Jury trial for Elk Creek Ranch case

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Prospective jurors were greeted with social distancing guides in front of the Justice Center during jury selection for a case between Elk Creek Ranch Owners Association and Elk Creek Ranch Development, Inc. —CAITLIN WALKER PHOTO

RBC I Prospective Rio Blanco County jurors found themselves summoned to court this week for a trial. In July, members of the Elk Creek Ranch Owners Association, a nonprofit corporation, filed a “complaint and jury demand” against William Wheeler of Elk Creek Ranch Development, Inc.

According to court documents, Wheeler established Elk Creek Ranch in 2007 as a private hunting and fishing club — the Association. Members own privately held parcels within the Elk Creek Ranch and pay annual assessments to continue membership. Sixty-seven privately-owned lots and more than 2,850 acres of common area make up the ranch, along with lease agreements that allow members to fish and hunt nearby properties. 

Up to three “honorary” members were written into the Association’s founding documents, two of whom were Wheeler’s family members at the start. Plaintiffs allege those “initial honorary members” — who were exempt from the obligation to pay annual assessments — transferred or relinquished ownership of their interests before June 2013, and Wheeler claimed he owned the honorary member interests as personal assets valued at $2 million each. 

According to the court documents, plaintiffs allege Wheeler and Elk Creek Ranch is liable for unpaid assessments totaling more than $1.5 million (with late fees and interest), and has violated the original documents of the Association related to the honorary member interests.

Occurring concurrently are additional suits filed by Association members against Wheeler and YZ Ranch, LLC. 

Proposed jury instructions filed Oct. 8 by the Association’s attorneys state: 

“The parties to this case are: Elk Creek Ranch Owners’ Association, the plaintiff and William Wheeler, Elk Creek Ranch Development Inc., Elk Creek Operations, LLC, and YZ Ranch LLC, the defendants. The Plaintiff, the Elk Creek Ranch Owners Association, assert several different claims in this case: First, the Association asserts that Defendants Elk Creek Ranch Development, Inc. breached the Declaration by taking offsets to pay assessments. Second, the Association asserts that Defendants Elk Creek Operations, LLC breached the Management Agreement by failing to properly maintain the books and records of the Association and by using Association funds to pay for attorney fees that were not owed by the Association. Third, the Association asserts that Defendants William Wheeler and Elk Creek Operations, LLC breached their fiduciary duties to the Association. For the fourth and final claim, the Association asserts that Defendant, YZ Ranch LLC breached the YZ Fishing Lease. Defendants deny these allegations and assert that certain claims are barred by the statute of limitations.”