Newport Beach’s American Legion Yacht Club has sued its partner Legion post for reportedly suspending the club and padlocking its boats in what the club calls a “hostile takeover” of an independent organization.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court, accuses Newport Harbor Post 291 and its 15 officers of breach of contract, trespassing, conversion of property and interference in connection with the yacht club’s suspension in September.
The club seeks reversal of the lockout and unspecified damages.
The suspension means the club can have no meetings, events or other activities on post property, including the marina. That resulted in calling off the annual Sail for the Visually Impaired — one of the club’s hallmark events, which it had planned for October — plus ceasing use of the four club-owned boats and canceling reciprocal agreements with other yacht clubs.
At the time of the suspension, post Cmdr. Doug Nye told members that the club had violated the veterans’ organization’s national rules.
Douglas Green, commodore for the club, said in a September update to members that it was a bylaws dispute regarding the “five rules of subsidiary corporations.”
Green and the lawsuit argue that the American Legion Yacht Club is legally a separate and distinct entity, not a subordinate subsidiary, and cannot be unilaterally controlled, as the suit claims Post 291 is trying to do.
“The Post 291 executive board wrote new bylaws, passed them and just told us we had to accept them as a program of the post,” Green said in a statement. “However, we are more than a program. We have been a partner for over 50 years, not only promoting yachting activities for our military veteran members and their families but also extending this spirit for service and love for the sea through our many civic activities in the greater Newport Beach and Southern California communities.”
An attorney for Post 291 did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
The club, known for being the world’s only American Legion yacht club, claims more than 950 dues-paying members around the world. It is one of about a half-dozen yacht clubs in Newport Beach and has been a local fixture since 1966.
The club’s headquarters, shared with Post 291 at 215 15th St., is easily recognizable from the water because of the many American flags along its dock.
The suit says the post, as an American Legion Yacht Club partner, allowed the club to use its buildings, including the “Hut” clubhouse, boat slips, a mooring and other storage areas. In turn, the club says it has paid advance use fees and improved and maintained the facilities at its expense, including an estimated $115,000 just on fees and upkeep for the Hut.
Green told members that the club’s board doesn’t intend to defy the rules but won’t follow new rules until they are incorporated by a member vote, as required by bylaws the club approved in 2006.
The club also is concerned about the condition of its vessels — a 40-foot motor yacht, two roughly 20-foot sailboats and a 13-foot runabout — because members cannot access them for maintenance. The docked sailboats have been lashed together with heavy cables affixed with padlocks. The runabout is in dry storage.
Green said the lawsuit is “a sad and unfortunate turn of events, and an action we only took when we had no other alternative.”