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The Tuesday Slot with Irene Parker: Marriott Vacation Club Racketeering Lawsuit

Welcome to the Tuesday Slot, in this article Irene Parker looks at the Marriott Vacation Club and the law suit for racketeering.

First some recent news fro the Supreme Court in Madrid which came in this morning, this is the 73rd ruling by Spain’s Highest Court.

Another Silverpoint contract has been declared null and void with the British clients set to receive over £37,000 plus legal fees and interest.

No details are yet available, but as with other cases the main infringement is likely to be a contract over 50 years. The one important factor is that these contract contravene the Spanish Timeshare law 42/98.

Now for Irene’s article.

marrioot symbol

The Marriott Vacation Club Racketeering Lawsuit – an Update

Timeshare Wars – Members vs Developers and ARDA Part II

evolution

November 28, 2017

By Irene Parker

Part I – The Manhattan Club and the possible dismantling of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

http://insidetimeshare.com/tuesday-slot-irene-parker/

Part I describes how New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman achieved a $6.5 million settlement for The Manhattan Club timeshare members after a battle that lasted almost three years. ARDA, the American Resort Development Association, seemed to be on the side of the TMC developers. In today’s article we look at ARDA’s involvement in the Marriott Racketeering lawsuit filed May 2016. Timeshare members should research ARDA ROC before making their voluntary donation which appears as an “opt in” or “opt out” donation on their maintenance fee invoice.

In the Marriott racketeering lawsuit, attorneys for the plaintiffs, Anthony and Beth Lennen, challenged Marriott’s points based system. Once again ARDA’s lobbyists are at the forefront.

“This was bigger than a lawsuit,” Hunter says. A negative ruling “could have a consequence of being devastating, conceivably, to the industry.” Florida Trend

I can imagine slave traders and slave owners making the same argument ARDA lobbyist Gary Hunter makes in opposition to the challenge to the points based timeshare product.The legal structure of the points based timeshare product is complex. It seems the points based programs are not products that should be associated with real estate. It would be as if a country club charged me closing costs for joining their right to use program. Bluegreen seems to employ a similar model. As usual, I asked timeshare attorney Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group if he agrees with me.

“Several developers are using a similar trust based hybrid product like Marriott’s. I think Bluegreen may have initiated it originally, but don’t hold me to that. Yes, the products are very similar. I felt Bluegreen was intentionally hurting their defaulted owners with their credit reporting as ‘foreclosures’, when I knew this was incorrect for the same reason as the allegations in the Marriott lawsuit, namely that the interest the ‘owner’ ends up with is personalty, not real estate. You cannot accurately call a personalty repossession a ‘foreclosure’ as there’s no legal procedure to ‘foreclose’ on personalty, according to UCC codes. My efforts to get Bluegreen to change were ignored; hence our litigation which resulted in at least 11,000 individuals getting foreclosures redacted from their credit reports. However, in our preparation, at the last minute, we researched the Florida timeshare act and realized Florida had anticipated our move! The statute was modified to define the Bluegreen timeshare plan as “real estate”. It was like legislating a duck into a goose,” Mike explained

https://www.finnlawgroup.com/learning-center/timeshare-vs-vacation-home

Is timeshare deemed real estate when it comes to charging buyers fees associated with actual real estate, but not real estate in matters having any control over the property? Is this a case of having your cake and eating it too?

I asked timeshare member and economics professor Michael Nuwer to review the amended Marriott lawsuit complaint filed October 25, 2017 by the plaintiffs’ law firm, Newman Ferrara LLP. The complaint suggests suspicious legislative maneuvering intended to circumvent the lawsuit. The amended complaint addresses the Marriott-forced law changes in 2013 and 2017. The recent (2017) amendment to the Florida Timeshare Act purports to exclude pre-existing weekly owners as “interest holders” and pre-existing Condo Declarations as “encumbrances” with regard to sales of multisite timeshare plans that use pre-existing timeshare estates. According to the complaint,

“It allows massive profit-making – including administrative fees, closing costs, recording fees, transfer taxes, maintenance, assessments, and title insurance premiums.” Amended Marriott complaint 6:16-cv-00855-CEM-TBS

“As far as I know, none of the trust fund based timeshare systems “convey real property interest,” said Michael. “Ownership is a “beneficial interest” in the trust fund, although a recent ruling in Canada found the Diamond Resort Embarc members don’t even have that.”

http://insidetimeshare.com/fridays-letter-canada/

“If Florida law requires a real property conveyance, then I think there could be a problem,” Michael added.

