Dis­ney is sued over Club 33 mem­ber­ship

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By Hugo Martin hugo. martin@ latimes. com

One of the orig­i­nal mem­bers of the ul­tra- ex­clu­sive Club 33 at Dis­ney­land has sued the theme park, claim­ing that his an­nual mem­ber­ship was un­fairly ter­mi­nated.

Joseph Cos­grove, 84, of Lake For­est, de­scribes him­self as one of the first 100 mem­bers of the pri­vate club that has op­er­ated in Dis­ney­land’s New Or­leans Square since 1967. But he said in a law­suit that Dis­ney­land ended his mem­ber­ship af­ter a friend auc­tioned char­ity passes that Cos­grove pro­vided.

Club 33’ s rules for­bid mem­bers from auc­tion­ing off mem­ber­ship passes to char­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to the law­suit. In the law­suit, filed in Los An­ge­les Su­pe­rior Court on Mon­day, Cos­grove said he didn’t re­al­ize that his friend had auc­tioned off the passes but claims that Dis­ney­land should have put his mem­ber­ship on tem­po­rary hold to give him time to ap­peal.

Dis­ney­land spokes­woman Suzi Brown said the in­ci­dent was not Cos­grove’s first of­fense. “Over the years, the Cos­groves re­peat­edly trans­ferred and sold their mem­ber­ship priv­i­leges, which was a clear vi­o­la­tion of mem­ber­ship rules,” she said. “Un­for­tu­nately, we were left with no other choice in or­der to pre­serve the in­tegrity of mem­ber­ship.”

Club 33 was con­ceived by Walt Dis­ney as a place to en­ter­tain in­vestors and other VIPs at a cost to most mem­bers of $ 11,000 a year. Dis­ney of­fi­cials refuse to di­vulge how many mem­bers are al­lowed into the club but Dis­ney ex­perts say the wait­ing list is prob­a­bly sev­eral years long.

A change in the club’s rules re­cently drew the ire of plat­inum mem­bers, the high­est level of non­cor­po­rate mem­ber­ship. In the past, such mem­bers got three ex­tra VIP cards that al­lowed friends of the mem­bers to ac­cess the park and the club. But Dis­ney­land an­nounced that start­ing in 2015, only the mem­ber and a spouse or do­mes­tic part­ner would have ac­cess to the club ben­e­fits. Also, the mem­ber­ship fee rose this year to $ 12,000.

Cos­grove, a re­tired public re­la­tions and mar­ket­ing ex­pert, said he is a life­time fan of Walt Dis­ney Co. and the au­thor of “Walt Dream­ers Me,” a book about Walt Dis­ney.

The law­suit asks the court to force Dis­ney­land to pay Cos­grove at least $ 100,000 for men­tal an­guish, le­gal fees and puni­tive dam­ages, among other con­sid­er­a­tions.

An at­tor­ney for Cos­grove, Mark Cor­rinet, said Dis­ney has pro­vided no ev­i­dence that Cos­grove has pre­vi­ously vi­o­lated the club’s rules. He said he doubts that the com­pany would want to fight the law­suit against an el­derly, long­time Dis­ney devo­tee.

“He re­ally is a huge fan of Walt Dis­ney and Walt Dis­ney’s dream,” Cor­rinet said. “The fo­cus of his re­tired life has been yanked from him.”

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