We ended last week with a new contributor, Justin Morgan from Australia, along with some of the news from the courts in Spain. In those reports it was mention that the court in Tenerife had found once again against Diamond Resorts contracts. We have been reliably informed of many more cases in the pipeline.
If last week is anything to go by, we are expecting many more sentences being announced over the course of this week. Although, these will be among the last before the annual break in August, where Spain basically shuts down for the month.
Just moving away from Diamond for a change, last October we published an article of a class action lawsuit against Marriott. The case is for alleged “racketeering”, a term we usually associate with the old gangster films depicting the escapades of the likes of Al Capone, not large timeshare and hotel companies.
This the Irene Parker’s update on this story.
The Marriott Racketeering Case – An Update
Not since the Book of Genesis [1:9-10] has the extraordinary feat of creating land from nothingness been chronicled … and Marriott “saw that it was good” for business. (Plaintiff’s response to motion to dismiss)
By Irene Parker
Some stories tell themselves
July 3, 2017
Timeshare members find themselves with few friends in Florida state legislative and regulatory circles. The Florida Timeshare Division only acted on 110 out of 2,360 timeshare complaints filed from April 2012 to April 2014. In addition, a Florida law passed in 2015, making it more difficult to get out of a timeshare contract, sparked outrage among timeshare owners and advocates. I’m told $70 billion a year flows into Florida in timeshare dollars. That kind of money certainly could buy a lot of power and influence.
The lawsuit takes aim at Marriott’s points program, which replaced traditional sales of timeshare weeks at specific resorts in 2010. According to the suit, Marriott timeshare customers pay fees associated with owning real estate — such as closing costs and recording fees — but don’t actually own any real estate.
The lawsuit says Marriott timeshare buyers “are being duped into believing they are obtaining title to a real-property interest … when, in fact, they are merely getting a right-to-use license,” the lawsuit says.
“We sense the people behind this lawsuit have a misunderstanding of how our product works. But we follow every aspect of the state regulatory compliance for vacation ownership sales,” Kinney said. “Everything we do as far as sales are reviewed by the state.”
Fast forward one year later
On May 23, 2017, Governor Rick Scott signed into law SB-818 which amends Section 721.05(21) of the Timeshare Act by adding a subsection (b) to clarify that, for purposes of a “multisite timeshare plan” (e.g., the MVC Product), an “Interest Holder” does not include any person or entity that has an interest in, or lien on, the underlying condominium or property:
Revising the definition of the term “interest holder” to clarify that the term does not include certain parties to a certain multisite timeshare plan; revising requirements for the termination of a timeshare plan; specifying the percentage of votes required to extend the term of a timeshare plan under certain circumstances, etc.
Marriott defendants then submit to the Court
Case No. 6:16-cv-855-Orl-41TBS
This Notice is being submitted to alert the Court to a recent amendment (“Amendment”) to the Florida Vacation Plan and Timesharing Act, Fla. Stat. § 721.01, et seq. (“Timeshare Act”), in further support of the Marriott Defendants’1 and the First American Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss the Complaint (see Doc. Entries 77, 78, and 79, filed September 15, 2016).
Attorneys for the Plaintiffs respond to the request for dismissal (excerpts)
Based on the fact that the FVPTA Amendment (which became effective on May 23, 2017) is so specifically tailored to address a narrow exception pertaining precisely to the particular facts of this case, it is beyond obvious that Defendants (immediately following briefing on the motions to dismiss) railroaded the law through the legislative process. Defendants’ blatant lobbying effort smacks of impropriety and amounts to an admission that their conduct is not authorized under existing law. Further, it is proof positive that Defendants are willing to use any means possible – including government influence – to mask the unlawfulness of their prior acts.
Defendants were clever in making sure the FVPTA Amendment was characterized as a remedial “clarification.” Of course, simply calling it a “clarification” does not automatically bestow retroactive application – especially, in this case, where the FVPTA Amendment purports to clarify a long-standing law, enacted over twenty years ago.
An “interest holder” has a legally-binding property interest in the accommodations under the existing law. The definition of accommodation includes timeshare condominiums under the existing law. Fla. Stat. § 721.05(1). Therefore, it would substantively change the existing law to exclude from the definition of encumbrance anything that would be contained in a timeshare condominium declaration.
This makes it clear that the revision was recognized and acknowledged for what it truly is – a substantive change to existing law, creating new categories of exclusions to interest holders and having potential constitutional implications. Nothing in the legislative history, including any staff or committee analysis, provides even marginal support for the conclusion that the legislature intended the FVPTA Amendment to be a mere clarification that would have retroactive application in this case.
