A golf club owned by Donald Trump has been ordered to pay back $6 million (£4.7m) to members whose deposits were “confiscated” when they tried to resign.
Judge Kenneth Marra found that the Jupiter club in Florida had breached the membership contract and ruled in favor of 65 plaintiffs who filed the class-action lawsuit in 2013 - one of thousands of legal actions the new US President and his businesses have faced.
The company violated member contracts by retaining member fees and locking out members who tried to leave, Judge Kenneth Marra wrote in a 21-page decision.
He found the members were “entitled to refunds of their deposits within 30 days...which to date Defendant has failed to provide.”
Judge Marra added: “Because the defendant did not refund Class Members’ deposits by January 30, 2013, it committed a material breach of the Membership Agreement going to the essence of the contract, causing Plaintiffs and the Class Members damages measured by the amounts of their refundable deposits plus accruing interest."
The plaintiffs were members of the club in Jupiter, Florida who were on a waiting list for resignations when Mr Trump bought the golf course from Ritz-Carlton.
Under the old rules, they were allowed to pay dues and continue to use the club until their resignation went through.
But Mr Trump instituted a new rule, barring those on the list from using the club.
"As the owner of the club, I do not want them to utilise the club nor do I want their dues," he wrote in a letter to members.
A few months later, he began charging them dues anyway.
Mr Trump was not named as a defendant in the case but he recorded a deposition in 2016 that was played at a bench trial in August.
His son, Eric, testified at the trial where he said that paying with no access to the club "would violate a fundamental rule of life," the judge noted.
After the case Brad Edwards, a lawyer for the ex-members, said he had "never been more confident after trying a case that this would be the result."
He added: "To me, it was just a matter of time before this verdict came but I'm glad we got it."
Trump Organisation lawyer Alan Garten said they were planning an appeal.
"The members who resigned were all members under Ritz-Carlton who resigned prior to Trump taking ownership," he said, adding that the new President had "purchased the club from Ritz and effectively saved it because it was in financial ruin.
"Notwithstanding the foregoing, we disagree with the judge's ruling and intend to appeal it."
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