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This is a hypothetical situation for a potential story.

Let's say Bob is a minor whose parents have already pre-paid for him to attend a religious summer camp as daycare for the entirety of summer. Unfortunately, due to some assorted disagreements with the owners of the camp, Bob is no longer comfortable attending said camp and wishes to stay home. His parents have told him they already paid for the camp, and they are going to force him to attend unless they can get a refund, which the camp refuses to provide.

In response, Bob decides to force the camp to refund his parents so he can stay home by ensuring the camp won't want him to keep attending. He physically stands where he knows he will be in the way and refuses to move, vocally protests the camp and its owners, and makes through anti-religious statements designed to encourage the other children to question their religion and thus anger those children's parents. He refuses to cooperate with authorities of the camp in any way. However, he does not knowingly break any laws or put anyone in danger, he simply makes himself as much of a hated nuisance as he can. He threatens to report assault if anyone attempts to physically compel him to behave or move.

At this point, the camp doesn't want him either, but they don't want to refund an entire summer's worth of daycare costs either. What are the camp's options for handling Bob? I imagine there is little they can do with Bob other than to expel him from the camp, they have little ability to enforce behavior on Bob if he refuses to cooperate as far as I know.

The real question is: do they have to refund the rest of the summer camp fees if Bob is expelled due to his own intentional misbehavior? Would a camp have any legal ability to prevent Bob from attending while keeping the full camp costs already paid by Bob's parents?

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    What do the hypothetical terms of the hypothetical agreement say? Jan 10, 2023 at 19:21
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    Most business will have clear guidelines of how children are expected to act. Most business that work with children are closely monitored and have strong government mandates on how bad behavior should be handled.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 10, 2023 at 19:21
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    I went to a religious summer camp when I was a kid. Bob would be fed and housed as agreed and otherwise he would spend all his time in "time-out" and be forbidden from participating in any fun activities. His parents would be told they can pick him up any time they want. No, no refund.
    – Wastrel
    Jan 11, 2023 at 15:57
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    Re: "He threatens to report assault if anyone attempts to physically compel him to behave or move": I don't think that that threat holds water, because the camp is acting in loco parentis. That doesn't mean that the camp has literally the same rights as a parent, but I think it does give the camp the right to put him in "time-out" as Wastrel suggests -- even if they have to physically move Bob there against his will.
    – ruakh
    Jan 12, 2023 at 16:28
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    Re: "Bob decides to force the camp to refund his parents so he can stay home": This sounds like an XY problem on Bob's part. If the camp expels him, why does he care if they refund his parents?
    – ruakh
    Jan 12, 2023 at 16:31

4 Answers 4

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You are only entitled to a refund if there is a "total failure of consideration"

The child attended the camp, albeit briefly. Therefore, the camp has provided some of the consideration it was contracted to do, and there is no entitlement to a refund. The case on point is Baltic Shipping v Dillon HCA (1993) 176 CLR 344, where Ms Dillon was not entitled to a refund of the fare for a cruise after the ship sank as there had not been a total failure of consideration; she had received a part of the cruise she paid for.

Notwithstanding, it is a virtual certainty that the contract with the camp contains a valid no-refund clause in the circumstances.

Damages for breach

Whether there is a case for damages will depend on who, if anyone, broke the contract.

On the facts as stated, it seems that Bob broke the contract by not conforming with the camp rules - this would give the camp the right to sue for any damages suffered and possibly terminate the contract.

Assuming that the contract contains a provision allowing the camp to "expel" Bob, as it almost certainly does, then, provided they acted following that term, there is no breach by the camp.

Bob and his parents might have a case if they did not follow the contract, which would implicitly include a right to natural justice and procedural fairness under the contract and any relevant camp policies and procedures. They would need to show that the camp did not follow its own procedures or did not treat Bob fairly under them and that this caused some quantifiable damage. However, given the nature of Bob's behaviour, a court would likely find that if the camp had done everything correctly, the result would have been the same (i.e. expulsion) and that, therefore, no damage arose.

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    In Baltic Shipping v. Dillon, the shipping company had already repaid the part of the fare for the days after the ship sank, so the question was if Dillon would be entitled to get a refund for the total fare, which was denied, because she had received the first days as agreed in the contract. This has little to do with the question if the camp can refuse to refund anything at all. Jan 11, 2023 at 10:10
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    Regardless of the legal judgment, it seems like a poor PR decision by the cruise company, the negative press they would have received for the sake for a few thousand dollars per passenger. Plus I bet that legal case cost them more money in compensation and legal fees than they would have paid out in a settlement. Jan 11, 2023 at 15:02
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    @Crazymoomin may not have been their choice - I’m sure they were insured so the insurance company would be calling the shots.
    – Dale M
    Jan 11, 2023 at 20:36
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    "On the facts as stated, it seems that Bob broke the contract by not conforming with the camp rules" Bob is a minor and did not sign any contract. Bob's parents signed a contract.
    – Stef
    Jan 12, 2023 at 9:05
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    Might be worthwhile to check if you signed up for a whole summer of camp or if you signed up for, say, several 2 week sessions back-to-back. If it's multiple sessions and the kid gets kicked out of the first one (and asked not to return for any future sessions) then you might have some more leverage on the refund on the remaining sessions. Jan 12, 2023 at 16:04
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The real question is do they have to refund the rest of the summer camp fees if Bob is expelled due to his own intentional misbehavior?

