More than 200 plaintiffs join Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands lawsuit | AspenTimes.com

More than 200 plaintiffs join Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands lawsuit

File photo More than 200 plaintiffs who own fractional-units at the Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands are suing because they allege the value of their units have plummeted because of an affiliation with Marriott Vacation Club.

A lawsuit that started with two plaintiffs nearly a year ago has swelled to more than 200 complainants who allege the value of their fractional-ownership units at the Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands has dropped more than 80 percent because of its affiliation with Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp.

Last year, on Dec. 31, California residents Jennifer Kaplan and Alexander Busansky, who own a one-twelfth share at the Highlands Ritz, were the lone plaintiffs in a suit in Pitkin County District Court against Marriott, the Aspen Highlands Condominium Association, the Ritz-Carlton Club and other associated companies.

The suit claims that the fractional units lost their exclusivity and became unmarketable after the Ritz-Carlton Club affiliated with Marriott Vacations.

Aspen Highlands owners were notified of the possible affiliation in April 2012. Two years later, they learned they could trade a week of fractional interests for points with the Marriott exchange program, while Marriott members could exchange a week at the Ritz at Aspen, the suit said. And while Ritz-Carlton Club owners pay condo association fees, Marriott points holders do not, according to the complaint.

"As a result of the affiliation, owners of the Ritz-Carlton units in Aspen have seen their property drop in value to less than 20 percent of their original purchase prices. Our lawsuit alleges the decision to affiliate was unlawful for several reasons, including that Marriott breached its fiduciary duty to protect the value of the Ritz-Carlton — Aspen properties and unjustly enriched itself at the expense of Ritz-Carlton fractional owners," says the website for Girard Gibbs LLC, one of the law firms representing the plaintiffs. The Aspen attorney for the plaintiffs, Matt Ferguson, was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

The lawsuit was transferred to the U.S. District Court in Denver in May at the defendants' request. It also has been amended three times to reflect the additional plaintiffs, most recently Nov. 11, and has met opposition from the defendants who are aiming to dismiss it. The plaintiffs include individuals, trusts and corporations that own fractionals at the Highlands Ritz. Some are lumped together as owners of a single fractional unit.

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More than 800 fractional units have been sold at the Ritz-Carlton Club at Highlands, with prices ranging from $200,000 to $400,000 each, the suit said. Aspen Highlands Condo Association noted that a majority of fractional owners haven't joined the suit.

"Although plaintiffs have added additional fractional unit-holders to their complaint, there remain over 700 fractional unit-holders who are not plaintiffs and who may have been able to assert claims against the association," Aspen Highlands Condo Association said in a Nov. 23 motion to dismiss the complaint.

The Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands, built in 2001, was the hotel flag's first fractional ownership property. The 1⁄12 fractionals entitle owners to four weeks of use per year.

Members of the Bachelor Gulch in Beaver Creek and Jupiter, Florida, clubs cut ties with the Ritz-Carlton in 2013 and 2014, respectively, because of its affiliation with Marriott. The owners at Aspen Highlands weren't given that option, the suit says.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com