December 20, 2017
- Attorneys Joseph Riopelle and Yvette Lavelle successfully argued and obtained summary judgment in favor of the Insured Master Association which rejected a sub-association’s attempt to require additional assessments from certain members of the Master Association. The successful summary judgment prevented nearly 1700 home owners from paying an additional $600,000 in yearly assessments.
December 18, 2017
- Attorneys Kyle T. Berglin, Esq. and Robert E. Menje, Esq. obtained dismissal with prejudice of a lawsuit asserting claims for breach of contract and fraudulent and negligent misrepresentations against a real estate auction house in connection with a residential property closing. The plaintiff alleged that the auction house failed to disclose that the property was subject to code violations carrying with them fines, and which ultimately resulted in demolition of the property’s single-family home by code enforcement shortly after the transaction closed and plaintiff had acquired title to the property. The firm’s lawyers pursued an aggressive litigation strategy in which they moved for both summary judgment and sanctions against the plaintiff and her counsel at an early stage of the litigation, arguing that the auction house owed plaintiff no contractual duties and that documents provided at or shortly before the closing had sufficiently disclosed the violations at issue and allocated the risks of loss due to the code violations solely to the plaintiff. While these motions were pending, Mr. Berglin successfully negotiated a zero-dollar voluntary dismissal with prejudice of all claims asserted by the plaintiff against the firm’s client.
December 11, 2017
- Attorneys William E. Peters and Alejandro F. Garcia obtained a dismissal of a lawsuit on the morning of trial after the Court granted the property insurer’s motion to exclude a majority of the opposing expert’s causation and damages opinions. The plaintiff’s property sustained minor damages to the base kitchen cabinet after a plumbing leak that did not exceed the policy’s deductible. Plaintiff’s expert opined that the leak caused a separation between the back and base panels in the interior of the kitchen cabinet which allowed water to damage the drywall behind the cabinet, that the leak damaged the tile flooring and that it would cost in excess of $71,000 to repair the damages caused by the loss. The expert admitted during his deposition that all of these opinions were speculative and not based on any known facts and the Court excluded the opinions accordingly. The plaintiff dismissed the case minutes before jury selection began.
October 19, 2017
- The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal recently issued a unanimous ruling affirming the summary judgment entered in favor of our Defendant law firm clients. The Plaintiffs, former clients of the law firm, brought suit alleging legal malpractice, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty, among other claims, upon allegations that the law firm was negligent in its representation of the Plaintiffs, causing them to lose pay on death benefits of over $30 million dollars. The Plaintiffs argued that the law firm, while seeking to recover sums allegedly due under a death benefit policy, failed to argue the delayed discovery doctrine with respect to Plaintiffs’ fraud claims, which were dismissed on statute of limitations grounds. Plaintiffs maintained that if the law firm had argued the delayed discovery doctrine, the argument would have saved their fraud claims from dismissal.
- Our firm’s lawyers successfully established that the delayed discovery doctrine was in fact raised by the law firm, and even if it was not raised, the delayed discovery argument would have been futile as all of the Plaintiffs’ claims were barred by the statute of limitations as a matter of laws as Plaintiffs were charged with notice of any fraud at the time they entered into the death benefit policy, the terms of which may have conflicted with the verbal representations of the issuer. It was at the time the policy was executed that the statute of limitations began to run and not when the Plaintiffs became aware of the loss of their pay on death benefits years later. As the suit to recover benefits was filed more than four years after execution of the policy, Plaintiffs’ claims for fraud were barred as any fraud should have been known at the time of execution. Thus, as the statute of limitations expired before filing suit and prior to the law firm’s retention, the firm could not have committed legal malpractice as Plaintiffs had no valid cause of action to begin with. The trial court therefore granted the firm’s motion for summary judgment and ruled that Plaintiffs’ claim failed as a matter of law. On appeal, the Fourth District agreed with the trial court’s conclusions and unanimously affirmed the trial court’s ruling. W. Todd Boyd, Esq. and Craig J. Shankman, Esq. represented the Defendant law firm in this action.
