Oregon RV Park Developer Wins $3M Verdict
A $3 million jury verdict Monday (June 15) left the city of Kennewick, Wash., in the rough, but has put the owner of Columbia Park Golf Course in position to develop a RV park.
The Benton County Superior Court jury’s unanimous verdict came after a day and a half of deliberations in the two-week trial, which saw four city council members, the former mayor, the city manager and director of municipal services testify, according to the TacomaNews Tribune.
The verdict also is a financial blow for the city, which does not have insurance to cover the jury award and potential legal costs.
Gary Long Jr. sued the city for breach of contract two years ago. He alleged city officials and the city council reneged on a development agreement for expansion of the golf course with a 6,000 square-foot clubhouse and the RV park.
The lawsuit alleged city officials ignored the exclusivity of the development agreement with Long, and initiated talks with another prospective developer.
“They dealt unfairly with him. He had the green light with the shoreline permit and they went behind his back to deal with Tri-Rivers Sports,” said Nicholas Kovarick, an attorney from Spokane who represented Long.
“Government accountability was what we wanted. I talked with the jury and they said we did a good job of laying it out,” Kovarick said.
Testimony focused on the meaning of the contract between the city and Long, and whether Long was required to renegotiate a land lease with the city as part of the development agreement he had with the city.
The golf course is on land that belongs to the Corps of Engineers that is leased to the city. Long has a separate lease with the city for the golf course.
The quick verdict surprised Lisa Beaton, Kennewick’s city attorney. She had monitored Mercer Island attorney Michael Tierney’s presentation of the city’s defense.
“There was a lot of evidence. I am surprised it came back so quickly. I thought we put on a good case,” Beaton said.
She said the city council will “weigh in” on a decision whether to appeal.
Beaton said the city’s insurance coverage does not cover breach of contract claims. If the $3 million award isn’t reduced on appeal or through other motions, the city will have to pay, she said.
Marie Mosley, city director of support services, said at the start of the trial that she was unaware of the insurance policy exclusion and had not included potential lawsuit damages in the next biennial budget cycle.
Long’s attorney claimed the development agreement and a shoreline permit that the council approved gave the RV park project vested rights.
But Tierney had argued Long could not count on those rights because his lease with the city had not been renegotiated to include the proposed RV park.
“(Long) was extremely gratified that his rights were vindicated,” Kovarick said. “He still has a problem at the park and a lease to fix. He wants to do development at the park and he’s hoping this will get the city’s attention that he wants to cooperate.”