Regardless of Legislative Intent, FVPTA Cannot Have Retroactive Application because it will impair Vested Rights in Violation of the Constitution.
As usual, I contacted timeshare attorney Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group for his take on Governor Scott’s legislative prowess. Our Advocacy group of 84 Timeshare Advocates includes 18 attorneys. Timeshare is extremely specialized so we do not suggest any aggrieved timeshare member seek legal advice from any attorney without real estate or timeshare experience. Mike has assisted several timeshare owners needing legal assistance.
According to Mike,
“The constitution of the United States protects US citizens from Ex Post Facto laws, meaning that you cannot take an act and make it criminal after the fact. You can criminalize that action, but you can only do so prospectively because any actor is entitled to notice that this particular act is now a crime. How unfair it would be to be able to punish someone who had no previous warning that a non-criminal act was suddenly and with no advanced warning or notice made criminal?”
“There is no comparable constitutional protection in the civil arena even though the consequences in suddenly and intentionally changing a civil law while a case is pending, and applying the new law retroactively to a set of facts that resulted in extinguishing an existing and viable claim for monetary damages are essentially identical. Imagine how you would feel as the litigant bringing a claim, after hiring an attorney, filing a lawsuit that was meritorious when you filed it, only to have your case dismissed because the rules of the game were changed after you had filed your case?” “How dishonest!”
Attorneys for the plaintiffs continue
On May 16, 2016, the Plaintiffs (represented by Jeffrey Norton and the law firm of Newman Ferrara) filed a class action complaint against Marriott and First American (“Defendants”) that included numerous claims arising out of hundreds of thousands of instances of unlawful conduct, in which Defendants engaged for over seven years, related to the creation and continued sale and operation of the MVC Trust Product.
In December 2016, briefing on Defendants’ motions to dismiss was completed.
On February 9, 2017, SB 818 was introduced. That bill, introduced curiously on the heels of this action and immediately following briefing on the meaning of “interest holder” (a term having a direct impact on Defendants’ racketeering activity), sought to revise the definition of “interest holder” as it applies to the Florida Vacation Plan and Timesharing Act. More specifically, SB 818 aimed to “clarify” that the term “interest holder” excludes certain parties to certain multisite timeshare plans – a uniquely-focused amendment that appears specifically crafted to address claims in this case.
Three months to the day later, SB 818 was presented to Governor Scott for signature.
And, on May 23, 2017, SB 818 was enacted into law (the “FVPTA Amendment”). Two weeks
later, on June 7, 2017, the Marriott and First American Defendants (the “Defendants”) filed the
Notice to “alert” the court of the FVPTA Amendment and its purported impact on this case.
It seems obvious that because Defendants could not justify the legality of their conduct under existing law, they endeavored to change the rules. The Notice is tantamount to an admission that Plaintiffs’ claims are meritorious and that Defendants’ conduct violated the laws that actually were in effect during the relevant time period.
This is not the first time Defendants have endeavored to prevent this Court from considering the claims in the Complaint under existing law. Defendants previously filed a borderline frivolous motion seeking to invoke primary jurisdiction in order to refer the matter to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes (the “Division”), and a stay of the entire matter pending review by the Division.
(Note from Irene: Maybe that’s because only 110 out of 2,360 timeshare complaints were acted on by the Florida Timeshare Division.)
As argued by Plaintiffs, however, it is abundantly clear that the Division does not have primary jurisdiction over the claims in Complaint (and expressly rejects providing advisory opinions in pending litigation.
Parcels of real property do not simply materialize out of thin air by virtue of a statutory definition and nothing in the construction of a timeshare estate’s definition under Fla. Stat. § 721.05(34) supports Defendants’ preposterous construct.
Whew! That was a lot for the average timeshare member to grasp, but more and more timeshare members are coming forward to learn about what goes on behind the scenes of their dream vacation. Inside Timeshare is hearing from timeshare members on a daily basis crying foul. Thank you to all our 18 attorney advocates as we work together to “take back our vacation” from an industry clearly in need of reform.
Once again Irene explains a difficult subject for us mere mortals in a way that is understood.
Over the weekend Inside Timeshare has received many more stories from some very concerned owners. It certainly looks like the articles we publish are hitting home to many owners, if you have any questions concerns or comments about anything published, contact Inside Timeshare and we will point you in the right direction.