The Appellate Division recently reversed a trial court’s order certifying a class action claim against a health club chain. Plaintiffs filed a class action, alleging that an exculpatory clause in defendant’s health club membership agreement violated the Truth-in-Consumer Contract, Warranty and Notice Act (TCCWNA), N.J.S.A. 56:12-14 to -18. The trial court granted summary judgment to plaintiffs, finding them to be aggrieved consumers under the TCCWNA, and certified a class. The New Jersey Appellate Division, in Joseph Kauffman, Jr. v. New England Fitness South, Inc. d/b/a Planet Fitness, Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, Docket No. A-1789-17T1, Decided April 17, 2019, reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment and its certification of the class.
Plaintiff Krystal Kauffman entered into a membership agreement with Planet Fitness. The agreement contained an exculpatory clause that released Planet Fitness from liability for any injury she might sustain using the Planet Fitness facility. Ultimately, Plaintiff cancelled her membership, did not sustain any injury while at the facility and never had the exculpatory clause invoked against her.
Plaintiffs alleged that the membership agreement violated their clearly established rights because the exculpatory clause was overly broad. They claimed that Planet Fitness had violated TCCWNA. In deciding a motion for partial summary judgment filed by plaintiffs, the trial court found that Krystal Kauffman was an aggrieved consumer under TCCWNA and that the exculpatory clause violated a clearly established right under state law. It granted summary judgment to Krystal Kauffman on her TCCWNA claim, granted class certification and appointed her as the class representative.
The Appellate Division, relying on the 2018 holding in Spade v. Select Comfort Corp., 232 N.J. 504 (2018), determined that recovery under TCCWNA for an “aggrieved consumer” can only be for “a consumer who has suffered some form of harm as a result of the defendant’s conduct.” Thus, determining that the plaintiff in the Kauffman action was not an “aggrieved consumer,” she lacked standing to pursue the claims at all. The court reversed the summary judgment and class certification orders entered for the plaintiff below.
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