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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of July 17 - 23, 2002


Sun Valley Co. is sued over confiscated pass

Express Staff Writer

A 5th District Court judge has ruled that a local resident can seek punitive damages against Sun Valley Co. on a claim that it wrongfully confiscating his 2000-2001 season’s ski pass.

The dispute over the $1,650 pass and an $812 charge at a Sun Valley-owned clothing store has, over the past year, mushroomed into a two-inch-thick file of litigation papers. The case raises questions about the limits of Sun Valley Co.’s legal authority to confiscate passes.

According to documents filed in 5th District Court in Hailey, two purchases totaling $812.16 were made at The Brass Ranch in Sun Valley on Aug. 15, 2000, using the credit card number of Larry Stone, a 64-year-old, longtime Ketchum resident and co-owner of the Ketchum Grill. Stone claims he didn’t buy the goods and the signatures on the purchase slips are not his. In fact, he says, he was attending a wedding in Santa Barbara, Calif., at the time and has an airline itinerary to prove it.

Two months after the purchases were made, Stone signed a fraud form at the U.S. Bank in Ketchum and the bank reversed the charge to The Brass Ranch.

Before he filed the fraud form, Stone met with Sun Valley’s accounting department and looked at the purchase slips. He said the signatures were similar to his, but were not his. In a deposition, Sun Valley Co. Assistant Controller Kathy Kerrick admitted that the signatures on the two purchase slips did not appear to match each other.

If the signatures on the slips are not Stone’s, Sun Valley Co. stated in court documents, it would simply like to find out whose they are. In a deposition, General Manager Wally Huffman stated the company left one phone message with Stone after he filed the fraud form asking him to come in and clarify the matter, but did not hear from him. Huffman and Sun Valley Co. department heads discussed the situation during a meeting March 23, 2001.

"We had decided by the end of the meeting we’d get Mr. Stone’s attention by pulling the pass," Huffman stated in his deposition.

Right after his pass was pulled, Stone called Huffman from the Warm Springs Lodge.

"When he told me that he was taking my pass, I was almost in shock," Stone said in an interview.

In an affidavit, Stone stated that Huffman told him, "You stole $800 and you can’t ski on my mountain."

Huffman did not return a phone call Friday seeking Sun Valley’s side of the story.

Stone filed a suit against Sun Valley Co. and Huffman on May 8, 2001, for conversion (taking someone’s property) and breach of contract. On June 8, Sun Valley filed a counterclaim for $812.16.

On July 5, 2002, Judge James May granted Stone’s motion to seek punitive damages. At the same time, May denied his motion for summary judgment on the breach of contract claim, and ordered the case to go into mediation. The parties have until Aug. 26 to agree upon a date to mediate the dispute.

According to both sides’ briefs, Idaho law permits a plaintiff to seek punitive damages only when the court determines he has a reasonable likelihood of proving that the defendant’s conduct was "oppressive, fraudulent, wanton, malicious or outrageous."

"Huffman’s conduct in taking Stone’s pass was nothing less than blackmail or extortion," states a brief submitted by Stone’s attorney, Fritz Haemmerle. "As such, the court should allow Stone to pursue his claim for punitive damages."

When Stone bought his 200-2001 pass, language in the agreement stated that "the bearer of this ticket is subject to…all rules, instructions and regulations governing the skiing area… Bearer agrees to surrender this ticket upon demand by Sun Valley Co."

In his deposition, Huffman stated that in his opinion, those rules included payment for goods and services. The language has since been clarified. The current agreement states that Sun Valley Co. can demand return of the pass "for any reason, including misconduct on or off the ski area or failure to pay amounts due Sun Valley for goods or services." The agreement states that the bearer of a confiscated pass will receive a pro-rated refund.

In an interview, Stone said he is litigating the matter on principle.

"I don’t think anyone in the community should be subjected to what I was subjected to," he said.

He said his initial request from Sun Valley was for an apology and a 2001-2002 season’s pass.

"If they had offered me that, I would have just let it die," he said.

By now, both parties have sunk quite a bit of money into attorneys’ fees. Stone declined to comment on how much he has spent, but said he hopes to recoup it through either mediation or a trial.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.