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I have discovered that there is no shortage of interesting, sometimes humorous and occasionally outright quirky legal disputes that have a golf connection. Please enjoy

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By way of background, I am an attorney who serves as general counsel to a financial services company.  I also frequently serve as a mediator and arbitrator. And, of course,  I enjoy golf, most often at the Yale Golf Course. You can learn more about my experience here.

Now, for the required disclaimer, so I can remain in the good graces of the legal ethics powers-that-be:  This website, which may constitute Attorney Advertising in some jurisdictions, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.

Best,

Rob Harris
rharris@golfdisputeresolution.com
914-482-2448

 

 

By: Rob Harris

For decades, New York’s Glen Oaks Golf Course had a deal with the adjoining landowners in the Ranson Oaks neighborhood of Amherst. The residents were allowed to use the golf cart paths that traversed the golf course AND the golfers could traverse the golf cart paths as they meandered between the homes.

Something changed in 2008. At that time, a deed provision governing the residents’ access to the golf course portion of the paths expired. Flexing its legal muscle, the golf course prohibited further access. This didn’t sit well with the residents, some of whom exacted revenge by erecting barricades to prevent golfers from the neighborhood routes from hole to hole.

What often follows such matters? Litigation, of course, and that’s what has governed this currently dysfunctional relationship for the past number of years. The neighborhood association has spent a fair chunk of change ostensibly to protect the neighborhood’s rights. With a neighborhood governing body calling the shots, certain residents are unhappy, creating a second tier squabble.

Ain’t life wonderful.

By: Rob Harris

From Illinois, we bring you the interesting case of Dr. Zaki Sheikh v. Sunset Hills Country Club, which the court recently held will live to fight another day.

As reported, Dr. Sheikh joined the club 40 years ago at a time when, in club tournament play, he was entitled to use his full USGA handicap. Lo and behold, a few years ago, the club changed its policy, permitting use only of partial handicaps.

“Unfair,” proclaimed Dr. Sheikh. To the courthouse he ran. Let’s let the Madison-St. Clair Record describe what happened:

“[I]n the summer of 2013, Sheikh alleges he entered a tournament at the club and learned that it no longer followed USGA rules, refusing to give a full handicap in match play to a golfer with a USGA-related handicap.

“Sheihk alleges he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees to the country club. He found it difficult to participate in tournaments, depriving him of benefits promised by membership to the club, the suit states…”

The court dismissed part, but not all, of Dr. Sheikh’s claims. Gone are the claims of fraud and emotional distress. The remaining counts seem headed for a hearing on summary judgment.

 

 

 

By: Rob Harris

Parts of New York’s Rye Golf Club were rendered unplayable in 2010 due to the application of defective fungicide that burned out greens on the golf course.

The city-owned course extracted $2.5 million in settlement from the manufacturer. Now, club members are seeking reimbursement of dues since they were not able to play for several months.

The club has rejected the members’ claims, invoking its “no-refund policy which is built into membership contracts.” Three members have commenced suit.

City Councilman Terrance McCartney has asserted that “we think we have a clear case.” News to Councilman McCartney: litigation often proves cases aren’t that clear.

By: Rob Harris

Following the 2015 Greenbrier Classic, we reported on litigation arising out of holes-in-one made by Justin Thomas and George McNeill. The tournament sponsor sought to collect on insurance proceeds it thought it had secured to cover the monies dispensed in connection with the aces. The insurers balked, claiming that the condition of the policy wasn’t satisfied in that the hole played at 137 yards, well short of the 175 yard distance provided by the policy.

Well, 18 months later, we have a court decision. Guess what? The federal court has determined that the tournament sponsor is out of luck. As the court explained,

“Under the terms of a promotion offered by the Greenbrier Resort, the Hole-In-One Fan Jackpot …, the Greenbrier promised to pay fans seated in the grandstands $100 for the first hole-in-one, $500 for the second hole-in-one, and $1,000 for the third. To insure against these payouts, the insurance policies in question issued by the Plaintiffs  pledged to pay Old White $150,000 for the first hole-in-one made by a golfer, $750,000 for the second, and $1,400,000 for the third, for a total aggregate insurance value of $2,300,000.”

