under the illusion’ that WW would maintain in-person workshops, else sua sponte reduce prices or issue refunds, during this, or a future, pandemic.”

California consumer protection claims: WW argued that no reasonable consumer would have taken any statements by WW about its in-person workshops to mean that “WW would never, even faced with a once-in-a-century pandemic, modify the in-person aspect of those workshops,” especially given its terms of service. 

The court agreed with WW. “[N]o reasonable consumer could have understood such representations to mean that WW promised to keep offering such services even in the face of a deadly pandemic, and in defiance of dictates of the civil authorities.”  The terms of service bolstered this conclusion, reserving the right to modify services, and would have disabused a reasonable consumer who’d believed otherwise. (Are reasonable consumers required to read the entire terms of service?) The T&C also allowed Quintanilla to cancel her membership and seek a refund in the event of, inter alia, “a Workshop closure.” But she didn’t do so, and WW’s failure to sua sponte issue a refund was not wrongful.

The breach of contract claim also failed “for the straightforward reason that her contract with WW does not mention, let alone promise, in-person workshops.”

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