A Collier County Circuit judge has sided with a golf club member at Mediterra, saying he should get his deposit back.
On Tuesday, Collier County Circuit Court Judge Hugh Hayes granted a summary judgment against Long Bay Partners in a case brought by Glenn Bolles, a resigned member who never lived in Mediterra.
Bolles has been seeking to recover his $180,000 membership deposit. His Naples attorney had no comment.
Similar cases are pending against Long Bay Partners and its affiliate Bonita Bay Group over lost deposits.
Last year, Bonita Bay Group abruptly stopped honoring its policy to refund deposits to resigning members within 30 days. The financially strapped developer made that decision after seeing a surge of resignations and a “run on the bank” by members seeking refunds at its golf clubs, including Mediterra.
The judge’s order is not yet signed. Bonita Bay Group will fight the decision. The developer has argued that it had the legal right to modify its membership agreement.
“Although the circumstances in the Bolles case are different from those in the other cases concerning the refund of membership deposits, we believe the court misperceived the law and we will vigorously appeal the ruling. Unfortunately, the appeals process will necessarily prolong the dispute well into 2010,” said Brian Lucas, vice chairman of Bonita Bay Group.
Some think the judge’s decision — if upheld — will set the stage for other resigned members who haven’t received their money to get a refund.
“It’s a precedent,” said Michael Lissack, a Mediterra resident who has resigned from the club. “It they appeal it in the appellate court and the appellate court upholds it, it’s a binding precedent.”
“All of the rest of the cases are in front of the same judge,” he said. “Do you think he’s going to rule in a different way?”
Lucas sees it another way. He said the contract with Bolles is different from what most members at Mediterra and other clubs signed because he didn’t live in a Bonita Bay community.
“This case is different from other pending matters because the membership contract included specific and unique language that appeared only in a very limited number of membership contracts,” he said.
In a motion for summary judgment, Bolles’ attorney argued that his client was entitled to get his refund “as a matter of law.”
In his lawsuit, Bolles claimed the developer had breached its contract because it had agreed to “unconditionally repay” him within 30 days of his resignation.
According to the suit, Glenn Bolles and his wife Carole are Minnesota residents who also have a home in Naples. He said they were solicited by the membership sales director at Mediterra to join the club in the spring of 2008. At that time, they were told about the 30-day refund policy, which was presented as a feature that differentiated the Mediterra Club from others in the area. Without that policy, the Bolles claim they would have never become members.
The Bolles resigned from the club on Nov. 20, 2008, and never received any of their money back, according to the lawsuit.
Some are concerned the judge’s ruling could derail agreements members have struck to buy their clubs from the developer.
Bonita Bay Group has negotiated deals to sell the Mediterra Club and the Shadow Wood and Commons clubs — both in The Brooks — to their members.
Dave English, president of the Shadow Wood Country Club in Estero, said his advisory board and its attorneys will study the ruling.
“Obviously it’s of concern,” he said.
Earlier this week, the community held town hall meetings about the planned turnover of the golf club. More than 1,000 people attended. So far, 227 people have signed up to join the new member-owned club. That’s about 20 percent of what’s needed to make it viable, English said.
“That is going very well,” he said of signing up members for the new club.
Members have agreed to purchase the Shadow Wood and Commons clubs — and their assets — for $8.25 million in cash.
Bonita Bay Group has agreed to keep the liability, but, in turn, it will collect the joining fees from new members to offset that cost.
There is a concern that if members think they can get their deposits back no matter what they’ll be less likely to join the new club.
“We are going to keep pushing ahead because we believe we are better off taking over the clubs before potential bankruptcy,” English said.
Lissack said he doesn’t think the judge’s decision will affect the deal the developer has reached to sell the Mediterra Club to its members. Members have offered to pay $6.8 million cash for their club and to assume $15 million in debt for a Community Development District that helped pay for roads, sewer hookups and other shared needs as Mediterra got off the ground.
Ninety-five percent of the current members — or more than 470 residents — have agreed to join the new club. Another 150 residents, who aren’t members, will become either golf, sports or social members.
“Mediterra is a done deal,” Lissack said. “It’s closing. It will go through.”
Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.