On the back of the card it said the notice was addressing anyone who had purchased and paid for a new 12-month term of Costco membership between March 1, 2001, and March 31, 2009.
The lawsuit regards people who pay for their next year's membership a few months after the expiration date from the previous year. I almost always do this. Although my membership expires in June, I may not make it to Costco until August or even September. Then I pay the renewal fee when I pay for my purchases.
The suit states that people like me are paying for 12 months of Costco privileges but only receiving 10 months from the time we pay. Yes, that's true although I always regarded it more like a club and I was actually late paying the dues so of course it would be retroactive to June.
But! If, as the card says, my rights have been violated, it sounded interesting. So I downloaded a 40-page document from the Web to get the details.
The complaint alleges that Costco did not disclose this policy to its members and therefore they did not agree to it. I would like to state here that I went to the "Costco" folder in my file cabinet to look over my original membership agreement. Alas, I am not that organized. I can only assume that I first joined in June 1993 because that's what it says on my card, and I can only hope that this date is more precise than the photo of me. But even if I had been aware of this renewal policy, I would not have been deterred by it - I just wanted cheap toilet paper.
According to the summary of the proposed settlement, if I have renewed my membership two months or more (but less than three months) after it expired, I will receive two months of free membership. If I renewed my membership more than 21 days (but less than two months) after my expiration date, I'll receive one month of free membership. In response to the lawsuit, Costco changed the rules. Before, Costco members could only "start fresh" if they waited five months to renew. Now their membership dates will begin when they renew more than two months after they expire. And Costco will be sure to make these policies clear. All of this was settled out of court and doesn't mean any law was broken.
All of that was spelled out in the first few pages. Then I looked over the summary to decide what else I needed to read. There was "basic information," "excluding yourself from the settlement," and "objecting to the settlement" plus a section called "What happens if I do nothing at all?" That sounded relevant to me. Here is what it said:
"You have the right to do nothing. If you do nothing, you will receive the benefits of the settlement to the extent that you are eligible for such benefits." It went on to say that unless I exclude myself, I cannot sue Costco on the issues in this case.
Well, that sounds safe enough. If I want to exclude myself from the suit I need to state my intention to do so in writing and send it to the defendant's counsel. I wasn't ready to join the class action suit because I didn't especially agree with it. If people can let their memberships expire, then start them up again a few months later, they might opt to go without their Costco membership for a month or two and Costco will lose that money and raise its prices. And if it's a private membership club, why can't it make the rules?
But it sounds like I don't need to do anything except wait around and get extra months added to my membership after the final hearing Oct. 16. The settlement has all the information it needs to do this so obviously someone's bookkeeping is better than mine. I'm not sure I agree with the action so to be fair, I'll spend more money at Costco.
E-mail Dolores Fox Ciardelli at editor@DanvilleWeekly.com.