Volleys exchanged in Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands suit | AspenTimes.com

Volleys exchanged in Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands suit

A federal judge is now tasked with deciding whether to dismiss a class-action lawsuit pitting a group of owners of fractional units at the Ritz-Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands against Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corp.

Marriott Vacations is asking a judge to drop the complaint, chiefly because it contends the plaintiffs have failed to provide sufficient evidence for the case to proceed, according to court documents.

Marriott’s 21-page motion was introduced April 14, nearly 16 months after California residents Jennifer Kaplan and Alexander Busansky sued Marriott Vacations in Pitkin County District Court in January 2016. The case has since transferred to the U.S. District Court in Denver.

Kaplan and Busansky originally were the sole plaintiffs in the suit, which has grown to a class-action complaint comprising more than 240 fractional owners, the plaintiffs’ attorneys said Wednesday.

“The case has been fully briefed and it’s now in the judge’s hands,” said Walnut Creek, California, attorney Michael Reiser, who along with Aspen lawyer Matt Ferguson represents the class of plaintiffs.

The suit claims that the values of the fractional-ownership units have been depleted to the tune of 80 percent because of new membership terms that were enforced without the owners’ consent. The units also aren’t as marketable as they once were because the Marriott affiliation stripped them of the exclusivity they once had, the suit contends.

The Ritz-Carlton Club debuted at Aspen Highlands in 2001 and has 876 1/12 fractional ownership interests, which entitle owners to four weeks of use per year. Their prices once ranged from $200,000 to $400,000 each, the suit claims, but have nosedived ever since the Ritz-Carlton Club established an affiliation with Marriott Vacation Club Destinations in April 2014.

At that time, Aspen Highlands Ritz members learned they could exchange a week of their fractional interests for points with the Marriott exchange program, the suit says. That also meant that members of Marriott Vacation Club can stay at the Aspen Highlands Ritz-Carlton, and by doing so, have diminished the value of the fractional units, the suit claims.

Aspen Times research of Pitkin County property records shows some of the fractional units have sold for below six figures, including one that closed for $28,000 on April 29. That same fractional sold for $432,250 in October 2006, swapping hands multiple times for six figures before it sold for $48,000 in April 2014, around the same time owners learned that the Marriott affiliation was a done deal.

The case is similar to another class-action case playing out in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, where some owners of fractional units at the Lake Tahoe Ritz are suing Marriott Vacations. Like the Aspen Highlands case, the defendants asked the judge to dismiss the case, but lost that bid in a Feb. 13 ruling by Judge Morrison C. England Jr.

In the Aspen Highlands case, the Ritz owners say they must pay condo association fees ranging from $12,000 to $16,000 a year, while Marriott point-holders do not. They also contend they had no influence on the affiliation with Marriott, though they were informed nearly two years before the affiliation was made official that it was being negotiated.

Marriott, however, argued in its motion to dismiss that the Aspen Highlands condo association’s declaration did not require Ritz members to vote on the affiliation in question. Marriott also contended that the trading program is strictly voluntary and Ritz members are not obligated to participate in it.

Additionally, Marriott contends that the fractional owners have failed to show “any casual link” that demonstrates the plummet in their units’ value can be tied directly to the affiliation.

The Ritz owners, however, argue in a May filing that Marriott was “well aware that the proposed affiliation would both depress the value of the plaintiffs’ fractional units and enrich the Marriott defendants.”

It adds, “Due to defendants’ actions, approximately 400,000 (Marriott Vacation Club) members — who paid a small fraction of the purchase prices plaintiffs paid, and who pay lower annual fees — have access to the once exclusive Ritz-Aspen. While defendants have profited from this affiliation, the value of plaintiffs’ fractional interests has been destroyed.”

Judge Philip A. Brimmer is presiding over the dispute.