What Does It Mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Potential Liability (Part 2 of a Series)

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

We frequently are asked whether volunteer board members can be civilly liable for actions taken while a board member. This issue is of serious concern because lawsuits tend to be over inclusive, naming every possible defendant in the initial complaint. Why sign up as a volunteer board member if it could bankrupt you?

 

 

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Can I cut down my neighbor’s tree when its branches overhang my property?

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 pm | In Common Interest Community, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | 4 Comments

In our ever crowding residential areas, more of us experience the situation in which the limbs of a neighbor’s tree overhang our property line. Most of the time, these limbs do not pose us any concern, but questions do arise as to whether we have the right to prune our neighbor’s trees. In the past,the Virginia rule has been that you could trim the branches of your neighbor’s tree up to your property line. However, the Virginia Supreme Court expanded that long-standing rule when it decided that an owner whose property was damaged by the root system of a neighbor’s tree may be entitled to more relief than simply cutting back the roots and overhanging branches to the property line.

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Smokin’ in the Condo

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Imagine if someone told Don Draper and Roger Sterling of Mad Men that they could no longer smoke in their apartments. They would look at you curiously, smirk and light up a cigarette. But Mad Men, the television show about a Madison Avenue advertising agency is set in 1965 and as the ad for Virginia Slims said, “[we’ve] come a long way, baby.” Almost half of all adults smoked in 1965 but that percentage has dropped to 18% by 2012.

The negative health effects have been documented and the reported adverse health effects caused by second-hand smoke has resulted in smoking bans in restaurants. One of the next areas in which smoking bans have been put in place is in condominium communities. Some of the smoking bans address common elements only but others have imposed a ban on smoking in the condominium unit.

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What happens if a tree falls from my property onto a public highway causing damage?

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

“Tree law” fascinates us. I guess part of the reason is because many of us have at least one tree on our property, and during severe storms, we fear what would happen if one of those trees fell on our house, our neighbor’s house, or the street. Once the fear subsides, the next question we ask ourselves is “Who would pay if the tree fell on our neighbor’s property or vice versa and caused damage?” Or our neighbor’s tree may overhang our property or its roots may cause damage to our property, “What can we do then?” These issues are important considerations for property owners and community associations when reviewing their insurance policies.

The Virginia Supreme Court added to the small body of Virginia “tree law” cases. In this case, Cline v. Dunlora South, LLC, a man driving on a public road was struck and injured by a tree  that fell from private property. The man sued the property owner, claiming that the property owner’s “conduct constituted a nuisance because [its] lack of care, inspection, servicing, and/or maintenance of the subject property and tree was a condition that imperiled the safety of the public highway immediately adjacent to the property and tree, creating a danger and hazard to motorists and/or pedestrians.” The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, and on appeal the Virginia Supreme Court agreed that the property owner did not have “a duty to protect travelers on an adjoining public roadway from natural conditions on his or her land.” This blog post reviews that decision and what it means for us.

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Can an engineering firm limit its liability by contract?

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 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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The Same Employer But a Different Result in this Virginia Supreme Court Case Regarding the Enforceability of Noncompete Agreements

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 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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Can an advisor be held liable for the false statements in a prospectus made by another?

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 pm | In Business Planning, Contributors, General Interest, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments
Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

United States Supreme Court

Previously we blogged about a pending case before the Supreme Court that had the possibility to significantly increase the liability of persons for assisting in the preparation of a “prospectus.” As of June 13, 2011, the Supreme Court handed down an opinion in that case, styled as Janus Capital Group, Inc. v. First Derivative Traders, No. 09-525 (S. Ct.).

The determination of this case is relevant to accountants and business lawyers who assist in the preparation of documents for the purpose of raising money for investment. The Janus Capital Group, Inc. case presented the question of who may be deemed to have “made” an untrue statement for the purposes of Rule 10b-5, and specifically whether someone who assisted in the preparation of a prospectus could “make” a statement through such assistance. As the result of a 5-4 decision, accountants and business attorneys may breathe a little easier. Continue reading “Can an advisor be held liable for the false statements in a prospectus made by another?”

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Small Business Break-Ups – The High Cost of Litigating a Forced Separation

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 pm | In Business Planning, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

A recent Virginia Supreme Court Case, Cattano v. Bragg, illustrates two points we have made time and time again: 1) Make sure your small business is prepared for an eventual “divorce” between the shareholders; and 2) Litigation is very, very expensive.

In this blog post we will review the Supreme Court’s decision and provide some tips for your small business so that you can avoid the calamity that occurred in this case, which included an attorneys’ fee award of over $260,000 for the prevailing party.

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Ban on kids playing football = housing discrimination lawsuit against Virginia HOA

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Boards of Directors are empowered by statute in Virginia and often times by the governing documents of the community association to enact rules and regulations concerning common areas, common elements, recreational facilities or other areas of association responsibility.  Rules related to the use of common areas or common elements and recreational facilities should be based on concerns about safety, sanitation and nuisance.  In certain instances a Board of Directors may want to enact a rule to address the activities of children – limiting their pool time, forbidding children under a certain age from using recreational facilities or prohibiting certain activities on common areas or elements.  Be careful, the rule you enact may violate the federal and state Fair Housing Act.

According to a Complaint filed against a Chesapeake condominium association, the association had a “Group Sports Activity” rule that banned organized sports activities in the common areas without approval of the board. Concerns were raised whether this rule banned activities such as a parent and child passing a football.The Commonwealth of Virginia’s Fair Housing Board filed a housing discrimination lawsuit against Cedarwood Condominium Association, a Chesapeake condominium association. There have not been many of these lawsuits.

 

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HOAs and Mediation: Not always a viable alternative to Litigation

October 30, 2014 on 1:17 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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