HOA attorney seeks homeowner arrest for not attending attorney fee meeting

In this instance, how does the court, in its obligation to do justice, determine if there has been dishonesty or grossly negligent behavior without an opportunity for the homeowner to examine the HOA’s affidavit?  Here, both judges protected the HOA as incapable of doing any evil, sua sponte (on its own).

Essentially, in my view, failing to allow the homeowner to question the signed affidavit of an HOA manager is not conducive to homeowner justice.  The liberal interpretation of the business judgment rule taken here is that, as I’ve indicated elsewhere, the board can do no wrong because average people become angels when they become an HOA board member.[1]

In order to understand the events in this situation leading to the request for the arrest of the homeowner for failing to attend a meeting, you need to understand the background of the case.  It’s lengthy, but needs to be read through.

Case History

The Arizona ALJ (Brian Brendan Tully) at OAH granted summary judgment (October 2012) for Terravita in regard to a request for minutes to an alleged executive meeting.[2] The order further states that the judge “concludes that . . . there are no issues contained in the Petition that require an evidentiary hearing.”  However, without an evidentiary hearing, where the homeowner could contest the allegation that it was indeed an executive meeting, the judge essentially took the word of the HOA’s attorney, the CAI member, Curtis Ekmark. In his discussion, the judge once again assumes the validity of Ekmark’s assertion that it was indeed an executive meeting, and argues that the homeowner did not show he had a legal right to executive minutes.

In Arizona, the court operates on a notice basis, that is, just give sufficient information that the complaint is valid, and then present your detailed evidence before the court.  That was not allowed in this case.

Homeowner filed superior court appeal[3] contesting the ALJ’s decision as “contrary to law, an abuse of discretion, arbitrary and capricious.”  

6. Administrative Law Judge Brian Brendan Tully’s October 4, 2012 Decision in 12F -H 12120 14-BFS, based exclusively upon certain “statements, claims and contentions (sic)” made by Respondent, Terravita Community Association, Inc., in its pleadings, denied Petitioner (Plaintiff) a hearing which would have brought forward the facts of the contested matter based upon evidence, witnesses’ sworn testimony and argument upon the merits of the matter’s facts and the planned community statutes relevant to those facts, instead, Tully vacated the matter from the calendar of the Office of Administrative Hearings.

 The homeowner further argued

 Plaintiff [homeowner] will timely request this Court hold an evidentiary hearing that will adduce evidence, present sworn witness testimony and offer argument in furtherance of the Court reversing the decision in 12F-H1212014-BFS and the agency’s action based upon the Court’s reviewing the administrative record (no hearing/no transcript) and evidence to be presented at an evidentiary hearing denied Petitioner at the OAH

Terravita’s relevant Answer was a reliance on the business judgment rule, which states that the court will defer the judgment of a corporation’s board as they know more than the judge.  In its reply to a request for an evidentiary hearing, Ekmark says homeowner must show the evidence that was already rejected by the ALJ as irrelevant.  (Remember the issue was a declaration that the meeting was an executive meeting and the ALJ didn’t want to hear anymore).   Ekmark concludes with, “Mr. Brown [homeowner] has had ample opportunities to present facts contrary to the Association’s position; yet, he has completely failed to do so.”  Did he???

Brown’s reply, beyond a criticism of Ekmark’s arguments about new evidence and failure to show evidence, got to the obvious legal question of the faithful acceptance of a statement without the right to a hearing on the validity of the statement:

[T]he presentation of evidence is necessary to the Court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law in furtherance of a just decision to include, but not limited to, the veracity of the affiant’s affidavit, an affidavit prepared under the supervision of  the Defendant-Appellee’s attorney, submitted with the Defendant-Appellee’s Answer (Pollock, a credentialed community manager, PCAM, CAAM, attended the March 27, 2012 meetings [Executive Session and Regular Meeting] of the board of directors and knew, or should have known, the “e-session” violated the planned community statutes).