Michael Kosor, a Wyndham owner and timeshare advocate, circulated a similar argument at the last two Nevada legislative sessions, proposing greater disclosure, but again ARDA’s lawyers fought against the members. The legislation proposed would have allowed better disclosure as to the lack of or limited secondary market and the fact that timeshare today has nothing to do with real estate. Timeshare agents typically inform buyers during their presentations that they are real estate agents, further enhancing a false security that the buyer is protected by real estate rules and regulations.  Even the name reflects the change. Fixed week timeshare buyers were “owners”. Points based buyers are “members.”

I have been researching timeshare since attending an astonishingly deceptive sales presentation July 2015. Like peeling an onion, I discovered at timeshare’s core, the points based system provides a recipe for deceit. As the Lennen complaint describes, point programs began in 2008 when timeshare developers did not know what to do with aging, foreclosed or repurchased inventory.

Inside Timeshare has received 216 US timeshare complaints from our readers, the majority concerning points. Not one of the 216 members understood, at the time of purchase, the difficulty selling their timeshare. Of the 216 complaints, 201 allege deceit and bait and switch on the front end of the sale. Of the 216 complaints, only two came from a Marriott member. It saddens me to see Marriott singled out when the entire industry may be guilty of selling a product that is more smoke and mirrors than reality.

The Marriott racketeering lawsuit was first reported by Paul Brinkmann May 2016 at the Orlando Sentinel

Case No. 6:16-cv-855-Orl-41TBS

According to the suit, Marriott (NYSE: VAC) timeshare customers pay fees associated with owning real estate — such as closing costs and recording fees — but don’t actually own any real estate. Despite not actually being real estate owners, the lawsuit says, buyers are still paying closing costs, recording fees, title policy premiums and real estate taxes.

Marriott has argued, in its motion to dismiss the case, that “plaintiffs have misread the statutes that they assert have been violated” and “the allegations are without merit and the MVC Plan fully complies with applicable law.”

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-marriott-timeshare-rico-20160524-story.html

Except it seemingly did not fully comply with applicable law, so ARDA lobbyists and industry executives forged ahead to initiate legislative changes that would change the definition of “beneficial interest” so that Marriott would comply.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-comptroller-marriott-rico-20170113-story.html

The following excerpts are from a November 23, 2017 Florida Trend article. The full article is linked below. In bold is my emphasis.

“Engineering the Law” Politico

However, Marriott began fighting the suit on another front. The company turned to the Florida Legislature, acting through the American Resort Development Association, the trade group that represents the timeshare industry. At the time, ARDA’s chairman was Steve Weisz, Marriott Vacations’ president and CEO.

In both provisions, the lobbyist, Gary Hunter, of Hopping, Green & Sams in Tallahassee, included extra sentences saying the changes were meant as “a clarification of existing law” — an effort to ensure Marriott could use them as a retroactive defense in the Lennen lawsuit.

ARDA sent more than talking points and issue briefs. A few days after Hunter sent in the additions to the bill, the organization gave $25,000 to the Republican Party of Florida and another $25,000 to a committee controlled by Senate Republican leaders. In April — on the same day that both the House and Senate scheduled the legislation for floor votes — ARDA gave another $10,000 to the state Republican Party. (ARDA, which represents a heavily regulated industry and works on legislation every year, is a reliable source of money for the state GOP, which controls all levers of state government. The organization gives more than $100,000 to the party and its affiliates every year.)

The legislation passed both chambers in late April, and Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law a month later. After the legislation passed, ARDA gave another $50,000 to the fund controlled by Republican Senate leaders.

Two weeks to the day after the bill became law, Marriott went back in court in Orlando, alerting Judge Mendoza to the new Florida law whose provisions “go to the very heart” of the case. “These clarifications of existing law … decimate much of the complaint,” Marriott’s attorneys wrote.

