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.

Illinois appellate court awards punitive damages for reckless indifference by condo

Note:  This case is based on Illinois laws and case history precedent with respect to punitive damages and the business judgment rule.  (Normally, punitive damages are not awarded for breach of contract claims, but this case was a breach of fiduciary claim). I believe other states have similar laws and case history that would make this opinion valid in the respective states.  However, the decision is not for publication or use as binding precedent.

It reflects a common sense approach to justice under the law and not a decision to uphold the view that the HOA can do nothing wrong; and that the HOA always acts in the best interest of the HOA’s obligation to all the members.

Plaintiff must ask for punitive damages.

 

The issue:  Over a 2-year period, condo ignored homeowner’s repeated requests for assistance in addressing water damage, forcing homeowner to incur expenses to make repairs and to hire an attorney to seek condo reimbursement.  Punitive damages against the condo were sought.

The Laws:  Condo board’s breach of fiduciary duty;   punitive damages award for willful or evil motive or reckless indifference to rights of others; business judgment rule.

Decision:   Affirmed trial court decision against condo for breach of fiduciary duty to homeowner, and the award of punitive damages amounting to $22,000 above the damages of $5,497.

Discussion by the Court: 

“The purpose of punitive damages is not compensation, but punishment of the offender and deterrence of the wrongdoer and others. Punitive damages may be awarded ‘where the defendant’s conduct is willful or outrageous due to evil motive or a reckless indifference to the rights of others.’ “The parties agree that a trial court may award punitive damages in a breach of fiduciary duty case.

“[The trial court] found the Association ‘acted with reckless indifference to the rights and needs of [plaintiff] who was forced to use her own funds to repair an apartment and then hire a lawyer to help her recover her reasonable cost.’”

[Business judgment rule opinion].

“We note here that the Association urges us to find an abuse of discretion [judge overstepped his authority] because the award conflicts with its business judgment. ‘Under the business judgment rule [. . .] absent evidence of bad faith, fraud, illegality, or gross overreaching, courts are not at liberty to interfere with the exercise of business judgment by corporate directors.’

“The rule protects directors who have been careful and diligent in performing their duties from being subjected to liability for honest mistakes of judgment. . . . That is not what occurred in this case, where the Association was neither diligent nor careful in performing its duties, but instead chose to ignore the plight of  [plaintiff].”

Comment:  Punitive damages are the only realistic method whereby homeowner’s can impose a meaningful detriment to continued board abuse, as state laws do not punish the HOA board for violations of state laws or the governing documents.

 

Case:   Shuh v. Plaza Des Plaines Condominium Assn, No. 1-13-1999 (IL App. 1st  Dist. July 24, 201) (Thanks to HOA Member Services, “This website is designed to provide people with all the information they need to understand and enhance their experience of working with or living in a common interest development that is governed by a homeowners association.”)

 

 

Would the HOA legal scheme collapse under a democratic form of government?

The HOA legal scheme as a nonprofit form of government chartered under corporation laws cannot be held in the same light as a democratic public government chartered under municipal corporation laws.

We use the term HOA quite loosely as I have in many of my posts.  However, the HOA is 1) the legal governing body of a 2) planned unit development or condominium, which is a real estate ‘package’ of amenities, landscaping, etc.  It is a de facto – it exists and functions – government, but unrecognized by the state as is Cuba.

Can we get rid of the ‘package’?  I don’t think so for reasons that I’ve stated  — too big.  Can we get rid of the oppressive authoritarian governing body known as the ‘association,’ home or property owners associations, etc.? Definitely yes!  Or can we?

Questions for study and thought!  

 1.    Will the ‘package’ collapse if we remove the oppressive authoritarian governing body and substitute a more democratic regime?

2.    Why didn’t the promoters of the current HOA scheme (in their seminal publication, The Homes Association Handbook) present the HOA as a municipal corporation rather than a nonprofit corporation?

In regard to question 2, is it because the promoters knew that the HOA would be subject to the Constitution and restricted by state laws?

A hint is given, even in the Handbook, with the discussion of ‘free riders’ and the need for mandatory membership and compulsory dues.  (A ‘free rider’ is one who benefits from the efforts and money of others as in the case of unions, as would be the case with voluntary HOA memberships.)  The other hint is how does one maintain property values, that huge appeal to the masses, without strict enforcement of many specific rules and regulations? If people were free to do as they please, what is the value of the HOA?

