Welcome

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

I also invite you to join the Golf Dispute Resolution Linked In group, which you can access here.

Please don’t hesitate to share ideas for either the blog or the Linked In group.

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

The Ohio Supreme Court recently issued a decision in an interesting case that Jim Dunlap at the Pellucid Perspective clued us into three years ago.

As the owner of  golf courses devoted to use by the public, Cincinnati has treated them as exempt from real estate taxes. After the city outsourced the management of its courses to the Billy Casper Golf Management, Inc.Paul Macke, a private golf course owner, argued that, by virtue of the outsourcing, the city was no longer entitled to the tax exemption.

He asserted that the outsourcing moved the golf course enterprise from the non-profit to the for-profit realm, and placed private course owners at a competitive disadvantage as their operating expenses included real estate taxes that the city was not paying.

The Ohio tax commissioner agreed with Mr. Macke, and revoked Cincinnati’s tax exemption. Macke’s victory was short-lived, however, as the Board of Tax Appeals reversed the tax commissioner’s decision and reinstated the exemption.

The Ohio Supreme Court has agreed with the Board of Tax Appeals, leaving the government without the tax revenue and leaving Mr. Macke with a claim that he is left to unfairly compete with the city’s golf courses.

As to this argument, the court explained as follows:

With due respect to Macke’s difficult position in a city and county that are, as he put it, “saturated” with public golf courses, the decision to lower greens fees does not negate the public purpose of Cincinnati’s golf courses. To the contrary, lower greens fees arguably advance the public purpose of making the city courses more accessible to the golfing public. CRC  has, in fact, refused a request by [Billy Casper] Golf Management to increase greens fees when it concluded that a rate increase would harm CRC’s public mission. Traditionally, public parks charge little or nothing for the public to access their amenities, and greater access to everyone without regard to their ability to pay constitutes a part of their public mission, not a refutation of it.

The tax commissioner argues that the city behaved essentially as a commercial golf-course owner and has used the “competitive advantage” of the tax exemption to harm private competition. The testimony demonstrates that private management of Cincinnati’s golf courses has reduced Cincinnati’s overhead costs. But the fact remains that by lowering costs, Cincinnati can lowerfees and still maintain the viability of its golf operations. We cannot accept the theory that those developments are inimical to the public purpose, given that reducing costs enhances public access to the recreational opportunity that Cincinnati is affording.

By: Rob Harris

Convenience carries a price.

Florida’s Waterlefe Golf Club is situated proximate to a number of residential communities that pay common charges to a neighborhood association.

One of the communities, The Shores, offers its golfing residents two ways to access the community. One way is to enter into the community through its gated entrance. The other, more convenient, way is via a bridge that spans water between the golf course’s 17th and 18th holes.

Although the bridge lies outside The Shores, its upkeep is the responsibility of the umbrella association. Understandably, the association has not been happy subsidizing The Shores residents’ shortcut.

Lawsuits were filed, and, no surprise, have been settled short of trial.

The full story is here.

By: Rob Harris

Some may not know that our tax dollars support the efforts of federal law enforcement to publicize their good results. And, when the opening paragraphs of a press release reference a man who “currently in custody, but formerly of the South Lake Tahoe area,” you know the government is talking about a good result.

This week, the Nevada U.S. Attorney’s Office issued “for immediate release” an announcement that “a  man who made false statements and used phony documents to solicit millions from victims who thought they were helping him purchase a golf course in Gardnerville, Nev., was sentenced today to 19½ years in prison, three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $1.4 million in restitution.”

According to the press release, Scott Summerhays convinced eleven people to lend him $3.6 million to go toward the $17 million purchase of the Genoa Lakes Golf Club. No purchase ever occurred; and the investors’ money went bye-bye.

The press release states that “Summerhays pleaded guilty in February 2014 to 14 counts of wire fraud, seven counts of money laundering, two counts of identity theft, and one count of aggravated identity theft.”

By: Rob Harris

According to a published report, a West Virginia judge has thrown out a lawsuit brought against the Sugarwood Golf Club. The plaintiff in this lawsuit is–drum roll, please–an attorney.

Since I don’t have access to the actual opinion written by the judge, I can’t attest that the authors of the published report accurately characterized the attorney’s claims that were dismissed. It sure strikes me as odd that any plaintiff, especially one with a law license, would think there was merit to the allegations made.

As reported, plaintiff-attorney Victor Navy “was playing golf in a foursome at Sugarwood in Wayne County on Aug. 18, 2012, with [Bill L.] Abbott and two others. The foursome was on the 10th hole when the incident occurred.”