- Attorneys Bryan J. Mazzola and Jacqueline L. Aiello obtained summary judgment in favor of a Condo’s former board president dismissing a complaint alleging a breach of fiduciary duty which was commenced by unit owners relating to a prior litigation. Specifically, at the time the defendant was the Condo’s Board president, the Board had commenced suit against the unit owners for installing an HVAC system without the Board’s approval. The Condo prevailed in that action and the unit owners later commenced suit against the Board president, claiming that he improperly and without authorization caused the first suit to be filed against them. In dismissing the case and awarding summary judgment, the Court found that the Firm demonstrated that the claim was time barred and that the unit owners could not demonstrate they suffered damages given the Court’s prior ruling that the unit owners improperly installed their HVAC system without Board approval.
- Attorneys Bryan J. Mazzola and Jacqueline L. Aiello won an appeal in New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, from an order improperly denying summary judgment to the defendants despite there being no factual disputes to be determined at trial. Unit owners of an HOA commenced suit against the HOA and its individual board members for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and punitive damages based on the HOA’s decision to fine the unit owners for failing to remediate an overgrowth of their bamboo onto the HOA’s common areas and their neighbors’ properties. Despite the HOA’s authority to take this action per its governing documents, the unit owners argued that the HOA should have remediated the bamboo and charged the unit owners back for the costs and that the defendants singled them out by refusing to take this course of action. The Second Department reversed the motion court and dismissed the complaint in its entirety, holding that: the HOA acted within the scope of its authority under the governing documents in fining the unit owners for failing to remediate the bamboo and that its decision was protected by the business judgment rule; the defendant did not single out the unit owners by taking this course of action; and that there was no basis for individual liability or punitive damages.
- Attorneys Bryan J. Mazzola and Jacqueline L. Aiello successfully defeated a motion for a preliminary injunction by a corporation claiming to own a unit within an HOA and seeking to gain access to the unit. The Firm demonstrated that the plaintiff-corporation did not receive good title to the unit as it purchased the unit from an individual who was not the record owner, that the HOA voted to void the unit’s transfer to the plaintiff based on the significant common charge arrears based on its authority within the governing documents and that a preliminary injunction granting plaintiff access to the unit would drastically change the status quo and further complicate the impending foreclosure on the unit.
- Attorneys Bryan J. Mazzola and Jacqueline L. Aiello obtained a dismissal of a discrimination complaint brought by a former employee of a condominium apartment building who contended he had been discriminated against and terminated due to his marital status, age and ethnicity. In administrative proceedings before the New York State Division of Human Rights, the Firm demonstrated, on behalf of the employer, that the discipline and subsequent termination were attributable to the employee’s poor work performance, including his continued breaches of the Condo’s security protocols, not his membership in a protected class. The Firm also demonstrated that the employee was barred from challenging his termination as an arbitrator already determined that it was proper. The agency dismissed the complaint finding no causal nexus between the discipline/termination and the employee’s marital status, age or national origin, with a finding of “No Probable Cause”.
- Attorneys Bryan J. Mazzola and Jacqueline L. Aiello won dismissal of a discrimination complaint brought by a former employee of a condominium apartment building who contended he had been discriminated against and terminated due to his age and ethnicity. In administrative proceedings before the New York State Division of Human Rights, the Firm demonstrated, on behalf of the employer, that the discipline and subsequent termination were attributable to the employee’s poor work performance, including his continued breaches of the Condo’s security protocols, not his membership in a protected class. Moreover, the Firm demonstrated that the employee was barred from challenging his termination as an arbitrator already determined that it was proper. The agency dismissed the complaint finding no causal nexus between the discipline/termination and the employee’s age or national origin, with a finding of “No Probable Cause”.
- We are proud to announce that Jennifer L. Stewart and Jacqueline L. Aiello have been given the distinct honor of being selected and listed in the 2017 Super Lawyers – New York Metro – Rising Stars list, a list limited to no more than 2.5% of the attorneys in the state.
