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home : current news : current news June 28, 2016

7/9/2013 1:17:00 PM
Homeowners dispute grinds on
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Most folks in Sisters Country belong to homeowners associations, and many have seen disputes flare up, even to the point of legal action. But one HOA battle has been the longest-running civil case in Deschutes County, lasting 10 years and costing tens of thousands of dollars in attorney's fees.

A judge signed a supplemental judgment last month regarding one of several suits, assessing attorneys' fees in a tangled legal case involving the homeowners association at Eagle Air Estates, adjacent to the Sisters airport.

But the recent judgment seems unlikely to wrap up the welter of cases stemming from a dispute over whether homeowners in the subdivision have legally protected access to the airport runway.

The original lawsuit in the dispute was filed in 2001 and heard in 2003, in which Mike and Jan Morgan and Charlie and Cydnie Harp sued airpark subdivison developer Vernon Goodsell and the HOA over Goodsell's "reversionary interest" that would have returned ownership of one-third of the airport runway to him if the airport was no longer in operation.

(The airport has since been purchased by Benny and Julie Benson and is in the process of annexation into the city of Sisters.)

The plaintiffs' claims were dismissed because the judge found that no one had to date actually been harmed, no one to date having been denied access - and the airport continued to be in operation.

The dispute carried on in a wave of appeals and suits and countersuits.

Governance of the homeowners' association passed to Morgan and Harp, though that was also disputed in court.

A total of six cases ended up going before courts, two suits filed by Morgan et al and the other four filed by Goodsell et al, (two of those seeking to remove encumbrances on their properties placed by the HOA under Morgan in anticipation of damage and attorney's fees awards in other cases).

The new officers sued Goodsell, Bruce Haphey, John Schibel and the homeowners association, alleging that they acted improperly in creating an assessment that was used to pay the costs of defending themselves in court.

The defendants in that suit were eventually found liable for breach of contract and conversion, and the judge's June supplemental judgment established that Goodsell, Haphey and Schibel owe damages of $24,480 and $109,472.70 in attorneys' fees and costs out of that ruling. The plaintiffs had requested approximately $250,000 in attorney's fees.

However, Goodsell et al filed an appeal on the case in May of 2012, and on June 24 filed an amended notice of appeal from the supplemental judgment assessing attorney's fees.

The original issue at play in the dispute appears to be on its way to resolution, though there is still no legally protected runway access.

"The ultimate resolution won't happen until the annexation is complete," said airport owner Benny Benson.

However, Eagle Air Estates homeowners continue to have access to the runway based on their participation in maintenance fees. Benson explained that, after the annexation, legally recorded access agreements will be available for those property owners.

Benson noted that the relationship between the airport and the adjoining neighborhood is positive and cooperative.

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