By Mark Huffman

October 7, 2009
Consumer complaints about health clubs are quite common - the clubs' sales and marketing techniques in particular. But in Massachusetts, Attorney General Martha Coakley has encountered a new one.

Coakley's office has filed a lawsuit against Fit 'N Fitness, a Taunton, Massachusetts health club, its manager John Copell and an employee Gail Barbas, for their roles in soliciting and collecting membership fees for a health club that failed to open.

"Particularly where our economy is still fragile, consumers should be careful before signing contracts and paying advance fees," Coakley said. "It is not uncommon for a business to fail before it has a chance to open. Consumers need to know with whom they are contracting with and the circumstances under which they are able to cancel the contract."

The complaint alleges that the defendants knowingly solicited membership fees for a health club that they knew was not going to open. The lawsuit seeks restitution for consumers who paid the advance membership fees.

According to the complaint, filed in Bristol Superior Court, the defendants solicited consumers from September 2007 through September 2008 with false promises that the facility would open in January 2008. In order to persuade consumers to pay up front fees, the defendants represented to consumers that if they signed up before the facility opened, they would save money.

The complaint further alleges that consumers pre-paid between $99.00 and $349.00 for different membership levels and were told repeatedly throughout 2008 by different employees of the health club that the club would be opening "soon." Coakley says that in November 2008, 10 months after the club was slated to open, the property appeared to be abandoned.