The court noted that the tournament sponsor included language supportive of its position in the insurance application:

“Old White claimed that in applying for these policies, Bankers and Old White ‘explained all the conditions’ for the promotion, including ‘the fact that Old White had no control over the distance the pins were set because the PGA had sole and exclusive control over the pins.’  Specifically, Old White alleged that it placed in the application the following language: Old white Charities requests hole-in-one coverage for all five days of their tournament . . . The hole to be considered for Hole-in-One Coverage is #18 which plays an average of 175 yards. The pins (as always in a PGA tour event,) will beset in a new location each morning of the Greenbrier Classic by the PGA. The insured has no idea nor will have any influence as to where the pins will be set.’”

Nonetheless, the court held the terms of the policy–not the application–controlled.
The takeaway? Make sure you understand what your insurance policies cover.


By: Rob Harris

The owners of Arkansas’ Golf Club at Valley View wear a second hat. They also manage the area’s municipal sewage system.

In this capacity, they receive fees from other system users, totaling $240,000 annually, with the funds to be dedicated to the maintenance and operation of the system. The resulting effluent is to be used to irrigate the golf course.

The golf course owners now find themselves defending a class action lawsuit, as they have been accused of diverting the sewage fees to other uses. The complaint also alleges they have irrigated the course with raw sewage, claims which their attorney has denied.

By: Rob Harris

Neighbors claiming an onslaught of unwelcome golf balls from neighboring golf courses are not unique. However, in a legal dispute between Pennsylvania’s Morgan Hill Golf Course and its neighbor,  the court has fashioned a novel method of verification.

Confronted with disagreements between the club and an adjoining homeowner, the court has decided the best way to determine if errant shots are ending up in the neighbor’s yard is to subject all golfers to the unerring view of a camera.Judge Michael Koury Jr. has decreed that the course must tape “all golf swings and the trajectory of all golf balls played from hole 13.”

Further details can be found here.

By: Rob Harris

By now, many of you have heard that Trump National Golf Club Jupiter has been found liable in a class action lawsuit and ordered to pay more than $5,700,000 in damages and interest. The court’s opinion makes for interesting reading and is attached here.

Before Trump purchased the club from the Ritz-Carlton, the plaintiffs were on a waiting list to resign their memberships and obtain return of their initiative fees. The operative rules permitted resignations to occur based on new members entering.  While waiting, those on the list were considered members, required to pay dues, and permitted access to the golf course.

Following its acquisition, the Trump organization unilaterally changed things. As the court explained,

“After closing on its purchase of the Club, Defendant held a town-hallstyle meeting on December 14, 2012, to discuss amendments to Club Documents and changes to aspects of operation of the Club.  At all times material to this lawsuit, Donald J. Trump5 held the top position of authority at Defendant’s company. After the December 14, 2012 meeting, under Mr. Trump’s authority, Defendant disseminated a letter to all Club members including those on the resignation waiting list. The letter was dated December 17, 2012, and bore the signature of Donald J. Trump, as owner of the Club.

“The letter communicated to Plaintiffs and the Class Members three options that they must choose by December 31, 2012: opt-in; opt-out; or remain on the resignation waiting list, but pay no Club dues and have no Club access.

“Those members who opted in were afforded a reduction in Club dues for three years and reciprocity with the other Trump-owned clubs, in exchange for forfeiting their rights to refunds. Those members who opted out kept their rights to refunds and Club access, but could not be on the resignation waiting list and would incur an increase in Club dues with no cap on the amount of Club dues. Plaintiffs and the Class Members fell into the third category communicated by the December 17, 2012 letter. Because they chose to remain on the resignation waiting list, Plaintiffs and the Class Members were denied permission to use the Club in exchange for a release of the obligation to pay dues.  In the letter, Mr. Trump, on behalf of Defendant, stated to Plaintiffs and the Class Members “as the owner of the club, I do not want them to utilize the club nor do I want their dues. In other words…if you choose to remain on the resignation list, you’re out.” Defendant’s general manager testified that it was clear from the letter that members remaining on the resignation waiting list were out of the Club after December 31, 2012. Defendant’s director of memberships likewise testified that the message expressed to Plaintiffs and the Class Members in Defendant’s letter was clear: that if they remained on the resignation waiting list, as of December 31, 2012, they would no longer be Club members and would no longer have access to the Club.”

The court concluded that Trump’s actions constituted a recall of the plaintiffs’ memberships, entitling them to prompt return of their initiation fees. Having been deprived of the opportunity to use the golf course while waiting for their resignations to take effect, they were entitled to return of their money.

