Ellenwood v. World Triathlon Corporation et al

MOTION to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint and Strike Plaintiff's Jury Trial Demand by All Defendants.

Middle District of Florida, flmd-8:2020-cv-01182

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0 PageID 78 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA TAMPA DIVISION MIKAELA ELLENWOOD, Individually and On Behalf of All Others Similarly Situated, Case No. 8:20-cv-01182-TPB-AEP Plaintiff, v. WORLD TRIATHLON CORPORATION, COMPETITOR GROUP HOLDINGS, INC., and COMPETITOR GROUP, INC. Defendants. / DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT AND STRIKE PLAINTIFF'S JURY TRIAL DEMAND Pursuant to Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendants World Triathlon Corporation ("WTC"), Competitor Group Holdings, Inc. ("CGH"), and Competitor Group, Inc. ("CGI") (together, "Defendants") move to dismiss Plaintiff Mikaela Ellenwood's ("Plaintiff") Class Action Complaint ("Complaint") and strike her demand for a jury trial. I. INTRODUCTION This case arises from the postponement of a half-marathon race due to the onset of COVID- 19, a global pandemic that resulted in the shutdown of most public events. Plaintiff registered to participate in a Rock 'n Roll Half-Marathon Series event set for April 5, 2020 in San Francisco, California (the "Half-Marathon Event") hosted by Defendants CGH and CGI (collectively, "Competitor Group"). (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 9, 29). As part of her registration, Plaintiff electronically signed a Waiver and Release of Liability and an Acknowledgment and Assumption of Risks & Release and Indemnity Agreement (the "Contract") for the Half-Marathon Event. Plaintiff now alleges 0 PageID 79 that she and other similarly situated athletes are entitled to refunds for postponed and cancelled events, notwithstanding the fact that Plaintiff agreed in her Contract that she would not be entitled to any refund if the Half-Marathon Event was cancelled or postponed for any reason, including reasons beyond the Competitor Group's control. On March 22, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. (Doc. 1 ¶ 22). Because of the global pandemic, "federal, state, and local governments have restricted the size of public gatherings, implemented orders mandating that people stay at home except for essential purposes, restricted the types of businesses which are able to remain open, and levied travel restrictions." (Doc. 1 ¶ 23). Based on these "mandates from government officials," the Competitor Group postponed the Half-Marathon Event to a later date in 2021. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 30, 32). Plaintiff complains about not receiving a refund for the Half-Marathon Event and alleges that postponement "force[s]" Plaintiff to participate in a later event. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 32–33). Plaintiff brings a class action lawsuit on behalf of all individuals who registered and paid to participate in an IRONMAN event hosted by WTC or a Rock 'n Roll Marathon Series event hosted by the Competitor Group. Plaintiff asserts claims for breach of contract (Count I), unjust enrichment (Count II), and violation of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act ("FDUTPA") (Count III). As explained below, each count fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff's claims rest on factual allegations that are explicitly contradicted and refuted by the face of the Contract. The Contract is central to the relationship between Plaintiff and the Competitor Group and cannot simply be divorced from the allegations of the Complaint as though it does not exist. Because the Complaint fails to state any valid claims against the Defendants, it should be dismissed. 2 0 PageID 80 II. FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS SET FORTH IN THE COMPLAINT A. Allegations Related to the Defendants The Complaint alleges that WTC owns, operates, sponsors and facilitates triathlons under its IRONMAN brand. (Doc. 1 ¶ 15). The Competitor Group owns, operates, manages, and facilitates marathons, half-marathons, and other running races under the brand Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series. (Doc. 1, ¶ 15). To participate in IRONMAN or Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series events, participants register online in advance. (Doc. 1, ¶ 18). The cost of events can range from $30 for a Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series 5K race to several hundreds of dollars for an IRONMAN triathlon event. (Doc. 1, ¶ 19).1 B. Plaintiff's Registration Plaintiff alleges that she registered on November 26, 2019 for the Half-Marathon Event. (Doc. 1, ¶ 29). Plaintiff alleges that by registering for the event and paying the registration fee, she "entered into a contractual arrangement with Defendants." (Doc. 1, ¶ 29). Plaintiff electronically executed this Contract when she registered for the Half-Marathon Event, although she did not attach it to her Complaint.2 Plaintiff does not challenge the validity of the Contract or allege that she did not understand its terms. C. Plaintiff's Allegations of Wrongdoing In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges she was notified on March 14, 2020 that the Half- 1 It should go without saying, but a triathlon event, which involves three segments in which an athlete swims, bicycles and runs, is a much different type of event than the Half-Marathon Event at issue here. 2 When Plaintiff registered for the Half-Marathon Event through the Active Network, she executed another waiver with Active Network, in addition to the Contract, in which she released the event organizer and acknowledged that she would not be entitled to a refund for a cancelled or postponed event. 3 0 PageID 81 Marathon Event would not take place as planned on April 5, 2020. (Doc. 1, ¶ 30). The reason for this was the COVID-19 pandemic and related government restrictions necessary to ensure the safety of the athletes, race staff and members of the public. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 20-26). Plaintiff was notified that her registration for the Half-Marathon Event would be deferred until April 4, 2021. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 31-32). Plaintiff claims entitlement to a refund. However, Plaintiff does not identify any specific provision of her Contract that provides Plaintiff with a right to a refund in the event the Half-Marathon Event is cancelled or postponed to a later date. In Count I, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have breached their contract with her and other athlete participants because the athletes have not been provided refunds of their registration fees. (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 46–50). In Count II, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have been unjustly enriched because they retained the benefit of the registration fee without having to bear the operational costs of the Half-Marathon Event. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 52–55).3 In Count III, Plaintiff alleges that the failure of the Defendants to provide refunds for the postponed events constitutes a deceptive and unfair trade practice in violation of FDUTPA. (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 57–60) Each of these allegations is set forth in the Factual Allegations and incorporated into Count I for Breach of Contract. Plaintiff then incorporates each and every prior allegation into the subsequent counts of the Complaint purporting to set forth a different legal theory of liability. Thus the same allegations serve as the operative facts for each count against all Defendants. III. THE CONTRACT IS NECESSARILY EMBRACED BY THE COMPLAINT Plaintiff's claims arise from the interpretation of the Contract. Yet Plaintiff fails to attach the Contract to her complaint. This is improper. See Perret v Wyndham Vacation Resorts, Inc., 3 Plaintiff's Complaint makes the unsubstantiated allegation that an event organizer does not incur operational costs in advance of the actual event, which is untrue. Event organizers incur costs even when events are cancelled or postponed. 4 0 PageID 82 846 F. Supp. 2d 1327 (S.D. Fla 2012). The Court can and should dismiss the Complaint in its entirety because the allegations of the Complaint are contradicted by the Contract that forms the basis of all claims. Defendants have attached the Contract to this motion. See Exhibit A, Courtney Pierce Declaration and Exhibit 1 thereto. The Court is entitled to and should consider the Contract on a motion to dismiss because it is central to the allegations of the Complaint. See Taylor v. Conexis, No. 8:11–CV–1635–T–17TBM, 2012 WL 1805496 (M.D. Fla. May 17, 2012) (citing Griffin Industries, Inc. v. Irvin, 496 F.3d 1189 (11th Cir. 2007); SFM Holdings Ltd. v. Banc of America Securities, LLC, 600 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2010) ("In ruling on a motion to dismiss, a district court may consider an extrinsic document if it is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim, and (2) its authenticity is not challenged."). The Contract expressly provides that Plaintiff would not have any right to a refund in the event of the cancellation or postponement of the Half-Marathon Event: I acknowledge and agree that Operator, in its sole discretion (whether for safety reasons, legal reasons, or any other reason), may: … (b) delay, modify, or cancel the Event for any reason, including if it believes the conditions are unsafe or otherwise unsuitable for the Event. If the race course or the Event is delayed, modified, or cancelled for any reason, including but not limited to acts of God or the elements (including without limitation, wind, rough water, rain, hail, hurricane, tornado, earthquake), acts of terrorism, fire, threatened or actual strike, labor difficulty, work stoppage, insurrection, war, public disaster, flood, unavoidable casualty, race course conditions, or any other cause beyond the control of Operator, there will be no refund of Operator's entry fee or any other costs incurred in connection with the Event. Pierce Decl., Ex. 1 at 5–6.4 4 The Contract also contains a release provision in which Plaintiff released all Defendants from any claims related to Plaintiff's "enrollment or participation" in the Half-Marathon Event. See Pierce Decl., Ex. 1 at 4. This provision expressly includes a release for any breach of contract claims. Id. 5 0 PageID 83 IV. LEGAL STANDARD To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Pouyeh v. Bascom Palmer Eye Inst., 613 F. App'x 802, 808 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009)). Under Rule 8, while a plaintiff need not assert "detailed factual allegations," a plaintiff must allege more than "an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677–78. This standard is met when the complaint contains "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Although a court ordinarily does not consider matters outside of the complaint on a motion to dismiss, it may consider exhibits that are necessarily embraced by the pleadings. See SFM Holdings, 600 F.3d at 1337. The Contract governs Plaintiff's relationship with the Competitor Group. Plaintiff alleges she "entered into a contractual agreement," (Doc. 1 ¶ 29), and that the Defendants breached the agreement (Doc. 1 ¶ 49).Plaintiff's Complaint suffers from serious pleading, factual, and legal defects. Plaintiff (1) did not enter into a contract with WTC and, therefore, has not alleged any valid claims against WTC; (2) fails to state a claim for breach of contract against the Competitor Group; (3) asserts a claim for unjust enrichment precluded by the existence of a valid contract; (4) fails to properly allege, and does not have the right to assert, a claim under FDUTPA; (5) waived her right to sue the Defendants and has released any claims against them; and (6) brings her claims in the form of an improper shotgun pleading. Plaintiff also demands a jury trial but waived the right to a jury trial in the Contract. For all of these reasons, the Court should dismiss the Complaint. The Court should also strike the demand for jury trial. 6 0 PageID 84 V. ARGUMENT A. Plaintiff Did Not Enter into a Contract with WTC. Plaintiff brings this class action lawsuit on behalf of "all people who registered and paid to participate in an IRONMAN or Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series event. . . ." (Doc. 1