However, the superior court appeal found no error and upheld the ALJ’s summary judgment decision.  “TCA has provided to this Court authorities and arguments in support of its position. This Court concludes the authorities and arguments provided by TCA are well-taken, and this Court adopts those authorities and arguments in support of its decision.”  (Judge McClennen of 11-22-2013). The judge apparently, like the ALJ, ignored the homeowner’s allegations.

Under R  Civ. P. 43(a), an affidavit is a written statement by a witness in lieu of the witness appearing in court in person. The opposing party must stipulate to the acceptance of an affidavit to be accepted by the court as evidence.  Rules of Evidence, Rule 609, allows for the impeachment of a witness. This did not allowed to occur here.

An appeal was filed by Brown on 7-14-2014, CA-CV14-0455, Div.1.

Arrest Warrant

Apparently, the HOA attorney firm of Ekmark & Ekmark wants their fees paid as per the court ruling. On August 8, 2014 it filed several documents with Judge McClennen for contempt of court for failing to submit to a subpoena to attend a debtor’s meeting (to discover how the attorney would collect its fees), and the arrest of Mr. Brown for contempt.  All over a question of the legitimacy of an executive board meeting.

According to the homeowner, who apparently did get access the Terravita’s financials and moneys spent on attorney fees for this litigation, the attorney fees amounted to $57,344.10.  Of course, the HOA has no cause for alarm since it won the case and does not have to pay this amount.  But, if it loses in the appellate court, what then?  HOA litigation is a gamble in favor of the HOA, and joy to the attorneys cause they get paid win or lose.

BTW, Judge McClennen washed his hands of jurisdiction on August 11, 2014 after receiving the filings from Ekmark.  “This Court no longer has jurisdiction and will take no further action in this matter.”

References

[1] Business judgment rule misinterpretation. In my commentary on the business judgment rule, Illinois appellate court awards punitive damages for reckless indifference by condo, I quoted the court’s reminder about what this rule means:

 “The rule protects directors who have been careful and diligent in performing their duties from being subjected to liability for honest mistakes of judgment. . . . [But where there is] evidence of bad faith, fraud, illegality, or gross overreaching, courts are . . . at liberty to interfere with the exercise of business judgment by corporate directors.”

 [2] Brown v. Terravita, No. 12F-H1212014-BFS, Administrative Law Judge Decision, Office of Administrative Hearings, October 4, 2012.

[3] Brown v. Terravita, LC2012-000699, Maricopa County.

The failure of the HOA to protect against obsolescence

Tyler P. Berding, CAI and the Foundation for Community Association Research (CAI affiliate) member, has come to realize that HOAs will become obsolete for a variety of reasons and property values will plunge. His “exit strategy,” as stated in his article, is unclear.  He writes (my emphasis),

The challenge is . . . formulating an appropriate exit strategy that will protect the individual’s investment when the inevitable occurs. At present, no appropriate strategy for preserving individual interests in the face of an obsolete community exists. It should be a legislative priority to find one.

The individual owner is trapped in this cycle. He cannot ‘opt out’ of the system. His only choice is to vote for increased assessments or not, or to sell. If he sells, his successor will be given the same choices. If the community fails, the owner’s interest will be lost. There is no present means by which an owner can salvage his separate interest in a failed community.

To better understand HOA obsolescence, think of your car. You bought it and it depreciates or becomes obsolescent over time.  Most people cannot buy a new car until the sell their old one, or trade it in; but, there are no “home dealers” to make home selling a relatively quick and easy process like car buying. As your home grows old, like the HOA’s common areas, repairs and maintenance demands continuously pop up.  Your property value drops – forget about the HOA’s common areas – your home value drops.  The obsolescence of the common areas does not help your home value. In a non-HOA subdivision, the county pays for the neighborhood maintenance.

Berding does not address what I call your home’s architectural obsolescence; that is, the layout, floor plan, or design of your home, which may no longer be fashionable as people’s tastes change. What the HOA can try to do, which would be a value of HOA living, is to mandate special assessments for repairs and maintenance.  It can do it simply by amending the CC&Rs since there is no protection in the HOA constitution against ex post facto amendments as in the US Constitution.  But, then again, was this part of “the deal” when you bought your home?