- Super Lawyers, a Thomson Reuters business, is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The annual selections are made using a patented multi-phase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area. The result is a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys that the Firm is proud to have two of its own exceptional attorneys included in.
- New York attorneys Gary S. Ehrlich and Jennifer L. Stewart established a cooperative apartment corporation’s right to exclusive use and possession of a setback roof, prevailing over a shareholder claiming that, since he could climb out his window and access it, and had been doing so for years, he had the right to use the setback roof as though it were a terrace. The shareholder had placed outdoor furniture, planters and other decorations on the roof and hosted parties there, despite numerous cease and desist notices from the cooperative. The court’s order on summary judgment, however, provided that the cooperative has right, title and interest to the setback portion of the roof and the shareholder does not have a right to occupy, use or enjoy the roof, and enjoining the shareholder and his guest from occupying or using the roof.
- New York attorneys Bryan J. Mazzola and Jennifer L. Stewart obtained a favorable decision from a referee after a three-day fixed issue hearing concerning whether a particular roof repair project was structural or non-structural. This issue determined whether costs were the responsibility of the Condo, if structural, or the individual unit owners, if non-structural. This was a classic “battle of the experts” in which the Firm’s client’s selected expert clearly prevailed.
- New York attorneys Jennifer L. Stewart and Brett Carrick won summary judgment for a Coop, its managing agent, and several board members in a derivative suit concerning Coop governance. Two dissident board members wished to terminate and replace the Coop’s managing agent and general counsel. They presented last-minute board resolutions to that effect, claimed that other board members with relationships to the managing agent were disqualified from voting, then slipped letters under shareholders’ doors overnight introducing a new managing agent. When the rest of the Board explained that the resolutions had failed 2-3 and there would be no change in management, the two dissidents sued. On summary judgment, the Firm demonstrated to the Court that the resolutions had not passed, all board members were entitled to vote, and that voting down the resolutions was plainly in the best interest of the Coop. Thus, the Court granted summary judgment and dismissed the complaint.
- New York attorneys Gary S. Ehrlich and Jennifer L. Stewart negotiated a favorable settlement for a Coop that had been engaged in a 30-year dispute with its Sponsor over voting rights and associated governance issues. The Sponsor, who owned approximately half of the units in the Coop and had been re-acquiring additional units, sought to maintain control of the Board by voting for all seats, notwithstanding restrictions on his right to vote in the offering plan and associated regulations. The Sponsor’s ownership of such a high percentage of units had made financing difficult for those seeking to purchase or refinance their apartments. The Firm negotiated a very favorable settlement under which the Sponsor would resume selling units and reduce his ownership, the reacquired units would not have the special rights of Sponsor units, the Sponsor would pay his arrears in full, and he would vote his shares only for a minority of seats on the Board. Thus, in future, a majority of the Board will be chosen by the independent shareholders, and not the Sponsor.
July 17, 2017
- We are proud to announce that John H. Richards and W. Todd Boyd have been named as winners of the prestigious title of 2017 Florida Legal Elite. John H. Richards, partner in the Firm’s Fort Lauderdale office was named as a 2017 Florida Legal Elite winner in the area of Civil Trials. W. Todd Boyd, managing partner of the Firm from the Miami office was named as a 2017 Florida Legal Elite winner in the area of Commercial Litigation.
July 1, 2017
- 2017 Legislative Session Results in Significant Changes to Community Association Practice
The 2017 legislative session has proven particularly impactful in the realm of community association law. The following provides a concise overview of the most notable laws enacted during the session, all of which are effective as of July 1, 2017, unless stated otherwise:
- HB 1237 – Condominiums
HB 1237, applying exclusively condominiums, criminalizes certain board member activity and prohibits an association and its management company from retaining shared counsel, among many other changes. Specifically, Section 718.111(a) and (d), Florida Statutes now imposes criminal penalties for the following actions: forgery of a ballot envelope, forgery of voting certificate, theft or embezzlement of funds, destruction of an official record, refusing to allow inspection or copying of an official record within certain timeframes, and soliciting, offering, or accepting a kickback. These actions constitute, at a minimum, second degree misdemeanors and up to first degree felonies.
