Where is the justice? AZ court gives HOA a “do over”

In Pinnacle v. Derailed (CA_CV 10-0604, Ariz. App. Div. 1, May 31, 2011) , the HOA objected to a sculpture because the homeowner didn’t get ACC approval. As we’ve seen many times before, the homeowner replies, “Show me where I must get to ACC approval when the governing documents are silent on the issue?”

The HOA attorney, CAI member and “defender of the faithful,” Scott Carpenter, made the following arguments, among others,

The [HOA] letter asserted without elucidation that the “governing documents prohibit this type of sculpture.” (Emphasis added.) Derailed responded that if the sculpture constituted a violation, many other violations were visible on neighboring properties and declined to remove the sculpture. . . . counsel cited Article 1, § 15 of the CC&Rs, which requires Committee approval of “all landscaping plans.”

The trial court, having reviewed the definitions of “landscaping, and in the absence of a “redefinition” of landscaping in the governing documents, held that sculptures are not part of the meaning of landscaping. The court, siding with the homeowner, wrote

the governing documents did not either require Derailed to seek approval for a sculpture or prohibit a sculpture. The court also found that the sculpture was neither “landscaping” nor a “structure or dwelling” and that the Association had not argued that it was an unsightly object.

The appellate court refused to “read tea leaves” and divine meanings not set forth in the governing documents, “we also “should not give a covenant a broader than intended application.” Carpenter then tried to argue that a sculpture was a structure, and that it failed to meet architectural designs. Both rejected. But, Carpenter failed to argue that the sculpture was unsightly, perhaps, if true, would have been a grounds to not allow the sculpture. “The Association did not characterize the sculpture as “an unsightly object.”

However, the court became activist and wanted a “do over” as it felt some issues weren’t considered by the trial court and it wanted the court to consider them.. A “do over”, a second “grab at the apple.” On legal “technicalities”, once again, the appellate argued that Derailed failed to object to Carpenter’s raising the issue of “unsightly” and claiming that Carpenter had “waived” this argument. Consequently, the issue of “unsightly” can be considered by the appellate court. In other words, Derailed did not argue that it was not an issue before the trial court and cannot now be considered at the appellate level. (I can’t count the number of times I mentioned that the homeowner must respond to all charges and claims made by the HOA, otherwise it might come back and bite them in the ass, like now.)

It should be noted that when the court asked at oral argument “which provision of the governing documents authorized regulation of sculptures”, Carpenter cited Article 1, § 15 of the CC&Rs” and made no reference to Rule 2.28 of the ACC that pertained to “unsightly object.”What happened towe also should not give a covenant a broader than intended application?I guess the denial of the motion for reconsideration amounted to a bona fide trial court argument. And the court wanted an answer to the “unsightly object” issue that was not brought before the trial court,but apparently brought before the appellate court.

It seems that the court has leaned backwards to compensate for the failure of the HOA to specifically raise the question of “unsightly” at the trial level. How many times have I wondered what if these judges really sought to do justice and interjected themselves on behalf of the homeowner and said, in effect, “Hey boy, ya’ didn’t raise this valid and potentially winning issue of … So I’m sending it back to the trial court. Got my drift?”

As an aside, In March 2010 I spoke with the owner and, anticipating the HOA’s defense, I asked about the sculpture, “Was it acceptable”? He replied that it was the work of a known sculptor. I wonder how the trial court would decide? How much would it cost the HOA for Carpenter to pursue this uphill fight on “unsightly objects”?

As a second thoughtdid the court issue a memorandum and a restriction on the case being published and made a precedent? Generally, this occurs when the court feels no new opinions were made to serve to guide future cases.

Published in: on June 1, 2011 at 10:10 am  Comments (3)  
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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. No surprise to me…the judges I have encountered in the past few years appear to have their own version of justice…If your attorney is not smart enough (according to the judge)I will help you out. And since the judge thought about the issue…guess how he or she will decide. Of course the HOA will also get its attorneys fees and costs. Retirement from this profession cannot come soon enough.

  2. Very frustrating. I am counsel for Derailed. I typically represent underdogs, as I did here. Over the course of my 35 years, I see it over and over. I will win on all points actually raised and argued by the parties, and then lose to the Court (trial or appellate) on a point that the Court raises and argues itself. I consider decisions like this political, not judicial. The Court knew that my client would not have the wherewithal to fight this matter any longer, and that the Court by sending the matter back to the trial level had therefore decided the matter by its decision. To win every contested point, but lose the case . . . whatever.

  3. Outrageous. But sadly not surprising. And yet they wonder why faith in our Judicial System seems to be at an all time low?

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