A spokesman for Marriott declined to comment on either the lawsuit or the legislation. But Hunter, the lobbyist for the American Resort Development Association who worked the bill, says the goal of the legislation isn’t just to help Marriott defend itself. It is, he says, meant to protect the entire timeshare industry from similar attacks in the future, should a judge, who is unlikely to be familiar with the history and intricacies of timeshare law, interpret state statutes in a way that no one in the industry ever intended.

http://www.floridatrend.com/article/23307/engineering-the-law-marriotts-class-action-timeshare-battle

Florida Republican Representative Mike La Rosa, Oceola County was one of the lawmakers behind the amendment along with Republican Senator Travis Hutson, St. Johns County. Representative La Rosa is a member of ALEC. Senator Nan Orrock of Georgia has described ALEC as a “corporate bill mill.”

https://www.alec.org/person/mike-la-rosa/

After the legislative amendment was made, Mr. Brinkmann at the Orlando Sentinel once again picked up the thread:

A third-party observer, Ben Wilcox of the nonprofit government watchdog group Integrity Florida, said the timeshare law changes are suspect.

“It has the appearance of unethical influence, the appearance anyway,” Wilcox said. “The question would be, does it represent misuse of office or conflict of interest? Is it meant only to benefit those corporations and change the rules of the game?”

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-marriott-timeshare-legislation-20170719-story.html

Legal Dept
It’s not unusual for Florida to spearhead legislation that ultimately gets rolled out nationwide. Like the 2017 Florida amendment, in 2015 Florida passed a bill that alarmed advocacy groups. Advocacy groups felt the 2015 bill made it more difficult to be released from timeshare contracts. This new amended 2017 bill is also expected to be rolled out nationwide. ARDA lobbyist Gary Hunter is instructing Senator Hutson to remove language from the proposed 2017 Amendment that provided that the law applied only to Florida properties. He called the language “non-substantive” clearly intending to broaden the reach of the amendment to cover properties from single-site timeshare plans outside of Florida (which make up the bulk of MVC Trust properties).

Timeshare, in my opinion, is virtually an unregulated industry. There is no federal enforcement, and some Attorneys General may be influenced by lobby dollars. Florida is a timeshare Mecca with billions of tourist dollars flowing into the state. As mentioned in Part I, the Florida Timeshare Division only acted on 110 out of 2,360 timeshare complaints from April 2012 to April 2014.   

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/29/us/lobbyists-bearing-gifts-pursue-attorneys-general.html

How will it end? I fear big money will get its way at the expense of middle class timeshare buyers, even it means labeling a duck a goose.

Marriott Inside Timeshare July 2017

http://insidetimeshare.com/starting-the-week/

Contact Inside Timeshare or a member sponsored self-help group if you have a timeshare concern or a story to share.

https://www.facebook.com/timeshareadvocategroup/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/DiamondResortsOwnersAdvocacy/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/180578055325962/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/465692163568779/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1639958046252175

Thank you Irene and all who helped with this article, especially Mike Finn of Finn Law Group for his legal views, this will certainly be of interest not just to those across the Great Lake, but also those owners in Europe.

If you have any questions or comments on this article or any other timeshare matter, please contact Inside Timeshare and we will do our best to help.

 

law

Legal News From the US: Castle Law Group PC v Timeshare Developers

Today Irene Parker gives us an insight into one lawsuit that has made the headlines in the US, it would seem that across the great lake it is the timeshare companies that are on the legal offensive. In Europe the timeshare companies are very much on the defensive as we have seen in some of our previous articles.

Yesterday we published an article about the legal battle being waged against Silverpoint, they have stated that they will be filing a case with the High Court of Justice of the European Union, arguing that Spain has got the EU Timeshare Directives wrong.

eu court justice

Just to clarify one point on the EU Timeshare Directives, that is what they are “directives”, they are not law. A directive issued by the EU is a guide to all EU States to enact into their own domestic laws certain aspects which affect citizens. It is up to each individual state to interpret those directives as they see fit. The whole point is that each State may strengthen the directives, which is what Spain has done with their own timeshare laws, firstly with Ley 42/98 and more recently with Ley 4/12.

Directives are there to try and unify each State’s laws, especially on the matter regarding consumers rights, which the timeshare directive was intended to do. Before the timeshare directives came out, timeshare in Europe was what can only be described as lawless, timeshare companies could walk all over the consumer, there was no protection, timeshare was a new concept which nobody actually understood.