“’Three of the four golfers in the foursome had reached the green … Abbott being the lone member of the foursome who had not yet reached the green,’ the complaint stated. ‘Abbott was approximately 50 yards off the green … while the other three golfers in the foursome were on the putting surface.’

“Abbott instructed the other three golfers in the foursome to ‘putt out’ which the other three golfers understood to mean finish playing the hole, according to the suit.

“Navy claimed he putted the ball in and bent over to retrieve his ball from the cup.

“Navy ‘took two steps from the hole when another member of the foursome, who was standing beside plaintiff … shouted … ‘watch out!’

“Navy claimed he then was struck in the left eye by the ball Abbott had hit. He sustained severe and permanent injuries and has suffered severe emotional distress.”

OK, I get it. Attorney Navy got unforgivingly nailed by defendant Abbott who had no business hitting to the green after telling his golfing partners to play on.

But Attorney Navy didn’t stop with suing Abbott. He brought a claim against the golf course!

As reported, Navy claimed that the golf course, Sugarwood, “failed to warn the plaintiff of the dangers presented by patronizing the golf course and failed to warn and advise players as to the rules and regulations regarding players conduct and etiquette while playing at the golf course.”

Please, say it ain’t so, Attorney Navy. Please share with us what you expected Sugarwood Golf Course to do before you and defendant Abbott teed off? Warned you that your playing partner might fake you out? Warn you that you could be hit by an errant ball? Provide a required seminar on golf etiquette?

For this claimed liability by the golf course, according to the report, “Navy was seeking compensatory damages for pain, suffering, sorrow, mental anguish, solace, annoyance, aggravation, inconvenience, loss of usual pursuits, medical care, treatment, hospitalization, lost wages as well as past and future medical expenses; and punitive damages.”

P.S. As reported, “he was representing himself.” Figures.

By: Rob Harris

Enthusiastic observers of the Supreme Court have an opportunity to fantasize about the prospect of their favorite justice–Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia or perhaps the almost always silent Clarence Thomas–inquiring in open court about the geographic location of John Daly’s sex life. The squeamish among us may be grateful that Supreme Court arguments aren’t televised.

As John followers may recall, his former wife Sherrie Miller brought an “alienation of affections” lawsuit against current fiance Anna Cladakis, claiming that adulterous intimacies occurred in the great state of Mississippi. Ms. Cladakis convinced a lower court to dismiss the lawsuit, for the reason that both she and Daly resided in Tennessee, a state that does not recognize “alienation of affections” as a viable legal claim. The fact that they crossed state lines and engaged in Mississippian trysts would not subject them, as non-residents, to suit there, even though Mississippi is one of a handful of states that recognize the “alienation of affections” cause of action.

Well, as previously reported, the Mississippi Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court, holding that “the alleged sexual activity between Cladakis and Daly within the state of Mississippi, which contributed to the breakup of Daly’s marriage with Miller, constituted a tort committed, at least in part, within this state,” and therefore conferred the Mississippi court with jurisdiction.

Undaunted, fiance Cladakis has sought review by the United States Supreme Court. While the Supreme Court accepts only a small percentage of cases presented to it, hope springs eternal. Perhaps the case can be used as an opportunity for the justices to bring

 

By: Rob Harris

It took Jack Graham 123 pages to assert his allegations that American Golf Corporation and Goldman Sachs “illegally charged the public for golf services on public golf courses and deprived him of his right to work as a golf instructor at Los Angeles County (County) and City of Long Beach (City) golf courses managed by American Golf Corporation (American Golf).”

It took the California Court of Appeal 31 pages to summarily reject Mr. Graham’s attempt to overturn the lower court’s dismissal of his claims.

According to Mr. Graham, the “defendants acted in concert to waste government resources, restrain and monopolize the golf instruction industry, maintain a public nuisance, invest in golf course management,manage golf courses, and overcharge the public for golf services.”

As he asserted, “only golf instructors who were employees of American Golf could teach at the City- and County-owned golf courses and there were no golf courses in his local area at which he could teach.”


By: Rob Harris

Some may recall the USGA’s anti-slow play initiative, “While We’re Young.” One promo featured Clint Eastwood.

Clint may have met his match in Alejandro Baeza.

Baeza, playing at New Britain, Connecticut’s Stanley Golf Course, was none too pleased to be asked by the group behind him to pick up the pace. His response? Allow NBC Connecticut to explain how Mr. Baeza is facing criminal charges for threatening and breach of peace:

“Police say he pulled out a gun at Stanley Golf Course in New Britain over a golf etiquette dispute.

