Four sportfishing landings found guilty of false advertising

Harbor Breeze out of San Pedro earns favorable jury verdict against Newport Landing, Davey’s Locker, Ocean Explorer and Freelance Sportfishing.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA¾A civil jury has found Newport Landing Sportfishing, and others, guilty of making false or misleading statements of fact in commercial advertising, according to court documents shared with The Log and FishRap. The false advertising verdict was deemed to be deceitful to a “substantial segment” of the sportfishing and whale watching audience, the jury determined.

Davey’s Locker, Ocean Explorer and Freelance Sportfishing were also named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Harbor Breeze, a sportfishing and whale watching company in Los Angeles, had sued Newport Landing on several false advertising claims.

“Every single whale watching and sportfishing company from San Diego to Santa Barbara is forced to vigorously compete with Defendants (Newport Landing and others) for ticket sales, as a result of Defendants’ online false advertisements,” the Harbor Breeze complaint stated.

“Defendants are a series of commonly owned and operated companies which have come together in a conspiracy and employ a sophisticated, multifaceted scheme to mislead consumers both online and in person,” the complaint continued. “Defendants employ hundreds, if not thousands, of websites in an effort to dominate Internet search results and third-party vendors like Groupon. Defendants’ further falsely advertise in print media and in person.”

Harbor Breeze, along with L.A. Waterfront Cruises, accused Newport Landing, Davey’s Locker, Ocean Explorer and Freelance of making false statements to consumers – primarily sportfishing or whale watching customers – about their location.

“Defendants exploit a number of websites that falsely represent that they offer cruises departing from every single major harbor in Southern California. This is false, as Defendants offer cruises departing only from Newport Beach,” the complaint stated.

The defendants were also accused of making “material misrepresentations” about ticket prices.

“Defendants advertise ticket prices online for as low as $9, in many cases with no representation that any fees will be added on top of the advertised price. In fact, Defendants always charge additional, hidden fees from the price advertised, sometimes doing so even after a ticket is purchased and a customer has no ability to obtain a refund. Once all additional, hidden fees are added into the price of a ticket, the price spikes by as much as 21 percent from the advertised price, and potentially more,” the complaint stated.

Some of the added fees, according to the complaint, were for fuel surcharge and wharfage.

The jury ultimately determined Newport Landing was guilty on five questions:

  • Did Newport Landing make a false or misleading statement of fact in a commercial advertisement?
  • Did Harbor Breeze prove Newport Landing’s false statement (or statements) “actually deceived or had the tendency to deceive a substantial segment of their audience?”
  • Did Harbor Breeze prove Newport Landing’s deception was “material, in that it is likely to influence the purchasing decisions of their audience?”
  • Did Harbor Breeze prove Newport Landing “caused their false statement to enter interstate commerce?”
  • Did Harbor Breeze prove the statements of Newport Landing (and, potentially, others) “caused or is likely to cause damage” to Harbor Breeze?

The jury answered “yes” to each of the five questions above; the jury, however, awarded $0 in damages and answered “no” to the following three questions:

  • Did Harbor Breeze “engage in false advertising regarding their location?”
  • Did Harbor Breeze “engage in false advertising regarding their fees?”
  • Did Harbor Breeze “post false reviews on the internet?”

The jury verdict was issued on June 25. The Log and FishRap will review and report on the effects of this jury verdict in the July 26 issue.

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