Couple at odds with wedding venue over pandemic cancellation
BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The month of May normally brings the sound of church bells and the happiest times of life for couples looking to tie the knot.
But this May, a Michiana dream wedding is quickly turning into a nightmare.
One couple being forced to do the unthinkable – cancel their wedding amidst a pandemic, and are now having trouble getting all of their money back from the venue.
“My fiancé and I, Jesse, realized it was not going to be easy for us to get everything done in 45 days," said Randi Hoffman.
It was mid-March – Randi and Jesse were getting ready to send out wedding invitations, buy their flowers, and order Jesse’s tux when they learned Michigan would be shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Weeks passed – and with no end in sight to the stay at home order – a June 19 wedding seemed unrealistic.
So, Randi reached out to her venue, Blue Dress Barn in Benton Township, to see how they were responding to the COVID-19 crisis and what options were available.
“We wanted to see if we could postpone to the same date next year cause we were getting married on a Friday this year and the date would be a Saturday next year,” said Randi, “And I offered to pay the difference between a Friday and Saturday wedding.
ABC 57 obtained the couples contract. It states the full amount for the wedding on a Friday is $4,500. $4,000 goes to renting the venue for the reception and $500 for the ceremony. In order to hold the ceremony on a Saturday, it would cost the couple $1,000 more.
But the venue told a different story.
“She responded that we would have to cancel and forfeit our money for this year and then have to pay a new balance and new deposit,” said Randi, “And I was flabbergasted at first about that, I was just like ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money.’”
Just how much money? $10,000 in total – $4,500 already paid this past year and $5,500 for the following year on a Saturday.
Which is contradictory to the couples contract that clearly states “Any additional balance paid is not refundable unless we are able to re-book your date. If we are able to re-book, a refund of the additional balance paid to date minus a 25% cancellation fee will be given.”
In other words, the contract says the couple should be refunded all of the money paid to the venue minus 25% or around $1,100 as long as the date is re-booked. It doesn’t mention having to be re-booked in the same calendar year.
Randi then asked if they had any other openings this year.
The Blue Dress Barn said they did have some openings – but only for a work week wedding. The venue told the couple they could have a Thursday instead of the weekend date they originally wanted.
“We have 250 people invited to our wedding. If we do a Thursday in August, people are going to have to – if they get back to work – that are off work right now, they’re going to have to take two days off to come to the wedding,” said Randi, “And I just don’t think that’s okay, I know a lot of people financially aren’t going to be able to do that.”
Randi says the owners then offered up their sister site, but there was one problem.
“She offered me a Sunday next year at another venue but it holds 50 less people, so I would have to invite 50 less people.”
That’s when the couple decided they wanted to cancel altogether for 2020.
“She gave me dates for 2021 at the Blue Dress Barn and in order for us to take it, we would officially have to cancel our 2020 wedding, forfeit our $4,500, then pay another $4,500.”
Randi tells me the venue did offer a $1,000 deposit discount for a date next year, but she’d still have to pay the $3,500.
Realizing they were at a stalemate – Randi contacted the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan to intervene.
“When a consumer files a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, we reach out to the business and give the business an opportunity to respond. Our goal is to facilitate a conversation between the consumer and the business and try to reach a resolution,” said Troy Baker, The BBB of Western Michigan’s Educational Foundation Director. “So we go back and forth between the consumer and business until we reach a resolution or until it’s obvious there’s a stalemate and it just isn’t going to be reached.”
The Blue Dress Barn now has until May 27 to respond.
When asked to explain their side of the story, owners Kirby and Amy provided this statement:
The owners also said they've had multiple couples reschedule without any issues and included a statement from one of their clients.
ABC 57 reached out to a legal expert for their take on this situation and the contract involved and he found the contract to be written in a way that heavily favors the venue.
“Not only does it not have a force majeure clause, or an Act of God clause, it has a clause essentially putting the risk on the couple,” said attorney Mark Miller. “The contract also requires the couple to buy event insurance – but again there’s a problem there, because most insurance policies don’t cover pandemics, they have long ago taken that out.”
But Miller says couples aren’t without remedy.
“Michigan does have a rule of law on contracts regarding ‘Has a contract become impossible to fulfill?’ which it is in part here, because it’s a contract for 250 people to go to the wedding, and right now the government is telling us that we should not be in groups of more than 10.”
There is also a defense in Michigan called “frustration of contract” – you must have an event that both parties know about – here, that would be COVID-19 – the contract also must be in the course of performance – which would be the June wedding date, and no one knows what the government’s orders will be at that time – and third is that the frustrating circumstance must not have been reasonably foreseeable.
“I can tell you even at the beginning of March or mid-February none of this was reasonably foreseeable, and this couple signed their contract for the Blue Dress Barn a long time ago – a year ago,” said Miller.
And when you’re signing a contract for your next big event, Miller says let this be a lesson.
“Read the contract first of all – most people don’t read it – know that words have meaning and make sure that there’s a paragraph in there about force majeure, or as most people think of it Act of God, where they get their money back under certain circumstances.”
For Randi and her fiancé, they hope to eventually put this problem behind them and just complete their walk down the aisle.
“Believe me; it’s not that I don’t want my wedding to happen, because I would love to have my wedding.”
The couple has since hired an attorney to try and get their money back from the Blue Dress Barn.