It followed an old economic system known as Laissez-faire, which has its roots in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was to be free of any government intervention, such as regulation. More recently a new term was conceived by conservative politicians and economists ‘free-market capitalism’. Timeshare has always followed this model, profit, profit and more profit at the expense of the consumer. (Again it sounds like Star Treks Ferengi).

Until laws are strengthened to the benefit of the consumer, we are going to see many more of these legal battles, be it consumer against developer or developer against law firms, the stage is set, let battle commence!

Now on with today’s article by Irene

Castle Law and Judson Phillips is Sued in Federal Court for Fraud

Orange Lake v. Castle Law Group PC

Westgate v. Castle Law Group

Diamond Resorts v. Castle Law Group

Who Next v. Castle Law Group

Speak truth

By Irene Parker

August 22, 2017

Who is Judson Phillips?

Tea Party Nation is a conservative American group considered part of the Tea Party movement.   The group was created by former Shelby County, Tennessee assistant district attorney Judson Phillips in 2009

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_Party_Nation

Judson Phillips Ridiculed for Wanting to Deny Others the Right to Vote

Judson Phillips, the lawyer behind Castle Law Group (Nashville), latest idea has created a hurricane size backlash against Mr. Phillips. The Castle Law Group owner believes that only property owners should have the right to vote.  Phillips seems to believe those who aren’t the elite feudal lords of property can’t be trusted to vote. Instead, they must be put back in their place as serfs, working for their lords for scraps off the feudalistic tables.

http://www.brighthub.com/money/home-buying/articles/123520.aspx

A Bright Hub reader’s response:

Yes, I am Republican but in no way would I ever want to be affiliated with any political group who deemed renters shouldn’t vote in public elections.

Who Castle Law Group is not:

http://www.castlelawgrouppa.com/

I contacted attorney Ben Hillard of the Castle Law Group P.A. in Largo, Florida a few months ago – by mistake. Mr. Hillard responded saying he thought I had his law firm confused with Castle Law Group PC of timeshare fame, law firms differentiated only by the initials P.A. and PC. Mr. Hillard would like to make it clear his firm is in no way associated with Mr. Judson Phillips or his law firm Castle Law Group PC. In a recent letter to Mr. Hillard, Mr. Phillips said his firm is considering rebranding for reasons not associated with Mr. Hillard’s concerns, the similarity in names.

Here is the Castle Law P.C. and Orange Lake Lawsuit as reported by Paul Brinkmann at the Orlando Sentinel

Orlando-based timeshare companies Westgate Resorts and Orange Lake Country Club filed nearly identical lawsuits in Orlando against Tennessee firms Castle Law and Castle Marketing. Westgate and Orange Lake accuse the Castle companies of charging some customers an upfront litigation fee of $7,500. Orange Lake said Castle filed no lawsuits for any of its owners who paid the fee; Westgate said Castle hasn’t filed lawsuits for some owners who paid the litigation fee.

A senior partner with Castle — attorney and Tea Party leader Judson Phillips — denies those allegations…. he said in an email he believes the suits are frivolous, and he and Castle have obtained good results for clients.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-bz-timeshare-cancellation-fraud-20170618-story.html

According to a letter sent to Orange Lake attorney Brian Lower, from a Castle Law Group attorney, Castle accused Orange Lake of “gross misrepresentations regarding the terms and conditions of the Orange Lake timeshares in that they were fraudulently induced to enter into the timeshare contract and the debt instruments associated with such contracts in violation of federal and state laws.”

A letter from a lawyer like this triggers a “cease and desist” demand of all communication with the client, including collection attempts. This cease and desist letter has served as a bone of contention to timeshare developers in that a debt collector may not communicate with a consumer if the consumer is represented by an attorney or has an open Attorney General complaint, under the Fair Debt Collections Protections Act.

Among the twelve causes of action in Castle’s cease and desist letter against developers, are those our Inside Timeshare readers who have contacted us asking for help would not disagree with:

  • Improper and unethical high pressure sales tactics.
  • Gross and deliberate misrepresentations regarding benefits of ownership.
  • Gross misrepresentation regarding the ability to utilize timeshare points to cover fees associated with membership and exchanges.
  • False information regarding the ease and/or ability to resell for a profit.
  • False sense of urgency to purchase the same day.