Apparently, local ordinances did not satisfy the promoters of the HOA scheme because they were too broad and didn’t represent the membership, but somehow top-down, take-it–or-leave-it CC&Rs do.  And to be sure, make it an adhesion contract that favors the HOA and prevents the practical and effective voice of the people. Apparently our system of government failed to satisfy the promoters, and their need for a better form of government was sought – one better suited to the goals of the promoters.  A fascist form of government (or if that offends you, a corporate oligarchy where the objective of the state is to satisfy not the people, but the government) did the trick quite well.

The answers will illuminate the fundamental problem with HOA reform and the resistance to substantive reforms.

 

The unclean hands of the HOA

I have spoken of the unclean hands of the HOA in “HOA Common Sense No.4, Consent to be governed” and in “No.8, Draconian punishment and intimidation.”  Unclean hands is a legal doctrine that denies a plaintiff’s (HOA) complaint if the plaintiff has done anything wrongful or unfair relating to the issue at hand. If a defendant (homeowner) can show the plaintiff had “unclean hands,” the plaintiff’s complaint will be dismissed or the plaintiff will be denied judgment.

In his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v US  (1928)[1] Justice Brandeis wrote (my emphasis),

The governing principle has long been settled. It is that a court will not redress a wrong when he who invokes its aid has unclean hands. The maxim of unclean hands comes from courts of equity. But the principle prevails also in courts of law. Its common application is in civil actions between private parties. Where the government is the actor, the reasons for applying it are even more persuasive.

The court’s aid is denied only when he who seeks it has violated the law in connection with the very transaction as to which he seeks legal redress. Then aid is denied despite the defendant’s wrong. It is denied in order to maintain respect for law; in order to promote confidence in the administration of justice; in order to preserve the judicial process from contamination.

This doctrine also applies to the government at all levels.  As Brandeis continued in his dissent,

In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously. Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy.

And it also applies to HOA private governments, because it’s an equitable protection.  We all know that HOA boards have, in all too many instances, grossly dirty unclean hands.  We see the anarchy with 50 different state laws and the 324,000, more or less, independent CC&Rs “constitutions.”

 

Note

[1] Olmstead v. U.S., 277 U.S. 438 (1928).  This case involved federal wiretapping, which back in 1928, the SC found no violation of the Constitution.

HOA laws that fail to protect the people from harm

I have written many times about the loss in the protections of individual rights, freedoms, privileges and immunities that continues in our country.  I wrote about the presumption that all laws passed by the legislature are constitutional, because, apparently, the sovereign can do no wrong.  After all, the legislature is the voice of the people, isn’t it?

BUT, this false analogy to the king can do no wrong ignores the fact that the king was not bound by any constitution or charter, and was free to do as he pleased.  But, we have, or are supposed to have, a constitution with restrictions on government.  We also have the doctrine of judicial review of legislation, subjecting the laws to pass judicial scrutiny.

Of the three levels now part of the doctrine of judicial scrutiny, the peoples’ rights fall into one of three categories. The least protective is a legitimate, rational government interest (basically anything the government says is important to the people goes); the strictest is a compelling and necessary interest, reserved for explicit fundamental rights violations.

I have always been bothered about many HOA laws purported to be in the best interest of the people, yet deprive or deny a category of people, those living in HOAs, of their constitutional rights (free speech in many forms, due process protections) and the equal protection of the laws. In Arizona, for example, the horrendous SB 1482 omnibus (read ‘ominous’) bill did just that: granted special rights to HOA managers and left homeowners with unequal legal representation; rejected a private agreement to prevent crimes to allow real estate agents to be able to rent homes in HOAs, a long time frowned upon right.

In the recent Arizona appellate opinion in Vong v. Aune (non-HOA case that explains judicial scrutiny), the court held that, “Courts have found a legitimate purpose lacking where a regulation fails to protect the public from harm.” ¶ 18.  Did I miss something?  Did the Rules Committee that has the duty to check for constitutionality miss something?

Of course the game is still in favor of the government where the burden is put on the homeowner challenger.  He must show that the alleged good for the community is overwhelmingly overridden by the damage to the HOA homeowner public class, and is contrary to public policy. It raises the question of one class of people losing constitutional protections so that others may . . . . may what?

Sadly, public policy as shaped by court and legislative decisions seems to be on the side of the HOA.

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