Lawsuit over land for proposed destination golf course in Kandiyohi County appears headed to trial
Three siblings have been unable to reach agreement in mediation in their dispute over the sale of their land for the proposed Tepetonka Golf Course south of Sibley State Park near New London.
WILLMAR — A civil lawsuit involving the siblings who own the property proposed for a destination golf course in Kandiyohi County appears headed to trial.
Attorneys for Dean Thorson, the plaintiff, and for Sherry Ulman and Dan Thorson, the defendants in the Cedar Hills Century Farm dispute, told District Judge Stephen Wentzell that they were unsuccessful in resolving their differences through mediation.
The attorneys also made clear during a pretrial hearing Monday in Kandiyohi County District Court that they disagree over whether the civil trial should be heard by a jury or a judge.
They are also asking the judge to rule on whether the time period for evidence to be submitted to the court can be extended.
Dean Thorson filed a civil lawsuit against his siblings in November to block the sale of the 187-acre property to the Tepetonka Golf Club. It has a purchase agreement to acquire the rural New London property for $1.2 million from the Cedar Hills Century Farm, which the three siblings own, according to court files.
Attorney David Johnson of Paynesville, who represents Dean Thorson in the lawsuit, said they could not obtain an appraiser to value the property until this week. He asked for an extension to a July 30 deadline so that the appraiser’s findings could be included as evidence during a trial.
Attorney Jim Maring of Fargo, North Dakota, who represents the other two siblings, told the court that allowing the appraiser’s findings after the previously agreed-upon deadline for submitting evidence was prejudicial against his clients, who have not obtained an independent appraisal on it. Maring also suggested to the court that the plaintiff was attempting to delay a resolution “to get the buyer frustrated and walk away” from its purchase.
The value of the property is the crux of the dispute that is now before the court.
Tepetonka Golf proposes a $20 million investment to develop the site along Shakopee Creek south of Sibley State Park as a private golf course limited to 100 total members. The invitation-only membership is proposed at $100,000, and members would pay yearly dues of $25,000 for 100 days of golf, according to information provided earlier this year about the project by Mark Haugejorde, a New London native who is among its founders.
Dean Thorson initially charged that actions by his siblings to approve the land’s sale for a golf course violated the bylaws of the Cedar Hills Century Farm. Judge Wentzell issued a summary judgment in May on behalf of the defendants determining that the bylaws were not violated by the two siblings; it did not qualify as a family farm, since it has not been actively farmed by a family member since 1986. It is currently enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program.
At the same time, the judge also allowed Dean Thorson to amend his civil complaint to include a charge that his siblings committed a breach of fiduciary duty by approving the land’s sale at a price below what he believes is the actual value, and for failing to act with candor in their negotiations and not including him in them.
During the brief hearing Monday, held via video conference, the judge encouraged the two sides to continue to seek a resolution through negotiations.
The case is currently scheduled for trial on Oct. 18-19. Dean Thorson is asking that a jury hear the case. The defense has filed a motion asking the court to reject that request and schedule the case as a court trial before a judge.
Maring argued that the parties originally agreed to a court trial.
Plaintiff's attorney Johnson countered that they did so because a court trial is required to settle a lawsuit involving their original claim that the defendants had violated the bylaws of the company. Now that the lawsuit has been amended to the charge of fiduciary responsibility, civil law provides the right to a trial before a jury, he told the judge.
The judge took under advisement both the issue of extending the deadline for evidence and the question of whether a jury should hear the case.