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

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 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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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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A New Twist on Identity Theft and Fraud: How can Realtors, Lenders, Title Companies and Law Firms Protect Your Clients and Yourselves?

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

A case out of Virginia Beach underscores the deviousness of those who engage in identity theft. As reported in Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Guy Gugliotta owned two lots in Virginia Beach. A local realty company maintained contact with Gugliotta via mail in case he was interested in selling the lots. In 2012 someone purporting to be Gugliotta notified the tax assessors office to change the mailing address for tax bills. Then they notified the realty company that they had decided to sell the lots. The lots were listed for sale and in August, a purchaser made an offer.

The seller documents were handled via mail with the fraudulent seller executing documents in Florida and sending them to the closing agent. Deeds to transfer property require that the seller’s signature be notarized so surely this was the end of the road for the fraudster.

But no, not only did the thief take the identity of the owner; he also took the identity of a notary public in Florida. The notary public declared under oath that it was not his signature and that he had never notarized the documents.

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Arbitration instead of Court? Be careful what you ask for

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 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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Virginia Supreme Court upholds arbitration award granted to homeowners who sued their HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 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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Has your business been paid with a check endorsed as “Payment in Full?”

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

Many of us have been paid by a check that includes the written endorsement of “payment in full.” By this endorsement, the maker (writer of the check) intends to settle any dispute once the payee (recipient of the check) deposits the check. The payee worries that by depositing the check, he is waiving any right to demand full payment for the service or supply provided. This blog post addresses Virginia law and each party’s rights with respect to the endorsement of “payment in full.”

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Using your business’ computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

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

Email

Well, we have written about protecting the attorney-client privilege and about safe emailing tips when emailing your attorney. Although we thought we had it pretty well covered, a recent decision from a California appellate has given us something more to think about.
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What happens when your business partner wants to leave? Do’s and Don’ts

October 30, 2014 on 1:28 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | 2 Comments

It’s a simple fact of business life that you and your company’s fellow shareholders or members will not always see eye-to-eye. Furthermore, our personal lives change and that effects the level of willingness in which some participate in a business venture.

As in any relationship, businesses also reach that awkward stage in which a shareholder or member wants to leave his current business venture and start something new. We have discussed starting your business and provided guidelines for setting forth the rules for governing your business. This article addresses some of the difficulties that arise during the “break-up period.” For the purposes of this article, we will use the terms “shareholder” and “member” interchangeably, as well as the terms “director” and “managing member.”

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Attorney-Client Privilege: What is it and how do you protect it?

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

The attorney-client privilege permits confidential communication between an attorney and her client.  The objective is to encourage open communication, which permits an attorney to provide thorough, competent and complete advice.  Generally speaking, only a client can waive the privilege, but as found by the Virginia Supreme Court in Walton v. Mid-Atlantic Spine Specialist, PC, et al., a client’s inadvertent disclosure of a privileged communication may operate as a waiver of the attorney-client privilege.

In this Williamsburg medical malpractice case, a defendant doctor wrote a letter to his attorney calling into question his medical diagnosis he gave to his patient. The doctor kept this letter in a separate notebook. During discovery the defendant medical practice used a third party service to copy document requests. The letter was provided inadvertently to the plaintiff.

Although the defendant claimed that he did not produce the letter or permit anyone else to produce the letter, the Court found that the defendant did not take adequate protection to protect the letter. The Court noted that the notebook in which the letter was found was not marked as confidential or privileged. Furthermore, the Court held that the client did not take prompt action following disclosure.

The Virginia Supreme Court considered five main factors in determining whether the inadvertent disclosure waived the client’s privilege.  The Court looked at:  (1) the reasonableness of the precautions to prevent inadvertent disclosures, (2) the time taken to rectify the error, (3) the scope of discovery, (4) the extent of the disclosure, and (5) whether the party asserting the claim of privilege or protection for the communication has used its unavailability for misleading or otherwise improper or overreaching purposes in the litigation making it unfair to allow the party to invoke confidentiality under the circumstances.

As a start, clients should maintain attorney-client privileged communications in a separate file or notebook and clearly mark the file or notebook and each communication as “CONFIDENTIAL-ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGED COMMUNICATION.”  Then, if an inadvertent disclosure is made, the client should contact her attorney as soon as possible to determine a plan of action to restore the attorney-client privilege.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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