Pennsylvania

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By: Rob Harris

Quite a few professional golfers decided to forego the completion of their formal high school education, preferring to spend their days in pursuit of fame and fortune. Neither Kevin Na, Sean O’Hair, Justin Rose and my home town golf celebrity Bobby Mitchell (I mean, how many golfers beat Jack Nicklaus in sudden death at the Tournament of Champions) made it all the way to their senior prom.

If Meadow Lands golf course in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania has its way, hundreds of students–elementary school students, no less–will have their education curtailed due to golf.

Meadow Lands happens to be the place that the Phoenixville Area School District identified as the ideal location for its new early learning center and elementary school. The new facilities are needed, according to the District, because the existing schools cannot accommodate the growth of the young student population. Without the new school, the student population will exceed capacity by at least 143 as of the 2016-17 school year.

Meadow Lands is not necessarily averse to turning over the keys to the course in furtherance of education. However, it wants $8 million to do so, while the school district’s offer is $5 million. Seeking help from a third party of the black-robed variety, the school district has commenced an eminent domain proceeding. The next hearing date is scheduled for May 16–prime time for golf and end-of-school-year festivities. Stories about the dispute can be found here and here and here.

By: Rob Harris

For golf fans, perhaps the most interesting thing about the Texas Court of Appeals recent opinion in Professional Association of Golf Officials v. Phillips Campbell & Phillips, L.L.P.A. is that there is an organization of Professional Association of Golf Officials. Indeed, there is.

As the organization describes itself in the lawsuit which it brought against its prior attorneys, PAGO “was formed as a labor union to represent the interests of tournament officials employed by PGA Tour, Inc. on any one of its three professional golf tours, PGA Tour, Nationwide Tour, and Champions Tour.”

For twenty years, the defendant law firm and its predecessor represented PAGO. Alleging that its attorneys had failed to keep up with the industry, as a result of which PAGO claimed to have  ”lost time and again at the bargaining table and in other matters with PGA Tour, Inc.,” PAGO terminated the Phillips law firm.

PAGO claimed that the firm did not go quietly, but rather “set out on a warpath.” demanding $100,000 in fees and refusing to turn over to PAGO its books and records.

PAGO filed suit, opting to do so in Texas, where its new attorney was located, even though the Phillips firm was located in Pennsylvania, which also was the legal residence of PAGO.

The choice of a Texas litigation venue led to a collateral skirmish as to whether the suit could appropriately be brought in Texas by PAGO. Almost two years after the lawsuit was filed, the Texas Court of Appeals has said “no”, holding that the Texas court does not have personal jurisdiction over the Phillips law firm.

Next steps for PAGO? It can try to convince the Texas Supreme Court to overturn the Court of Appeals–not likely. PAGO can refile its lawsuit in Pennsylvania, where there clearly would be jurisdiction, and a court can (finally) address the merits of PAGO’s claims. Or, with the passage of time and the presumed cooling of emotions, PAGO can attempt to negotiate a resolution with the law firm and move on.

 

By: Rob Harris

This week’s installment of “Can We Turn Our Golf Course Into Housing” comes from Newberry Township, Pennsylvania. The owner of Valley Green Golf Course seeks zoning approval which would permit conversion of the 100 acre golf course into a residential development consisting of 336 single-family homes, town houses, and duplexes.

The owner contends the current development restriction on the property constitutes unlawful “spot zoning,” since other open areas within the township are not subject to the same prohibition.

Standing in the owner’s way, according to reports, is the historical record. Allegedly, the owner agreed to the zoning restriction seven years ago, in exchange for receiving permission to develop adjacent neighborhoods with higher density than would otherwise have been approved. Thus, the developer is being accused of obtaining the benefit of this bargain, and now trying to undo the green space concession it made.

 

By: Rob Harris

Had alleged golf professional Vincent James Grosso not missed the judicial equivalent of a tee time, he might have had a tough time convincing a Pennsylvania court why he and his golf partner, Carl Hinrichs, were unjustly deprived of their free golf trip to Scotland.

According to the opinion released this week by the Pennsylvania Superior Court, Grosso and Hinrichs claim to have won a charity tournament sponsored by the Catholic Leadership Conference at Blue Bell Country Club in 2001. However, the first prize–the aforementioned trip to Scotland–was taken away when word got out that Grosso was a PGA Professional, thus making him and Hinrichs ineligible for this erstwhile amateur event.

