When is it unlawful for a business to terminate an employee?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Business Planning, Jason Howell, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

The short answer is, rarely. Virginia is an at-will employment state. This means that an employer can discharge an employee for any reason or for no reason at all, just not for an unlawful reason. An employer who terminates an employee for an unlawful reason may be liable to the employee. The question answer in this blog post is: when is a reason unlawful?

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, State & Federal Litigation, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

As a follow-up to our post on the costs and benefits of the arbitration process, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) recently issued a report indicating that the litigation and arbitration practices for resolving consumer debt need major reform.

Debt collection cases are on the rise.  We have seen a tremendous increase in the number of cases we are filing on delinquent homeowner association dues. In James City County/Williamsburg, the local courts have seen a 27% increase in civil filings from 2006 to 2008.  Other courts in Virginia and other states are experiencing similar increases in civil filings.

The FTC has made specific recommendations that the Federal government and the states consider new laws to protect consumers including a recommendation that a temporary ban be placed on the use of binding arbitration until such time that the arbitration forums have initiated changes to address deficiencies in arbitration. The FTC has suggested that state legislatures adopt measures to make it more likely that consumers will defend themselves in litigation, decreasing the prevalence of default judgments; require debt collectors to include more information about the alleged debt in their complaints; take steps to make it less likely that collectors will sue on debt on which the statute of limitations has run; and change laws to prevent the freezing of a specified amount in a bank account including funds exempt from garnishment.

We do not believe that these changes, if they occur, will effect our current practice areas and clients. However, we have also seen instances in which perceived procedural unfairness can lead to overreaching legislation. For example, it is fair to say that when the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was passed, legislators did not intend for it to reach into the wide-ranging areas it now does, including the collection of homeowner dues. See, e.g., Barry v. Board of Managers of Elmwood Park Condominium II, NT Slip Op 27506, http://caselaw.findlaw.com/ny-civil-court/1211140.html (December 12, 2007, NY Civil Court City of New York, Richmond County) (Judge Philip S. Straniere writing that “Somehow I think that Adams, Jefferson and Madison must be turning over in their graves at the thought that the federal government is regulating such a local activity as the collection of condominium association dues between the homeowner and the association”).

Arbitration tends to release pressure on state courts by handling cases that otherwise would be brought in court. However, if the process continues to be perceived as unfair, restrictions on the use of arbitration could be forthcoming.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 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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Virginia HOAs and Olde Belhaven – Guest Post on Construction Law Musings

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Once again, my friend and colleague, Richmond Construction Law attorney Chris Hill, permitted me the opportunity to blog at his award-winning blog Construction Law Musings. You can get a lot of great information on construction law, including the intricacies of mechanic’s liens, from Chris and his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter, @ConstructionLaw.

For Chris’ blog, we wrote a post exploring the Olde Belhaven case that made it into the national media. Our take is that we must remember that HOA Governing Documents are drafted by counsel for the developers, and when the developers leave, the enforcement of those restrictions is left to the volunteer Boards of Directors of your neighborhood.

Here’s a brief excerpt of the post:

A recent case highlights what happens when an Association’s Board of Directors, trying to uphold its fiduciary duty by enforcing and upholding its governing documents goes head to head with homeowners, both believing that they are in the right. . . .

Our experience is that the volunteer Boards of Directors, when faced with tough choices, try to make decisions consistent with their fiduciary duties, in an attempt to protect the rights of all the owners in the neighborhood. That doesn’t mean they always make the right decisions, but these ordinary people are not ogres, either.

Read the complete blog at Construction Law Musings, as well as many other informative posts on Chris’ outstanding blog. Thanks, Chris!

Williamsburg Virginia HOA Lawyers

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Builders and Owners: Have your residential construction contract reviewed before you sign it

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, Construction litigation, HOA litigation, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

 

Construction litigation has become a time-consuming and expensive area of legal practice. Even in residential construction, attorney and expert fees, and other costs of the lawsuits can rise high into five figures. Unfortunately, in many instances, better planning and attorney review at the beginning may have prevented the bitter litigation that ensued.

Williamsburg Virginia Business Lawyers

Construction Contracts

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Real Estate Listing Agreements for the sale of property: Are they enforceable even if not in writing?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In General Interest, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Generally speaking a party can enforce an oral agreement. However, courts will not enforce certain contracts unless they are in writing. For example, under Virginia Code § 11-2, commonly known as the Statute of Frauds, an agreement or contract for services to be performed in the sale of real estate by a real estate broker or real estate sales person is not enforceable “[u]nless a promise, contract, agreement, representation, assurance, or ratification, or some memorandum or note thereof, is in writing and signed by the party to be charged or his agent . . . .”

Most real estate agents and brokers understand the importance of having written listing agreements with their sellers. However, a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Virginia points out that even in the absence of a written listing agreement, an oral listing contract may be enforceable if there is sufficient documentation to remove it from the bar to enforcement of the Statute of Frauds. The Virginia Supreme Court, in the case of C. Porter Vaughan, Inc., Realtors v. Most Reverend Francis X. DiLorenzo, Bishop of The Catholic Diocese of Richmond, 279 Va. 449, 689 S.E.2d 656 (2010), better defined what is meant by “sufficient documentation.”

House For Sale

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Benefits of HOAs Part 4: What do homeowners really think about their associations?

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

We’ve mentioned already the abundance of news articles criticizing community associations. If these news stories are to be believed, then associations are unpopular indeed. But is it true that residents living in community associations are unhappy with their association? Research by the Community Associations Institute suggests that it is not. In fact, the research suggests that more people than ever are choosing to live in communities with associations, and the overwhelming majority of those people are happy with their association.

Statistics compiled by the Community Associations Institute show that the number of associations continues to grow. In 1970, just ten thousand communities, with a combined 2.1 million residents, were governed by associations. Today there are over 309,000 communities governed by associations. More than 62 million Americans live in associations. 1.75 million volunteers serve on community association boards, and a full 26 percent of the eligible U.S. population volunteers for an association at some point during a year, according to one estimate. That kind of service simply would not happen if associations were as widely disliked as has been portrayed.

Williamsburg Virginia Business and HOA Lawyers

Common Interest Communities

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Pool Season: Is Your Association Ready to Take the Plunge?

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Unit Owners Association | Comments Off on Pool Season: Is Your Association Ready to Take the Plunge?

Many Community Associations prepare to open their neighborhood pool by adding chemicals and performing maintenance to ensure the health and safety of the Owners. But just as HOAs take care in measuring chlorine and skimming leaves, Boards of Directors are well-advised to take care in preparing the Association’s Pool Rules. This blog post reviews the possible “rules” that HOAs may implement for pool safety.

HOAs, Swimming Pool and the ADA

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Email scams (continued)

October 30, 2014 on 1:19 pm | In General Interest, John Tarley, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

We have previously written a blog piece warning of increased email scam activity and sophistication. Expect more. Another victim of these email scams has come to light, and this victim was a lawyer. An article in Virginia Lawyer’s Weekly told the story of a lawyer victim of a successful email scam. This blog post provides another warning against these scams.

Email

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