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    The Greater Williamsburg area is an exciting place to live and work, especially because of the large number of entrepreneurs who have built businesses from the ground up. These entrepreneurs have taken their passion and made it their profession. Many of us want to take that step. Before you begin, you need to think of the type of business entity you want to form. Our attorneys have extensive business experience, from small one-person companies to publicly traded major corporations. Our attorneys are among the leaders in Virginia in the representation of Common Interest Communities. These communities are generally referred to as "homeowners associations," or "HOAs," and "condominium associations." In the greater Williamsburg area alone, we provide legal assistance to nearly 100 associations. Our attorneys have successfully prosecuted and defended a wide array of civil disputes involving community association covenant enforcement, commercial transactions, construction disputes, contracts, real estate matters, boundary line and easement disputes, employment matters, antitrust litigation, copyright violations, administrative proceedings, and estate issues. Real Estate law encompasses a wide variety of matters, and our attorneys have vast experience to assist you. Whether you need assistance with a commercial or residential closing, or you have questions relating to residential or commercial leasing, we provide experienced advice and counsel to our clients. Zoning law can be a complicated maze of statutes and ordinances. We have ample experience in successful applications for rezoning, variance, and special use permit requests. Finally, commercial and residential construction provide special challenges with respect to financing issues and the construction process. We serve as counsel to various financial institutions.

When might a Virginia business be liable for unemployment compensation?

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

In the Greater Williamsburg area, many small businesses face seasonal layoffs when the summer tourism season ends. For small businesses, these layoffs lead to questions regarding unemployment compensation. In this blog post, we will discuss the issue of when an employer can be liable for the unemployment compensation for a terminated employee.

 

Generally speaking, an employee terminated by you may be otherwise eligible for unemployment benefits, chargeable to your company if:

The basic qualifications for unemployment compensation are:

Once you have been determined to be the “employer” liable for unemployment compensation, you are responsible for all the benefits payable to that former employee. Unless extended benefits have been approved, the maximum benefit is 26 times the weekly benefits payable to the employee.

The weekly benefits are found in a table at Virginia Code § 60.1-602. This table is regularly updated, it tells you how much a person would receive per week in unemployment, based upon the amount they made when employed. For example, if a person made $6,300 in the prior twelve weeks when employed, he would receive $125 per week in unemployment, and a total of $3,250, if he were employed for the entire 26-week period.

The possibility of being liable for unemployment compensation worries many small business owners. Discuss the issue with your business attorney so that you can plan properly for your employment needs.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

 

jt photo 150x150 Using a company computer to email your attorney may be a bad idea

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Watch out for email scams!

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

Email and telephone frauds are proliferating through the attorney community, and have been redirected at other professionals. On the message board for the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, one of my attorney colleagues provided a story from one of his clients: “a consulting engineer who frequently testifies in litigation, was retained by a bonding company in Colorado regarding a dispute with a construction company in Pittsburgh. Luckily he smelled a rat when they announced that a disbursement would be run through his company account.”

 

Email

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Virginia Statute – HOAs must adopt “Cost Schedule” to recover copy costs

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

The Virginia Code has provisions that provide members of condominium associations and homeowner associations with the ability to request copies of books and records. The statutes have also permitted  associations to recover the costs of copying the requested books and records.

This blog post highlights a new statutory provision affecting common interest communities. On July 1, 2012, HOAs and condo associations will only be able to recover these copying costs if the association has adopted a cost schedule.

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Arbitration in debt collection: FTC says it’s a broken system

October 30, 2014 on 1:30 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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In a Heartbeat – Is an HOA liable if it provides an AED?

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

It happens in a heartbeat – literally.  Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death among adults over the age of 40 in the United States and other countries.  Studies have shown, however, that when bystanders intervene and start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (“CPR”) or utilize an automated external defibrillator (“AED”), four out of ten victims actually survive this otherwise certain killer.

Community associations considering installing an AED at the clubhouse or pool are understandably concerned about liability. What if someone uses it incorrectly? Is the Association required to provide training? Should access to the AED be limited? What if the AED has not been maintained?

