Looking for problems where they don’t exist

Henry Yeh has enjoyed his 24-Hour Fitness membership for 13 years without incident. But now he has a complaint against them and wants $15,000 in compensation.

Wow. That’s a lot of compensation.

But when we took a closer look at Yeh’s complaint, it seemed that he was trying awfully hard to find a problem where one didn’t exist.

Yeh’s “problem” began with a letter that he recently received from 24-Hour Fitness. In the letter, the company appeared to be announcing an upgrade to his membership. It stated that he could now attend several of their Super-Sport Clubs, which had not previously been part of his membership. The Super-Sport Clubs are the premium clubs within the gym hierarchy; they have extra amenities that the Sport Clubs do not offer.

This sounded like a positive letter to us. But not to Yeh.

Yeh told us that his contract says that he is allowed access to all 24-Hour Fitness clubs; including all Super-Sport Clubs. So, he found this letter to be a notice of a violation of his contract and he wanted us to help enforce the contract.

As we do with all consumers who contact us, we asked Yeh to share the documents that could support his case.

We found many surprises in his paper trail.

First, he showed us a letter to 24-Hour Fitness from a law firm that had been sent on his behalf. To describe this letter as unnecessarily aggressive in nature would be an understatement.

Here’s an excerpt:

Mr. Yeh contends that you have failed to honor the terms and conditions of the controlling contract and have illegally attempted to restrict access to the subject facilities. Your actions may constitute fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, Violation and Professions Code Sections 17200, et seq, and false advertising.

When making an initial contact with a company to rectify a complaint we would never advise to send this type of letter. Our experience has shown us that a polite inquiry often can open the door to a polite offer of resolution. This kind of letter can needlessly inflame the situation and usually does not result in the desired outcome.

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When we asked Yeh if this law firm was representing him in his case, he explained, “I had my legal service — which I pay $20 per month for — draft a letter to them. This is the extent of what they can do for me, drafting one letter a month.”

We don’t think they did him any favors here. Unfortunately for Yeh, this letter was not well received and was essentially ignored by 24-Hour Fitness.

So we reviewed Yeh’s contract to see if we could make a conciliatory approach to 24-Hour Fitness.

Here is where the story becomes more peculiar.

We immediately noticed that the contract had expired more than 10 years ago. Yes, a decade — 2006. But, more importantly, we found the following information in a predominant box at the top of the contract:

Membership: Single, Keep Fit Plus, All Fitness Clubs and Sports Clubs. Does not include access to Sporting (Super-Sport) Clubs

Now we were really confused. The contract that Yeh gave us clearly said that his membership does not include access to the Super-Sport Clubs.

Yeh told us that he noticed that, too, but he pointed us to an orientation paper that he had signed. This form also says that he isn’t entitled to the Super-Sport Clubs, but someone had scribbled that out with pen.

Yeh explains,

You can see from the last page, the section about “Active. Fitness and Sport Club” is crossed out, and the “Active/Fitness, Sport, and Super-Sport” is circled. I take this to mean that my contract says I have access to “Active/Fitness, Sport, and Super-Sport.”

Except the actual printed contract says that he is not entitled to those clubs.

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Given all this information that Yeh provided, we declined to contact 24-Hour Fitness. He then posted his story to our forum in hopes of getting further opinions/advice.

It was there that Yeh revealed that in all of the 13 years that he has belonged to 24-Hour Fitness he had never attempted or wanted to go to any of the Super-Sport Clubs. He wrote,

Honestly, I never tried. I didn’t even realize it was an issue until I received a letter last month providing a limited list of “Super-Sport” gyms that I have access to. Up until that point, I was certain I had access to all gyms, “Sport” and “Super-Sport.” The locations closest to me just happen to be “Sport.”

Forum members also struggled to understand Yeh’s problem. An attorney that frequently visits the forum advised him that without a current contract there is no case.