Section 718.111(3)(b) now prohibits an association from hiring an attorney who also represents its management company. This ban on shared counsel will certainly lead to an increase of insurance premiums as carriers will be obligated to retain separate counsel for each insured entity.
In the same vein, acceptable conflicts of interest of association directors and officers are further limited, first requiring the disclosure of “any activity that may reasonably be construed to be a conflict of interest.” A rebuttable presumption of a conflict of interest is established if either any director, officer, or relative of any director or officer enters into a contract for goods or services with the association; or any director, officer, or relative of any director or officer holds an ownership interest in a corporation, LLC, partnership, LLP, or other business entity that conducts business with the association or proposes to enter into a contract or other transaction with the association. Any conflict must be denoted in the contract.
HB 1237 further mandates that condominium associations create and maintain an internet site. The site must be operational by July 1, 2018. This website requirement applies only to associations of 150 or more units.
Section 718.111(12)(a) now delineates additional requirements for record keeping which includes 1) bids be maintained as accounting records for seven years; 2) authorized representatives of members are now permitted to inspect the association’s records; 3) renters have a right to inspect and copy the association’s bylaws and rules; and 4) electronic records of voting must be maintained for one year.
- SB 1520 – Termination of a Condominium Association
SB 1520 delineates specific legislative goals for condominium terminations which includes the maintenance of storm water management systems and managing expenses for same, avoidance of covenants that impair productive use of the land, protection of residents from safety hazards stemming from the condominium property, ensuring fair treatment and just compensation for individuals affected, as well as the preservation of homestead property and rights. Optional terminations in particular are further restricted in this bill as the Division of Condominiums must now make a determination as to whether a condominium’s termination plan satisfies certain statutory requirements as denoted in Section 718.117, Florida Statutes. The Division’s decision must be rendered within 45 days after the receipt of the initial termination plan. Notably, an optional termination plan must be approved by at least 80% of the total voting interests and not objected to by more than 5% of the total voting interest. If more than 5% of the total voting interests object, a subsequent termination plan may not be considered for 24 months after the initial rejection. The plan of termination must also identify each person or entity that owns 25% or more of the units, and if the units are owned by an artificial entity, the person or entity that controls 10% or more of the artificial entity must be disclosed. SB 1520 expressly states that Section 718.117 applies to all Florida condominiums in existence on or after July 1, 2007 and that all amendments to the section clarify existing law.
- SB 398 – Estoppel Certificates
This bill extensively amends Sections 718.116, 719.108, and 720.30851, which govern the preparation and issuance of estoppel letters. Most notably, an association may be bound by an estoppel certificate issued by any board member, authorized agent, or authorized representative of the association including any authorized agent, authorized representative, or employee of a management company authorized to complete this form on behalf of the board or association. In response, associations should implement policies limiting who communicates information on its behalf. An estoppel certificate must now be delivered to the requestor within ten days of the request. An estoppel certificate has an effective period of 30 days if sent by email and 35 days if sent by regular mail.
- HB 1237 – Condominiums
- New York attorneys Bryan J. Mazzola and Jennifer L. Stewart obtained a favorable settlement for landlord in discrimination case brought under the federal Fair Housing Act, as well as state and city human rights laws. In the complaint, professional testers claimed that the building superintendent had refused to show and/or rent them apartments based upon their race.
- Joseph Riopelle obtained a dismissal of a Counter-claim filed by resident against an Orange County Condominium resulting in Counter-Claimant settling the primary claim with the Condominium in full with a release of all claims.
- Attorneys Gary S. Ehrlich and Jennifer L. Stewart won an appeal in New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, from an order improperly granting summary judgment to the plaintiff on liability despite material issues of fact remaining in dispute concerning whether the plaintiff had waived any objection to the alleged breach of a heating agreement. The appellate court remanded for trial on this issue, which enabled the Firm to negotiate a favorable settlement for its client, a cooperative apartment building, including the termination of the heating agreement that had been recorded against the property approximately forty years previously.
