Litigants in a class action lawsuit involving membership dues at a Florida golf club linked to President Donald Trump filed an unopposed motion Friday to settle the case for nearly $5.45 million.
The proposed settlement agreement would end more than four years of litigation against Jupiter Golf Club, which does business as Trump National Golf Club Jupiter. If approved, it would require the club to pay millions, with no admission of wrongdoing.
Name plaintiffs Norman Hirsch, Matthew Dwyer and Ralph Willard brought the class action on behalf of 65 club members. They sued the club in Jupiter, which belongs to the Trump Organization, which acquired and renovated the former Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa in 2012.
When the Ritz-Carlton club sold, it carried a roughly $41 million net obligation to members who’d paid refundable deposits, according to Trump’s April 2015 deposition in the case.
Plaintiffs said the ownership change brought a new policy: They’d have to convert to nonrefundable deposits, or immediately give up the benefits of membership if they opted to initiate the lengthy refund process. Under the previous ownership, qualified members who wanted to recoup their deposits would sign up for a resignation list and wait until their names reached the top—a process that court records suggest often took months or years. During that time, they’d continue to pay dues and use the facilities. But under the Trump Organization’s proposal, members who agreed to convert their deposits would get a 10 percent reduction in dues for three years and access to other Trump properties, while those who didn’t would see a 20 percent spike in dues and face other pressures to surrender membership.
The case hinged on whether the club’s denial of access amounted to a membership recall that entitled plaintiffs to their deposits within 30 days.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra of the Southern District of Florida ruled last year that it did, prompting Jupiter Golf Club to appeal.
Following a February 2017 bench trial, Marra found the company breached its contract by refusing refunds to dozens of patrons. Plaintiffs won a nearly $4.85 million award, $925,010 in prejudgment interest and $23,579 for taxable costs.
About 36 percent of the judgment amount—nearly $2.1 million—would have gone to the class counsel, according to details in the proposed settlement.
Now, the parties propose using a nearly $5.45 million settlement fund to pay all court-approved attorney fees, taxable costs, nontaxable costs and incentive awards to class representatives.
Class counsel, Bradley J. Edwards and Seth Lehrman of Edwards Pottinger in Fort Lauderdale, declined to comment.
Herman J. Russomanno III, of Russomanno & Borrello in Miami, represented Jupiter Golf Club.
“The parties understand and agree that neither the payment of any sum of money … will constitute or be construed as an admission of any wrongdoing or liability whatsoever,” Russomanno said.
It is now up to Marra to decide whether to approve the settlement.