By: Rob Harris
In 2006, James Doroshow forked over $100,000 for a “full equity membership” in a California country club that the California Court of Appeal has chosen not to identify in an opinion released earlier this month.
According to the court, in January 2012, Mr. Doroshow was expelled from the unnamed club “by a [board of directors] vote of 11-0, with one abstention.” The club arranged for the sale of Mr. Doroshow’s membership at a reduced price, and he received $10,000.
Mr. Doroshow brought suit against the members of the board, asserting that the club’s actions constituted a host of claims, including conversion, defamation, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, trespass to personal property, negligence, and intentional and negligent interference with contractual relations.
The trial court ruled in favor of the board members, holding, without the benefit of a trial, that “the process for expelling Plaintiff from the Club ‘does not have to be perfect; it has to be fair and the court finds that it was.’” The trial court’s decision has been reversed on appeal, with the Court of Appeal holding that there are disputed issues of material fact that will need to be sorted out at trial.
Among the factual claims are the following, as set forth by the court in its opinion:
Three alleged rule violations preceded Plaintiff’s expulsion from the Club. In July 2011, Plaintiff was involved in an altercation with another member, Drew Grey. The incident began on the golf course and spilled over to the Club patio, where Grey continued to verbally assault Plaintiff and his guests while they dined. After repeatedly asking Grey to stop, Plaintiff momentarily held Grey against a wall with his hand on Grey’s chest. Grey filed a complaint with the Club, which the rules committee investigated. After completing its investigation, the committee notified Plaintiff that it would hold a hearing concerning the alleged incident. The committee did not provide Plaintiff with a copy of Grey’s written complaint. Plaintiff nevertheless attended the hearing and had an opportunity to present evidence. Both Plaintiff and Grey received 90-day suspensions for the incident.
Following the Grey incident, Defendants took a secret vote to expel Plaintiff from the Club. At the time, Defendants concluded they did not have “a sufficient ‘paper record’ ” to take the desired action. Plaintiff maintains Defendants thereafter conspired to “fabricate reasons” to justify his expulsion.
In December 2011, another member, Michael Prince, submitted a written complaint to the rules committee alleging that Plaintiff intentionally hit a golf ball in his direction, endangering his personal safety. Plaintiff and other members stated Prince hit an errant shot from the fourth fairway onto the fifth fairway where Plaintiff and his group were playing. Before Plaintiff saw Prince, who was several hundred yards away attempting to retrieve his ball, Plaintiff hit a shot from the fifth tee. Though Plaintiff had no intention of endangering Prince, Plaintiff’s shot landed near him.
The committee investigated the incident, interviewed witnesses and reviewed Plaintiff’s written statement concerning the matter. The committee then notified Plaintiff that it had scheduled a hearing to address Prince’s complaint. Plaintiff did not receive a copy of Prince’s written complaint in advance of the hearing.
Despite notifying Plaintiff that the hearing would be limited to the Prince incident,the rules committee also questioned Plaintiff concerning his alleged violations of the Club’s rules regarding the use of cell phones. Plaintiff explained to the committee that,due to the recent untimely death of his wife, the Club’s general manager had given him permission to use his cell phone in emergencies to speak with his children.Notwithstanding the accommodation, and Plaintiff’s subsequent showing that the triggering phone call had been from his son concerning a car accident, the committee suspended Plaintiff for a total of 120 days for the Prince incident and cell phone violations.
On January 17, 2012, the rules committee submitted a memorandum to the board of directors detailing the foregoing rule violations and recommending Plaintiff’s expulsion from the Club. Plaintiff received a copy of the memorandum and written notice that the board would consider his expulsion at a subsequent hearing. The notice advised Plaintiff that he was “invited to appear [at the hearing] to present any evidence or reasons as to why [he] should not be expelled.”
In advance of the hearing, Plaintiff submitted a written statement and petition by several Club members opposing his expulsion. In communications preceding the hearing, Defendants called Plaintiff a “liar” and referred to him as a “poster boy” for cellphone violations, notwithstanding the accommodation the Club’s general manager had granted to Plaintiff.
Mr. Doroshow claims that he was unfairly expelled, especially when his conduct is compared to two members who “deliberately struck a golf ball at another member’s wife,” but received only a thirty day suspension due to their friendship with a member of the board.