“Alejandro Baeza, 22, of Wethersfield, was arrested after course management said he grew agitated when the group of golfers behind him complained about the pace his group was playing their game. They said he went to his golf cart, grabbed a gun and flashed it at the complaining group.”

The municipality-owned golf course appears to be taking firm action. “The Parks and Recreation director in New Britain said officials are waiting for the police investigation to play out, but that it is not likely Baeza will be allowed to play at Stanley Golf Course again.” Duh.

By: Rob Harris

With over 95 per cent of civil lawsuits never being tried to conclusion, litigation primarily is an effort at generating bargaining chips to be opportunely played by a party as it pursued an optimal settlement.

A great example of this is presented by the dispute between the owner of California’s Ridgemark Golf & Country Club and the Board of Directors of the homeowners’ association where the club is situated.

Last year, the course owner closed 18 of the facility’s 36 holes, indicating plans to turn the real estate into housing. That precipitated a lawsuit by the homeowner’s association, who alleged that the club owner’s easement over the roadways would not extend to such a real estate development. The course owner counterclaimed.

The resulting litigation, according to a published report, imperils the course owner’s contract to sell the remaining 18 holes to a third party purchaser. If the sale were to fall through, the owner has hinted it will close the remaining eighteen holes as early as this summer.

Entering the fray are the home owners themselves, many of whom are members of the golf club, and who also are concerned about their property values should the course close.

As the constituents of the homeowners association Board of Directors, a number of the home owners are upset that the Board commenced the litigation without taking a vote of the members. Thus, the Board finds itself in the uncomfortable position of either losing the litigation or ostensibly driving off the contract purchaser of the golf course, and then having to rationalize the result to the home owners. Thus, the Board has announced that, before it will settle the litigation, it will seek the approval of the home owners.

Meanwhile, the contract purchaser holds the legal right to abandon the project if the litigation is not settled by May 15, with this right providing the purchaser with leverage to negotiate better terms, if it chooses to do so.

The presence of so many diverse, yet intertwined, interests is fertile territory for settlement and the parties are saying the right things. According to the attorney for the homeowners’ association, “there have been some meetings and potential settlement discussions between the parties in the last couple of months.Unfortunately, as  of this point in time, we have not been able to resolve the case. However, [the association] remains optimistic that a mutually beneficial resolution to this matter that ensures the long term health of the Ridgemark Estates community can be reached.”

The golf course owner echoed these sentiments in referring to the settlement negotiations: ”It’s ongoing. Knowing that a buyer is trying to step in and wanting to move forward, there seems to be an effort to work something out.”

In all likelihood, there will be a settlement within days. If not, and if the buyer walks, the litigation will be long, messy and expensive.

 

By: Rob Harris

Nine Palm Beach County (Florida) country clubs unsuccessfully challenged their property tax assessments last week.

The clubs’ argument focused on the fact that membership was limited to those homeowners who live in the golf community. Thus, according to the clubs, the homeowners’ were being doubly taxed. Why?

Well, as the argument went, the homeowners’ property values reflect the benefits of their golf course location, resulting in them paying higher taxes.

Thus, according to the clubs, the property taxes for the golf course property–which get passed onto the club members through usage fees–should be reduced. Otherwise, the members/home owners are doubly taxed for the value of the golf course–once on their homes and once through the club’s usage fees.

The Palm Beach County Value Adjustment Board rejected this argument, with one of the magistrates explaining, “if you were to sever the ownership from being only open to the members of the community, and make it a private golf course for outside owners, you would still have the enhanced value for these homes by virtue of being on the golf course.”

 

By: Rob Harris

Mulligan’s Golf and Games is a Utah, municipally owned facility that includes two nine hole courses.

Two years ago, Tyler Simonson lost an eye after being struck by a golfer playing an adjacent hole.

Mr. Simonson recently filed suit, alleging that the city improperly designed and maintained the golf course by failing to “create a substantial buffering of trees to prevent golf balls entering the 4th hole,” and by thereafter failing to conduct risk assessments and safety inspections.

Whereas, typically, courts provide little comfort to golfers struck by errant shots by members of the golfer’s foursome, courts do pay attention to claims of design faults that expose golfers to dangers from golfers in other groups. These claims tend to rise or fall on the specific factual circumstances, which, in this newly filed case, we can expect to be developed during the discovery phase of this litigation.

 

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