- Attorneys Jennifer L. Stewart and Jacqueline L. Aiello successfully defended a condominium and members of its board of managers from a claim by two unit owners arising from alterations performed in their unit. The unit owner plaintiffs sought to compel the condominium and individual board members to arbitrate their various complaints concerning the alteration, including their challenge to liquidated damages imposed pursuant to the alteration agreement for exceeding the alteration schedule provided therein. On BRPC’s motion, the arbitration was dismissed in its entirety because it was not within the scope of the arbitration provisions in the condominium’s governing documents.
- Joseph Riopelle obtained a dismissal with prejudice and substantial findings of fact for his client, the Master Association, which was sued by a sub-association for declaratory and injunctive relief related to the interpretation and application of the Master Association’s governing documents. Joseph successfully defended the validity of numerous provisions of the governing documents and solidified the clients ability to continue to charge assessments and other costs to all sub-associations as provided for in the disputed governing documents. The client may now move forward with the order and findings of fact to refute any future challenges to the validity of the governing documents by any other sub-association.
April 13, 2017
- The Firm won dismissal of a discrimination complaint brought by a former employee of a cooperative apartment building who contended he had been discriminated against due to his race and religion. The employee was terminated while the complaint was pending. In administrative proceedings before the New York State Division of Human Rights, the Firm demonstrated, on behalf of the employer, that the discipline and subsequent termination were attributable to the employees poor attendance and work performance, not his membership in a protected class. The agency dismissed the complaint finding no causal nexus between the discipline and the employee’s race, with a finding of “No Probable Cause”. In April 2017, the Eastern District of New York also rejected the discrimination claim when the former employee sought in forma pauperis status to bring his complaint in federal court.
- Joseph Riopelle obtained a dismissal of two Florida Bar complaints filed against Joseph’s client related to an on-going divorce proceeding.
- Joseph Riopelle successfully defended a Pinellas County condominium against a Charge of Discrimination filed by a resident. The administrative office found that there was no reasonable cause to believe that a discriminatory housing practice occurred related to Petitioner’s allegations. Petitioner did not pursue formal litigation thereafter.
March 31, 2017
- The Firm won dismissal and a “No Probable Cause” finding from the New York State Division of Human Rights with respect to a condominium unit owner’s claim that the Condominium had discriminated against him in connection with efforts to collect delinquent arrears due to the Condominium. The unit owner claimed that the decisions to file a lien against his unit, to commence a collections action for common charge arrears, and to revoke amenities including parking and storage spaces were discriminatory and constituted retaliation against him because he had spoken out concerning a Condominium employee he believed had been improperly terminated. On behalf of the Condominium, the Firm demonstrated that these actions were taken as part of the Condominium’s established process to collect arrears, and not for any discriminatory and retaliatory purpose, and that the other incidental actions the unit owner complained about were similarly unrelated to his race or prior comments. The agency agreed and concluded based upon its investigation that there was “No Probable Cause” to believe that discrimination or retaliation had occurred.
March 24, 2017
- The Firm secured Summary Judgment in favor of the Defendant insurance carrier in a first party property damage case: Plaintiff/insured’s failure to appear for three (3) pre-suit examinations under oath, a condition precedent to bringing suit for Breach of Contract, precluded her recovery under the policy as a matter of law.
March 23, 2017
- The Firm obtained summary judgment for its client on a Brazilian manufacturer’s claim for $3,500,000 in lost profits arising from our client’s alleged failure to timely complete engineering and software work on a fleet management communication system for commercial vehicles.
