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Dangberg suit before Supreme Court

by Sheila Gardner

The fate of the historic Dangberg home ranch rests temporarily with the Nevada Supreme Court, whose seven justices heard arguments Friday on what’s to become of the Carson Valley landmark.

Attorneys for both sides in the case split a 30-minute time slot before the Supreme Court, asked to rule on a district court decision stopping a settlement of the county’s claim to the home ranch and allowing last-minute intervention by two additional parties.

At issue is whether the Douglas County’s interest in the property was settled for $50,000 before the State of Nevada and Dangberg heirs were allowed to intervene and stop the process.

“This matter comes in a unique context,” said attorney Suellen Fulstone, representing Dangberg Holdings Nevada owners Bruce Park and Don Bently. “This settlement was debated and decided in public at the Douglas County commissioners’ meeting.”

Fulstone referred to a March 1997 action by the Douglas Board of County Commissioners to accept $50,000 and drop any claim against the home ranch, which Dangberg family members had envisioned as an historic Carson Valley park, operated either by the county or the State of Nevada division of parks.

The family no longer owns the property, and the new owners, Dangberg Holdings Nevada, dispute whether they have an obligation to honor a 1977 lease agreement that the home ranch be offered to county or the state for a park.

The county decided in 1997 that it couldn’t afford to operate the park and agreed to the $50,000 settlement. The state and the Dangberg heirs successfully petitioned the lower court to intervene and stop the settlement.

In May 1997, Senior Judge Carl Christensen stopped the settlement before the county and Dangberg Holdings Nevada executed a document.

n Settlement status. Justice Nancy Becker questioned Fulstone about the status of the settlement at the time of Christensen’s order.

“The record reflects the issues of the lawsuit were still pending,” said Becker. “The settlement was over in principal, but clearly not over in fact.”

“That’s correct,” said Fulstone. “But for purposes of the intervention, that it was over in fact is all that matters.”

She called the state and the Dangberg family heirs “serial plaintiffs,” who did not qualify as intervenors “intended to bring claims together that ought to be adjudicated together.”

“I don’t think anybody here has the standing to intervene. At the point they sought to intervene, the case was settled,” Fulstone said.

Douglas County Chief Deputy District Attorney Robert Morris reiterated the position that the county lacks the money to operate the park, especially with the passage of Assembly Bill 616, severely restricting the distribution of room tax money previously used to fund park improvements.

“There is a long and very interesting history to this,” Morris said. “On July 8, 1996, Douglas County filed suit against Dangberg holdings to seek relief. On March 20, 1997, the board (of commissioners) and Dangberg holdings reached an agreement. Two years and 18 inches of filings later, I am here to ask you to allow Douglas County to settle this claim.”

Gardnerville attorney Milos Terzich, representing the estate of Dangberg granddaughter Katrina Glide, told the justices that the county and Dangberg Holdings Nevada had six weeks from the the county commissioners’ March 20, 1997, action to Judge Christensen’s May 9, 1997, injunction to prepare the settlement before the court order and did not.

n Why $50,000? Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Rose questioned the $50,000 settlement figure.

“Does the $50,000 price reflect fair market value for the property? It seems like an awfully good price,” Rose said.

Reno attorney Gordon DePaoli said the $50,000 was not related to the value of the real property.

He said the price reflected the county’s budget restraints as to whether it could afford to operate the home ranch as a park and questions over whether the owners of the Dangberg property were obligated to offer the home ranch to the county.

The money represented more of a donation to the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center and the Genoa Courthouse Museum, DePaoli explained.

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