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Ryderwood suit hinging on motion to try fault and payment separately

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The ongoing lawsuit against the Ryderwood Improvement and Service Association (RISA) has reached a crucial turning point, as the defendants have asked the court to separate the issues of whether or not they violated the plaintiff’s rights and whether or not the plaintiffs are due compensation.

The suit had been brought in 2009 as a class action led by Raymond and Deborah Balvage, of Longview, and Charles and Susan Weaver, of Kelso, in response to the discriminatory housing practices of RISA under the Housing for Older Persons Amendment (HOPA) of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). HOPA allows discriminatory housing in recognized communities where 80 percent of households have at least one resident 55 years old or older in order to maintain status as a retirement community.

The Plaintiffs, 47 in all, have asserted Ryderwood is not officially recognized as a HOPA community and RISA has been regulating the sale and occupancy of houses without jurisdiction over the properties involved. It is further alleged RISA has imposed illegal liens on owners who refuse to pay membership dues, with plaintiffs stating they never signed an agreement to become part of or follow the rules of the association.

"Under the Fair Housing Act and related federal regulations, it is illegal to threaten, intimidate, or interfere with any person in their enjoyment of their dwelling because of their familial status," stated the plaintiff’s initial filing. "RISA does this presently and has done this for numerous years."

As specific examples, the suit states Charles Weaver was denied the ability to let his son live in the community (citing his legal custody in the matter) while an unnamed member of the plaintiffs was denied allowing his son to live with him in Ryderwood after said plaintiff endured bypass surgery.

RISA has replied they are compliant with the requirements for HOPA and asserted they are well above the 85 percent occupancy requirement. They said the plaintiffs were made aware of RISA’s housing practices and regulations at the time they purchased property in Ryderwood and "failed to mitigate the damages by not selling or attempting to sell their property to persons who wish to live in Ryderwood," according to court documents.

Said documents also directly refuted the claims from Weaver and the unnamed plaintiff regarding the refusal of family members to move into their homes, and went on to state there is no damage to the public interest posed by their housing practices.

Since the first filing in US District Court in Tacoma July 8, 2009, the suit has endured multiple partial summary judgments and appeals, with a recurring issue being a 2007 survey conducted by RISA to determine ages within the community, which plaintiffs state was conducted improperly and apart from federal guidelines.

As the ongoing legal struggle continued, the plaintiffs filed 472 separate claims last October stating they were due financial compensation for retaliatory acts perpetrated by members of RISA in response to the lawsuit. RISA has said these claims for damages are a separate, unrelated issue to the present suit and filed a motion for bifurcation April 4, asking the court to separately determine if RISA violated FHA and if the plaintiffs are due compensation for the alleged acts of retaliation.

Plaintiffs responded by stating a separation of the issues would waste the court’s time by lengthening the suit and said the two matters are not exclusive of each other, stating "Defendant’s attempt to limit this trial to the issue of whether a proper survey was undertaken in 2007 is both nonsensical and unfair."

As of press time, there had yet to be a ruling on the motion for bifurcation, though RISA already filed a motion Friday to dismiss the 472 claims in anticipation of bifurcation. These claims for damages have come about amid the plaintiff’s inability to pay for legal counsel, as stated in a motion filed March 21 by law firm Lane Powell PC, of Seattle, to withdraw from representation of the plaintiffs due to "failure to pay attorneys fees." Their motion was granted April 8 and the plaintiffs have since retained Heurlin, Potter, Jahn, Leatham, Holtmann & Stoker, P.S., of Vancouver, to continue pursuing a favorable legal outcome.

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