Sadie, a 13-year-old bottlenose dolphin at SeaWorld San Diego, swims with her newborn calf at the marine park's Dolphin Stadium in San Diego on Oct. 20, 2014. (Mike Aguilera/SeaWorld San Diego via Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO—The city of San Diego sued SeaWorld Sept. 7 for allegedly failing to pay more than $12.2 million in rent, late fees, and interest.
The lawsuit follows a pledge to move forward with litigation if SeaWorld did not pay back rent and other penalties by Wednesday.
SeaWorld has argued the payments were waived because the theme park was forced to shut down for months at a time during the pandemic, while city officials say rent was only deferred.
A representative for SeaWorld said the company did not have anything to add regarding Thursday’s filing other than its previous publicly released statement on the matter: “While as a matter of policy we don’t comment on potential litigation, we have enjoyed a long relationship with the city and remain hopeful that we can resolve this matter. We have partnered with the city for nearly 60 years—conducting thousands of animal rescues, numerous recycling drives, and many other events. We also have paid more than $146 million in lease payments to the city of San Diego since 2010. We appreciate all the city has done and we look forward to addressing this situation.”
The complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court states SeaWorld has underpaid rent between Jan. 1, 2019, and April 30, 2022.
According to the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, SeaWorld’s minimum rent payments total $10.4 million annually, plus a 3 percent surcharge under the terms of its lease.
“Although some 800 organizations have similar lease agreements with the city, SeaWorld is the only major city lessee that has remained in default of its rent obligations since the pandemic began,” according to a City Attorney’s Office statement.
The San Diego City Council voted 8–0 in May to authorize litigation.
“The city has a right to expect more from a 60-year partnership that has proven quite lucrative for SeaWorld,” said San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott. “City taxpayers—many of whom are legitimately struggling to recover from the global pandemic—should not have to absorb SeaWorld’s debts and liabilities. We believe a court of law will agree.”