Castle Law Group PC is not Better Business Bureau accredited, is nonrated, and a consumer complaint warning has been posted.

https://www.bbb.org/nashville/business-reviews/timeshare-cancellation-and-litigation-attorneys/castle-law-group-pc-in-nashville-tn-37113357

According to the Castle Law website they are timeshare lawyers trusted by thousands with a 4.7 out of 5 star ranking based on 12 reviews (powered by GetFiveStars). When I reached out to the firm for comment, I was put on hold for a very long time.

https://timesharecancellation.com/

you decide

Greg Crist, CEO of the National Timeshare Owners Association was recently quoted by the Orlando Sentinel that more lawsuits against cancellation companies were likely in the works.

“Some of those cancellation companies that have been targeted by developers were actually started by their own former timeshare employees. Those folks learned how to exploit the system by learning what is called the inside track. They know how the high-pressure sales tactics work,” Crist said. “They attract timeshare owners in the same way — post cards offering a free dinner, or an evening out. They show owners how maintenance fees escalate, and literally scare the hell out of these people using calculations that are wildly inaccurate and overstated. These are not law firms but represent to have an attorney on staff, giving the illusion that there are legal services involved in the transaction. Rarely does the company even communicate with the resort and the timeshare owner doesn’t even know what is happening until it is too late. Why is that?”

Crist explained this is often due to an unqualified money back guarantee the company provides that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. The owner is simply lulled into a false sense of security, until they are foreclosed on and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Crist has watched this happening for years, but says the industry is making a mistake by throwing legitimate attorneys in the same mix with resale, transfer and advocacy groups.

While the NTOA is involved with educating owners, advocating for their rights and helping them engage in the product they already own, they do not sell, transfer or offer services like TPE’s do. Any timeshare member or owner can join NTOA.

https://www.ntoassoc.com/

GBUgly

The present legal climate in the timeshare world is reminiscent of the old west with summons flying like bullets back and forth across the corral. Lost in the middle is the consumer, many complaining they purchased a timeshare based on false promises. The timeshare lobby ARDA and the major timeshare developers seem determined to ignore outcries of deceit on the front end of the timeshare sale.  

All attorneys are not created equal. It seems that timeshare developers don’t want a timeshare member to ever contact any lawyer and they lump all attorneys into a kettle of frivolous lawsuit filers. Two major developers attributed their rise in default rate due to “attorneys targeting members and cease and desist letters.” As in any profession, some attorneys do have questionable business practices, but any citizen should have a right to their day in court and the legal representation that accompanies that right if they feel they were deceived into purchasing a timeshare.

One former Hyatt and Diamond Resorts sales agent described “inventory recycling” as a hamster wheel that sometimes begins with deceit and bait and switch on the front end of the sale. To date (as of August 16, 2017) Inside Timeshare has received 124 inquiries of which 110 allege they were deceived on the front end of the timeshare sale. Most have outstanding loans.

“I am asking you to look at the moon and you are staring at the end of my finger,” deceased Jesuit Priest Anthony DeMello once wrote. That’s how I feel listening to case after case from family members, often financially devastated, alleging they were deceived, sometimes just days after a rescission period. Why won’t developers take a closer look at their own house?

ethics cartoon

Contact Inside Timeshare if you have a positive or negative timeshare experience to share, through your experiences others may have a better understanding of what they are going through and see that they are not alone.

If you need any further information regarding any article published, or wish to know where you stand legally with your timeshare, Inside Timeshare is here to help. Contact us and we will point you in the right direction.

start the week

Starting The Week.

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)

Moses

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.

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/taking-names-scott-maxwell/os-gov-rick-scott-signs-bad-timeshare-law-20150617-post.htm/

http://insidetimeshare.com/chicken-soup-timeshares-soul/

Paul Brinkmann of The Orlando Sentinel first reported on the Marriott Racketeering case back in May of 2016.

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.

Edward Kinney, spokesman for Marriott Vacation Club, said the company will defend itself in court. He said the timeshare industry is highly regulated.

“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:

https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/00818/?Tab=BillHistory

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.

scroll

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.

girl

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.

                                                       

 

 

end-year

2016 End of Year Review

So here we are at the end of another year and what a year it has been, it started with the relaunch of Inside Timeshare, bringing you truthful information and news you would otherwise not get.

One of our first articles explained what fly buys are, the fact you would get a cheap holiday but be subject to attending a presentation. At this you would be pitched a holiday product of some sort, be it a holiday club or timeshare. The article also warned of the pitfalls of not attending the presentation, either being charged the full accommodation price and in many cases being removed from the resort.

We also highlighted many “scams” that timeshare owners have been subjected to over the years including many new ones. The latest being the article on Litigious Abogados (see links). We also showed how some of the so-called resale companies operate, giving you the reader the information to make an informed choice.

http://insidetimeshare.com/1059-2/

http://insidetimeshare.com/litigious-abogados-update/

http://insidetimeshare.com/litigious-abogados-latest-information/

CLA Logo

Another theme Inside Timeshare published was the on-going woes of Anfi, the first article titled: “The Great ANFI Battle of the Partners”, explained the story of the two partners in the Anfi empire, the Lyngs and the Cazorlas. We then published the story of legal history being made with the very first Supreme Court ruling, this was the case of the Norwegian lady, Mrs Tove Grimsbo and her battle with Anfi. The case was brought on her behalf by Canarian Legal Alliance.

Since that auspicious occasion, Canarian Legal Alliance has gone from strength to strength, securing 36 rulings from the Highest Court in Spain, 29 of these have been against Anfi. Others have been against TasolanPalm Oasis and Holiday Club Puerto Calma, with the ruling against Puerto Calma confirming the Fractional did indeed come under Timeshare Laws. This resulted in around 243,000 Euros being returned to a British client.

There have also been 24 High Court and 21 Local Court rulings against various timeshare companies including Resort Properties / Silverpoint and Club La Costa. Some of these Courts have been in Maspalomas, Arona, Barcelona and Fuengirola. There are approximately 800 live cases in various courts and over 2000 clients. The total claim value is around 80 million Euro, with 117.208.00 Euros reclaimed per month, there are on average 2 to 3 cases per week being heard.

(These figures are what we have on file, there have obviously been more cases, but we have yet to receive an update).

This is certainly an impressive achievement by this law firm, who has in the past suffered from some very negative press instigated by the industry itself. Inside Timeshare congratulates the whole team at Canarian Legal Alliance, including the clients who in some cases have waited years for these results.

Another series of articles have been about MacDonald Resorts and the ongoing battle of Mrs B, now known as Mrs Price. It is a case that has riled us at Inside Timeshare, who are fighting on her behalf. The story revolves around MacDonald Resorts refusal to accept that she no longer owns a timeshare at Dona Lola in Spain, continuing to harass this 87 year old via a debt collecting agency Network Credit Services. This harassment has included threats of court action to recover a debt that is not owed, this case has been referred to the Financial Ombudsman Service. Inside Timeshare will continue to highlight this case until MacDonald Resorts abandon the chase for money. It must also be noted that the RDO, which is the industry trade body has also washed their hands of this company.

In the April article “The Resurrected” a warning was issued about an old company from Fuengirola had come back to life. It is the story of Ramirez and Ramirez, who several years ago were very active in deceiving many timeshare and holiday club members out of thousands for bogus claims. It must be said that very little has been heard of them since.

Mark of excellence

We have also had a few light hearted moments, although they did come with a serious message. In the spoof article “A New Member to EGTBW”, it explained about the trade bodies for the timeshare industry operate. This was extremely fun to write and gave many people a good laugh, the only problem was that it was actually based on fact.

http://insidetimeshare.com/new-member-egtbw/

Back in July we started to publish the ongoing story of the Tauro Beach Project, the fact that irregularities had been uncovered and an investigation had been started by the Guardia Civil Nature Protection Service (SEPRONA). As the story unfolded the Head of The Canarian Coastal Authority had been dismissed and is now awaiting trial for wrong doing in public office and forgery of official documents. Then in August we published the story of the local inhabitants and their homes being flooded, this instigated further investigations which also include the local mayor. The story continues. (search Tauro Beach for further information).

We also teamed up with Irene Parker in the United States, she has provided some valuable information and interesting articles on the world of timeshare across the Great Lake. Below is her latest article.