Not if the contract was written by a good lawyer, or even by a merely competent lawyer. In that case, the contract will provide that there is to be no refund in the event of expulsion.

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    Even a camp that just blindly copies a model contract for a summer camp would have that clause.
    – Trish
    Jan 11, 2023 at 10:48
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    Any event etc. I have ever attended to had a clause that says that if they kick you out because of violations of the Code of Conduct they will not refund anything. Heck, even bars don't give you back your entrance fee if the bouncer moves you outside. I highly doubt a summer camp would be any different - you misbehave and get sent home, you (more accurately, your parents) are out of money.
    – xLeitix
    Jan 11, 2023 at 11:09
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    @xLeitix: As someone who's helped run summer camps for non-profits (although not in the US) I wouldn't be quite so sure. And even if they had such a clause they might not enforce it, because they might well value the parents' goodwill and the risk of bad PR more than the participation fee — which might anyway just barely cover the marginal cost of feeding, housing and supervising one extra camp kid, or possibly even be less than that, if the camp was subsidized from other funds. (That said, I agree that this answer is fundamentally correct — they could have such a clause and enforce it.) Jan 12, 2023 at 10:09
  • @IlmariKaronen: You are right about the goodwill aspect - but this is law.SE :-). Legally, this answer is complete and correct.
    – sleske
    Jan 20, 2023 at 8:35
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Typically in this scenario, the expulsion of a child from a private organization with a paid fee for admittance will not be refunded to the parents as in this case, the camp may not be able to fill the vacancy left by the child in a manner that could be productive, especially given space availability meant that not all who wished to go to the camp this year were able to do so and those who were waitlisted have made plans such that it's unreasonable to get in now. The money paid for admission is still going to pay for all materials and expenses for an anticipated X amount of camp attendees and have largely already been purchased by this point, even if X-1 are now in attendance. Typically, the refund period would have been offered to a certain date as to give camps notice to give a seat to a waitlisted applicant or revise the expenditures on materials to account for the lack of the anticipated attendance size.

While most religious camps I attended as a child seemed to be voluntary in nature of the counselors and only lasted for a week or two at a time (a child that could get expelled in that span of time would have to be some kind of hell spawn) and may have been so cheap that any fee was minimum. Additionally, as part of a church's tax exempt status, they aren't allowed to make a profit from this, so all money coming in will be reinvested into the community for future projects.

In addition, having attended Catholic school from K-12, the number of children who were expelled from the school were participating in activites that would have placed the school in a state of criminal and civil liability had their attendance been permitted to continue. These cases are mostly use of illicit drugs on my high school's grounds, though at least one memorable one incident from my point of view involved a boy who snapped a girl's bra (not just a sin by the church, but a crime of sexual assault. Also, the reason why it was so memorable was the offender was found out because he did it close to the school nurse's office while enroute to the library next door, which I happened to be in at the time. The school nurse happened to be the mother of my best friend and was like a second mother to myself. When she called the offender to have a word with her, she noted that I had actually jumped in fright. She later told me what had happened and asked why I jumped when she came into the library, to which I explained that I knew the tone of voice very well and the only times I heard it was when either my friend or myself were in a lot of trouble and at this point in my life, I didn't know what had happened, but I was certainly thanking God it wasn't my name that she was saying in that tone.).

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    This isn't really a legal answer, but then I'm not sure this is really a legal question at heart. Anyway, on a tangent, I've ran a lot of one week summer camps (though neither religious nor in the US) and we do send kids like Bob home early fairly often. (Fortunately most weeks don't have any.) Our policy is that we neither can nor want to keep anyone at camp against their will, nor do we want to let one kid ruin everyone else's fun. And keeping one kid under constant individual supervision just because they don't want to participate isn't an effective use of our volunteers' time and patience. Jan 12, 2023 at 10:52
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As others pointed out, the most likely scenario is that there was a contract which would have said the camp doesn't provide refunds for bad behavior expulsions. Setting aside that for a moment, the other very important part of this is that the camp has the cash in hand. That means if Bob's parent demands a refund and the camp says no, the parent has to engage the legal system. There's no magic button (unless they paid by CC within only a short time of them wanting a chargeback, but I digress) for Bob's parent to press that doesn't involve filing a law suit against the camp to get the refund. They're the ones that are going to have to explain to a judge that it's just a coincidence that they asked for a refund before camp started and that their kid was being obnoxious. The absence of a written contract doesn't mean Bob gets to do whatever he wants, it just means the definition of obnoxious is going to be decided by the judge, after the fact, rather than by a written contract.

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