HOAs and Mediation: Not always a viable alternative to Litigation

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | 3 Comments

We have written extensively on the virtues of alternative dispute resolution, specifically mediation, to resolve disputes. Litigation is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, and in the end, both sides are generally unhappy with the result because of the costs and time incurred.

But although we encourage mediation generally, mediation in HOA litigation is a much more complex and difficult undertaking. In this blog post, we will discuss difficulties with mediating HOA disputes.

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Attorneys’ Fees and Litigation – When fees get awarded to the “Prevailing Party”

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Common Interest Community, Construction litigation, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Mediation, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

In litigation matters involving common interest communities (otherwise known as homeowners associations (“HOAs”) or condominium owners associations (“condo associations”)), the issue of awarding attorneys’ fees for prevailing parties ultimately arises. Generally, the HOA’s Governing Documents or the condo association’s Condominium Instruments contain such a provision. Otherwise, attorneys’ fees may be recoverable by statute for HOAs and condo associations.

These attorney fee-shifting provisions, either by contract or statute, are contrary to the typical “American Rule” cases in which each side pays their own attorneys’ fees. Because litigation has become so expensive to pursue, whether to award attorneys’ fees, and the amount of any award, has become separate litigation on its own at the conclusion of cases.

In the recent case of Dewberry & Davis, Inc. v. C3NS, Inc., the Virginia Supreme Court was faced with the issue of “whether the circuit court erred in applying an attorneys’ fees provision of a contract.” We had previously blogged about this case, because in the underlying contract between the parties, Dewberry & Davis, an engineering company, had limited its liability for damages. The trial court had determined the limitation of liability clause was void, pointing to a recent change to Virginia Code § 54.1-411that permitted an engineering company to include a limitation of liability clause. Because the contract predated the code change, the court determined that those changes “demonstrate that the General Assembly fully intended to alter the statute’s intent.”

The case continued to trial, and eventually, upon appeal, to the Virginia Supreme Court. This blog post explains that Supreme Court decision relating to the award of attorneys’ fees.

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Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

 

Maybe not, in certain circumstances. A Fairfax County judge has determined that an engineering firm cannot limit its liability by contract in a case involving a 2008 fee contract. The typical fee agreement for an engineering firm includes some form of “limitation of liability” in which the firm seeks to limit its liability “to the amount of fees paid” to the firm, whether the claim is for breach of contract or warranty, or for negligence. In the case of Dewberry & Davis, Inc. v. C3NS, Inc., the engineering services firm, Dewberry, filed a fee claim against C3NS. C3NS filed a counterclaim for breach of contract. Dewberry had a limitation of liability clause in its fee agreement. It sought summary judgment to prevent C3NS from claiming that the limitation of liability paragraph was void. The Court sided with C3NS.

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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 12:49 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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You obtained a judgment against your construction contractor, how do you collect?

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Sometimes your dispute with your contractor goes all the way to court and you obtain a judgment. However, sometimes the contractor does not have the ability to pay the judgment, so financially, you are out-of-pocket your judgment damages plus your attorneys’ fees. You may have one last alternative to recover at least a portion of your losses through the Virginia Contractor Transaction Recovery Fund (the “Recovery Fund”).

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Williamsburg Courthouse

 

 

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Simple Tips for Effective HOA Due Process Hearings

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

This blog post focuses on addressing one major source of discontent in community associations: due process hearings for alleged violations of the community’s governing documents or condominium instruments.

HOA Due Process Hearing

Homeowners want fairness

Complaints about HOA due process hearings can be split into at least three different categories:

  • Before the hearing, the Board
    • did not attempt to settle reasonably;
    • did not explain variance procedure; or
    • did not properly send notice of violation or opportunity to cure.
  • During the hearing,
    • The Board was disorganized;
    • A Board member was rude;
    • The Board was not prepared for the hearing;
    • The Board did not give owner time to gather/present case; or
    • The Board did not view property/alleged violation.
  • After the hearing,
    • The Board did not give valid reasons for decision; or
    • The penalty was unreasonable.

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Arbitration instead of Court? Be careful what you ask for

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Over the past 15 years or so, “arbitration” provisions have appeared with increasing frequency in a wide variety of contracts. For example, declarations of covenants and restrictions recorded for homeowners associations, construction contracts, employment contracts, and commercial leases all may contain arbitration clauses. Arbitration may be a good idea, but you should know what “arbitration” means before you agree to be bound by such a provision.

Many people confuse the terms “mediation” and “arbitration.” Mediation refers to a process whereby a third-party helps facilitate a negotiated settlement between two or more parties. A mediator does not make decisions, does not take evidence, and does not conduct hearings. Parties simply negotiate and the mediator helps foster those negotiations.

Conversely, arbitrations are conducted like regular trials, with a judge-like arbitrator (or arbitrators) making a final decision based upon the evidence presented, and hopefully the law of your jurisdiction. Appeals of an arbitrator’s decision are virtually nonexistent.

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Who pays when a tree falls on my property?

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Hurricane Irene left a lot of damage in Virginia. Although the damage was not as great and widespread as caused by Hurricane Isabel, many of us had in excess of ten inches of rain and suffered from many fallen trees. This tree fell in my back yard.

We  previously blogged about issues arising when a neighbor’s vegetation, including trees, encroaches upon our property. In that situation, we can cut the offending vegetation, including roots, back to the common property line. However, if the vegetation is also damaging our property,  the Court can order the complete removal of the offending vegetation and award us compensation for our expenses, including compensation for damages.

After Hurricane Irene, we should visit another question: who pays for damage when my neighbor’s tree falls on my property? Generally speaking, this property law question involves an issue of negligence and insurance. Each situation would require a review of the facts, and a review of your homeowner’s insurance policy, but here is some general guidance:

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One important tip for your construction project – Change Orders

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Construction litigation, General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

The DPOR regulations require Class A Contractors to obtain written change orders “which are signed by both the consumer and the licensee.” This requirement sounds pretty reasonable and easy to maintain, yet the reality is that many contractors fail to fully comply with this provision, leading to possible problems down the road.

 

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Virginia Supreme Court upholds arbitration award granted to homeowners who sued their HOA

October 30, 2014 on 12:49 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It is relatively routine for developers or “declarants” to include arbitration provisions into the declaration of restrictive covenants recorded to establish a common interest community. Generally, arbitration clauses are preferred by developers for a variety of reasons including avoiding a jury and having a say in the choice of the fact-finder. However, those decisions made by the developers have long lasting effects upon homeowner boards following transition, because it is difficult for a board to effect a change in the documents.

 

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