March 22, 2017
- James K. Parker and Yvette Lavelle successfully defended a Homeowners Association against a multiple count declaratory relief action brought by a homeowner alleging that the Board of Directors of his Homeowners Association violated the Association’s governing documents and Florida Statutes when they went forward with scaling back/postponing portions of a Member approved funding of a multi-million dollar Renovation Project without submitting those modified portions to the Members for Re-vote. The Homeowner further alleged that the Association had mandatory Statutory Reserves or in the alternative its governing documents created mandatory reserves. After trial the Trial Court entered Final Judgment in favor of the Homeowners Association on all counts finding that:
- The Board of the Homeowners Association had the authority to move forward with constructing the improvements and material alterations upon approval by a majority of the Membership and did not have to obtain a second re-vote when certain elements of the Renovation Project were scaled back/postponed;
- The Board’s actions were reasonable and within the Board’s business judgment; and
- The Homeowner’s Association does not have mandatory statutory reserves pursuant to Florida Statute Section 720.303(6) or pursuant to the Homeowner’s Associations governing documents, rather, the Homeowner’s Association has non-statutory voluntary reserves.
- Joseph Riopelle obtained a dismissal of a Petition for Arbitration on behalf of Condominium in southwest Florida. Arguments raised in opposition to the Petition for Arbitration by Joseph, not only obtained dismissal of the Arbitration but also convinced Petitioner to forgo any further formal litigation against the Condominium.
February 9, 2017: Debrincat v. Fischer No.: SC15-1477
- Richard and Jason Debrincat filed the original civil proceeding against a group of defendants. Stephen Fischer was later added as a party defendant, but the Debrincats subsequently dropped Fischer from the underlying proceeding. Fischer then brought an action against the Debrincats for malicious prosecution. The Debrincats moved for summary judgment, arguing that the litigation privilege afforded them immunity for their conduct of joining Fischer as a defendant in the underlying lawsuit. The trial court granted summary judgment and entered a final judgment for the Debrincats. The Fourth District reversed, holding that the litigation privilege cannot be applied to bar the filing of a malicious prosecution claim. The Supreme Court of Florida approved the Fourth District Court of Appeal’s decision, holding that the litigation privilege does not bar the filing of a claim for malicious prosecution that was based on adding a party defendant to a civil suit.
January 12, 2017: Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal Unanimously Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of the Firm’s Client
- Partners Kyle T. Berglin, Esq. and Frank Colonnelli, Jr., Esq. of our Miami office represented a private country club where the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal issued a unanimous ruling affirming the summary judgment entered in favor of the firm’s client. The Plaintiffs, members of the private country club, brought suit challenging the results of a membership vote which approved a $4.2 million enhancement project for three of its golf courses. The project consisted of grass replacement in the fairways and rough, resurfacing and relocating cart paths and curbs, creation of new practice greens, reshaping and dredging of several lakes and renovations and extensions to the driving range complex. The Plaintiffs argued that the procedures used to validate the vote did not comply with the private country club’s governing documents, and that the private country club unlawfully prevented certain membership classes from voting on the project, thus rendering the results invalid. The firm’s lawyers successfully established that the private country club correctly interpreted and applied its governing documents pertaining to the proper voting method and the membership classes eligible to vote on the project. The trial court therefore granted the firm’s motion for summary judgment and ruled that the vote had been validly conducted. On appeal, the Fourth District agreed with the trial court’s conclusions and awarded the private country club attorneys’ fees and costs.
January 9, 2017: Embroidme.com, Inc. v. Travelers Property Casualty Co. of America, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 368 (11th Cir. 2017)
- An insured was sued and incurred over $400,000 in legal fees before notifying its liability carrier and tendering the defense of the lawsuit to its carrier. The liability carrier, upon notification, picked up the defense of its insured but refused to reimburse the insured for the pre-tender legal fees the insured incurred. The court found that Florida’s Claims Administration Statute (Section 627.426 Fla. Stat.) “does not apply to prevent Travelers [insurer] from enforcing a provision of the liability insurance policy that excludes EmbroidMe [insured] from obtaining reimbursement for attorney’s fees it chose to incur prior to requesting Travelers to defend and indemnify it in its pending litigation.” Also important in the holding of Embroidme.com, Inc., the court made the distinction that the Insurer relied on an exclusion, not a coverage defense, in its refusal to pay the insured’s pre-tender legal expenses and thus, the Claims Administration Statute did not control.