AED

 

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:30 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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What can an HOA do to collect past dues when a bankrupt homeowner surrenders property but the lender does not foreclose?

October 30, 2014 on 1:29 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation, State & Federal Litigation, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

An all-too-common scenario occurs when a homeowners association attempts to collect past dues and the homeowner files bankruptcy. The law is clear that the bankrupt homeowner is still liable for those post-petition dues. The United States Bankruptcy Code at Section 523(a)(16) makes the homeowner liable for “a fee or assessment that becomes due and payable after the order for relief to a [homeowners association] for as long as the debtor . . .  has a legal, equitable, or possessory ownership interest in such unit.”

In other instances the homeowner decides to walk away from the property and surrenders the property to the lender. Instead of foreclosing, however, the lender simply does nothing. Therefore, the title of the property is still in the name of the bankrupt homeowner who walked away from the property, and they are not paying the assessments. The lender has not foreclosed so they are not paying the assessments. How can the homeowners association collect these past due post-petition assessments?

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Employee Non-Competes: Why Must Prospective Employers Be Wary?

October 30, 2014 on 1:29 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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Preserve your friendships when borrowing or lending with friends or family – Document your transactions

October 30, 2014 on 1:29 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, General Interest | No Comments

Many small businesses rely upon loans from friends and family for startup funds, for business expansions, or to support existing operations. Many times, these loans are made upon an oral agreement. As we have written previously, although oral agreements can be enforceable, without a writing, the terms of the agreements can be difficult to prove. In this blog post, we will describe other problems with informal lending transactions between family and friends.

contract, borrow money

In a study entitled “Lenders’ Blind Trust and Borrowers’ Blind Spots: A Descriptive Investigation of Personal Loans,” researchers outlined many of the difficulties of maintaining a lender-borrower relationship  between friends and family. In many “informal” lending relationships, the borrowers and the lenders remember the transactions differently. This “self-serving bias” can lead to problems. For example, borrowers may believe that the “loan” was a “gift,” or although agreeing that the transaction was a “loan,” may believe they paid off the loan. On the other hand, the lenders may feel angry when the “loan” is not repaid, especially when the borrower never raises the issue of repayment.

The study documented these differences between borrowers and lenders:

 Many borrowers thought the idea for the loan originated with the lender, not themselves, although the lenders thought otherwise;

 Borrowers reported far fewer delinquent loans than lenders;

 Borrowers were fairly confident they would eventually repay the loan, but lenders thought even one missed payment probably meant the loan would never be paid off;

 Delinquent borrowers “are much more likely to report feeling guilty, and also strangely, relieved and happy. Lenders associated with delinquent loans, in contrast, are much more likely to report feeling angry.”

Even though banks are flush with cash to lend, you may not qualify for a loan, or the bank’s terms may be too onerous. Consequently, family and friends are natural sources of funds for startup funds or for operating capital. However, as the proverb says,”Before borrowing money from a friend, decide which you need most.” Therefore, if you must borrow from friends or family, it is a small price to pay to perserve your personal relationships to have your business attorney draft the appropriate loan documents, including a promissory note, so that everybody knows the expectations of the transaction. Taking this step at a relatively small price can save your friendships.

Tarley Robinson, PLC,  Williamsburg, VA

Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

 

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HOAs, ADA, and FHA: regulating “Service or Assistance Animals”

October 30, 2014 on 1:29 pm | In General Interest, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Recent amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “ADA”) regulations limit the definition of “service animal” to any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. The amendments specify that providing “emotional support, well-being, comfort, or companionship do not constitute work or tasks” under the new definition.

On the other hand, if your situation is not an ADA issue but rather a Fair Housing issue, a recent memo clarifies that the new definition is not applicable to the Fair Housing Act (the “FHA”). The FHA does not contain a specific definition of “service animal.” Under the FHA, animals that provide emotional support have, in certain instances, been recognized as necessary assistance animals as a reasonable accommodation. The FHA permits individuals with disabilities to keep an assistance animal as a reasonable accommodation when there are limitations imposed by the homeowner or condominium association on animals and pets.


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