By: Rob Harris

NPR’s website includes an interesting article on the potential impact that the Trump administration may have on a 2015 rule enacted by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers.  Under the rule, golf courses would be subject to regulation of their streams, ponds and wetlands, which may limit their ability to utilize fertilizers and pesticides. The rule is on hold as a result of pending litigation.

Unsurprisingly, the rule faces steep opposition by golf course owners and superintendents.  Recognizing President Trump’s role within the golf industry, the NPR story posits the conflicts associated with the current administration including the impact that may be created by the appointment of a Supreme Court justice, or the ability of a Republican controlled Congress to kill the rule with no veto to come from President Trump.

By: Rob Harris

California, as does other states, encourages the donation of lands for public purposes by providing the grantor with “trail immunity” from

“an injury caused by a condition of: (a) Any [nonpublic] unpaved road which provides access to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking, riding, including animal and all types of vehicular riding, water sports, recreational or scenic areas…  and (b) Any trail used for the above purposes.”  The courts have recognized that “trail immunity must extend to claims arising from the design of a trail, as well as its maintenance.”

Certainly, this makes sense if someone were to be injured due to the condition of the pathway. But what happens if someone is injured as a result of an external intrusion into the pathway, for example, a wayward golf ball?

According to the California Court of Appeals, the donor of the pathway is not liable. That too, would make perfect sense, if the donor of the land had nothing to do with the place from which the golf ball was launched.

However, in the case before the court, the owner of the Bonita Golf Club donated the land. So the question became whether the golf club could escape liability for injuries caused to a passerby when the club allegedly failed to take precautions to prevent errant golf balls from escaping the confines of the course.

According to the court, the fact that the pathway was on land given by the course insulated it from liability even though there was a claim to be made that the club was negligent in not erecting safety barriers.

Finding that the club was protected by “trail immunity” since it was the donor of the land, the court rejected the contention that “the trail’s location next to the golf course ‘has nothing to do with the fact that [Miguel Leyva] was injured by a golf ball from the Club property,’ and the golf course’s lack of safety barriers on the 13th hole is not a faulty design or condition of the trail.”

According to the court, “the Leyvas are incorrect to argue the location of the trail next to the golf course is unrelated to Miguel’s injuries: Miguel would not have been struck by the golf ball if he had not been walking on a trail located next to the golf course.” The court explained that the trail’s location next to a golf course “is an integral feature of the trail,” and “it makes no difference whether the alleged negligence in failing to erect safety barriers along the boundary between the golf course and the trail occurred on the golf course or on the trail itself because the effect is the same.”

By: Rob Harris

Congratulations to James and Melanie Nipper. The Florida Court of Appeals has concluded they have a right to operate a skydiving business on their 290-acre farm in Florida’s Walton County.

Walton County officials  attempted to shut down the business, claiming that it violated the zoning code, notwithstanding rules that permit on agricultural land “outdoor recreational activities such as hunting or fishing camps, bait and tackle shops, shooting ranges, and golf courses.”

Acknowledging that the rules did not specifically reference skydiving, the appellate court saw no functional difference between jumping out of a plane and chasing a white ball around the countryside with spikes on your shoes. According to the court,

“[n]o one denies that skydiving is an outdoor recreational activity. And the code gives the Nippers the right to use their land for commercial ‘outdoor recreational activities such as . . . golf courses.’ Golf courses allow for outdoor fun, but aren’t used for agricultural, aquacultural, or silvicultural purposes—golfers cannot hit six-irons very well from fairways of corn stalks, hayfields, or peanut and pine tree rows; nor are golf-ball-dodging fish and plants mass-harvested from the water hazards of golf courses. So the fact that skydiving isn’t inherently agricultural, aquacultural, or silvicultural isn’t a disqualifier. In fact, nothing textually, or argued by the County, seems to set skydiving apart from the list of permissible outdoor activities.”

As the court noted,

“[o]ne board member’s question to the Planning Director at the CEB hearing sums up the interpretive challenge here pretty well: ‘What I don’t understand Mr. Dyess, is what you base [your] opinion on? . . . What exactly makes [skydiving] different from an activity like golf balls flying through the air?’”

The answer, of course, is nothing. Two death defying activities, fungible ways to spend a weekend morning.

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