By Earle Kimel, Staff Writer, Herald Tribune
Posted Feb 25, 2019 at 5:32 AM
Eight former members claim they were short-changed on the amount of refund they were due on equity memberships, after bylaw change improperly impacted their checks.
A two-year-old lawsuit against Plantation Golf and Country Club, alleging that the club did not properly reimburse former members for equity remaining in their memberships, is being being expanded later this week to include at least seven more plaintiffs. The original suit was filed by Beverly White in 2017, after she received a refund of only $1,200, instead of the $24,000 anticipated when she and her late husband Kenneth resigned their membership in 2007.
Plantation Golf and Country Club is located at 500 Rockley Boulevard, in unincorporated Sarasota County — between Venice and North Port. It was founded in 1980. Andrew Marcus, the attorney for the Plantation Golf and Country Club, declined comment through an assistant for this story. People who join the club purchase an equity membership. Those who resign their membership are put on a waiting list for reimbursement, once a new member buys into the club to replace them. In 1995, when Beverly and Kenneth White — a Tuskegee Airman who died in 2010 at age 88 — signed up for an equity membership, they paid $18,000.
Those shares could either rise or fall in value and in 2007, when they resigned, equity memberships were valued at $30,000. Based on the refund formula in place in 2007, the should have received 80 percent of their equity capital contribution back. In April 2016, a few months before White received her check, the club amended its bylaws to reduce that amount.
The suit contends that action inappropriately reduced the amount the Whites and other former members should receive. Attorney Christina Unkel said after her firm of Maglio Christopher & Toale took on the White’s
case, “people started coming out of the woodwork.” “The crazy part is some of them are sons, daughters whose parents passed away,” she added. As recently as June 2012, White received correspondence from the club’s membership director that said she would receive $24,000. But in June 2016, when White’s name rose to the top of the refund list, she received a check for only $1,200.
Unkel is quick to point to minutes of a 2013 meeting of the Plantation Golf and Country Club Legal Committee. The document, which Unkel received during discovery, is redacted to block both the names of the legal committee and the club counsel at that time.
In those minutes, the board was advised that a change in bylaws to reduce the amount refunded should only affect people who currently hold equity memberships, and resigned members like White would still be entitled to the higher fees — unless 100 percent of the resigned members agreed to reduced compensation. Based on those minutes, Unkel asserts that board members changed the formula for redemption in the bylaws against their own attorney’s advice.
In 2013, at the time of those discussions, the club was no longer offering the type of membership the Whites purchased. Instead, they type of membership offered were valued at only $5,000 — which meant six new members would have to purchase equity memberships to be able to refund White and others, as defined in the bylaws.