Trump Golf Club Must Pay $5M To Members Who Paid Dues But Weren’t Allowed To Play

Image courtesy of Joshua Smith

Former members who sued the Trump National Golf Club are owed more than $5 million after a federal judge ruled in found that the company breached its membership contract by taking plaintiffs’ dues while barring them from actually using the club.

If you’re paying dues to a golf course, you should probably be allowed to play golf on said course. But some members of the Trump National Golf Club were barred from teeing off, even though dues were still being paid — and now the club must pay up.

Sixty-five former members of the Florida club filed suit in federal court in 2013, and this week Judge Kenneth Marra ruled [PDF] in their favor.

The plaintiffs said that they had submitted their resignations to the club, but that this process can take a long time — years, in some cases — to be finalized. Under the club’s previous owners, Ritz-Carlton, members who were going through this process could continue to use the course while they waited. That changed when Donald Trump purchased the property and implemented a new rule.

“As the owner of the club, I do not want them to utilize the club nor do I want their dues,” he wrote in a letter to members at the time.

According to the lawsuit, however, he charged them dues anyway. The lawyer for the plaintiffs tells NPR that the club basically revoked their memberships while keeping their dues and deposits.

“The most important characteristic of a membership is access to the club,” he said. “Well, there’s no doubt that he took away access to the club and, ergo, he took away membership.”

Marra agreed, noting that — as Trump’s son Eric testified — keeping them out of the club at the same time “would violate a fundamental rule of life.”

He notes that the evidence demonstrated that club membership equated to permission to use the club.

“With access removed from this equation, a person would have no Club membership. In other words, without a right to Club access, no membership would exist and this essential purpose of the membership contract would be nullified,” Marra wrote.

He found that by categorically denying class members all rights to club access because they remained on the resignation waiting list when Trump took over, the golf course had effectively cancelled those memberships — but didn’t return deposits due to them ranging from $35,000 to $210,000.

Marra has now ordered [PDF] the club to return $4,849,000 in deposits, plus $925,010 in interest.

The Trump Organization says it will appeal the ruling.

“The plaintiffs were all members under Ritz-Carlton who resigned before Trump purchased the Club. At the time Trump purchased the Club, it was suffering financially, making it unlikely that these members would ever get back their deposits,” the company said in a statement.

“At trial, we presented overwhelming evidence that the plaintiffs’ memberships were never recalled and that the plaintiffs had waived this argument during the course of the litigation. For these reasons and more, we will be filing an appeal.”

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