Believing themselves to be aggrieved, the Grosso-Hinrichs twosome brought suit, an action that defendants the trial court appears to have viewed with disfavor, based on its characterization of the lawsuit: “this is an action by a PGA professional and a colleague who entered the golf tournament to prey on amateurs and a charity.”

Whether by inadvertence or design, the plaintiffs avoided confronting the court directly, by managing to pursue the case with sufficient casualness that the court dismissed it on procedural grounds. The Superior Court, on appeal, affirmed the dismissal.

 

By: Rob Harris

During the first three-and-a-half years of my undergraduate education at Quaker-founded, left-leaning Haverford College, I would regularly subject my father (a manufacturer of men’s windbreakers) to expositions  about the oppression of the working class. Finally, during winter break of my senior year, Dad had enough. He took me to the basement, rummaged through an old box and retrieved a dusty copy of his college thesis, the title of which was something like “Toward a Planned Economy.” “Yes,” my father said, “I was a socialist. I was a socialist until I had to meet my first payroll. And then I became a capitalist real fast.”  You win, Dad. Game. Set. Match.

I thought of my father today when I read this morning that members of the carpenters’ and stagehands’ unions have set up pickets at Merion Golf Club and the adjoining Haverford campus. In anticipation of this year’s U.S. Open at Merion, the USGA has engaged a company called Classic Tents to erect spectator amenities, including tents and a pedestrial bridge at Haverford. Classic Tents apparently is utilizing non-union labor thereby creating the furor.

The USGA has announced a desire “to explore opportunities for [union] members to complement the work being done at Merion by companies who have long-term agreements with the USGA.” Meanwhile, the unions have “suggested” that the issue ”will escalate if they don’t fix it.” Watch for a solution in short order.

While on the conjoined subjects of Merion and Haverford, this is a great opportunity to plug my former Haverford College golf teammate David Barrett and his prize winning book “Miracle at Merion” about Ben Hogan’s victory in the 1950 U.S. Open. As I recall, there’s nothing in David’s book about labor unrest. Just a fascinating account of a great U.S. Open at Merion.

By: Rob Harris

While golfers viewing Pinecrest Lake Golf and Country Club saw greens and green fairways, the tax assessor for Monroe County, Pennsylvania saw green dollar signs. Doing what tax assessors are trained to do, he determined the value of the property as a golf course and sent the bill to the owner.

The owner–who by various transactions was serving not only as the title holder to the golf course but also was functioning as the homeowners’ association for the 325 homes built in the community–appealed the assessment.

The argument advanced by the owner was that the assessor should not be valuing the golf course as a stand alone property, but rather as an amenity for the 325 home community. Under this argument, the tax liability would not fall on the owner based on the stand alone value of the golf course. Rather, each home owner should be assessed based on the incremental increase in his or her property value by virtue of this community amenity. The nature of valuation being what it is, there likely would be no attributable incremental value, and the logistics of attempting to capture whatever minimal value might exist would be burdensome and certain to annoy the good citizens of Monroe County who might be inclined to express their displeasure come election time.

It was no surprise that the course owner was unable to convince the dollar starved Monroe County Board of Assessment Appeals of the rectitude of its position.  The owner’s next destination was the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County, which reversed the Board’s decision, leaving the Board with the need to pursue an appeal if it hoped to capture the wanted tax dollars.

This week the appellate court rendered its decision, awarding the golf course owner victory. The key determining factor was the court’s conclusion that the course was a common amenity for the community home owners. The court reached this decision even though “memberships may be purchased by outside individuals who do not own units within the planned community, [even though] employees are offered limited golf privileges as part of their compensation, and [even though] unit owner members who wish to play pay extra fees over and above their base fees and are allowed to bring guests.”

Relying on precedential law from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the appellate court rejected the argument that purity was required. As the court held, “the golf course parcels … are “common facilities” exempt from separate taxation …, regardless of whether individuals other than Community units owners had golf course memberships or privileges.”

For now, the tax man stands defeated.

By: Rob Harris

In a profile of the Scranton Canoe Club golf course, a club executive noted that “the small size of the course allows members of all ages to walk the links rather than use a golf cart.”

This attribute will prove valuable–at least to six golfers–as the club has reported a July 4 theft of three golf carts. The club’s leader, given the title “Commodore”, expresses optimism that the carts will be recovered. As he explained,  ”it’s foolish that someone would come and take golf carts.  You can’t get very far with them.”

Until then, enjoy the walkability of the course.