What if a homeowner has the cash to remodel his home to make it ‘fashionable’?  Would he get ACC approval? Fat chance!  Would the HOA revise its character of the community and allow homeowners to remodel and create more fashionable homes?  I mean, doesn’t that help maintain property values?  Fat chance!

But wait Berding, what about government intervention to preserve the HOA as quoted above?   What do you think that legislative priority will be, as the state faces a multitude of HOA communities becoming blighted areas?  My guess is that a law will be made mandating the payment of special assessments into reserve accounts to prevent HOAs from becoming obsolete.  Don’t think so?  Have you heard of Obama Care?

In this lengthy article Berding rambles and introduces aspects but fails to tie them all together, like, “It [the HOA] is more than a quasi-governmental agency” and “It is a multidimensional mix of principles” (referring to special or sui generis laws).   Is Berding saying below that the homeowners alone are responsible for the financial condition of the HOA, and individual rights get in the way (my emphasis)?  You know, you’re on your own. Judge for yourself.

In America, individual self-determination usually prevails, and that basic truth illuminates the fundamental flaw in the common interest development concept. In CID living, the success of the group is wholly dependent on the voluntary contribution of capital by each owner.

A community association in trouble cannot simply close the doors and walk away. The ‘village’ [note the reference to public governance terminology] has to pay the utilities, remove the garbage, and maintain the buildings if the owners are to have shelter. This cannot be effectively done without a consensus of the owners, because without owner approval, the association cannot raise sufficient funds to operate.

And in the absence of a consensus?  We know about consensus and member involvement in HOA matters, don’t we?  It seems obvious that the state must intervene, right?

Berding does make the important point that is essential for a healthy community – it’s up to the members to “do right.”   However, the mass merchandising of the HOA concept has worked against members pitching in to maintain property values, because that’s the HOA’s job, that’s why they bought into an HOA – them, not us.  Faulty indeed, but if the financial aspects of a close corporation where financing must come from the limited membership were disclosed, including the joint and severable liability of the members, who would buy an HOA home?  The home would lose all its traditional humanizing, family aspects and become just another dehumanizing material asset.

There’s much more to Berding’s article, which unfortunately gets bogged down in too much irrelevant detail.

 

See, Tyler P. Berding,  “The Uncertain Future of Common Interest Developments,” August 10, 2014.

Can the HOA legal scheme survive constitutional due process?

Bob Frank, a Commissioner on the Nevada Commission for Common Interest Communities and Condominium Hotels, asked in the LinkedIn group, Condo Association (and HOA) Network, Should States Pass “Due Process Regulations” Along The lines of The Following Draft?

My comment follows:

Bob, an excellent in depth presentation of HOA due process procedures. Allow me to provide the authority for your proposal. Judge Henry Friendly in his well-regarded article, “Some Kind of Hearing,”[1] generated a list that remains highly influential, as to both content and relative priority (my emphasis):

  • An unbiased tribunal;
  • Notice and grounds for the proposed action;
  • An opportunity to show why the proposed action should not be taken;
  • The right to call witnesses;
  • The right to know opposing evidence;
  • The right to have the decision based only on the evidence presented;
  • The opportunity to be represented by counsel;
  • A record of the proceeding;
  • A statement of reasons;
  • Public attendance; and
  • Availability of judicial review.

 

As you will note, the first listed item above requires “an unbiased tribunal.” What would you add to your proposal to further protect the integrity of your HOA due process procedures? Obviously some sort of code of conduct for those sitting on the “hearing tribunal” is in order. Following are the four Canons taken from the American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct[2].

CANON 1

A judge shall uphold and promote the, independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

CANON 2

A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently.

CANON 3

A judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.

CANON 4

A judge or candidate for judicial office shall not engage in political or campaign activity that is inconsistent with the integrity, or impartiality of the judiciary.

I would think that third-parties with some legal background would be the way to go, but this would run into the dogmatic “the HOA members shall judge their ‘peers.’” But, then again, is that possible?

