Welcome to another Furry Friday here on Lawyers & Liquor, where I pop open the doors to the rescue shelter that is the internet and allow all the strangely attractive six foot animals to roam free all over my mind. I’m your host, the Boozy Badger, and while I have the Barrister’s dignity and self-respect bound up with some fuzzy handcuffs and shoved in a hotel clost let me take a minute to first thank the new Furry Friday sponsor here. We recently replaced the Furry Friday sponsor with the awesome folks over at FurPlanet. These fine hawkers of furry literature have been in business in this community since 2004, back when most folks logged onto the internet with a message that screamed “WELCOME, YOU’VE GOT MAIL!” and have a huge selection of anthropomorphic novels, collections, and comics in their catalog given above. And, and, because they know how much you just love to save a penny or two, for the month of October 2018 you save 10% on every order with the code FBM2018 when checking out, not to mention you get a free $20 book
As Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys would say, “That’s a nice fucking kitty right there.” And we don’t know. The person running their shipping department could actually be a cat. Wouldn’t that make this shit all the more appropriate? Looking at the FurPlanet shipping options, they even have what appears to be an option to ship by air, which means you’ll get those products fast and clean with a cheap…wait. Hold on. I’ve received a message from the crew over at FurPlanet and I’m sorry to announce that there is a possibility the air shipping options may be cancelled. Apparently the new furry-based alternative to UPS didn’t actually pay for the planes, pilots, or shipping material.
Can you guess what we’re about to talk about today?
Why Boozy, whatever are you referring to?
I think you know fucking exactly what I’m talking about, but just in case you’ve been living under a rock or, you know, don’t have a goddamn Twitter (you lucky goddamn bastard), let me run you through the general background here.
In 2017 there was a bright idea by a group of folks to more or less book out a big block of seats on a commercial airline and sell it off to furries so that people from the land that brought us wonderfully organized things like…uh…Rainfurrest…could go in style to “Not Really In Chicago But We’ll Say It Is” Midwest FurFest, which last year snatched the title of “World’s Biggest Furry Convention.” The flight was organized by Canis Vulpes, a California-based Limited Liability Company (LLC) ran by a dude named “Mike Folf.” That flight seemed to go off pretty well, and this year that company decided to go bigger, better, bolder by sticking the fursuit balls to the wall and booking out two flights, both from the Pacific Northwest and from California, to Chicago as well as expanding their operations to go for other cons in the 2019 timeframe as the year moved on! It looked like, from a small seed, the first real furry travel agency was growing!
Oh, that seems pretty neat! It’s nice to hear their business plan worked out!
…How have you been following this goddamn site for this fucking long and not realized that if I’m talking about your fuzzy ass, absolutely nothing is alright
First, I need to take a moment and clarify my above statements, because Canis Vulpes, the travel company that apparently pulled off the successful Furflight in 2017, didn’t do anything in 2017. Canis Vulpes LLC, a “tour operation/travel services” company in California, wasn’t in existence at all in 2017. It didn’t exist until…well…until February 20, 2018, when the LegalZoom paperwork was filed with the California and approved by the state accordingly. This is a small, nitpicky detail to some folks and some of you howling idiots may be sitting there saying “Boozy, what the fuck does that matter…and how the fuck do you know that?” but that’s where I point out that (a) I’m a goddamn lawyer and don’t tend to mention shit if I’m not circling back around to it later and (b) lawyers just know where to look for shit like that sometimes, it’s not magic, learn to Google folks. The legal significance of this is that the LLC, Canis Vulpes, LLC, wasn’t actually in existence at the time of the 2017 trip and seemingly was formed off the back of the apparent success of that flight. Which isn’t uncommon…I mean, you gotta actually succeed at something before you invest the time in money into doing shit, right? Just we gotta realize, in the terms of business speak this was a very fucking new company.
And that means that…you know…we may be able to understand some shit related to it.
Like how, for the fucking life of me, I can’t understand how it was operating as a “tour operator/travel services” company in California considering it never registered as one.
TIME FOR A DISCLAIMER!
Alright, before we go any goddamn further in this unholy terror of chargebacks and professional licensing, we need to come to an understanding, you and I. First, I’m a lawyer, but I am in no way your lawyer. Fuck, I’m not even licensed in California, and won’t be representing anyone there. I’m not doing some big ass deep massive dive into the California law, because I’m not a California attorney. I am, however, an attorney with some basic knowledge of how to read the statutes at a facial level and interpret them to some degree, and as a result am speaking in opinions from that. I am not, in this blog, on this article sponsored by a fucking furry publishing house, providing legal advice to anyone
I talk about law, in a hopefully entertaining manner, for the purposes of academic enrichment and entertainment. I don’t render or provide official legal opinions.