 

By: Jordan Ruby

I, personally, have never needed a reason to go play miniature golf other than my affinity for the tiny version of the game that I love. I held my Birthday party at my home course every year until my last child tooth fell out, and I loved every minute of it. But if you could tell me that by playing miniature golf I would not only enjoy the normal benefits, but also help the town that I live in fight crime? I think that’s just about as close to a no-brainer as anything I can think of.

The geniuses at the Berks County Police Department in Pennsylvania helped make that a reality. They just opened up a new miniature golf course that will help fund the town’s anonymous tip-line. The department offers cash rewards for those who call in to offer some information on crimes, but that is a lot of money to use up and the only other option was to potentially raise taxes to help offset the cost. Instead, and in what will likely be remembered as the greatest idea anyone has had since they decided to put a phone on the ninth tee box to order hot dogs at the turn, the department built a brand new golf course that sends 20% of its proceeds to the tip-line, which will ultimately help fund the service that can help bring more criminals to justice. The patrons win because they get to play a great round of putt-putt, the department wins because they can fund their struggling program, those who call in anonymous tips win because they will be able to get the cash rewards that were likely their incentive, the criminals lose; but we weren’t rooting for them anyway.

Golf, and its miniature incarnation, is very popular in this Country right now and this is a great way to use their popularity in a way that can benefit the entire community. Opening up a miniature golf course for profit is a smart business idea. Opening up a course like this that will benefit the Community in a number of different ways is not only a good business idea, but a compassionate one was well.

The target of the anonymous tip line program is local students, who might be friends with someone who has committed a crime. Professional criminals might not be wary to share the details of their heist with others, but students are prone to brag, and if there is money on the line, it wouldn’t be uncalled for someone to betray a classmate for a cash reward. And if someone plays miniature golf, and then is made privy to a crime that they could then call into the police then Hey! That’s 20% off your round of golf plus interest, basically.

Nobody wants to see taxes raised on their income. But to see money that someone would already be spending anyway, then that is just about the best outcome anyone could possibly hope for. Except, of course, the criminals.

Thanks to Jordan Ruby for this guest post. Jordan is Director of Content at Price Benowitz LLP. You may visit the firm’s Maryland criminal attorney and Virginia criminal lawyer sites for more information. You can also visit the link here for more info on the program about which he writes.

 

By: Rob Harris

The Country Club of Scranton offers an enticing invitation to club members and their guests:

“If you’re looking for a great dining experience, the Country Club of Scranton is the place to go. Whether it’s outside on the Club’s majestic patio overlooking the golf course or in the classical Grill Room where plaques listing tournament champions from the past 50 years adorn the walls, you’ll find something to suit your culinary tastes and have it expertly served by our veteran waitstaff. From prime steaks and chops, to the very freshest fish and seafood entrees, you will have a difficult time trying to decide which great dish to order.”

According to a federal jury, it wasn’t always this way.

The former executive chef at the club, having worked his way up from line cook over a 22 year career, was fired in 2009. Believing that he was being pushed aside as the result of age discrimination, he filed suit.  The club defended by marching in board members who testified about the complaints that members made about the food.

The jury apparently agreed with the club’s view that a change in kitchen leadership was appropriate, and rejected the claim of discrimination.

By: Rob Harris

The details are still somewhat murky, but there’s an interesting legal dispute unfolding in Pennsylvania. According to one news report, golf pro Sam Depe purchased Hickory Heights Golf Club in 2008. Depe had a partner, Gary Reinert, Sr., a restaurateur who had other commercial interests. Reinert ran into financial troubles, resulting in a bankruptcy filing early this year.

Apparently, however, Reinert borrowed $250,000 from a New York resident, Marc Nuccitelli. Reinert defaulted, with the unpaid principal and interest now totaling almost $450,000. According to Nuccitelli’s legal complaint, Reinert collateralized the loan with Depe’s golf course. Nuccitelli’s lawsuit seeks title to the course. He originally filed the suit in Pennsylvania state court, but it has been removed to federal court.

Sam Depe’s saga is what makes this story even more poignant than a typical partner-takes-advantage-of-partner tale. Depe was badly injured in an automobile accident, resulting in the amputation of both legs. He rebounded, purchased Hickory Heights for $1.35 million with the help of a then unnamed partner, who apparently was Reinert. Depe, the son of a golf pro, brought his own son into the business.

Stay tuned, as we see how this plays out. Mediation, anyone?

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