You have touched upon one of my 5 HOA substantive reforms arguments, “Fair and Just Hearings,[3] the absence of which is a clear indication of the oppressive and authoritarian nature of the HOA legal scheme.  If it is possible to obtain fair and just hearings, would this move toward democratic reforms cause the HOA legal scheme as it exists today to collapse, or can the real estate package governed by an HOA government survive governed by a true democracy?[4]

References

[1] Judge Henry Friendly, “Friendly, Some Kind of Hearing,” 123 U. PA. L. Rev. 1267, 1279-1295 (1975).

[2] American Bar Association’s Model Code of Judicial Conduct (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/ professional_responsibility/publications/model_code_of_judicial_conduct.html).

[3] See “HOA Common Sense, No. 6, Fair and Just Hearings”.

[4] See “Would the HOA legal scheme collapse under a democratic form of government?

 

Colorado HOA act creates state actors?

I give credit to the Colorado Legislature for stating its intent, its position, on supporting HOAs, which is rarely found in other state statutes.  Section 38-33.3-102 reads (in part):

Legislative declaration

(1) The general assembly hereby finds, determines, and declares, as follows:

(a) That it is in the best interests of the state and its citizens to establish a clear, comprehensive, and uniform framework for the creation and operation of common interest communities;

(b) That the continuation of the economic prosperity of Colorado is dependent upon the strengthening of homeowner associations in common interest communities financially through the setting of budget guidelines, the creation of statutory assessment liens, the granting of six months’ lien priority, the facilitation of borrowing, and more certain powers in the association to sue on behalf of the owners and through enhancing the financial stability of associations by increasing the association’s powers to collect delinquent assessments, late charges, fines, and enforcement costs;

 

Subsections (c) – (e) contain basically the same theme — don’t let the HOA fail by providing the developer with certain financial protections and operating rules on good management.  In a bold, in your face statement the statute contains an annotation, which reads:

There is no support for the proposition that enactment of a legislative scheme governing the operation of homeowners’ association thereby transforms such homeowners’ association into cities or other governmental entities. Woodmoor Improvement Ass’n v. Brenner, 919 P.2d 928 (Colo. App. 1996).

This 1996 authority still holds true today.  State governments regulate people and entities by establishing laws, such as these HOA “acts” under its police powers “to promote the general welfare.”   That has come to mean to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the people.  The issue at hand, which has not been tested in the courts, is: when does and under what circumstances do these HOA acts create HOAs as state actors?[1]

It would seem that just from this Legislative Declaration of purpose there are reasonable grounds to suspect state cooperation (no penalties against HOA violations of state laws or the governing documents), coercion (foreclosure, pay or lose your home, etc.), and support for HOAs, a close nexus with daily operations (closely involved on HOA management) s symbiotic relationship (you help me, I help you), significant encouragement, either overtly or covertly.[2]  But no mention of any protections of due process and the equal protection of the laws as an objective of its involvement in HOA-Land.

Note that subsection 1(a) above speaks not of individual statutes, but of “a clear, comprehensive, and uniform framework” to support HOAs. Therefore, we must look at the overall picture of the HOA act and determine its broad impact on HOAs, and whether the legal scheme or structure establishes state actors.  And in 1(b) above the general assembly makes a case for establishing state actors when it states, “by increasing the association’s powers to collect delinquent assessments, late charges, fines, and enforcement costs.”  The details can be found within the act itself.

Please understand that in the statutes, both in Colorado and in other states, the statutes give the appearance of protecting the homeowner and his rights, but this is an illusion. What does the homeowner do if the board violates the law?  His ultimate recourse is to sue the HOA in civil court, but the statutes and governing documents (and court case history) are protective of the HOA as this Colorado section clearly demonstrates.

Where are the constitutional protections that would remove the HOA member as a second-class citizen?  To bring him back into the American Zone? They are nowhere to be found!  Why?  Because the state believes that the homebuyer has freely and with full knowledge agreed to be bound by the explicit and implied waivers in the governing documents.  But, have they?[3]

It would seem that the Colorado General Assembly has crossed the line and by its HOA statutes created HOAs as state actors.

