While others still wade through the court system against Northstar’s parking fee, Truckee local Robert (last name withheld for privacy reasons) found success … at least initially.
On Jan. 3, Robert took Trimont Land Company (doing business as, or dba, Northstar California Resort) to small claims court. His complaint: a lack of disclosure from Northstar to season passholders about a new paid parking plan.
After a full three months of deliberation, Commissioner John Ross out of Placer County’s Superior Court in Tahoe City ruled in favor of Robert’s case on March 19, meaning defendant Trimont Land Company dba Northstar California Resort had 30 days to either pay Robert $502.95 for his 2019/20 ski pass refund, plus $135 for additional legal fees, or appeal the total sum of $637.95.
On April 20, Robert received an official appeal in the mail, filed by MOBO Law.
“In the notice it [says] I will be contacted by the superior court with a trial date,” Robert told Moonshine. “That’s all I know about it. With all this [coronavirus] stuff going on, that could be months from now.”
Robert, who represented himself in court back in January, said he isn’t sure if he’ll hire an attorney or not for the follow-up date.
“Keep in mind also, it’s a $600 thing,” he continued. “Am I going to spend thousands and thousands? … The other thing is, I did a really good job in court, and I have a very strong case and I have tons of evidence I feel is going to be very hard to dispute.”
The crux of Robert’s original success in small claims court stems partly from the fact that he never stepped foot on Northstar property during the latest season — thus fulfilling the “NO REFUND IF USED” fine print on the back of his 2019/20 ski pass; partly, he says, because of California’s consumer protection policy which requires retailers to clearly display policies, and which Northstar “actively concealed” on their website.
“Northstar’s defense was, ‘We’re entitled to charge for parking,’” Robert explained of his argument in court. “I told the judge they can charge whatever for parking … but they have to disclose that before they take someone’s money. With Northstar, my points to the judge were the entire history of Northstar, their entire history, they’ve never charged for parking. When I bought the pass, I had a very reasonable expectation it would be the same it always has been. There was nothing on their website to indicate they might even be considering to charge for parking.”
Moonshine reached out to Northstar for comment, but staff said the resort has nothing further to add to the conversation.
The new parking plan itself offers free spaces in its Castle Peak lot with complimentary shuttle service. Back when the resort was open, those wishing to park closer to the Village were required to pay $10 to $20 on weekdays, and $20 to $40 on weekends, depending on the lot.
Back in February, Moonshine reported on a similar complaint filed against Northstar by Steven Kroll and Ron Kode. Kroll said the judge denied their emergency motion for a prompt hearing on breach of contract, but he’s still working to settle his fraud complaint, continuing on in federal court.
“The difference between a small claims court and a federal district court is almost night and day,” wrote Kroll in an email. “The fact that Northstar gets another bite of the apple here with what’s called a ‘de novo trial’ (a completely new trial in a higher court) because they don’t like the small claims decision is an example of this. They do face penalties, however, if the new trial does not change the results, and I can see no reason why that would happen, having personally witnessed the small claims trial myself, and appreciated the thorough job that Robert, who is not an attorney, did in presenting his case.”
Though there’s still a long road ahead of him, Robert said the precedence he set in small claims court will hopefully make it easier for others who want their money back from the resort.
“Even if I never get paid back, it’s not the end of the world,” he said. “I’d rather have Northstar understand why people are upset … Whether or not I get paid back is almost immaterial at this point.”