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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

Those who have followed Golf Dispute Resolution for any length of time know that, on a slow golf news day, there’s always Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has provided far more than a pro rata share of low hanging fruit for this site.

The temptation thus is to jump all over the story that trial has been scheduled for August in the class action brought by members of Florida’s Trump National against the club.

The trial schedule follows the court’s denial of Trump’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

As one report describes the genesis of the dispute, shortly after Trump’s 2012 purchase of the club, “Trump sent members a letter saying they had three choices: give up their refundable membership fee, which in some cases was over $100,000, and enjoy a 10 percent discount on dues for three years; keep the refundable membership clause but have dues raised 20 percent, or, if they had already sent a resignation letter and still wanted out – just get out.”

The members claimed that Trump’s actions violated the terms of their membership agreements.

Trump’s rationale, according to the notification letter he sent to members, was that “he is making Trump National into one of the world’s best clubs, and the ‘antiquated membership documents do not allow for the club’s success under ultra-luxurious operation.’”

The trial will provide an opportunity for the facts to fully develop, and they very well may show this to be an example of overreach and contract violation. However, putting aside for the moment the fact that Trump is involved, the underlying issues of club governance and the owner’s rights to modify membership terms is very much a “hot” issue that has been percolating in recent years. With members eager to exit clubs and recoup substantial deposits, and clubs lacking the resources and membership replenishment to fund the exits, clubs have embarked on strategies that effectively hold unwilling members captive.

This trial, and the likely appeals, may serve to further develop the law in this area.

 

By: Rob Harris

Those planning on visiting Pike’s Landing hotel and restaurant in Fairbanks, Alaska will have to find satisfaction only in the lodging and food. Gone, at least for now, is its long time game that offered patrons the opportunity to successfully hit a golf ball across the Chena River.

According to a published report, “the game was stopped after a complaint by [an] Anchorage environmental activist ,,, who stopped at the restaurant on the way back from a trip to the upper Noatak River in the Gates of the Arctic National Park.” The “Anchorage environmental activist” is alleged to have stated “in an email [that] Alaska’s rivers are ‘sacred shrines’ that should be respected and protected.” Imagine that.

Apparently, this is not the first anti-golf foray for the “Anchorage environmental activist.” The report notes that “he has asked DEC to investigate the Bering Sea Ice Golf Classic in Nome, a tournament played on sea ice about the same time mushers head to the coast city in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.”

Underlying his concerns is what “appeared to be a clear violation of state and federal water pollution regulations — intentionally discarding plastics into a salmon stream.” As he explained,

“Golf balls are a prominent component of plastic marine debris in the global ocean, and they are often mistaken as prey items by seabirds and other marine animals”’

“They easily flow downstream, …and at the rate of 1 mph, could reach the Bering Sea in one to two months. Scores of golf balls have been found in in dead albatross stomachs on coral atolls in the central Pacific…and in the stomachs of dead whales.”

As for the suggestion that Pike’s Landing find a biodegradable substitute, that, too, would be a no go. “They would contribute organic matter to the river system as salmon are migrating and spawning,”

 

By: Rob Harris

As reported from South Florida:

“While developer Donald Trump was busy getting the Republican Party’s presidential nomination this week, he was losing big in a Miami-Dade County courtroom.

“Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto, who presides over a lawsuit over unpaid bills brought by a local paint store against Trump National Doral Miami golf resort, ordered the billionaire politician’s company to pay the Doral-based mom-and-pop shop nearly $300,000 in attorney’s fees.

“All because, according to the lawsuit, Trump allegedly tried to stiff the tiny store on its last payment of $34,863 on a $200,000-contract for paint used in the renovation of the home of golf’s famed Blue Monster two years ago.
Trump National’s insistence that it had “paid enough” for the paint despite a contract, according to the lawsuit, caused The Paint Spot to slap a lien on the property and Cueto to order the foreclosure sale of the resort!”

 

By: Rob Harris

As reported in a local Florida NBC website, “former members of [Florida's] Riverwood Golf Club are celebrating a judge’s decision to give the deposit back to a former member who sued the golf club.”

According to the report, the plaintiffs “resigned their membership after they could no longer play golf. They said the owners refused to give them their deposit back, claiming that a clause in the contract allowed them to change the terms without prior approval from members.”

I have been unable so far to locate the actual court decision, and eagerly look forward to seeing the court’s analysis.

Thanks to Harvey Weiner, and the Club Advisory Council Internationale LinkedIn Group he hosts through Search America for making us aware of this decision.

By: Rob Harris

I feel like Melania Trump affixing my name to something authored by someone else. But I will give full credit.

