WEST PALM BEACH – A court has granted award of attorney's fees in a case involving Trump National Golf Club Jupiter and The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa Jupiter.
The attorneys who represented class members in a deposit-return lawsuit filed against Jupiter Golf Club LLC, which does business as Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, and RBF LLC, which does business as The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa Jupiter, were awarded $2.08 million in fees, plus interest, as well as $9,300 in nontaxable costs.
Judge Kenneth A. Marra | stetson.edu
According to the Jan. 18 order by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, interest on the fee award, which will be paid from a common judgment fund established for class members, will accrue at a rate of 0.82 percent. The awarded fee amount represents 36 percent of the common fund.
The order also awarded class representatives Norman Hirsch, Matthew Dwyer and Ralph Willard $2,000 each from the common fund.
Following a trial in the deposit-refund case, the district court ordered that a $5.77 million fund be established for class members.
In a Feb. 1 ruling authored by U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra, the court said the lead plaintiffs “purchased refundable memberships in the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa Jupiter, (now known as) Trump National Golf Club Jupiter.” The plaintiffs alleged the club’s owner “failed to refund their membership deposits under the terms of the agreements they executed to become club members.”
The lawsuit class included 65 club members.
Under their membership agreements, club members could obtain a refund of their deposit within 30 days of payment under four specific circumstances, including “ termination of the membership plan,  termination of any category of membership,  recall of the membership or  the discontinuance of operation of all or substantially all of the club facilities,” the ruling said.
The district court said the dispute between the members and the club’s owners stemmed from a question of “whether defendant recalled the memberships of plaintiffs and the class members entitling them to a return of the membership deposits within 30 days.”
According to the ruling, the club was sold to Trump National Golf Club Jupiter on Nov. 14, 2012, and as part of the sale assumed the obligation to refund $4.85 million in membership deposits.
In addition, the district court said several club members informed the previous owner, Ritz, that they wanted to give up their memberships, but, while they were still on a resignation waiting list, they “remained obligated ‘to continue to pay dues, fees and other charges.’”
In addition, the membership agreement specified “[i]f a membership [wa]s reissued during a membership year, the resigned member shall be entitled to a refund of a pro rata portion of any dues and other fees paid in advance for which services have yet to be rendered.”
After a Dec. 14, 2012 meeting held by the new owner, the court said the club “disseminated a letter to all club members, including those on the resignation waiting list,” that listed three choices for memberships. These options included “opt-in; opt-out; or remain on the resignation waiting list, but pay no club dues and have no club access.”
“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,” the ruling said.