References

[1] See, in general, HOA Common Sense, No. 9: HOA governments in fact.

[2] See Do state HOA Statutes Establish HOAs as State Actors?

[3] See HOA Common Sense, No. 4: Consent to be governed

AZ amicus brief seeking answers to constitutional HOA questions denied

A constitutionality challenge[1] was made to Arizona’s SB 1482 “HOA Omnibus Bill” (ominous bill), the 2014 version of SB 1454 from last year.[2]   Although the law has become effective this past July 24th, the case is still active.  Yours truly filed an amicus curiae brief in superior court on behalf of the Pro Se plaintive, Dave Russell, to which the Arizona Attorney General, lawyer for the State of Arizona, found objectionable. The judge denied my motion to file the brief.

The AG objected under a too one-sided against Arizona argument (complete objection).

Defendant, State of Arizona, opposes George K. Starapoli’s Motion for Leave to File Amicus

Brief in this matter for the following reasons:

  1. There is no authority to file an Amicus Brief in this matter in the superior court.

  1. It would be prejudicial to the State to allow the brief to be filed at this time. The State has responded to the Plaintiffs Motion for Expedited Preliminary Injunction, and that Motion could be considered based on the documents already filed by the parties. To allow the brief to be filed would prolong the process, require additional response, and potentially confuse the issues.

 

I did not refer to the Injunction, but the complaint itself, so what gives??  What does “potentially confuse the issues” mean?  Too much for the AG or judge to handle???

On the 28th, the judge ruled (complete minute entry),

 

On July 11, 2014, George Staropoli filed a “Motion for Leave to File an Amicus Curiae Brief in Support of the Plaintiff”. The Court has reviewed this motion and considered the circumstances. Under the circumstances,

IT IS ORDERED denying the above-identified motion.

What does “under the circumstances mean?????    Was it too confusing for the court to handle????

 

I was informed that a leading public interest nonprofit that has argued before the Arizona Supreme Court has had its amicus briefs to the Superior Court also denied.  I expected as much, but I had hoped for a dissertation as to why the denial beyond “under the circumstances.”

 

The issues that I raised in my amicus brief were:

 

  • Is a bill allowing HOA managers to represent HOAs while prohibiting the homeowner to engage an unlicensed and untrained third-party to speak for them in small claims court an unconstitutional special law in violation of the equal protection of the law under the US and Arizona Constitutions? (SB 1482, Section 7).

 

  • Do the renter documentation requirements and restrictions constitute an unconstitutional interference with private agreements as it creates more harm to the homeowners than the benefits of an unstated government interest?  (SB1482, Sections 11 and 15).

 

The court must still decide on the injunction to not enforce the bill (or the part dealing with HOA managers in small claims court), which it cannot do because Rule 31 of the Arizona Supreme Court forbids non-lawyers from representing anyone in court, including small claims court.  And the Constitution says the SC controls its procedures and not the legislature!  So, folks, what’s the fuss all about?

 

What this incident has demonstrated is the use of the law by the AG and an eagerly cooperative court.  Was my brief so harmful to the State of Arizona’s case that the truth must be hidden?  Or was my brief valid because the overwhelming facts and background presented made a strong case for the tyranny of the legislature that resulted in an unconstitutional law, a law which was motivated by domineering HOA stakeholders, the special interests?

What my little exercise has demonstrated is the silence on the part of our government.  Why?  Because like an HOA they don’t have too!  A law is constitutional because the ‘sovereign,’ the legislature, has spoken and can do no wrong.   Like an HOA, the state well knows it cannot make a valid and compelling justification for the bill in question, SB 1482.  Any such attempt would demonstrate to all that the State of Arizona was defending the indefensible.  So, mum’s the word.

How does a citizen successfully argue his case when the State’s defense is, “Because I can!”

 

 

References

[1] See the complaint, Russell v. State of Arizona, CV2014-093-052 (Maricopa County Superior Court).

[2] See in general: A lesson in HOA reforms and power politics in AZ; AZ legislature fails to remove invalid statutes from its ARS web page.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 267 other followers

%d bloggers like this: