Judicial error regarding HOAs as mini-governments and state actors

Two cases directly dealing with HOAs as mini or quasi governments by means of state actions tests have come to my attention: Brock v. Watergate and Westphal v. Lake Lotawana.[1] (The question of an HOA being a state actor is not raised, but that a specific act of the HOA is a state action. The questions are fundamentally different.) The decisions were based on the public functions (company town) test and one of the US Supreme Court criteria, the “close nexus” test.[2]

Here the question of an HOA being a municipality is linked to showing a comparison with company towns (established by corporations to provide housing for their employees) under the public functions test, which was held to be a municipality. The Court then makes the giant leap to hold that since the HOA was not a company town, and therefore not a municipality, none of its actions can be considered a state action. The Court’s illogical conclusion is that no act of a private entity can be considered a state action, because the entity is not a municipality! This attitude makes a mockery of state action/actors laws that protect citizens from quasi-governments. (Think about this after reading the excerpt below.)

The 1987 Florida Brock opinion, just 4 years after the court quoted Wayne Hyatt’s opposing view in Cohen Hill (see note 2), held that:

A homeowner’s association lacks the municipal character of a company town. In the case of an association, the homeowners own their property and hold title to the common areas pro rata. Moreover, the services provided by a homeowners association, unlike those provided in a company town, are merely a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, those provided by local government. As such, it cannot be said that the homeowners association in this case acts in a sufficiently public manner so as to subject its activities to a state action analysis. Moreover, the association’s maintenance, assessment, and collection activities are not sufficiently connected to the State to warrant a finding of state action. The state cannot be implicated in the association’s activities solely because the association is subject to State law. We conclude that the association in this case does not stand in the position.

(The Court did not realize that most HOA common areas and facilities are not owned by the members, but by the HOA corporation. The members are third-party beneficiaries. The second sentence above is not accurate.)

In further shocking dicta (unsupported legal authority for statements) in the above quote (see To Be in note 2), the Court declared that HOA services are merely a supplement to local government and that as a supplement its acts are insufficiently municipal in nature. Say what?

Well, I got news for the Court. Applying the “common meaning of the word doctrine” shows that “to supplement” means “to complete, add to, or extend by a supplement” and a “supplement” means “something added to complete a thing, supply a deficiency, or reinforce or extend a whole.”  With this definition the HOA would be a part of local government to complete it or supply a deficiency.  The HOA is a municipality!

Sadly, the narrow focus on individual and separate acts and actions to determine the involvement of the state in the functions and activities of the HOA is misguided.  Rather, it is the collection of the numerous acts of the HOA that should be used to determine whether or not the HOA is an arm of the state and stands in place of the state.  Consider for example, does local government supplement state government?  Does town local government stand in the place of state government?

However, based on the irrational argument used in Brock, as quoted above, the Court ruled that the HOA “does not stand in the position of a government.”

 

In the 2003 Missouri Lake Lotawana opinion, the Court reversed the trial court’s ruling, asking for a declaratory judgment, using the irrational opinion in Brock and held that the plaintiff’s allegations “require state action, and that, here, there is no state action because the Association is not a state agent. . . . the trial court is effectively saying that Mr. Westphal can have no claim because the Association is not a state actor.”

On the other issues the plaintiff directly alleged state action, arguing that,

[T]hat the Association’s conduct is state action because the Association is a quasi-governmental entity.  He maintains that the Association ‘operates as a ‘mini-government’ because it raises money through dues, has an elected governing body, enacts rules and regulations, and enforces such rules through the court system. In support of this argument, Mr. Westphal relies on [Chesus and Terre du Lac].[3]

Referring to the two cases, the Court concluded,

While both cases discuss how a homeowner’s association operates as a “quasi-governmental entity,” neither is authority for the concept that an association’s “quasi-governmental” actions are state actions. Mr. Westphal fails to cite any authority to support his argument that the action of a quasi-governmental entity is state action.

First, the Court selectively only used the term “quasi” and ignored “mini” as in stated Chesus. “Mini,” of course, speaks of a small municipality, yet a municipality. Both cases simply, without further ado, quote the same Wayne Hyatt statements as I quoted in To Be (see note 2) that contain both words.

And the Court is technically correct with regard to a lack of a court finding, but taking such a view makes a mockery of the law and is highly illogical. As argued since “quasi” means “like,” then any action of a quasi-government must be, a quasi-state action. The degree of “quasi” must extend to state actions, too. Stop the “word games”!

“Quasi” must be defined, but not in terms of the public functions test or private entity devise. It must be defined in accordance with our constitutional system of government that cannot allow for outlaw governments to stand alongside constitutional local government.

This commentary, somewhat technical at times, demonstrates the failure of the courts to address the fundamental issues that HOAs are mini-governments, and that by the collective functions and actions of HOAs there is clear and convincing evidence to make the case that they are indeed state actors. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

(As a reminder, I am not a lawyer and I simply offer my views on HOA-Land.)

Notes

[1] Brock v. Watergate, 502 So.2d 1380 (Fla. 4 Dist. App. (1987); Westphal v. Lake Lotawana, 95 S.W.3d 144 (Mo. App. 2003).

[2] See in general, To be or not to be a mini or quasi government? Hyatt said ‘yes’; Do state HOA Statutes Establish HOAs as State Actors?

