The suit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court, names Eskaton Village Grass Valley, Eskaton Properties Inc., Eskaton Village Grass Valley Homeowners Association, Eskaton CEO Todd Murch, Chief Operating Officer Betsy Donovan, Operations Director Mark Cullen and former COO Trevor Hammond as defendants in the case.
Lead plaintiffs are Eskaton homeowners Ronald Coley and Karen Lorini, filing on behalf of themselves and the other 130-plus homeowners, alleging nine complaints of breach of fiduciary duties, financial elder abuse, unfair business practices and negligence.
“I can’t comment on the particulars, since we are in open litigation,” Murch said on Monday. “The homeowners association will be vigorously defending its side, so that means they disagree with whatever’s being alleged.”
Part of the complaint alleges that the Eskaton Homeowners Association, rather than being an organization representing homeowners’ interests, is actually controlled by management.
In addition to some Eskaton homeowners, the board of Eskaton Village Grass Valley Homeowners Association also includes corporate representatives such as Cullen, who served on the board between 2003 through 2012, and Hammond, a board member from 2003 through the middle of 2011.
“Plaintiffs are informed and believe, and thereon allege, that Eskaton has disregarded the separate corporate existence of EVGV (Eskaton Village Grass Valley), EPI (Eskaton Properties Inc.) and the HOA,” the complaint says. “Among other things, Eskaton has treated HOA property as its own.”
Both Coley and Lorini declined comment on the case, which is scheduled for a public case management conference on May 21, according to Sacramento County Superior Court public records. The hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. in Department 35 of the Gordon D. Schaber Courthouse.
The 95-page complaint was first filed Nov. 19, 2014, but an amended first complaint was filed on Jan. 5 by the plaintiffs’ co-counsels, Sacramento-based attorneys David Diepenbrock and Michael Vinding.
Diepenbrock on Monday declined all comment on the case. Neither Vinding nor defendants’ attorney Rod Baydaline of Sacramento could be reached for comment. Donovan also could not be reached for comment.
The homeowners’ class action lawsuit is separate from a successful union organizing effort last June. In a landmark election, employees of Eskaton Village Grass Valley became one of the first groups of senior living workers to vote in favor of joining a section of the local Service Employees International Union.
Larry King, a campus patrol officer at Eskaton, said there have been eight contract negotiating sessions since September, when the union members delivered a proposed 49-page contract to management. He said the sessions have so far been “slow-going,” mostly confined to disputes over language.
“We haven’t gotten to the financial terms yet,” he said.
Sources who contacted The Union and who declined to be identified said both the class action lawsuit and the union election are indicative of a widespread pattern of dissatisfaction with management attitudes toward workers and residents in the community.
As an example of alleged management intimidation, sources cite a Feb. 12 letter in which the Eskaton HOA’s legal committee notified homeowners about the costs of the lawsuit and warned that “special assessments levied against each member may be required to pay for this unanticipated expense this year if our insurance carrier denies coverage.”
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Union, the legal committee states that “the purpose of this letter is to make you aware of this litigation, and to give you sufficient notice that special assessments may be required.”
According to the complaint, Eskaton Village Grass Valley includes 287 housing units, of which 130 are individually owned condominium units sometimes referred to as “patio homes.” The patio homeowners pay a monthly “assessment” to cover various services, such as landscaping and security patrol.
Of numerous allegations in the complaint, plaintiffs allege “breach of fiduciary duties” in regard to mandated 3 percent annual increases in the cost to homeowners for a variety of services “supposedly needed to pay for increased personnel costs,” the complaint says.
“Plaintiffs learned for the first time in 2014, however, that EVGV employees have received no raises since 2010,” the complaint adds. “Thus, the increases were unjustified and improper for nonexistent wage increases.”
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Class action lawsuit filed against Sacramento-based management of Eskaton Village Grass Valley