Eskaton lawsuit moves forward to trial |

Eskaton lawsuit moves forward to trial

A Sacramento judge has granted a preferred trial date of no later than Dec. 11, for plaintiffs in an ongoing lawsuit filed against the Sacramento-based corporate owners of Eskaton Village Grass Valley.

The lawsuit was filed in November in Sacramento Superior Court by Eskaton homeowners Ronald Coley and Karen Lorini.

Alleging nine counts of breach of fiduciary duties, financial elder abuse, and unfair business practices and negligence, the lawsuit claims corporate owners of the 130-unit luxury Nevada County senior living community misrepresented the services and amenities.

The plaintiffs also allege discrepancies in fees charged to homeowners, compared to the same shared services charged for rental facilities for assisted living tenants.

“For years, I believed that Eskaton would manage the property in a fair and just manner, with respect for the elderly residents,” Coley told The Union. “(But) with much disappointment, in 2011, I discovered that portions of the association dues collected from homeowners were being improperly used.”

The suit names Eskaton Village Grass Valley, Eskaton Properties Inc., Eskaton Village Grass Valley Homeowners Association, Eskaton CEO Todd Murch, and Chief Operating Officer Betsy Donovan.

On Aug. 14, a hearing was held in Sacramento where Coley filed a motion of preference through a state code that allows a plaintiff to accelerate case proceedings if they have a substantial interest in a case, but are older then 70, and suffering from health conditions.

Eskaton defendants Murch and Donovan opposed the motion, claiming that Coley did not have a substantial interest in the case and hadn’t proven his health was failing. Coley, 73, argued that he was one of two lead plaintiffs in the case and that his health was at risk due to coronary heart disease.

Coley’s motion was granted and the court ordered a trial date on or before Dec. 11, though Coley and Lorini have requested a date in early December.

On Wednesday, Murch and Donovan held a town hall meeting at the Eskaton Grass Valley Village recreation center, in an attempt to share their “side of the story” to homeowners.

“There are always two sides to every story and I’m afraid you’ve only been limited to one side of the story,” Murch said to a packed room of more than 75 homeowners.

Murch disagreed with the lawsuit claims, adding that monetarily Eskaton delivers services to the village below costs.

“As far as the monetary aspects of the lawsuit, we’re in for the long haul because the two sides are so far apart,” he said. “When any party makes certain allegations of wrongdoing against Eskaton, I take it personally. I’ve been with Eskaton for 35 years and I know what the company represents.”

During the meeting, Lorini claimed Murch had sent homeowners intimidating letters, and had breached a confidentiality agreement the defendants and plaintiffs agreed on during two mediation sessions; Murch disagreed.

“I have been a resident of Grass Valley Eskaton for 10 years,” Lorini told The Union. “My home here is my most important asset. I want Eskaton corporation to respect me and our community here.”

Defendant legal fees for the lawsuit are paid by both Eskaton and the homeowners association. According to Murch, legal fees for the HOA in mid-July totaled around $73,000.

The lawsuit asks Eskaton to give homeowners a full recovery of approximately $1.35 million for claims of excessive, improper, and unfair service charges.

When one person present asked how many homeowners wanted to be dropped from the lawsuit to circumvent more legal fees, more than 15 attendees raised their hands.

Coley said Wednesday that he initially tried to avoid filing a lawsuit, and sent a letter of demand to Murch three months prior to filing, receiving no response.

Murch claimed that Eskaton owners had sent two settlement agreements to Coley, which were not accepted, agreeing to pay a portion of HOA legal fees, while also dropping one Eskaton director seat on the HOA board.

Following the meeting, Donovan said, “Eskaton developed this community and we’ve invested a lot of time effort, passion and money into the community… We want what’s best for the residents.”

To contact Staff Writer Ivan Natividad, email or call 530-477-4236.

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