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    The Greater Williamsburg area is an exciting place to live and work, especially because of the large number of entrepreneurs who have built businesses from the ground up. These entrepreneurs have taken their passion and made it their profession. Many of us want to take that step. Before you begin, you need to think of the type of business entity you want to form. Our attorneys have extensive business experience, from small one-person companies to publicly traded major corporations. Our attorneys are among the leaders in Virginia in the representation of Common Interest Communities. These communities are generally referred to as "homeowners associations," or "HOAs," and "condominium associations." In the greater Williamsburg area alone, we provide legal assistance to nearly 100 associations. Our attorneys have successfully prosecuted and defended a wide array of civil disputes involving community association covenant enforcement, commercial transactions, construction disputes, contracts, real estate matters, boundary line and easement disputes, employment matters, antitrust litigation, copyright violations, administrative proceedings, and estate issues. Real Estate law encompasses a wide variety of matters, and our attorneys have vast experience to assist you. Whether you need assistance with a commercial or residential closing, or you have questions relating to residential or commercial leasing, we provide experienced advice and counsel to our clients. Zoning law can be a complicated maze of statutes and ordinances. We have ample experience in successful applications for rezoning, variance, and special use permit requests. Finally, commercial and residential construction provide special challenges with respect to financing issues and the construction process. We serve as counsel to various financial institutions.

The Same Employer But a Different Result in this Virginia Supreme Court Case Regarding the Enforceability of Noncompete Agreements

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 pm | In Business Planning, Employment law, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Over the course of the past 20 years, the Virginia Supreme Court has tweaked the law governing non-compete agreements. In its latest case, the Court came full circle by invalidating a noncompete agreement that used the same language the Court had upheld 20 years earlier in a case involving the same company.

As we have written before, trial courts will enforce noncompete agreements when the agreements (1) are narrowly drawn to protect the employer’s legitimate business interest, (2) are not unduly burdensome on the employee’s ability to earn a living, and (3) are not against public policy. Importantly, the employer has the burden to prove each of these elements. When evaluating whether the employer has met that burden, trials courts should consider the “function, geographic scope, and duration” elements of the noncompete restrictions.  These elements are “considered together” rather than “as three separate and distinct issues.”

Further, if the noncompete agreement is too broad or otherwise unenforceable, a Virginia court will not rewrite, or “blue pencil” the agreement to make it enforceable. Therefore, it is important that you work with your business attorney to draft an enforceable non-compete agreement.

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Fictitious Name filings: Make sure you file properly for your business

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition | No Comments

Many businesses operate under a fictitious name, otherwise referred to as “doing business as” or “d/b/a.” There are many reasons for this use, but primarily, a company can use a catchy business name, like when a franchise opens a “T.G.I.F.” or “McDonalds,” but the company’s actual corporate name is not as exciting.

According to the Virginia Supreme Court, Virginia requires a company operating under a different name to file that name with the court and the State Corporation Commission “to prevent fraud and to compel an individual or a corporation to disclose the name of the real owner of the business, in order that the person or corporation may sue in or be sued by the proper name.”

Virginia statutes set forth the process for registering your fictitious name. For restaurants or other single location businesses, the process is pretty simple. First, you file a fictitious name certificate with the court clerk in the jurisdiction where your business is located. After the certificate is recorded, you file the certified copy with the State Corporation Commission.

Problems can arise for construction companies and other types of businesses who transact business in several localities. For those companies, you must file a fictitious name certificate in each county or city where you conduct business. We have had several matters in which these types of businesses failed to properly register their fictitious names in all the jurisdictions where they conduct business. For one thing, those entities cannot bring a lawsuit to collect monies due until they rectify that problem.

“Doing business as” is just another issue to consider when you set up your company. Make sure you fully advise your lawyer so all of your filings can be completed early, and correctly.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 pm | In Construction litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Simply stated, caveat emptor means “let the buyer take care,” or even more plainly stated: “Buyer beware.” In real estate matters, buyers are warned that they are to “exercise ordinary care in inspecting the condition of property.” Therefore, buyers are generally urged to obtain a home inspection and take such other care prior to closing on their real estate purchase. Otherwise, the buyers may not have any relief if they find adverse conditions after taking possession.

A case arising out of Charlottesville highlights the obligations of the buyers and the sellers in the purchase of a home. In that case, the seller of the home was also a licensed real estate agent, which added another complication regarding the duty to disclose. This blog posts analyzes that court decision, which offers warnings to buyers and sellers of real estate, as well as to licensed real estate agents.

 

 

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 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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Attorneys’ Fees and Litigation – When fees get awarded to the “Prevailing Party”

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 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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Update on using work email – American Bar Association says lawyers must caution clients of risks

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 pm | In Construction litigation, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We continually warn about the use of work email accounts to correspond with your attorney:

The American Bar Association has now opined that lawyers should “warn the client about the risk of sending or receiving electronic communications using a computer or other device, or e-mail account, where there is a significant risk that a third party may gain access.” Although the ABA’s opinion is not binding upon any state regulatory bar association, it is likely that state bar associations, like the Virginia State Bar, will review this opinion with interest.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Client Email

Most of our communications are not private, even though we think they are. Work emails are not secure. Regardless of whether lawyers are required or suggested to warn clients, it is not a good idea to use your work email account to email your attorney.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

jt photo 150x150 Using a company computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

 

 

 

 

 

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Part 1 on Virginia’s Unauthorized Practice of Law Rules and HOAs – Where do we find guidance?

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 pm | In Business Law, Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Mention the unauthorized practice of law when discussing homeowner and condominium associations and typically the room gets very quiet. Associations, board members and managers strive to keep their budgets low, but compliance with new laws and regulations, keeping up with the collection of assessments, and the upswing in litigation involving homeowner and condominium associations makes it very difficult. When matters become a “legal issue,” board members and managers are best advised to seek legal counsel to ensure that the association is being adequately protected and represented, and that the board members and the managers are not engaging in activities that the Commonwealth might find to be the unauthorized practice of law.

We previously blogged on questions of the unauthorized practice of law when an unlicensed attorney serves on the association’s Board of Directors. In our next two blogs, we will review other issues involving questions of the unauthorized practice of law. In this blog, we discuss where we look for guidance, and in a subsequent blog, we will review Virginia decisions and opinions on the unauthorized practice of law.

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Update for Limited Liability Companies: What happens to Membership Interest when a Member Dies?

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, John Tarley | No Comments

We blogged about the Virginia Supreme Court case of Ott v. Monroe. In that case, the Court ruled that when a father, in his will, assigned his majority interest in a limited liability company to his daughter, he only assigned a profit interest, not a control interest. Consequently, his daughter did not have the authority to “run” the company, absent the consent of the remaining LLC members.

In its 2013 session, the General Assembly modified the relevant LLC statutes in an attempt to overturn the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision. This blog post examines the new statute, and how it may impact your limited liability company.

Business Deal
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When is a “Contract” not a Contract?

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, General Interest, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We know that in Virginia, the parties to a contract are bound to the terms of that contract. We also know that Virginia courts look to the terms of that contract to determine each party’s rights and obligations. But what is a “contract?” This blog post looks at a recent Virginia Supreme Court case that gives a little guidance to answer that question.

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

October 30, 2014 on 1:31 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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