What Timeshare Owners Can Look forward to:

Timeshare Lawsuits 2017

By Irene Parker,  December 26, 2016

2017

Our Inside Timeshare mission is to offer timeshare owners accurate reporting on both the good and bad aspects of timeshare today. While we admit we bear more to the negative side of timeshare reporting, this thirteen page report from the US Department of Justice listing timeshare scams explains why:

https://search.justice.gov/search?query=timeshare+fraud&op=Search&affiliate=justice

The other reason is because the industry is not well regulated. Timeshare owners do not have the level of organization or funds necessary to compete with timeshare developer lobbyists. Lobbyists used to primarily direct their efforts towards influencing lawmakers, but more and more efforts are now being directed towards influencing US Attorneys general:

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/29/us/lobbyists-bearing-gifts-pursue-attorneys-general.html

Looking to 2017, we need to look back and reflect on timeshare’s unresolved and continuing legal battles. Timeshare developers, former timeshare sales agents and  solicitors, timeshare owners, federal and state regulators and advocates continue to weigh in on possible changes that will make timesharing more owner friendly and less predatory.

Will the final piece of this legal and regulatory puzzle result in a less aggressive and deceptive industry – or will practices continue unabated and unchecked resulting in more of the same?

round-table

Westgate

Westgate is facing lawsuits in several jurisdictions and a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Investigation. Allegations include fraudulent and deceptive business practices ranging from high pressure sales tactics, failure to honor timely rescission requests, elder abuse, illegal debt collection practices and impermissible telephone solicitations.” The Capitol Forum June 27, 2016

https://www.buzzfeed.com/matthewzeitlin/financial-regulators-are-looking-into-americas-largest-times?utm_term=.pbyQ8MPbx#.pmA2BeVyM

Colorado Attorney General

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman is suing Highlands Resort, Sedona Pines and twelve other defendants for deceptive trade practices.

Another US Attorney General Exposes Deceptive Tactics.

Wyndham $20 Million

Former Wyndham sales agent Trish Williams was awarded $20 million for exposing deceptive sales practices. While the amount will probably be reduced on appeal, it sends a message that courts and juries are listening.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/business/my-soul-feels-taller-a-whistle-blowers-20-million-vindication.html?_r=0

Hyatt

Candace Czarny and two other former Hyatt timeshare agents would like to see the industry improved. They are in year five of a class action alleging deceptive practice.

http://insidetimeshare.com/whistleblowers-expose-timeshare-sales-tactics/

The Manhattan Club

Attorney Douglass Wasser represents 30 Manhattan Club defendants.

“To my knowledge there has been no dismissal of any Manhattan Club proceeding at this point.  The NY Attorney General investigation is proceeding, and the motion to dismiss a currently pending class action suit has been adjourned to January 5, 2017 for now. Three prior class action suits at the Manhattan Club have been dismissed.  But, at least for the time being, the current class action still survives,” Mr. Wasser reported November 15. 2016

http://www.reuters.com/article/manhattan-club-ruling-idUSL1N18U0DL

Marriott Racketeering

“The Marriott racketeering lawsuit seeks to abolish Marriott’s points program, which attorney said is unique among timeshare companies. It also seeks the return of fees and costs paid by buyers.” Paul Brinkmann reported October 13, 2016 for the The Orlando Sentinel.

 http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-marriott-timeshare-racketeering-20161013-story.html

Diamond Resorts

A recent class action was filed against Diamond Resorts:

https://topclassactions.com/lawsuit-settlements/lawsuit-news/348667-diamond-resorts-class-action-high-pressure-timeshare-sales-deceptive/

Matt Daniel Finazzo, et al. v. Diamond Resorts International Club Inc., Case No. 5:16-cv-02256, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

holidays-are-hereI don’t mean to be the Grinchess that stole Christmas, so to end on a positive note,

People are listening!

Charles Thomas and I are hearing from people all over the world who are joining forces to work towards:

  • A legitimate secondary market
  • Less aggressive and deceptive selling
  • Less predatory lending

Thank you from timeshare owners to our regulators and lawyers working to protect us. Human leverage and a clearinghouse of information exchange is the answer.

inside final small

So that is the end of 2016, we hope you will join us in 2017 and also help us to get the news out to others. Without your information many of the articles, particularly on possible scam or bogus companies will not be published. So from the Charles and Irene, we wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year.

happy-new-year