Fort Liberty families start reaching settlements with housing provider

by Tommy Grant

Editor’s note: This article was published as part of a content-sharing agreement between Army Times and The Fayetteville Observer.

FORT LIBERTY — Fort Liberty families who filed a lawsuit against affiliates of the installation’s private housing partner, Corvias, in June 2020 appear to have started reaching undisclosed settlements, according to court records.

The original military families who filed the suit against Corvias are Staff Sgt. Shane Page and his wife, Brittany; Spc. Spenser Ganske and his wife, Emily; Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Wilkes and his wife, Ashley; and Cpl. Timothy Murphy and his wife, Katelyn.

According to an August 2022 motion, Timothy Murphy died, and his wife, Katelyn Murphy, was named as a personal representative of his estate in addition to also being part of the lawsuit on her own behalf.

An amended motion filed in November 2022 on behalf of the military families added Staff Sgt. Omar Bonilla Martinez and his wife, former Corvias employee Emiline Bonilla, to the complaint, and an amended complaint filed in October this year added Travis and Cassie Baccus and all of the military family’s children to the complaint.

Staff Sgt. Ezra Thomas and his wife, Rachel, also filed a separate complaint against Corvias on behalf of themselves and their two children in June 2022.

The suits are filed against Bragg Communities LLC and Corvias Management-Army LLC, which are affiliates of Corvias.

What’s being dismissed

In a Nov. 3 motion for partial dismissal, the Thomases said they would dismiss “all personal injury claims and claims for damages due to personal injury sounding in negligence against (the) defendants.”

The motion stated the Thomases did not intend to seek medical testimony “with regard to any allegation of personal injury or illness caused by exposure to mold” or any other sickness tied to housing conditions.

Additionally, the Thomases agreed to dismiss any expenses tied to negligence.

The motion stated that after the Oct. 26 amended complaint was filed with allegations about the military housing, the military families and defendants reached a settlement that resolved the children’s claims.

Private settlement

The military families filed a Nov. 20 motion seeking to seal the specific terms of the settlement because of the children involved.

Each parent signed a statement included with the motion calling the “matter a private dispute,” and said they were not seeking confidentially because the defendants wanted it.

“We as a private family want to keep our private personal family financial matters confidential as well,” each of the military families said.

In the Nov. 20 motion, the military families said settlement documents contained the children’s “personal financial business” and the case to “private use of their home,” which was a “private nuisance claim, not one for public nuisance.”

According to the Oct. 26 amended complaint, the lawsuit was a class action suit seeking damages exceeding $5 million not including interest and costs.

Federal Judge James Gates signed a Nov. 29 order granting a motion to seal the documents, and since then a sealed exhibit was filed Dec. 6, and two sealed orders were issued Dec. 19 and 22.

The children’s ages are not mentioned in the motion.

Each of the military families in the case has at least one child.

What last amended complaint alleged

The Oct. 26 amended complaint alleged that the defendants “conspired to conceal harmful environmental and structural housing defects from unsuspecting service members and their families and failed to comply with applicable building and housing codes.”

It further alleged that substandard homes were knowingly leased, and service vendors were instructed to “conceal defects from tenants.”

“Defendants’ culture of concealment was driven by corporate greed where financial gains were maximized to the detriment of military families and their children,” the complaint alleged.

The complaint stated that the Pages were tenants starting in August 2016.

The Ganskes moved into military housing in September 2018; The Wilkeses moved in March 2017; the Murphys moved in February 2019″ and that the Bonillas and Baccuses lived on post “during the pertinent times” and the Thomases lived on post from 2013 to 2019.

The complaint alleges that all of the military families’ homes were “filled with mold, lead-based paint, structural wood rot and overall disrepair.”

Among the problems found in the Pages’ home on Spear Drive, the complaint stated, were water leaks, ant infestations and suspected black mold that Corvias representatives allegedly said was mildew.

The complaint stated that Corvias agreed to relocate the Pages to another home in October 2018 and that the military family was allegedly told they needed to sign a new one-year lease or face extra monthly fees.

“On such short notice, the Pages, like so many other class members, had nowhere else to go; they were captives,” the complaint stated.

The complaint said the Pages were further concerned in April 2019 about lead-based paint and were finally moved after six months.

Among the problems found in the Ganskes’ home on Castle Drive, the complaint stated, were squirrels in the attic, with urine soaking the ceiling and living room, water intrusion, suspected mold and a leaking ventilation system.

The Wilkeses’ home on Hirsch Circle, the complaint stated, had 33 repair orders, sagging floors and plumbing problems, and a leaking roof that collapsed in December 2019 along with an interior ceiling. The Wilkeses moved into a home on Viking Court in July 2020, which the complaint said also had “serious defects” and moisture- damage.

The Murphys’ home on Galaxy Street had suspected mold, “mushy, soft flooring” in the master bathroom, a roof leak, an air conditioner that didn’t work, water intrusion, a dishwasher that caught on fire and suspected carbon monoxide exposure.

The Thomases home on East Luzon Drive included bugs and insects, suspected lead plaint, electrical hazards, window hazards and suspected mold, their June 2022 complaint stated.

The Bonillas and Baccuses homes, which did not have addresses listed in the complaint, also had suspected mold and water intrusion.

The complaint further alleges that military families were threatened with additional monthly fees if they didn’t renew their leases and the defendants had knowledge of defective moisture barriers in homes that allowed alleged mold and wood rot as well as knowledge of lead paint in some homes.

“During the class period, defendants received iron-clad assurances of profit while plaintiffs and class members lived in conditions analogous to those caused by a ‘slumlord,’” the complaint stated.

Housing provider’s prior responses to allegations

In a July response to the allegations, attorneys for the Corvias affiliates either denied all the allegations or said they had no knowledge of specific alleged conversations such as contractors showing or telling families they found mold in the homes.

While the military families sought relief for allegations of breaches of warranty and contract, negligence and violation of the Residential Lead-based Paint Hazard Reduction Act and to be awarded an unspecified restitution amount, attorneys for the Corvias affiliates argued that the military families’ damages are “too speculative.”

“Plaintiffs failed to take reasonable steps to prevent or minimize or otherwise to mitigate the damages they allege to have sustained,” court records stated. “Defendants’ actions were done in good faith, without malice and without intent, such that the relief sought is not available.”

The motion filed on behalf of the defense also stated that claims or alleged injuries and damages “caused by the acts or omissions of third parties” that the defendants “had no control” over absolves them of legal responsibility.

“The injuries suffered by plaintiffs, if any, were attributable in whole or in part to plaintiffs’ own contributory negligence,” the motion stated. “Defendants did not breach any applicable standard of care.”

What’s still outstanding

Motions and public court records do not state if the adults in the case have reached a final settlement.

In the Sept. 20 order signed by Judge James Dever III, Dever said that the military families and Corvias’ affiliates met in a Sept. 19 settlement conference and told the court all parties would “file a stipulation of dismissal,” which means the court could dismiss the case.

Details of the Sept. 19 settlement conference are not included in the court records.

Dever said the order did not mean the case was being dismissed and that the case could be reopened “upon the request of the parties.”

The Thomases are the only military family who filed a partial stipulation for dismissal tied to dropping the health and negligence claims.

According to the Oct. 26 motion, claims for breach of warranty, unfair and deceptive trade practices, breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing, violation of lead-based paint reduction act and temporary private nuisance still stand.

The families are seeking rent abatement, relief for nuisance and civil penalties, the motion stated.

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