Judge refuses to reconsider dismissal of LA Fitness class action complaint

By Jon Campisi | Feb 26, 2013

A federal judge has refused to reconsider the dismissal of a putative class action

complaint against LA Fitness that was filed by gym members who claimed the healthcare club refused to honor lifetime memberships that were issued by the defendant’s predecessor, Bally Total Fitness.

In a Feb. 21 memorandum and order, U.S. District Judge John R. Padova, sitting in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, denied the plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration of a Nov. 20 ruling by the court that dismissed the class action litigation.

In their motion for reconsideration, the plaintiffs didn’t argue that the court misapprehended the facts or misapplied the law in granting the defendants’ motion to dismiss on procedural grounds, Padova’s ruling states, but rather the plaintiffs argued only that permitting the dismissal order to stand would result in “manifest justice because the Complaint asserts viable causes of action.”

Padova, however, wrote that Rule 59 of the Rules of Civil Procedure couldn’t be used to raise arguments that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment.

Background information on the case shows that the plaintiffs sought relief from the court’s Nov. 20, 2012 dismissal order because their attorney’s failure to respond to the defendants’ motions was due to “inadvertence and excusable neglect.”

The plaintiffs’ counsel had stated that extenuating circumstances was to blame for not timely responding to the defendants’ motions to dismiss, including the fact that he was out of the area attending an attorneys’ conference at the time, the judicial memorandum shows.

Padova, however, determined that the plaintiffs’ actions were “inexcusably neglectful and not inadvertent.”

The defendant’s counsel, however, reached out to the plaintiffs’ counsel regarding the anticipated filing of motions to dismiss, Padova wrote.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer blamed the problems in part on his “recently-hired and inadequately trained paralegal, in whom he had vested sole responsibility for reviewing his emails during his two week absence, during which the two Motions to Dismiss were filed,” the memorandum states.

“Counsel exhibited seriously questionable judgment in giving such important responsibility in connection with the recently re-activated putative class action to an untested paralegal,” Padova wrote. “Even more egregious, however, was his subsequent failure to review the docket at any point in the five week period after he returned from Nevada, before we granted Defendants’ Motions as unopposed. We therefore find that the ‘reason for the delay’ factor weighs strongly against any finding of excusable neglect or inadvertence.”

Padova went on to write that the plaintiffs’ responses to Bally’s and LA Fitness’s motions to dismiss were due on Oct. 18 and 22, 2012 respectively, and that the plaintiffs’ attorney didn’t file his motion for reconsideration until Dec. 3 of that year.

The judge also found no significant prejudice to Bally’s and LA Fitness.

“We are, however, cognizant of the fact that Bally and LA Fitness have diligently defended this action, in spite of Plaintiffs’ comparable inaction, and have now had to file extensive opposition briefs to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Reconsideration, a burden that would have been unnecessary but for Plaintiffs’ counsel’s neglect,” Padova wrote. “Under these circumstances, the ‘danger of prejudice’ factor does not appreciably favor or disfavor a finding of excusable neglect.”

Lastly, the judge found that the record evidence does not support a finding of bad faith.

“We are nevertheless very disturbed by Plaintiffs’ counsel’s deliberate inattention to the putative class action that he initiated and over which he had stewardship,” Padova wrote. “There can be no question that counsel acted with a ‘manifest lack of diligence.’”

Furthermore, Padova wrote that even if plaintiffs’ counsel was not at fault, the court finds that the plaintiffs have identified no “extraordinary circumstances” that would cause “extreme and unexpected” hardship and would thus warrant relief from the court’s dismissal of the suit.

New Jersey attorney Mark S. Guralnick had filed suit on behalf of the plaintiffs against LA Fitness early last year at the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

The litigation, which was initially reported on by the Pennsylvania Record, was subsequently removed to federal court.

The complaint alleged that LA Fitness has refused to honor lifetime memberships held by former Bally’s members, and that the membership transfer from Bally’s to LA Fitness following the purchase was in violation of the contracts Bally had signed with many of its members.

The suit also alleged that Bally’s refused to refund membership fees to compensate members for the unusable portions of their contracts.

The lead plaintiff in the case was West Philadelphia resident Blaise Tobia. Forty-one co-plaintiffs were also named in the litigation.

The suit sought class certification because it claimed that more than 1,000 Bally’s members from across the country were affected by the gym’s actions.

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