Immigration and Employers – Remember your I-9 Forms

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition | No Comments

There are many issues for entrepreneurs starting and operating their small businesses. In that light, immigration is not just a national issue involving major companies. Small businesses must be aware of government requirements, too.

Since 1986, the Immigration and Nationality Act has required employers to to verify that its employees are able to accept employment in the United States. Consequently, the I-9 form was developed. Every employee must complete an I-9 form at the time of hire. Employers are required to ensure the form is completed within three days of hire. Furthermore, even if the company engages contractors, the company could be liable if it knows the contractor employs unauthorized workers. Obviously, criminal penalties await those who fraudulently fill out the I-9 form, but civil penalties also can be levied against companies who fail to keep proper records, even if the employee is legally authorized to work in the United States.

As always, ask your attorney to make sure that your company’s legal issues are covered so that you can focus your energy on growing your business.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 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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Attorneys’ Fees and Litigation – When fees get awarded to the “Prevailing Party”

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 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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In litigation, you can’t always get what you want (especially if you don’t ask)

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 pm | In Construction litigation, Contributors, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It’s a fundamental rule in Virginia that the Plaintiff (the person filing a lawsuit) can only recover the relief requested in the Complaint. In a recent unpublished decision, the Virginia Supreme Court reaffirmed the requirement that a party can only get relief if they ask for it.

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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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Unauthorized Practice of Law: When unlicensed attorneys serve as HOA board members

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

An article in the Virginia Gazette featured a story regarding the indictment of a local attorney for the unauthorized practice of law; a criminal charge classified as a class 1 misdemeanor. Although those allegations did not involve a homeowner association, it highlights a recurring issue for volunteer boards of directors for many organizations including homeowner associations and not-for-profit organizations on which attorneys serve. This article focuses on those issues facing boards for homeowner associations (“HOAs”) but the issues are similar for other volunteer boards of directors.

 

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Residential construction and mechanic’s liens; how you can protect your mechanic’s lien rights

October 30, 2014 on 1:20 pm | In Construction litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments
Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Courtroom

 

With the downturn of the housing industry, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of construction disputes, especially in residential construction. Owners are battling with the contractors, and subcontractors are trying to get paid by somebody. These cases lead inevitably to litigation.

The property owners and the building contractor should have a written contract. However, the subcontractors sometimes find themselves in a difficult situation, unpaid by an insolvent building contractor. It is usually then that we will receive a call from a subcontractor asking about their mechanic’s lien rights. Unfortunately, it may be too late for that subcontractor to preserve their mechanic’s lien rights because they failed to provide proper notice at the outset of the work performance. This blog post provides a brief overview of the notice requirements for subcontractors to preserve mechanic’s lien rights. Continue reading “Residential construction and mechanic’s liens; how you can protect your mechanic’s lien rights”

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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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Benefits of Community Associations Part 1: Are HOAs really as bad as some portray?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Jason Howell, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

 

Community Associations have been the subject of a lot of bad press lately. An Associated Press article is typical of news reports that lambast associations. The article tells about a 55-and-older condo complex in Florida. According to the article, units in the Inlet House condo complex used to be worth $79,000, but sold for as little as $3,000 after rats started chewing through toilet seats and sewage started leaking from the ceiling. The article goes on to vilify the condo association for levying a $6,000 special assessment on residents and then foreclosing on owners who don’t pay their dues.

In its eagerness to blame the condo association for the woes of these senior citizens, the article and many blogs pointing out the “abuses of HOAs” miss an important point: the association may be the only group really looking out for the interests of the owners. Let’s look at what the article does not allege: it does not allege that the Association was responsible for the rat infestation or the sewage leak and it does not allege that the Association could have prevented the housing meltdown that contributed to the decline in property values.

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