In Yeh’s final email to us, he said,

For now , it’s a non-issue since I have not actually gone to a “Super-Sport”, but I just wanted to get what I paid for. I see that there is a discrepancy between the last page and the upper right hand corner of the first page. Thanks for your help. I think the best approach now is just to not do anything unless I actually try to access one of the “Super-Sport” gyms

We must agree with Yeh on one point. This has been a non-issue for the entire length of his gym membership. The letter that instigated Yeh’s anger actually increased his gym access. If Yeh had not received that letter announcing the upgrade to his membership, he would still be blissfully unaware that his membership does not include all the Super-Sport gyms, those clubs that he has never even tried to use.

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In the end, we are not sure how Yeh valued his damages at $15,000; however, all things considered, we would suggest that there are no damages here. His contract is clear and, additionally, it is long expired. For all these reasons, Yeh’s complaint lands in our Case Dismissed file.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. As the managing director of Elliott.org, she leads the advocacy, editorial and production departments. Read more of Michelle's articles here.

  • sirwired

    Well, if anybody ever repeats the “The customer is always right” canard, you can point them to this case as some pretty ironclad proof that’s not correct. “I’ve never noticed I may not have had access to gyms I’ve never tried to use” is not exactly a strong case for $15k in damages. I’m pretty sure this falls under “No harm, no foul” rules. (The fancy Latin term is “de minimis non curat lex”… “The law does not concern itself with trifles”)

    On another note, offering a $20 “Legal-sounding Nastygram of the Month Club” service (where there’s never any intention to actually follow up on those threats) is one of the reasons people often have a dim view of lawyers.

    Not to mention it’s likely to have the opposite of the intended effect: NEVER issue a legal threat if you have no intention to follow up, because the most likely outcome of your threat is your complaint getting re-directed from Customer Service to Legal, where it will go precisely nowhere pending your threatened legal action actually showing up. (That’s what any business owner should do; once a lawyer is involved, all communication should be done between lawyers… direct communication becomes rather dangerous at that point.)

  • Rebecca

    Letters like this (and those awful personal injury commercials) are the reason people hate lawyers. It’s a shame, because a few outliers make everyone else look bad. Although that argument can be made for almost everything, there’s something about language like that contained herein that really gets people.

    Most lawyers aren’t like this, I swear. I’ve dealt with lots of lawyers; I was involved in a years long probate case that included someone being prosecuted for insurance fraud and I coordinated legal documents/handling for a bank. So I dealt with lots of lawyers. I only remember one specifically out of probably at least 200 that really irked me. He was one of those outliers that thought he was better than everyone else. But a half a percent isn’t bad, tell me there isn’t THAT guy in your workplace.

  • Annie M

    This is similar to those Time Share complaints that say “well they told me such and such”- if it isn’t in the contract, it didn’t exist. The company can claim that Yeh crossed out the wording in the contract.

    And to top it, the contract has been expired for 10 years. He wasted your time.

  • PsyGuy

    Some people need to find an outlet for their frustrations, it need not be productive, beating up your pillow or FPS video games work if that’s your thing. As 10 year olds will tell you, sometimes you just have to “let it go, let it go”.

  • PsyGuy

    The issue with lawyers is differentiating between their personal face, and who they need to be in the courtroom.

  • Fishplate

    I would assume that the contract continues as month-to-month under the original terms until modified. At that time, the customer has the choice to continue or opt out.

    Seems like that’s exactly what happened here.

  • joycexyz

    Goes to show that scamming is not always on the part of a company. And that whore of a lawyer…

  • KennyG

    I am not sure why so many commenters seem to be beating up on the lawyer [or legal service] that drafted the letter. The letter was obviously drafted at Mr. Yeh’s request. I doubt that the lawyer [legal service] heard him complaining about this to a friend at the local coffee shop and drafted the legal letter on their own. Mr. Yeh deserves the title of being litigation happy, not the lawyer that simply did as he was requested.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    My impression is that Mr.Yeh did not understood the “upgrade letter’s real intent” until the back and forth conversations took place between him and the advocacy

  • pauletteb

    WAY too much time on his hands.

  • Randy Culpepper

    So he subscribes to a $20/month “legal service”? I wonder what 11 other businesses received equally ridiculous complaint in the last 12 months.

  • jsn55

    I think this guy may have been the President of my little brother’s homeowners association at one time. It took the board forever to get rid of him.

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