[3] Chesus v. Watts, 967 S.W.2d 97 (MO. APP. 1998);  Terre du Lac Assn v. Terre du Lac, Inc., 737 S.W.2d 206 (MO. App. 1987)

To be or not to be a mini or quasi government? Hyatt said ‘yes’

The controversy over whether or not HOAs are mini-governments or quasi-governments needs to be fully understood.  While I have written extensively on this topic,[1] allow me to take another peek into the controversy.

As an eye opener to many, I have extensively quoted Wayne Hyatt’s[2] 1976 statement on HOAs as mini-governments, as cited in the 1983 California case, Cohen v. Kite Hill.[3]  (My emphasis).

 

In a thoughtful article[4] . . . Hyatt and Rhoads note the increasingly “quasi-governmental” nature of the responsibilities of such associations: “The other essential role directly relates to the association’s regulatory powers; and upon analysis of the association’s functions, one clearly sees the association as a quasi-government entity paralleling in almost every case the powers, duties, and responsibilities of a municipal government. As a ‘mini-government,‘ the association provides to its members, in almost every case, utility services, road maintenance, street and common area lighting, and refuse removal. In many cases, it also provides security services and various forms of communication within the community. There is, moreover, a clear analogy to the municipal police and public safety functions. All of these functions are financed through assessments or taxes levied upon the members of the community, with powers vested in the board of directors, council of co-owners, board of managers, or other similar body clearly analogous to the governing body of a municipality. Terminology varies from region to region; however, the duties and responsibilities remain the same.”

“Because each owner automatically becomes a member of the association upon taking title … the association has the power, and in many cases the obligation, to exert tremendous influence on the bundle of rights normally enjoyed as a concomitant part of fee simple ownership of property.”

“With power, of course, comes the potential for abuse. Therefore, the Association must be held to a high standard of responsibility: “The business and governmental aspects of the association and the association’s relationship to its members clearly give rise to a special sense of responsibility upon the officers and directors…. This special responsibility is manifested in the requirements of fiduciary duties and the requirements of due process, equal protection, and fair dealing.” [Sound familiar?]

Yet, this recognized international figure’s statements were ignored and not cited in a number of subsequent decisions. Instead, the courts preferred the antiquated, non-HOA decisions of the 1946 and 1948 “company town,” public functions test decisions in Marsh v. Alabama and Shelly v. Kraemer. These decisions predated the current HOA concept and legalities created in 1964 and were relied on.[5]  Like the “walking dead,” Marsh should be shot in the head and put away for good!

Now, to fully understand the issue we need to play the lawyer game and examine and parse the meanings of words and phrases.  Sorry, we must because that’s what HOA attorneys do — they can’t help it.

What is a mini-government? A quasi-government?  Following the recognized common meaning of words doctrine, “mini” means small and “quasi” means like.”  So, are we talking about small public governments? If so, I think this term answers the question that HOAs are small public governments.

Or are we talking about governments like public governments?  “Like” implies not really, but has the feel, or aura, or legalities of a public government.  If so, to what extent does a government become a public government?  How much “likeliness” is needed?  To what extent should homeowners have “like” constitutional protections?  All of them or some?  Or just some that give the appearance of constitutional rights and freedoms?

It seems that HOAs already have a number of “like” protections, but totally deficient and failing to protect the people.  They treat the HOA members as if they are “like” US citizens, having surrendered their citizenship.  This cannot be tolerated in a nation that prides itself as the ideal democratic country in the world.  Not at all!

It’s time to stop playing the HOA lawyer “word games” and accept the reality that HOAs are outlaw governments and must be held accountable under the Constitutional, as is required of all other governing bodies including those under Home Rule statutes.

References

[1] See in general: Do state HOA Statutes Establish HOAs as State Actors? (2007); The Constitutionality of state protected homeowners associations (2009) (Discussion on Hyatt’s view); HOA Case History: state actors or mini/quasi government (2011).

[2] Wayne Hyatt was a prominent figure in the promotion of HOA-Land as well as an important person in creating CAI in 1973, serving as its second president.

[3] Cohen v. Kite Hill, p. 5-6, 142 Cal App 3d 642 (1983), citing Raven’s Cove Townhomes, Inc. v. Knuppe Development Co. (1981) 114 Cal.App.3d 783, 799 [171 Cal.Rptr. 334]). Cohen has been cited in Terre Du Lac Ass’n, Inc. v. Terre Du Lac, Inc., 737 S.W.2d 206 (Mo. App. 1987); Damon v. Ocean Hills Journalism Club, 85 Cal. App. 4th 468 (2000).

[4] “Concepts of Liability in the Development and Administration of Condominium and Home Owners Associations” 12 Wake Forest Law Review at page 915, (1976).

[5] Brock v. Watergate, 502 So.2d 1380 (Fla. 4 Dist. App. (1987) (close nexus dicta); Midlake v. Cappuccio, 673 A 2d 340 (PA. Super. 1996); S.O.C. v. Mirage Casino-Hotel, 43 P 3rd 243 (Nev. 2001); Westphal v. Lake Lotawana, 95 S.W.3d 144 (Mo. App. 2003) (“Mr. Westphal fails to cite any authority to support his argument that the action of a quasi-governmental entity is state action.”)