Attorneys’ Fees and Litigation – When fees get awarded to the “Prevailing Party”

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 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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The Same Employer But a Different Result in this Virginia Supreme Court Case Regarding the Enforceability of Noncompete Agreements

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 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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Fight over beer-pong game covered by insurance?

October 30, 2014 on 1:09 pm | In John Tarley, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that you may get involved in a lawsuit. If you are at fault in an automobile accident, your auto insurance provides protection. For other types of cases, your homeowners insurance policy can protect you.

Recently our litigation lawyers counseled clients who had been sued. We routinely ask to review their insurance policies. As it turned out, this occurrence was covered by their homeowners policy, saving them tens of thousands of dollars in attorneys’ fees.

This insurance coverage issue was highlighted in a recent Virginia Supreme Court case, Copp v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. In that case, a Virginia Tech student was sued for his actions in a beer-pong game gone bad. His parents thought the costs for his attorneys should be covered by their homeowners policy or their umbrella policy, but Nationwide Mutual declined. On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court held that because the student alleged he was “trying to protect person or property” when he caused bodily injury, “Nationwide has the duty under its umbrella policy to defend.”

You pay for your insurance policy, make sure that you use the coverage you paid for.

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 1:09 pm | In Construction litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | 2 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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Getting rid of an LLC member in your business can be difficult without an effective operating agreement

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

It may seem hard to believe, but there’s a chance you and your fellow members in your limited liability company may not always get along. In fact, the relationship may get to the point where the majority of the members in the LLC wants to expel a member. As Lee Corso says frequently on ESPN Gameday, “Not so fast, my friend.”

 

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Lawsuits against HOAs are expensive and time-consuming for all

October 30, 2014 on 1:08 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 1:08 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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Do you need an attorney to negotiate on your behalf?

March 31, 2014 on 10:31 am | In Business Planning, General Interest, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

This blog post comes from Jason Howell, our 2011 Summer Associate when he was a rising third-year law student at the William & Mary Law School. Jason is working with us this summer and debuts his first blog post.

Negotiation can be challenging. Whether you are negotiating the terms of a business agreement, trying to buy or sell property, or settling a dispute, getting to an agreement can be difficult. Even if you are successful in getting the other side to negotiate with you, you may feel at a disadvantage or worry that there is something in the final negotiated agreement you are missing.

Hiring an experienced attorney to represent you can give you advantages that can help you get to an acceptable agreement. By using an attorney in your negotiation, you can benefit from the attorney’s knowledge and skill, which can help you to reach your negotiation goals.

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I want to rent my house to a tenant, do I need an attorney to draft a lease for me?

March 31, 2014 on 10:31 am | In General Interest, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

Frequently, a homeowner contemplating renting out his property believes that he will be able to save money by writing his own lease or using a do-it-yourself lease form found or purchased online. Almost as frequently, the homeowner realizes too late that if he had spent a little money up front to have an attorney prepare a lease, or at least review his proposed lease, he could have saved himself a lot of time, money, and aggravation. By the time problems arise with a tenant, it is too late to ensure that the lease contains all of the provisions necessary to protect the homeowner’s interests.

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Virginia Leadership Retreat – 2012

July 23, 2012 on 10:21 am | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association, Weekly Tweets | No Comments

This week, at the venerable Homestead, 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: Changing Times in Community Associations.

Both Susan Tarley and John Tarley will teach classes at the VLR, discussing topics about which we blog frequently. The topics for this year’s event include:

  • Learning to Communicate like a Pro;
  • The Role of a Manager as a First Responder;
  • Leadership Training;
  • Preparing for “Forcing Green” Legislation (taught by Susan Tarley);
  • Conflict Management Skills;
  • Virginia Legislative Update; and
  • Dealing with Lawsuits (taught by John Tarley).

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

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

 

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