This is taken from breakingnews.ie. Enjoy.

A 40-strong rampaging herd of cattle has shut down a popular Clare golf course until further notice, writes Gordon Deegan.

The herd of Charolais and Limousin cattle broke into the grounds of Woodstock Golf Club outside Ennis early on Saturday morning and stampeded through the course, damaging 10 greens.

A club spokesperson yesterday said it was “total devastation” for staff, when they saw the damage for the first time on Saturday morning.

The spokesperson said: “For everyone connected to the club, it has been like as if someone died. There was a look of shock and horror on the members’ faces after they had seen what the cattle had done.”

He said that the course greenkeeper was out on the course at the 6th green at 6.30am on Saturday “when he saw one and then saw 40 animals coming at him”.

The closure of the course is expected to result in a loss of income for the golf club through the loss of green fees and also a loss of revenue at the adjoining Hotel Woodstock.

The club was yesterday awaiting assessment of the damage by representatives from the club’s insurance company.

 

 

By: Rob Harris

Too cute by half. That’s the sentiment underlying a New York appellate court’s refusal to grant summary judgment in favor of the entity that acquired the unpaid debt on New York’s Westport Country Club.

The golf club, unable to make monthly payments on a $1,500,000 loan to First Niagra Funding, Inc., entered into a forbearance agreement with the lender which was designed to buy the club time to market the club for sale.

Surreptitiously, certain members of the club created a new entity and orchestrated purchase of the debt from First Niagra for a substantially discounted purchase price of $825,000. Then, when the club tendered the monthly payment under the forbearance agreement, the new owners said “not so fast,” you’re in default of the loan documents and commenced an action to foreclose on the property.

The court disturbed with the “conduct …. of its members – and the manner in which it declared a default,” refused to grant summary judgment in favor of the new owners. As the court held,

Robert Hall and Hall-Butzer formed plaintiff, which went on to purchase the subject notes from First Niagara at a significantly discounted rate; that plaintiff subsequently rejected the timely September 2013 payment under the forbearance agreement; and that, shortly after rejecting that payment, plaintiff commenced this action to foreclose on the Country Club. The validity of the forbearance agreement is not in dispute, and plaintiff concedes that it is bound by its terms as successor-in-interest to the mortgage and loan documents. While plaintiff accurately points out that, under the terms of the forbearance agreement, First Niagara reserved all of its rights under the mortgage instrument, the express purpose of the forbearance agreement was to provide Westport with a period of time to market the mortgaged property in the hopes of consummating a negotiated (as opposed to a forced) sale, while, at the same time, requiring it to make specified payments on the note. Under these circumstances, it is for a jury to conclude whether plaintiff breached its obligation to act in good faith by surreptitiously purchasing Westport’s debt, rejecting Westport’s September 2013 payment and claiming a default despite Westport’s undisputed compliance with the foreclosure agreement.

Thus, whether the purchasing members will be deemed to be shrewd investors or sneaky turncoats undeserving of a windfall, must await a full trial on the merits.

By: Rob Harris

Sometimes, the best laid plans run into an obstacle. So it was with the owners of the land on which sits Arizona’s Ahwatukee Lakes Golf Club, which was closed in 2013.

The owners intend(ed) to turn the land into a housing development. Neighbors sued, claiming that deed covenants dating back 25 years requires the operation of a golf course on the property. A judge has now agreed, leaving the owners, unless they succeed in an anticipated appeal, with the obligation to turn brown land into green fairways, or to offer the affected neighbors sufficient inducement to permit them to continue with their development plans.

By: Rob Harris

The life of a teaching pro is not always what it’s cracked up to be. Just see what happened to Richard Giroux, according to a federal court decision recently released in Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co. v. Giroux, C15-5954 BHS (D. Wash.):

Giroux was teaching a golf lesson at the Meadow Park Golf Course in Pierce County on June 7, 2015. During the lesson, one of Giroux’s students inadvertently picked up one of the Rhees’ golf balls and gave it to Giroux.  Giroux realized that the student had picked up the Rhees’ golf ball as the Rhees approached in a golf cart.

According to Giroux’s complaint, the Rhees “exited the golf cart, repeatedly swore at the group, and aggressively approached [Giroux] and [the] golf students.” Giroux claims Kevin Rhee approached him and “started to flick the brim of the [Giroux’s] hat with his finger, exclaiming ‘what are you going to do about it?’”

