Plaintiffs who bought high-end fractional interest timeshares at the Ritz Carlton Club at Aspen Highlands are suing the Ritz and its parent company Marriott, claiming that the hoteliers devalued club members' investments by affiliating the property with less expensive resorts.

Attorneys pursuing the case, including Matt Ferguson of Aspen and Michael Reiser of Walnut Creek, Calif., are asking a judge to grant class action status to the complaint.

The suit, filed on Dec. 31 in Pitkin County District Court, alleges that fractional interests at the Ritz, which have sold for between $200,000 and $400,000, are now worth as little as 20 percent of the original purchase price. The devaluation, according to the complaint, is the result of a 2012 decision by Marriott to allow users of a wider points-based timeshare system encompassing 51 properties with 400,000 members to acquire stays at nine Ritz Carlton Club properties developed between 2001 and 2012, of which there are about 3,000 members. Other club locations include Bachelor Gulch at Beaver Creek, Jupiter Island, Fla., San Francisco and St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands.

The Ritz, the centerpiece of the 2001 Highlands village redevelopment, was sold "based on defendants’ claims that the fractional units were superior to [Marriott Vacation Club's] other timeshare offerings in that the Ritz Carlton Club Aspen Highlands would be exclusive and operated for the use, benefit and enjoyment of Ritz Carlton Club members ... 'like a second home' (warranting the highly expensive purchase prices for the fractional units as compared to other [Marriott] timeshare offerings)," the complaint says.

However, by affiliating the property with the rest of the Marriott timeshare portfolio, which the complaint alleges was done against the wishes of the fractional owners, the value of the interests has been "decimated," the complaint says.

"Defendants … unilaterally imposed the Marriott Vacations Club affiliation on class members, in order to rid themselves of a poor financial investment with the Ritz-Carlton Club as well as to increase the attractiveness, value and price of timeshares sold by the [Marriott Vacation Club] through the affiliation with the Ritz Carton Club Aspen Highlands, despite knowing that such an affiliation would devalue class members’ fractional units, while at the same time making Marriott Vacation Club destinations more attractive, valuable and expensive, all to the unjust enrichment of defendants," the complaint says.

According to letters cited in the complaint, managers of the Ritz Carlton Club properties protested the change in 2012, before imposing it under the direction of numerous corporate entities connected to Marriott.

“Frankly, it has been our position that our members bought into a Ritz-Carlton brand and do not want that brand diluted. The board has concerns that … the nature of our club will change by opening the club to [Marriott Vacation Club] timeshare/points members who have a much lower cost of entry,” says an August 2012 letter from the Aspen Highlands Condominium Association to club members, according to the complaint.

curtis@aspendailynews.com