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

October 30, 2014 on 1:14 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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Choosing your Virginia Business Entity

October 30, 2014 on 1:14 pm | In Business Planning, General Interest, John Tarley, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson | No Comments

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There are many questions to ask and many issues to resolve when you decide to start your Virginia business entity. The time to ask those questions and resolve those issues is before you enter into your business agreement.

Neal’s 3-minute slideshow presentation gives an a brief primer on the forms of entities that are available and questions to start your dialog with your business attorney and business partners. This slideshow combines basic information with more advanced concepts for the more experienced entrepreneur.

Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law

Williamsburg, Virginia

Neal Robinson

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What does it mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Fiduciary Duties (Part 1 of a series)

October 30, 2014 on 1:14 pm | In Business Planning, Common Interest Community, HOA, Merger & Acquisition, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Board members are told that they have fiduciary duties to the community association, but what does that really mean?  Fiduciary duties arise because the members of the association entrust a board member to act in the best interest of the association when handling the association’s business.

There are three components that are important to understand fiduciary duty.  First, the Virginia Code, at § 13.1-870, imposes on directors a requirement that a director exercise her duties in good faith and in the best interest of the association.  This requirement is the so-called “business judgment” rule. Second, Virginia case law imposes duty of care that requires a board member to act as a reasonable person would under similar circumstances.  Third, Virginia case law imposes a duty of loyalty that requires a board member to put the association before any personal interest.  These last two duties are referred to as “common law” duties. Continue reading “What does it mean to be on the Board of Directors of your HOA? Fiduciary Duties (Part 1 of a series)”

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Emails from work computer can waive rights to privileged communications

October 30, 2014 on 1:14 pm | In Business Planning, Construction litigation, General Interest, HOA litigation, John Tarley, Real Estate Litigation | No Comments

We have written on the issues that arise when employees use their work computer for personal business. In that blog article, we referred to a California case in which an appellate court ruled that an employee’s emails to her attorney were not protected by the attorney-client privilege because the company had a written policy that informed employees that computers were not to be used for personal matters, that emails could be monitored to ensure that employees complied with the policy, and that employees should not expect any privacy in the use of their computers.

In local news, former Delegate Phil Hamilton raised a “marital privilege” objection to the use at trial of emails he sent to his wife. Certain communications to and from a spouse can be protected from disclosure. There were complicating factors to this case’s analysis.

 

Email

 

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How does our HOA hire a Reserve Study specialist? (Part 3 of a 3 part series on Reserves)

October 30, 2014 on 1:14 pm | In Common Interest Community, General Interest, HOA, Real Estate Strategies, Susan B. Tarley | No Comments

Although Virginia law does not address who can perform a reserve study, it is clearly in the best interest of an association to hire a credentialed professional to conduct a reserve study for the community. Professionals who provide reserve studies include licensed Professional Engineers (PE), Architects (AIA and/or RA) and experts such as a Reserve Specialist (RS) or Professional Reserve Analyst (PRA).


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Three Factors An HOA Should Consider When Hiring An Attorney

October 30, 2014 on 1:14 pm | In Common Interest Community, HOA, HOA litigation, Susan B. Tarley, Unit Owners Association | No Comments

Selecting an attorney is one of the more significant decisions made by the board of directors for a community association. Often times, the association makes its decision based upon price alone. Although “price” is a valid factor to consider, there are other important factors the board should review during its selection process. This article addresses three of the major considerations.

First, the board should determine the prospective attorney’s experience level in the representation of community associations. Attorneys for common interest communities are similar to the general counsel in major corporations because of the wide range of issues that arise. Extensive experience in many of the possible legal issues facing community associations should be a prerequisite.

Tarley Robinson

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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 1:14 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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When Raising Money For Investment Purposes From Any Source, BEWARE

October 30, 2014 on 1:14 pm | In Business Planning, Merger & Acquisition, Neal J. Robinson, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Raising money or obtaining other property for investment purposes from whatever source in Virginia, including from family and friends, implicates state and federal law.

Some may have read about the recent action for fraud filed by Andrew Cuomo, the Attorney General of the State of New York, against Ernst & Young, LLP, one of the largest accounting firms in the United States.  Some, noting that this action was not brought under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, may have wondered from whence the Attorney General’s authority arose.  Authority arose under the Martin Act, a New York law initially passed in 1921, and amended and codified in 1982 in Article 23-A of the New York General Business Law.

What is important for those in the Commonwealth of Virginia attempting to raise money or obtain other property for investment purposes is that Virginia has similar securities laws.  Virginia’s Securities Act is codified in Title 13.1, Chapter 5, of the Code of Virginia.  As with that of the State of New York, the reach of Virginia’s Securities Act differs from, and is more extensive than, that of the federal securities acts.

Ernst & Young

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

October 30, 2014 on 1:14 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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My Commercial Tenant is gone . . . should I re-enter the Property?

October 30, 2014 on 1:14 pm | In Business Law, Business Planning, John Tarley, Land Use Planning, Real Estate Litigation, Real Estate Strategies, State & Federal Litigation | No Comments

Sometimes commercial tenants, unable to stay current with their lease obligations, decide to close up shop and abandon their leased premises. In those circumstances, commercial landlords need to know their options. This blog post discusses a commercial landlord’s options when a commercial tenant abandons its lease.

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