AZ supreme court denies hearing HOA case raising limited-purpose public figure doctrine

The Arizona Supreme Court has denied hearing the Tarter v. Bendt (CV21-0049-PR), a defamation lawsuit brought by an HOA president and attorney.  In general, the Court does not provide any reasons or justifications for its decision and did not provide one. The attorney for Bendt, Lori Voepel, while addressing the legalities of the decisions, raised the  question that Tarter, the HOA president, was a limited-purpose public figure entitling Bendt to additional free speech protections. It is my understanding that Sonia Bendt will be pursing a US Supreme Court appeal.

In my amicus brief I informed the Justices about the real-world functioning and operations of HOAs, and about the biased public policy resulting from the dominance of the national lobbying organization, CAI, and its agenda. I included aspects of public policy  set forth  by the Arizona pro-HOA legislature, judges in their decisions and opinions, and the silence of the media to inform the public as to this reality.  I had hoped that the case would be remanded for consideration of the role of the HOA president, since the complaint concerned acts and conduct by Tarter in his capacity as HOA president.

In my amicus brief (an advisory filing as a “friend of the court”) I painted a broad picture of HOAs as public forums with protected free speech concerning questions of HOA governance. A favorable decision would have prohibited HOA boards of directors from restricting member criticisms and allowing “opposition parties” equal access to the same means and vehicles that the BOD uses; namely, the HOA magazine, email distribution, use of facilities for meetings and “townhalls,” to name a few.

I am very disappointed in the Arizona Justices.  Permitting an outlandish financial damages and adding  punitive damages of $1,000,000 and $500,000 in compensatory damages is outrageous and not warranted by the evidence or by the HOA legal scheme. An opportunity to protect citizens living in HOAs from second class citizenship was ignored! Have they forgotten the 8th Amendment prohibitions: “nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted”? OH, HOAS are not public bodies!

The homeowner, Bendt, is punished for speaking out in admittedly harsh terms. Yet the judicial system stands by looking at a distance and allowing Trump and his followers to function as vexatious litigants. Allowing them to  raise allegations, which are not only laughable but blatantly false under Rule 11, is shameful conduct.  “No negatives about HOAs shall be allowed” seems to be the Court’s policy.

“Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” No, something is rotten in the state of Arizona!

Will AZ Supreme Court address broad HOA issues of constitutionality?

As we approach an October 5th decision to decide to hear the Tarter v. Bendt defamation case[i] that raises free speech and limited- purpose public figure issues, I am hoping that the Court will address the real-world widespread misinformation regarding conditions and the legal status of homeowner associations statutes. This investigation by the Court is essential for a just and fair decision in the defamation lawsuit by an HOA president and attorney. Questions of failing to act in good faith and an abuse of the law by the plaintiff attorney with respect to filing a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) was raised in my amicus brief.

This is not an ordinary defamation lawsuit but one involving the actions and conduct by the plaintiff in his capacity as the HOA president  and in the context of matters of HOA governance. In the recent Nevada Supreme Court opinion in Kosor,[ii] the Court held that “HOAs as public forums and the president as a limited-purpose public figure” and further held that an HOA “is a quasi-government entity ‘paralleling in almost every case the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a municipal government.’”

The decision by the Arizona Court will have widespread repercussions and consequences not only for Arizona, but for HOAs  nationwide affecting  statutes in every state. The legitimacy of a democratic country rests on just and fair laws for the people, as Professor Randy Barnett wrote,

A constitution that lacks adequate procedures to ensure the justice of valid laws is illegitimate even if it was consented to by a majority …. A law may be ‘valid’ because it was produced in accordance with all the procedures required by a particular lawmaking system, [the HOA amendment procedure, for example] but be ‘illegitimate’ because these procedures were inadequate to provide assurances that a law is just.[iii]

Since the context of the lawsuit relates to the legal status  and constitutionality of the HOA model of government, and to the statutes and CC&Rs “constitution” creating private contractual governments, did Bendt receive justice with a $500,000 award for the HOA president’s “pain and suffering? As applied to HOA statutes and Acts, will this Court heed US Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor’s dissent on the failure to uphold the Constitution?[iv]

“Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny . . . . Because the Court’s failure to act rewards tactics designed to avoid judicial review . . . . 

“To circumvent it [the Constitution], the [Texas] Legislature took the extraordinary step of enlisting private citizens to do what the State could not . . . .  It cannot be the case that a State can evade federal judicial scrutiny by outsourcing the enforcement of unconstitutional laws to its citizenry . . . .”

This case must be remanded to the trial court for consideration of the impact of HOA bias on the decision against Bendt.

Notes


[i] See HOA limited-purpose public directors and officers; The continuing saga of Bendt and public speech in HOAs; Pro Se Bendt amicus brief accepted by AZ Supreme Court.

[ii]  Kosor v. Olympia Companies, NV No, 75669 (Dec. 31, 2020).

[iii]  Randy Barnett, Restoring the Lost Constitution, Princeton Univ. Press, (2004).

[iv]  Whole Woman’s v. Austion Reeve Jackson, 594 U. S. ____ (2021) Sotomayor R, J., dissenting, Supreme Court of the United States, No. 21A24 [September 1, 2021]. (Abortion case).

Business judgment rule not right for sui generis HOAs

This examination of the business judgment rule is a supplement to my amicus curiae brief to the AZ Supreme Court (Taylor v. Bendt, CV-21-0049, awaiting decision to hear case) in which I provided guidance in regard to 1) HOAs are sui generis created by rejecting Constitutional protections and instituting and supporting  separate laws for special organizations, 2) HOA-Land has been under the heavy influence and domination of the national lobbying entity, Community Associations Institute (CAI), and 3) as a result of the above a pro-HOA mindset has crept into our judicial system resulting in bad laws setting  bad precedent.

You can read the complete 30 page treatise (15 pages of argument plus apprendices) here .