HOA Case Study: A Board’s statements or conduct may establish the enforceability of its governing documents

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

An article in the Washington Post discussed a pending case in the Virginia Supreme Court regarding a dispute between property owners and a community association regarding the owners’ operation of a vineyard and retail store on their property. In an unpublished Order, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld a Fauquier County jury verdict for the property owners that had been set aside by the trial court.

Although unpublished orders do not have “precedential value or . . . significance for the law or legal system,” this case does provide us with a look at how difficult it can be for community associations to interpret their governing documents and also how a board’s previous actions may have an effect upon future enforcement of the community’s declarations and covenants. This blog post will review the facts of that case and its applicability to your HOA.

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

A Virginia Circuit Court case highlights the expense and time commitment required when a homeowner sues a common interest community (referred to as “HOA” in this article). Furthermore, this case illustrates that HOAs can rarely predict or control when they may be dragged into a lawsuit.

In this case, Hornstein v. Federal Hill Homeowners Association, a homeowner had her house for sale with a pending sales contract. Pursuant to Va. Code Ann. § 55-509.5, the HOA provided a disclosure packet that revealed that the homeowner’s fence was not located on her property. In fact, the homeowner’s own survey confirmed that fact. The pending sales contract fell through.

The homeowner sued the HOA in Fairfax Circuit Court for slander of title and tortious interference with contract, including a claim for “bodily injury,” and “mental anguish.” The HOA prevailed in the case, leading to the homeowner’s petition for appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. [UPDATED: The Virginia Supreme Court refused to hear the case, meaning that the Circuit Court’s decision stands].

Another battle has been waged regarding whether the HOA’s insurance carrier had a duty to defend the HOA in the underlying litigation. When the HOA’s insurance carrier denied coverage and representation, the HOA sued the insurance carrier. The case was removed to the federal court. The 4th Circuit District Court agreed with the insurance carrier. The HOA appealed and the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that the insurance carrier had a duty to defend. The insurance carrier has appealed for a rehearing. [UPDATED: the insurance carrier lost its appeal and was ordered to pay the HOA $217,308.86 for the attorneys’ fees the HOA incurred].

For a brief review, the HOA provided the disclosure packet in February 2006. After the homeowner’s pending sale fell through, she sued the HOA in August 2007. As we near August 2010, the underlying case may be close to resolution, but litigation with the insurance company may be far from resolving. Based upon the amount of litigation, we can assume that the HOA’s attorneys’ fees have reached six figures. Obviously, payment for these attorneys’ fees is then passed onto the homeowners (unless the case shifts payment of the attorneys’ fees to the losing party, but even then, courts rarely award the full 100% of the incurred fees).

Many lessons can be drawn from this experience. Most importantly, HOAs need to review their insurance policies to make sure they are covered fully for worst case scenarios. Our experience has shown that “anybody can sue anybody for anything at any time.” Although the plaintiff may not win (and did not win in this case), the ensuing litigation will take abundant resources. We can help you review your documents and insurance policies with the necessary professionals to protect your HOA, and homeowner interests.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation | No Comments

We have written on the issues that arise when employees use their work computer for personal business. In that blog article, we referred to a California case in which an appellate court ruled that an employee’s emails to her attorney were not protected by the attorney-client privilege because the company had a written policy that informed employees that computers were not to be used for personal matters, that emails could be monitored to ensure that employees complied with the policy, and that employees should not expect any privacy in the use of their computers.

In local news, former Delegate Phil Hamilton raised a “marital privilege” objection to the use at trial of emails he sent to his wife. Certain communications to and from a spouse can be protected from disclosure. There were complicating factors to this case’s analysis.

 

Email

 

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Employee Non-Competes: Why Must Prospective Employers Be Wary?

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have written previously about employee “non-competes” (a/k/a covenants not to compete or non-competition agreements). You may have come across them in your own business, either by requiring them of your own employees or seeking to hire someone subject to a non-compete.   However, the area of law surrounding non-competition agreements can be tricky, and a new decision has added to the intrigue.

In DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Jones, the Eastern District of Virginia denied two motions to dismiss filed by the new employers of employees governed by non-compete agreements. DePuy employed two salespersons pursuant to employment agreements that contained non-compete provisions. They eventually left DePuy and began working for a competitor, Sky Surgical. DePuy sued the employees and Sky Surgical. This blog post examines the tortious interference of employment contract claim made by DePuy against the new employer, Sky Surgical.

employee noncompete agreement

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Preserve your friendships when borrowing or lending with friends or family – Document your transactions

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest | No Comments

Many small businesses rely upon loans from friends and family for startup funds, for business expansions, or to support existing operations. Many times, these loans are made upon an oral agreement. As we have written previously, although oral agreements can be enforceable, without a writing, the terms of the agreements can be difficult to prove. In this blog post, we will describe other problems with informal lending transactions between family and friends.

contract, borrow money

In a study entitled “Lenders’ Blind Trust and Borrowers’ Blind Spots: A Descriptive Investigation of Personal Loans,” researchers outlined many of the difficulties of maintaining a lender-borrower relationship  between friends and family. In many “informal” lending relationships, the borrowers and the lenders remember the transactions differently. This “self-serving bias” can lead to problems. For example, borrowers may believe that the “loan” was a “gift,” or although agreeing that the transaction was a “loan,” may believe they paid off the loan. On the other hand, the lenders may feel angry when the “loan” is not repaid, especially when the borrower never raises the issue of repayment.

The study documented these differences between borrowers and lenders:

 Many borrowers thought the idea for the loan originated with the lender, not themselves, although the lenders thought otherwise;

 Borrowers reported far fewer delinquent loans than lenders;

 Borrowers were fairly confident they would eventually repay the loan, but lenders thought even one missed payment probably meant the loan would never be paid off;

 Delinquent borrowers “are much more likely to report feeling guilty, and also strangely, relieved and happy. Lenders associated with delinquent loans, in contrast, are much more likely to report feeling angry.”

Even though banks are flush with cash to lend, you may not qualify for a loan, or the bank’s terms may be too onerous. Consequently, family and friends are natural sources of funds for startup funds or for operating capital. However, as the proverb says,”Before borrowing money from a friend, decide which you need most.” Therefore, if you must borrow from friends or family, it is a small price to pay to perserve your personal relationships to have your business attorney draft the appropriate loan documents, including a promissory note, so that everybody knows the expectations of the transaction. Taking this step at a relatively small price can save your friendships.

Tarley Robinson, PLC,  Williamsburg, VA

Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

 

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Email scams (continued)

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have previously written a blog piece warning of increased email scam activity and sophistication. Expect more. Another victim of these email scams has come to light, and this victim was a lawyer. An article in Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly told the story of a lawyer victim of a successful email scam. This blog post provides another warning against these scams.

Email

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Neighbor Law: Tips for Avoiding Boundary Line Disputes

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Few real estate topics cause more disputes between owners than those involving activities at a common boundary. We have reviewed boundary line disputes involving trees that straddle property lines and fences that encroach upon boundary lines.

A recent Portsmouth case highlights another issue relating to boundary lines.

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Getting rid of an LLC member in your business can be difficult without an effective operating agreement

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It may seem hard to believe, but there’s a chance you and your fellow members in your limited liability company may not always get along. In fact, the relationship may get to the point where the majority of the members in the LLC wants to expel a member. As Lee Corso says frequently on ESPN Gameday, “Not so fast, my friend.”

 

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Part 2 of The Rule of Caveat Emptor in the Sale of Real Estate vs. a Seller’s Duty to Disclose

October 30, 2014 on 1:27 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We wrote earlier about a Charlottesville case in which the court analyzed the duty to disclose for a seller of residential real estate. Although Virginia follows the general rule of caveat emptorthe court ruled that the seller, who was also a licensed real estate agent, may have violated a duty to disclose material adverse facts.

The purchasers alleged two other counts, alleging that the seller failed “to disclose the adjacent drain problems and history of flooding, constituting both fraudulent misrepresentation and constructive fraud.” The court dismissed those claims while providing a nice, succinct history of the law of fraud in the sale of a home. This blog post reviews the general rules of fraudulent misrepresentations in residential real estate sales.

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Real Estate Listing Agreements are Contracts – Do you know your rights and obligations?

October 30, 2014 on 1:27 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies | No Comments

No sooner had we posted our blog article on the enforceability of listing agreements even when they are not in writing, another recent case came to our attention. This case is from the New Kent County Circuit Court. This case is another example of the increasing acrimony between sellers and brokers in a tight real estate market.

House For Sale

Listing Agreements

 

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