Additionally, let’s remember that in no set of circumstances does anyone but a limited number of parties have all the fucking pieces to this puzzle yet. New facts can always come to light. New information can always arise. One person’s version can be proven incorrect, even if it wasn’t malicious, by the provision of facts. We should be, as always, willing to review new information as it comes out. We should also, however, recognize that as with any legal situation it is completely normal for there to be no statements until after some conversation with counsel has occurred.
Whew. Long ass disclaimer today.
Alright, back to the bullshit.
Why did you say all that?
Well, because from a review of the California Department of Justice and certain registration/licensing laws for certain business providers in that state, it appears on the face of the matter to me that Canis Vulpes, LLC may have actually been operating in violation of California law.
MAY. MAY HAVE BEEN. See why we spent so long on the fuckin’ disclaimer this goddamn month? I want to be clear that I am not stating they are or aren’t in violation of any applicable state laws and that I am not rendering a legal opinion. I’m just…well…letting folks know that there are regulations of the services Canis Vulpes, LLC was ostensibly providing and, given recent events, that may be something they definitely want to fucking know. Since it may provide a way, if the instances turn out to be founded, for the consumer to get a little bit of protection from sources.
Okay man, you’ve been really vague
So yesterday a blog post came out about FurFlight and Canis Vulpes, LLC that alleged the owner of Canis Vulpes, LLC was unable to actually pay the bill to Alaska Airlines for the flights booked to Midwest FurFest. This came after the cancellation of the California flight and the announcing of future 2019 conventions flights from all over the country, and given that it’s like…well…a little over a month from the convention the news that the goddamn seller of travel may not actually have the money from the passengers to pay for an already booked flight is a big deal. Especially to those waiting for MFF rooms at the moment, who I am sure even now are frantically refreshing the pages to see if any rooms have suddenly beome available.
The allegations in the blog post were simple: A user close to the member-manager of Canis Vulpes alleged that they had been contacted and told that the Canis Vulpes, LLC account would not allow an approximately $35,000.00 transfer to Alaska Airlines, and asked the user to cover it on a credit card. According to the statement-maker’s version, they were told that Canis Vulpes, LLC definitely had the money and would transfer it to cover the cost to the user, who we’ll now refer to as Aloha cause…I mean….that’s their fucking name. Aloha makes a $35,000.00 credit card payment to cover the seats to Alaska Airlines, but when they attempt to transfer the money from Canis Vulpes from the authorization provided by the LLC, the bank rejects the attempted transfer and says “Hey, there’s not enough money in their account to cover this shit so…no?”
Aloha, who for some reason it doesn’t appear attempted to verify the availability of the funds prior to charging out $35,000.00, justifiably was concerned and initiated a chargeback on the cards and…that brings us up to date, really. The Canis Vulpes Twitter has been exceedingly quiet on the issue, asking people to let them check with the organizer to find out what the hell happened and saying that they’re “still on as of the moment.” Alaska Airlines has been confirming tickets are booked and paid for, but who the fuck knows if there was a chargeback in place and if it’s even hit yet, and if that status will change or not. The member-manager of Canis Vulpes, LLC, Mike Folf (I gots the real name, but I ain’t using it here) has gone quiet, even deleting or suspending their Twitter account for the moment. And, that brings the whole thing to current.
Oh, except for the allegations that the same thing happened last year to the tune of $5,000.00 borrowed off of someone in similar circumstances and then paid back over time (despite what appears to be an understanding that it was to be paid immediately).
…Which…I mean…isn’t encouraging?
Can we get back to the “law violation” shit?
Oh, yeah, that.
So, something like this happens and Boozy done did do some digging. I mean, not a whole lot because, while I’m not a California lawyer I have handled fraud cases related to California professional licensing regulations so I’m somewhat familiar with their laws and how this shit is applied out.
Now, you know, this doesn’t mean that I’m giving a full legal opinion, or even any legal opinion. Because, at the end of the day, I don’t have all the facts. Especially when it comes to the particulars of when the regulations regarding Sellers of Travel kick in.
Sellers of travel? Regulations? Stop speaking in riddles, badger man!
