Meadows recoups ‘unnecessary’ costs in disputed land case

Mt. Hood Meadows has been awarded attorney fees for an “unnecessary argument” waged by its opponents in a disputed land-use case.

Hood River Circuit Court Judge Donald Hull recently directed the Hood River Valley Residents Committee (HRVRC) to pay the company $2,650 for pursuing a legal issue that “served no useful purpose.” He tendered that decision after the Cascade Resources Advocacy Group (CRAG), which represents HRVRC, sought to strike a Meadows’ argument that already had been withdrawn.

Ralph Bloemers, attorney for CRAG, declined comment about the issue beyond a statement that Hull’s most recent decision would be brought before the Court of Appeals. CRAG is also seeking to have that judicial body review the judge’s dismissal of two lawsuits that were filed over the land exchange, which was finalized in March of 2002.

The HRVRC wants to reverse the county’s trade of 640 acres near the southern border for 785 acres owned by Meadows. The deal also included a $1 million payment by the county to offset the value difference in saleable timber on its newly acquired property. The environmental group contends that the land appraisal of the county’s property should have factored in Meadows’ stated intent to build a destination resort, which would have greatly increased the market value.

Hull’s most recent ruling was rendered over arguments brought by the plaintiff and defendant in the second lawsuit that he dismissed in May. During those proceedings Meadows claimed that the case should be thrown out because it was “frivolous” since the same theories had already been overturned in another legal venue. When CRAG asked the court to strike down that argument, Meadows withdrew it to avoid spending time and expense on a defense. However, CRAG proceeded with its request for the court to rule on the issue and lost that bid when the judge determined that Bloemers had used a supporting legal argument on behalf of the plaintiffs that only applied to defendants.

Hull then dismissed the case because CRAG had already brought the same issues forward in its first lawsuit. His decision was based on “claim preclusion,” a legal procedure which prevents plaintiffs from causing delays in the resolution of a legal matter by requiring that all issues be consolidated into one complaint. Hull decided that CRAG should have filed the alternative formats at the same time, not waited for a ruling on one before instigating a brand new case which relied on the same facts.

Although Meadows had originally requested about $4,500 in attorney fees, Hull granted only the portion of that request that was spent on court proceedings that were “without merit.”

In the spring of 2002, Hull declined to hear the “Writ of Review” lawsuit filed by CRAG. He ruled the legal format for quasi-judicial decisions made by the county was wrongfully applied since the land exchange had been done legislatively. Bloemers then formally asked Hull to reconsider that denial.

When that legal action also failed, he raised the same issues in the broader “Declaratory Judgment” lawsuit that was overturned this spring.

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