Lawsuit against Vernon Pickleball Association tossed out as judge rules “no basis for claim”

Pickleball is a way for seniors and others to stay in shape while being social. But the game has turned ugly in Vernon, where one man has been banned from playing. Jules Knox explains how this case ended up in B.C. Supreme Court.

The lawsuit of a man seeking compensation against the Vernon Pickleball Association (VPA) was tossed out this week, as the presiding judge sided with the non-profit sports group.

The B.C. Supreme Court case, which involved plaintiff Lane Roberts and the VPA, was about the association’s 2017 decision to discontinue Roberts’ membership following a series of warnings and a temporary suspension.

After having his membership discontinued, Roberts sued the VPA and 10 of its members and directors. Overseeing the case was Justice Sheri Ann Donegan.

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In 2015, Roberts applied for VPA membership and was admitted for the 2015-16 season, then again for the 2016-17 season. During that span, the VPA said it received complaints against him.

In discontinuing his membership, the VPA said Roberts was distracting other members. The distractions included unwanted coaching tips and bringing his dog to games.

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As a result of being banned, Roberts’ lawsuit sought the restoration of his membership and removal of a no-coaching rule from the VPA code of conduct. The lawsuit also asked that the 10 defendants be fined $3,000 each for instituting the no-coaching rule and suspended for the same period of time Roberts was suspended. In addition, Roberts’ lawsuit requested that the VPA be fined the cost of his membership and all costs pertaining to playing pickleball in all seasons for the rest of his life and that Roberts receive “some compensation for my pain and suffering as well as the stress, ostracism and bullying they subjected me to, to the exclusion of any other members.”

Donegan noted that “between 2015 and 2017, the VPA received a number of complaints about Mr. Roberts’ conduct, specifically that he consistently provided unsolicited coaching to other players, engaged in unsportsmanlike conduct and brought his dog to games, causing disruption to others. During these years, the VPA issued Mr. Roberts a number of warnings about his conduct, asking he discontinue his behaviour, but the complaints by other members persisted. The VPA eventually suspended Mr. Roberts’ membership for a one-month period at the end of May 2017.

“Mr. Roberts disputed the circumstances surrounding his suspension and attended a couple of play sessions, the latter of which resulted in complaints about his conduct and a police attendance. On June 12, 2017, the VPA board of directors met with Mr. Roberts regarding his continued failure to abide by the VPA’s code of conduct. They extended his suspension to July 8, 2017. When he returned to play, complaints again continued.

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“The VPA then sent Mr. Roberts a letter on or about July 14, 2017, reiterating its expectations regarding unsolicited coaching and warning him that further complaints may lead to his membership being cancelled. The difficulties and complaints continued, correspondence was exchanged, and eventually the VPA decided not to renew his membership on a permanent basis. It communicated this decision by way of letter to Mr. Roberts dated Oct. 11, 2017.”

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The justice noted that Roberts took action against the VPA in provincial court. In that case, the court dismissed the lawsuit on the basis that it lacked jurisdiction over the dispute. He then took his case to the Supreme Court, filing a claim on May 1.

In her 12-page decision, Donegan wrote: “In the end, there is simply no basis for any claim that the VPA or the individual defendants have behaved in an oppressive or unfairly prejudicial manner toward Mr. Roberts. As a result, the plaintiff’s claim against all defendants is dismissed in its entirety. The defendants will have their costs, to be assessed on the ordinary scale.”

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