Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 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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HOA Litigation: Is it avoidable?

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Mediation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

We have written previously on the costs—both in time and money—for homeowners and condominium associations to litigate cases. On one hand, boards of directors have a fiduciary duty to uphold the governing documents of associations, but on the other, the board must investigate alternatives to the divisive nature of litigation.

As it turns out, sometimes there is no alternative because a homeowner can sue an HOA, forcing the association to defend. But what efforts can or should a homeowners or condo association take to avoid the consequences of litigation?

A series of recent Virginia cases highlights the consequences associations can face in litigation cases. This blog posts provides a brief summary of those cases and some cautionary advice.

Williamsburg Virginia Business and HOA Lawyers

Board of Directors Meeting

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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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 1:19 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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Virginia Supreme Court upholds arbitration award granted to homeowners who sued their HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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2014 CAI Annual Legal Seminar in Las Vegas

January 22, 2014 on 7:48 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

Susan Tarley is attending the 2014 CAI Legal Seminar in Las Vegas this week. This seminar brings together all of the leading community association legal professionals and is chock-full of interesting classes. As stated in the brochure, “The Law Seminar provides a unique learning opportunity to discuss emerging trends and legislative issues important to the practice of community association law.”

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On Wednesday night, Susan will attend the dinner for all attorneys who have been admitted into the College of Community Association Attorneys (“CCAL”). Susan is one of fewer than 150 attorneys nationwide to be admitted to CCAL, for distinguishing herself through contributions to the evolution or practice of community association law.

On Thursday afternoon, Susan will be a panelist on a Panel of Pundits. This panel of six distinguished HOA attorneys will field questions via Twitter, text message, computer, and in person. If you have a question, click here for the details and ask it!

On Friday, Dan Abrams from ABC is the keynote speaker. Finally, on Saturday, there are sessions discussing issues HOAs face in collections and insurance.  

Our attorneys participate and take leadership roles in our areas of practice in order to provide our clients with fully informed advice. By participating in events like the annual CAI Legal Seminar, we do our best to serve our clients.

 

 

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Limited Liability Companies: What happens to an LLC when a Member dies?

September 3, 2013 on 9:26 am | In Business Planning, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

This case has been overturned by statute. Check out this blog post for the details.

We have written about the importance of operating agreements to help succession planning for your limited liability company (“LLC”). Operating agreements can help the company with procedures to remove a member, or with procedures to permit a member to leave the LLC on his own accord. This blog post reviews a recent Virginia Supreme Court case that shows the importance, and limitations of your LLC operating agreement to set forth succession planning of a member’s interest when that member dies.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

LLC Agreements

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James City County offering Good Neighbor Grant to HOAs and other neighborhood associations

August 12, 2013 on 7:33 am | In Common Interest Community, HOA, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, Unit Owners Association, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

We frequently blog on the importance of cooperation and relationship-building in your homeowner association or condominium association. Here is an easy and practical way to build your association’s camaraderie as James City County is sponsoring a Good Neighbor Environment Matching Grant for the fall of 2013.

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The county’s stated purpose of the grant ” is to enhance the sense of community and environmental wellness of our neighborhoods through the development and accomplishment of a neighborhood sustainable landscape beautification project.” Consequently, the two categories for the grant are Physical Improvement/Sustainable Landscaping and Multi-Neighborhood Project Partnerships.

The grant is not limited to “formal” HOAs or Condo Associations, as any neighborhood association or neighborhood committee authorized “to manage and/or maintain the common areas of a community” may apply. However, such a neighbor association or committee has a few more obstacles to overcome to apply.

Applications are due on September 30, 2013, and the grants will be announced on October 15, 2013. We will make this information known to our association clients, but anybody is welcome to pass along this link to the application. Let us know if we can help your association apply for this Good Neighbor grant.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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2013 Virginia Leadership Retreat at The Homestead

July 22, 2013 on 10:00 am | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Unit Owners Association, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

This week, at the newly renovated Omni Homestead Resort, the annual Virginia Leadership Retreat will take place. For this event, community managers and their management company executives, guest speakers, and the community association attorneys and service providers from all parts of Virginia will meet to discuss this year’s topic: Building Community Association Intelligence.  Susan Tarley served on the VLR Planning Committee and helped put together a program with an exciting slate of interactive classes to encourage participatory learning for all attendees.

Williamsburg HOA and Business Law Attorneys, Condominium Associations, Homeowner Association Law

John Tarley will teach classes at the VLR, discussing topics about which we blog frequently. John is teaching “Mission Possible? The Dynamics of Group Decision-Making,” and will be the Square-Master for “Hollywood Squares – Your Mission Has Begun.”

The VLR provides us with an opportunity to mingle with other industry professionals so we can provide better service for our clients.  The golf, spa, and Jefferson Pools are pretty nice, too!

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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There still are no winners in Virginia’s Chinese Drywall Cases

June 26, 2012 on 8:00 am | In Construction litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

Recent news articles reported that a Norfolk Circuit Court awarded default judgment to several homeowners against Taishan Gypsum Company, a Chinese drywall manufacturer. However, as with the other outcomes in Virginia, it is unlikely that homeowners or building supply companies will receive any benefits from this decision.

 

Chinese Drywall complete remedition

 

 

When the corrosive drywall issues first became public, concerns were raised about two possible issues: a) health effects; and b) property damage. To date, both the Centers for Disease Control and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (“CPSC”) have found that “not enough information exists to determine the nature and magnitude of a potential health risk.” Furthermore, no deaths can be attributed to exposure to imported corrosive drywall. That is good news. Continue reading “There still are no winners in Virginia’s Chinese Drywall Cases”

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