PhotoWhen you join a gym or fitness club, you have every expectation of the facility staying open, or at the very least, cancelling your membership if it closes.

What's less clear is how far you can be expected to travel to visit another facility when the one nearest you shuts down.

Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has sued several Chicago-area World Gym franchises and an associated payment processing company, saying they billed consumers at least $100,000 for membership dues and fees for several months after the fitness centers closed down.

Phil, of Naperville, Ill., is one of those members.

“I showed up for my work out one morning and the doors were locked as the gym has closed down,” Phil wrote in a ConsumerAffairs post. “They also stated that another World Gym location would be honoring our memberships. The problem is that this gym is too far away located in a different city in the suburbs.”

Closed without notice

The lawsuit alleges World Gym-Willowbrook Inc. and its owners James Mecha and Diane Vassolo closed several World Gym franchises in suburban Chicago without notice. The lawsuit also names ASF International, a Colorado corporation that processed gym payments, alleging that with its help, the gyms continued to bill and collect membership dues and fees despite the closures and members’ efforts to cancel their contracts.

According to the complaint, the facilities closed their doors suddenly and without warning in the summer of 2011. The affected gyms were located at 12337 S. Route 59, Plainfield, 264-268 S. Randall Rd., Elgin, and 4212 N. Harlem Ave., Norridge.

The company subsequently directed consumers to other gyms owned by the defendants located as far as 22 miles away, in Montgomery or Des Plaines, and continued to bill them for memberships.

“Gym closed several months ago. We have contacted several locations and tried several Internet sites in an attempt to cancel our membership,” Marie, of Plainfield, Ill., posted to ConsumerAffairs last September. “Our account has been sent to a collection agency, and the amount is growing.”

Resistance to cancellation

Madigan says gym members who attempted to cancel their contracts met resistance – receiving no response to requests to cancel, being provided false contact information to cancel and told they could not cancel until they paid additional fees. The suit says nearly 150 customers had their accounts sent to a collection agency over fees incurred after the gyms closed.

“These gym owners closed their World Gym facilities then had the audacity to charge people over $100,000 in membership dues and fees after the gyms were closed,” Madigan said. “The owners also refused to cancel contracts, and when people stopped paying, sent their accounts to a collection agency, again, all after the workout facilities abruptly closed.”

The lawsuit asks the court to ban the gym franchisees from owning or operating a fitness center or a business that accepts electronic payments from consumers in Illinois. Madigan’s suit also seeks restitution for impacted consumers and civil penalties.

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