By and large, the majority of states don’t really regulate travel agencies or “sellers of travel.” I mean, in most states it’s kind of a “eh, you know, I got a train ticket and you got an urge to get away” sort of deal. In fact, from what I was reviewing, only 1/5 of the 50 states (that’s 10 states if you’re as good at math as I am) have any laws whatsoever that regulate the licensing or profession of folks that engage in the business of selling vacations to other folks. And among those states, there are five of them that are really goddamn strict about that shit, instituting what are called “Seller of Travel Laws.” And among those five states, one is California, the same state that not only Canis Vulpes, LLC is registered in but where, up until relatively recently, it was specifically marketing a flight from California to Rosemont.
What is a “Seller of Travel?”
Under California Law, specifically Bus. & Prof. Code Section 17550.1:
Bus. &. Prof. Code, California, Section 17550.1
(a) “Seller of travel” means a person who sells, provides, furnishes, contracts for, arranges, or advertises that he or she can or may arrange, or has arranged, wholesale or retail, either of the following:
(1) Air or sea transportation either separately or in conjunction with other travel services.
(2) Land or water vessel transportation, other than sea carriage, either separately or in conjunction with other travel services if the total charge to the passenger exceeds three hundred dollars ($300).
(b) Seller of travel does not include any of the following:
(1) An air carrier.
(2) An ocean carrier.
(3) A hotel, motel, or similar lodging establishment where in the course of selling, providing, furnishing, contracting for, or arranging transient lodging accommodations and related services for its registered guests, it also arranges for transportation and does not directly or indirectly receive any money or other valuable consideration for arranging or providing that transportation.
(4) A person or organization certified under Part 5 (commencing with Section 12140) of Division 2 of the Insurance Code, except such a person or organization shall comply with the registration and fee provisions of Sections 17550.20 and 17550.21 for each location at which air or sea transportation is sold either separately or in conjunction with other travel services.
(5) A motor or rail carrier or water vessel operator holding the required permit, license, or other authority to operate from a state, federal, or other governmental entity.
(c) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a reference in this article or Article 2.7 (commencing with Section 17550.35) to air or sea transportation or to an air or sea carrier, includes land or water vessel transportation, as described in subdivision (a), and a motor carrier or water vessel operator.
The key part of that is, based on my reading (and my reading alone) that taking money from Person A so that they can travel to someplace, even if it is on an airline (like taking money to book tickets), and arranging for doing it (or just advertising that you can) makes a person or company a ‘Seller of Travel” in California. And, under the same section of law, although over at Section 17750.20(a), we see language for the following:
Bus. & Prof. Code Section 17750.20(a)(1)-(4)
(a)(1) Not less than 10 days prior to doing business in this state a seller of travel shall apply for registration with the office of the Attorney General by filing with the Consumer Law Section the information required by Section 17550.21 and paying the following fees, as applicable:
(A) A filing fee of one hundred dollars ($100) for each location from which the seller of travel conducts business.
(B) A late fee of five dollars ($5) per day, up to a maximum of five hundred dollars ($500), for each day after the time specified by this section until the filing fee and the information required by Section 17550.21 are received.
(2) A seller of travel may annually renew its registration by making the filing required by Section 17550.21 and paying the filing fees and late fees required by paragraph (1).
(3) A registration shall not be issued, approved, or renewed until the late fee, the filing and late fees for each year the seller of travel operated without being registered, and any outstanding assessments due to the Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation as required by Sections 17550.43 and 17550.44 have been paid.
(4) A seller of travel shall be deemed to do business in this state if the seller of travel solicits business from locations in this state regardless of the geographic location of the prospective purchaser including persons located outside of this state or the country or solicits prospective purchasers who are located in this state.
You’ll note, by the way, that a person or company is a “seller of travel” beholden to the registration and regulation of the State of California when they “solicit business” from the state of California…meaning they seek to sell shit to suckers in Sacramento (or anywhere else, really), regardless of where they actually were. And this becomes important because, while now Canis Vulpes was only selling flights from Seattle, a quick glance over at their webpage shows that they were looking at selling train travel exclusively in the state, as well as future flights from “SFO” (San Francisco). Which…considering they’re already collecting money for and selling those trips, is pretty much the very definition of advertising and marketing them within the state of California and to California residents. Which…arguably puts them under the regulations of the Seller of Travel Laws, right?
I mean, unless an exemption applies, which there are exemptions under California law, but only as follows:
Bus. & Prof. Code, 17550.20(g)
(g) This section does not apply to a person who is an individual, a single-member limited liability company whose sole member is an individual, or a single-shareholder “S” corporation whose sole shareholder is an individual, that meets all of the following:
(1) Has a written contract with a registered seller of travel to act on that registered seller of travel’s behalf in offering or selling air or sea transportation and other travel goods or services in connection with the transportation.
