About a week after Brookridge Golf & Fitness club filed suit against an elderly neighbor, claiming the garage he erected in 1998 juts two feet onto its property, the club withdrew the suit in the face of a social-media firestorm.
Now the World War II veteran is asking the courts to assure it won’t happen again.
The club filed suit April 17 in Johnson County District Court, claiming trespass and conversion and asking for “quiet title” to the disputed property. It asked the court for an order “directing the ejectment and removal of the garage on the plaintiff’s property,” plus “damages in an amount in excess of $75,000” and reimbursement of its costs in pursuing the matter.
The club was sold in 2010, and the property was surveyed at about that time, revealing the alleged encroachment.
When 86-year-old World War II Navy veteran Virgil Wesley and daughter LouAnna Davis received notice of the suit at their home at 10301 Antioch Road, they were upset. Wesley is disabled, has a reverse mortgage on the house and gets by on that and Social Security payments. He doesn’t have enough money to fight a lawsuit, nor to tear down the garage, which would be necessary to remove the alleged encroachment.
“He was in the fetal position for three days,” Davis said.
Wesley and his late wife, Christine, bought the house in 1995, and he built the garage himself in 1998, never realizing that it encroached onto the adjoining country club’s property. He got a city permit to build the two-car garage and potting shed with brick walls. In addition, he has always maintained a strip of land immediately east of the garage, stretching to a tree line that he had assumed was the property line.
After getting the suit, Davis and her sister, Laura Cheney, conferred and decided to take the issue to a local television station, which ran a report late last month, portraying the club as persecuting a disabled WW II vet.
That set off a social-media frenzy, as people linked to the report on Twitter and Facebook and began posting negative comments on the club’s Facebook page. A couple of online fundraising campaigns were started to help Wesley fight the suit. The club even took down its Facebook page for a while, and then issued a statement, saying it was dismissing the suit.
“Brookridge Golf & Fitness has announced today that it will voluntarily dismiss its suit against Mr. Wesley and all other defendants,” according to a statement General Manager John Lienemann emailed. “The dismissal will occur at no cost to Mr. Wesley or any other party. The portrayals of the suit by the news media, and the reactions from many concerned citizens, do not accurately reflect the relief that was sought.
“Brookridge never intended to recover damages of $75,000 or more from Mr. Wesley or any other defendant. The suit was filed pursuant to Kansas law that requires parties to include specific jurisdictional language. Furthermore, Brookridge never intended to remove Mr. Wesley from his property or otherwise interfere with his property rights,” the statement said. “The suit was filed merely to protect Brookridge’s property rights that are verifiable and recorded with the Johnson County Register of Deeds office. Brookridge regrets any misunderstanding or hardship that may have occurred from its actions.”
The dismissal came as a great relief to Wesley and his family members, but they decided to pursue the issue further, hoping to clear up any cloud on his title to the property. Attorney Doug Patterson, a former state legislator and Leawood city councilman, stepped forward to help.
Patterson represented Wesley in filing a petition on last week in Johnson County District Court for “quiet title” to the property in question. In essence, if the petition is granted, Wesley or his heirs will have no problem selling the property in the future. If they don’t prevail and the encroachment is not removed, the dispute will cast doubt on their title and hinder any future sale.
Patterson said he based his filing on the legal concept of “adverse possession.” He said the fact that the encroachment was not contested for so many years and that Wesley had maintained what is apparently club property gives him an ownership interest that must be respected.
“The case was dismissed without prejudice, which means they could file it again,” Patterson said. “We filed a petition for quiet title under adverse possession.”
While they remain suspicious of the club’s motives in pursuing the lawsuit, Wesley and Davis are happy with the way the matter has worked out.
“We are trying to be as good neighbors as we can be, but I am tired of them picking on my dad,” Davis said.