Michael Harthorne/File photo
Lifetime members of the Olympic Athletic Club in Ballard received letters from general manager Mark Durall stating that the club has been sold and their lifetime memberships will be dissolved at the end of December.

UPDATE: Lawyer says lifetime members should decline new memberships

Members file class action lawsuit against Olympic Athletic Club

Lifetime memberships extended:

Lawyer Toby Marshall, who represents the lifetime member in the class action lawsuit filed earlier this month, informs us that management at the Olympic Athletic Club agreed to extend the December 31 termination deadline.

At the end of November lifetime members received a letter stating that the club had been sold and the new owner did not agree to service the lifetime memberships beyond December 31.

Earlier this month three members of Ballard's Olympic Athletic Club filed a class action lawsuit against the club owners for refusing to honor lifetime memberships that the club sold for thousands of dollars in the 1980s.

At the request of Marshall and his clients, the management OAC agreed to extend the deadline.

"Lifetime members may continue to use the club while the parties work on a possible resolution," Marshall said. "This means lifetime members will be provided continued access to OAC through March 31, 2011 regardless of whether they sign a new membership agreement."

The club informed lifetime members of this extension via mail and invited them to sign new memberships.

"We are recommending that members decline that invitation. We believe there is sufficient time to reach a resolution or, failing that, to ask the court to enter a preliminary injunction against the club that will allow lifetime members to continue using the facilities until the case is resolved," Marshall said. "We have been contacted by scores of members, and we will keep them posted of the progress so that they have time to make informed decisions as the 3/31/2012 deadline approaches."

Update 12/9/2011:

Three members of Ballard's Olympic Athletic Club filed a class action lawsuit against the club owners today for refusing to honor lifetime memberships that the club sold in the 1980s.

John Ruebel, Tobi Goldman, and Kevin Van Ness are asking the King County Superior Court to rule that the club must continue honoring the contracts of all lifetime members, many of whom have been with the club for 30 years.

“We allege Olympic Athletic Club’s refusal to honor lifetime memberships is unfair and deceptive. When our clients purchased memberships described as ‘lifetime’ and paid substantial compensation for those memberships, they had every right to expect the club would honor its contracts," said Toby Marshall, who represents the lifetime members in a press release. "Many lifetime members have been involved with the club
since it first opened its doors, and their support has been crucial to the club’s success.”

Lifetime members first learned of the club’s decision to terminate their lifetime memberships in a letter they received at the end of November. The letter, which was signed by the club’s general manager, states that Olympic Athletic Club has been sold and the new owner, as part of the purchase, did not agree to service the lifetime memberships.

The lawsuit questions whether the purported sale was for the purpose of avoiding the club’s obligation to honor the lifetime memberships. Olympic Athletic Club was founded in 1979 by James and Debera Riggle. According to Secretary of State records, the Riggles are officers in Sewanee, the company to be the new owner of Olympic Athletic Club.

News of the club’s decision did not sit well with lifetime members. When the memberships were originally sold in the 1980s, they cost as much as $5,000 each. Purchasers were told that they would be members were for life, that they would never have to pay dues, and that they could sell, will, or transfer their memberships.

“I have been a loyal member of Olympic Athletic Club for
30 years. I am extremely disappointed that one of Ballard’s longstanding businesses is breaking its promise to me and other lifetime members," said plaintiff John Ruebel in a press release. "You might expect something like this from a national chain, but not Ballard’s local health club.”

Previous story: 12/01/2011

ONGOING: OAC sold, Lifetime memberships dissolved

This week lifetime members of the Olympic Athletic Club in Ballard received letters from general manager Mark Durall stating that the club has been sold and their lifetime memberships will be dissolved at the end of December.

The change in practice mostly affects seniors and members who have been with the club for decades and, understandably, they are upset.

“We signed a legal contract for a ‘lifetime’ membership and now they’re saying that the new owners won’t honor that contract,” said Kevin Seabeck who has been a member since 1986. “It’s like they are saying “we don’t want you in our club anymore."

"This is unacceptable," added sister Mary Seabeck who signed up for the lifetime membership 32 years ago. "I was 19 at the time and used my income tax return of that year to pay for it."

In 1982, the lifetime membership was offered for a one-time fee of over $2,500, according to lifetime member Shellie Hoffer.

Kevin said he's is trying to mobilize other lifetime members and threatened to sue the gym if they don't honor the contract.

“This can't be legal. I’m trying to get everyone involved because there’s strength in numbers,” Kevin said.

Durall was unavailable for comment but an OAC employee revealed that he is working on the issue. He is personally meeting with lifetime members to discuss their options.

It’s not uncommon for clubs to change their membership practices once the business is sold but the question is, is it legal to revoke existing legal contracts?

According to the letter, lifetime members will be offered a month-to-month membership if they bring in their original contract.

"I'm very upset. I signed a contract that said I wouldn't have to pay dues," Mary said.

It is also curious that Washington Secretary of State records show that the corporation that purchased the club, Sewanee Inc, has some of the same governing members as Olympic Racquet and Health Club Inc, which is the previous owner.

Owner James Riggle, chairman of the Olympic Racquet and Health Club, is now serving as vice president of Sewanee Inc.

Likewise, Debera Riggle was vice president and treasurer at Olympic Racquet and Health Club, and she now serves as secretary of Sewanee, Inc.

The corporations also share the same agent.

In April the owners of the OAC announced its plans to expand their facilities to include commercial lodging. The plans are to change the one-story garage into a four-story, 29 unit lodging space with 12,800 square feet of fitness space, and 2,650 square feet of retail space. Parking for 63 vehicles will be located at and below grade. Additionally, the OAC will expand on the second and third floors of the proposed building, with retail on the bottom floor and a hotel on the top floor.

Check back for updates.

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