(2) Acts only on behalf of a registered seller of travel with whom the person has a written contract in the offer or sale to a passenger of air or sea transportation and other goods or services in connection with the transportation and sells no other air or sea transportation or travel services to that passenger.
(3) Provides air or sea transportation or travel services that are offered or sold pursuant to the official agency appointment of the registered seller of travel with whom the person has a written contract.
(4) Does not receive any consideration for air or sea transportation or other travel services from the passenger.
(5) Requires the passenger to pay all consideration for air or sea transportation or other travel services directly to the air carrier or ocean carrier or to the registered seller of travel.
(6) Discloses both of the following:
(A) The person is acting on behalf of a registered seller of travel.
(B) The name, address, telephone number, and registration number of the registered seller of travel on whose behalf the person is acting.
The person shall make the disclosures required by this paragraph in writing to the passenger at the same time the passenger receives notice under Section 17550.13. If the person transacts business in this state on the Internet, the disclosures also shall appear on the home page of the person’s Internet Web site and shall be prominently set forth in the first electronic mail message sent to the passenger that refers to the passenger’s purchase of air or sea transportation or travel services.
Pay particular attention to 17550.20(g)(6)(B) there. Which states, to reiterate, “[i]f the person transacts business in this state on the Internet, the disclosures also shall appear on the home page of the person’s Internet Web site and shall be prominently set forth in the first electronic mail message sent to the passenger that refers to the passenger’s purchase of air or sea transportation or travel services.” So does this exemption apply? Well, let’s go back to the website for Canis Vulpes, which is definitely fucking selling shit over the internet. And which doesn’t list any of the required disclaimers for an exemption under the above-referenced section of law.
I mean, I’m not their lawyer. I don’t know their details. Maybe they do qualify for the exemptions. I can fucking say that LegalZoom, who filed their fucking LLC paperwork, probably didn’t bother informing them that there is absolutely, positively, 100% a goddamn state law regulating the very business they were getting into and they probably should make sure they’re in compliance with it though. Because, you know, LegalZoom isn’t a goddamn lawyer.
So they didn’t register, what’s the big fucking deal?
Well, other than not being in compliance with the California law? Probably the fact that there likely are California residents who have purchased from them even for the one remaining flight out of Seattle. And those residents would have the full ability to go a-talking to the California Attorney General and, well, if the trip doesn’t come off, the California Travel Consumer Restitution Corporation (est. 1995), which exists to make consumers whole in the case a Seller of Travel in California doesn’t actually provide the shit they’re supposed to be providing. Which we can only assume Canis Vulpes, LLC is a member of, considering they haven’t posted any of the legally required disclaimers stating they are not members (assuming, again, that they aren’t exempt from registration).
That’s certainly one way for those, at least those in California, to get their money back if the whole thing goes tits up at this point…which it may considering the deafening silence, the pleas to not talk about it, the seeming confirmations that Aloha did actually pay out a good amount to cover the flights, and the fact that it appears the money wasn’t actually present.
Especially in light of the fact that Canis Vulpes, LLC may actually be insolvent and, if it is and is unable to provide the travel books to California residents, could have landed itself in hot water, at least based on a reading of Section 17550.14 of the Seller of Travel Laws which state:
Bus. & Prof. Code 17550.14
(a) The seller of travel has an obligation either to provide the air or sea transportation or travel services purchased by the passenger or to make a refund as provided by this section. The seller of travel shall return to the passenger all moneys paid for air or sea transportation or travel services not actually provided to the passenger, within either of the following periods, whichever is earlier:
(1) Thirty days from one of the following dates:
(A) The scheduled date of departure.
(B) The day the passenger requests a refund.
(C) The day of cancellation by the seller of travel.
(2) Three days from the day the seller of travel is first unable to provide the air or sea transportation or travel services.
As used in this section, “unable to provide” includes, but is not limited to, any day on which the passenger’s funds are not in the trust account required by Section 17550.15 and subdivision (g) of Section 17550.21 or the funds necessary to provide the passenger’s transportation or travel services have been disbursed other than as allowed by Section 17550.15 or subdivision (a) of Section 17550.16.
