U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Marra on Wednesday refused yet another request by Donald Trump to toss a 2013 lawsuit filed against his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter.
The Dec. 7 order means the case continues against Donald Trump’s country club, even though Trump is set to be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in January.
Club members say Trump hasn’t returned an estimated $6 million to members of his country club off Donald Ross Road. Trump bought the club from the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club & Spa for $5 million in 2012.
When the Ritz owned it, deposits ranging from $35,000 to $210,000 were refundable. But once Trump bought the club, some club members say Trump changed the rules and refused to return their deposits.
In July, Marra denied Trump’s request to throw out the lawsuit against Trump National. He also denied a request that the lawsuit not go forward as a class-action case.
In his Dec. 7 order, Marra made it clear that the issue raised in the July request were raised also in the trial held in West Palm Beach in August.
“The best course of action is for the Court to resolve these issues with the benefit of a full trial record,” Marra wrote.
In other words, Marra isn’t going to let Trump out on an easy procedural move.
Rather, he’ll make his decision on all the issues when he renders a decision based on the two-day August trial.
Trump lawyer Herman J. Russomanno III of Miami issued this statement: “Although the Trump Club would have been pleased if the Court granted their motion, it is the Trump Club’s position that as to the ultimate ruling following the bench trial, that the Court should find in favor of the Trump Club.”
Russomanno said the trial showed that the members had resigned from the club and therefore didn’t have the right to use the club after they had resigned.
The issue of whether members resigned, or were terminated as members by Trump, is a major sticking point in the case.
Club members who are plaintiffs in the case say Trump breached their contract, misled them and then refused to give them back their deposits. But at the trial, Trump son Eric Trump testified that the Trump Organization had saved the ailing club.
Donald Trump, who at the time was campaigning as the Republican presidential nominee, did not appear at trial. But his deposition was entered into the record. In it, he described how the Trump Organization had revived the club.
“We have done a substantial upgrade to virtually all the facility: the clubhouse, the courts, the course, the public areas, the dining areas. Everything,” Trump said in an April deposition. “It’s like a brand-new place.”
Donald Trump sent a Dec. 17, 2013, letter to club members that is a key piece of evidence in the case. In that letter, Trump said Ritz members could “opt in” to his new club, in exchange for agreeing their memberships were nonrefundable.
If members weren’t interested in opting in, and they remained on a club resignation list, Trump said he didn’t want them, anyway.
“You’re probably not going to be a very good club member … you’re out,” Trump wrote in the letter. “As the owner of the club, I do not want them to utilize the club nor do I want their dues.”
Sometimes judges give hints as to their trial decision in procedural matters such as this one, lawyers said.
But it remains unclear whether Marra will rule in favor the former club members or in favor of Trump.
The Jupiter golf course remains one of the last major lawsuits still unresolved against the billionaire real estate developer and reality TV star.
A federal lawsuit filed in California involving allegations of fraud at Trump’s now-defunct Trump University recently was settled. The case had been set for trial Nov. 28.
And Trump dropped his $100 million lawsuit against Palm Beach County over jets flying near Mar-A-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach.