By order dated March 13, 2014, Business & Consumer Court Justice A.M. Horton granted two Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment filed by Attorney Christine Kennedy-Jensen on behalf of her client, a national leisure tour company.
The plaintiffs in both cases booked family vacations through a local travel agency in Maine. The travel agency was run and operated by a solo travel agent, who was also named as a defendant in both lawsuits. When the plaintiffs booked their trips to Punta Cana, the travel agent told them that they could save money if they paid by check instead of paying by credit card. In September 2011, both plaintiffs paid the travel agent substantial sums of money by check for airfare and accommodations. The trip was scheduled to begin in June 2012.
The travel agent used some of the funds that the plaintiffs had paid by check to pay for their airfare. However, she paid the national leisure tour company for the plaintiffs’ accommodations by charging credit cards of other travel agency clients, without those clients’ knowledge or consent. On June 1, 2012, the national leisure tour company was contacted by clients of the travel agency whose credit cards had been improperly charged by their travel agent. The tour company reversed what it determined to be fraudulent charges and cancelled the plaintiffs’ reservations for the accommodations.
Meanwhile, rumors began circulating in the plaintiffs’ community about the travel agency and the travel agent being raided by the FBI. The plaintiffs attempted to ascertain the status of their reservations. They eventually learned that their reservations had been cancelled for non-payment. The tour company agreed to assist the plaintiffs in rebooking their hotel accommodations if the plaintiffs paid it directly and signed a release discharging any claims against them. The tour company then negotiated the rebooking at the same rate the plaintiffs were originally charged. The plaintiffs were able to take their vacation as planned.
The Court concluded that the travel agency, acting through the travel agent, was acting as an agent of the plaintiffs and not as an agent of the tour company when she collected funds paid to the travel agency by the plaintiffs. The Court further concluded that the releases signed by the plaintiffs were enforceable and barred their claims. The Court found that their claim of economic duress failed because the tour company was not responsible for the diversion of the funds and the plaintiffs did not show that they had no alternative besides rebooking their hotel accommodations through the tour company. Finally, the Court held that the plaintiffs failed to make a prima facie case showing that the tour company engaged in any unfair trade practice or misleading conduct that caused a loss to the plaintiffs.
The Court granted summary judgment on all counts in favor of the tour company. The travel agent and her agency remain in the case.