Giroux further asserts that Andy Rhee “then used both hands to forcefully, and intentionally, push [Giroux], causing [him] to fall backwards onto the ground.”  Giroux alleges he sustained injuries to his right arm and shoulder.  While Giroux was on the ground, the Rhees “stood over him, nudging [Giroux] with their feet and saying, ‘get up.’”

Giroux brings claims for assault and battery, outrage, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.

Not only does Mr. Giroux have to (unsuccessfully) play peacemaker when one of his students errs, not only must he (allegedly) suffer the indignity of a physical and emotional assault by the aggrieved golfer (who appears to be directionally challenged) and his family, but poor Mr. Giroux must contend with satellite litigation by the Rhee Clan’s insurance company, in which it denies responsibility to provide coverage.

As for this litigation, the court so far has refused to let the insurer off the hook, holding that resolution of the issue will require further evolution of the underlying lawsuit.

Good luck, Mr. Giroux.

By: Rob Harris

Here’s relevant information to those whose purchase of a home in a gated golf community depends on whether  religious proseletizers have legal access to the community’s streets. Yes, at least according to one federal court interpreting the issue for a Puerto Rican development known as Estancias del Golf Club.

The court has decreed that the Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot be barred based on claims that the community’s streets are private.

By: Rob Harris

Arbitration junkies might find interesting a Georgia appellate decision that issued last month in Perry Golf Course Development, LLC v. Columbia Residential, LLC.

Almost fifteen years ago, Perry Golf was earmarked to be the developer of a golf course that, together with single- and multi-family housing, was to be a cornerstone of an Atlanta redevelopment. As explained by the court,

“The relevant factual history is undisputed. In the mid 1990′s, the Atlanta Housing Authority (“AHA”) sought to redevelop the Perry Homes public housing development. Perry Golf, Columbia, and Brock Built, LLC, formed an entity, Perry Homes Redevelopment, LLC (“PHR”), to bid on the redevelopment project, and PHR ultimately was awarded the contract by the AHA. In 2001, PHR executed a revitalization agreement with AHA that laid out a general plan for the redevelopment.

“In 2002, the three members of PHR executed an operating agreement that governed each party’s rights and obligations in furtherance of the redevelopment plan. The agreement outlined three main areas of obligations: development of a golf course by Perry Golf, development of multi-family housing by Columbia, and development of single-family housing by Brock Built. The agreement also contained a provision for dispute resolution allowing an aggrieved party to demand binding arbitration.”

The arbitration provision was broad in scope, encompassing “any difference, disagreement[,] or failure to agree between the parties arising out of or in connection with this Agreement or any of the Project Documents including any question regarding the application, existence, validity, performance, withdrawal from or non-performance, or termination of this Agreement or any clause contained within this Agreement or any Project Document or any matter in any way connected with this Agreement or the rights,duties, or obligations of any party to this Agreement or any Project Document.”

In 2005, Perry Golf found itself in a dispute with one of the other parties to the agreement, and filed a demand for arbitration. The arbitrator found the dispute fell within the scope of the arbitration provision, but ruled against Perry Golf, finding that “the project-related obligations in the operating agreement nevertheless were unenforceable as between Perry Golf and Brock Built based on the agreement’s lack of mutuality between the two.”

Some time thereafter, Perry Golf found itself on the outside looking in, as the Atlanta Housing Authority decided to move forward on the redevelopment project with just the housing but not the golf course. Believing that it was legally wronged, Perry Golf filed suit. The Atlanta Housing Authority said “not so fast, there’s an arbitration requirement.” Perry Golf argued “how can this be, since an arbitrator previously found the agreement to be unenforceable.”

The trial court ordered arbitration and the Georgia Court of Appeals recently affirmed, explaining as follows:

“the arbitrator explicitly ruled that the arbitration clause encompassed the dispute at issue and was valid and binding, even though the arbitrator held that the operating agreement’s larger project obligations between Perry Golf and Brock built were unenforceable (not void) due to the lack of mutuality. Therefore, the result of the First Arbitration was not that the arbitration clause itself was unenforceable – it was actually the opposite – nor did the First Arbitration hold that the operating agreement was entirely void. The First Arbitration merely addressed the enforceability of the substantive provisions of the operating agreement as between Perry Golf and Brock Built, and no ruling was made as to the enforceability of obligations as to the parties to this appeal.

“Finally, pretermitting the enforceability of the substantive obligations between Perry Golf and Columbia, we note that the operating agreement contained the following severability clause: ‘If any term or provision of this Agreement is held illegal, invalid or unenforceable, such illegality, invalidity, or unenforceability will not affect the legality, validity or enforceability of the remainder of this Agreement.’”

 

 

 

 

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