(b) If the seller of travel has disbursed the passenger’s funds pursuant to paragraph (1), (2), (3), or (4) of subdivision (c) of Section 17550.15 and the disbursement is in full payment for the services or transportation purchased by the passenger, the seller of travel may, instead of providing a refund, provide to the passenger a written statement accompanied by bank records establishing that the passenger’s funds were disbursed as required by those provisions and, if disbursed to a seller of travel, proof of current registration of that seller of travel. A seller of travel who is exempt from the requirements of Section 17550.15 pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 17550.16 and who is in compliance with subdivision (a) of Section 17550.16 may comply with this section by maintaining and providing to the passenger documentary proof of disbursement in compliance with subdivision (a) of Section 17550.16, and proof of current registration of the seller of travel to whom the funds were disbursed, which registration shall note that the registered seller of travel either has a trust account in compliance with Section 17550.15, or is exempt from the requirements of Section 17550.15 pursuant to subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 17550.16. This subdivision does not apply to refunds subject to subdivision (c) or (d).
(c) If terms and conditions relating to a refund upon cancellation by the passenger have been disclosed and agreed to by the passenger and the passenger elects to cancel for any reason other than a seller of travel being unable to provide the air or sea transportation or travel services purchased, the making of a refund in accordance with those terms and conditions shall be deemed to constitute compliance with this section.
(d) Any material misrepresentation by the seller of travel shall be deemed to be a violation of this article and cancellation by the seller of travel, necessitating a refund as required by subdivision (a).
The key words on that are “refund” and “30 days.”
And guys…it ain’t just a civil matter. A failure to abide by the act not only gives rise to civil actions (available to everyone regardless of where they are either under state law or common law), but has specific criminal penalties
Bus. & Prof. 17550.19
In addition to any civil penalties provided in this division, violation of this article is punishable as follows:
(a) As a misdemeanor by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000), by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year, or by both that fine and imprisonment for each violation.
(b) In addition, any violation of Section 17550.14 or subdivision (b) or (c) of Section 17550.15 where money or real or personal property received or obtained by a seller of travel for transportation or travel services from any and all persons aggregates two thousand three hundred fifty dollars ($2,350) or more in any consecutive 12- month period, or the payment or payments by or on behalf of any one passenger exceeds in the aggregate nine hundred fifty ($950) in any 12-month period, is punishable either as a misdemeanor or as a felony by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for 16 months, or two or three years, by a fine of not more than twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment for each violation.
(c) In addition, any intentional use for any purpose of a false seller of travel registration number, with intent to defraud, by an unregistered seller of travel is punishable as a misdemeanor or felony as provided in this section.
(d) Any violation of Section 17550.15 shall be a misdemeanor and shall be punished as provided in this section. Every act in violation of Section 17550.15 may be prosecuted as a separate and distinct violation and consecutive sentences may be imposed for each violation.
(e) Sellers of travel shall also comply with Sections 17537, 17537.1, and 17537.2 of the Business and Professions Code and all other applicable laws. This section shall not be construed to preclude the applicability of any other provision of the criminal law of this state that applies or may apply to any transaction.
I’m not saying that.
I am saying that there appears to be a situation where an LLC was formed for the purpose of selling travel, including travel to residents of California. That this LLC took a substantial amount of money from people to obtain flights to a specific event, both in and outside of California. That for some reason, whether it be exemption from the law or ignorance, this LLC did not submit a legally required registration as a Seller of Travel to the State of California. That now it appears the same LLC has confirmed that they reached out to another party to pay the debt for the travel which should have been paid with the passenger funds already submitted, as those funds are technically trust funds (not property of the seller of travel) until the travel is actually paid for entirely. That as a result, and individual paid $35,000.00 on assurances the money existed, and it apparently did not from what has been revealed. And that, in these circumstances, there is a very specific California law that, if applicable, makes this a very serious criminal and civil penalty.
I’m also saying that, while out of compliance with the law from what I can see, Canis Vulpes customers who reside in California may be able to seek restitution from a fund specifically created for this…but they may not. Likewise, customers in other states (Including, I should note, Washington) are or may be protected by similar
I am not, however, saying that money was “stolen” or anything of the sort. Idiocy and ineptitude is not the same as malfeasance, and people starting businesses screw up all the damn time. Especially when they rely on LegalZoom instead of a real goddamn lawyer to give them advice.
Which really leads to my last lesson:
It is so fucking important top understand the legal requirements and ramifications of what you do that a lawyer, at least one to help you form and start-up your business, isn’t optional.
Go Buy Shit.
That’s all for today. It’s long, it’s rambling, and it’s last minute because this shit just happened and I ended up shelving the initial post as a result. But hey, once again, go check out the guys over at FurPlanet! They…They have books!
I’m the Boozy Badger, and I got shit to go do.