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Central Carillon Beach Condominium Association, Inc. v. Garcia

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

March 21, 2018

Central Carillon Beach Condominium Association, Inc., et al., Petitioners,
Pedro J. Garcia, etc., et al., Respondents.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          On Petitions for Writs of Certiorari from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County, Monica Gordo, Judge. Lower Tribunal Nos. 16-26521 and 16-26529

          Rennert Vogel Mandler & Rodriguez, P.A., and Thomas S. Ward and Jason R. Block, for petitioners.

          Abigail Price-Williams, Miami-Dade County Attorney, and Jorge Martinez-Esteve and Daija Page Lifshitz, Assistant County Attorneys, for respondent Pedro J. Garcia.

          Before SALTER, EMAS and FERNANDEZ, JJ.

          SALTER, J.

         In these consolidated cases, two condominium associations ("Associations") seek a writ of certiorari quashing orders denying their motions for certification of a class of the defendant unit owners in their respective associations. The plaintiff/respondent in each case is the property appraiser of Miami-Dade County, Florida ("Appraiser"). We treat the cases as appeals from non-final orders determining "whether to certify a class, "[1] and affirm the orders below.

         The interplay between (a) the condominium statute authorizing a condominium association to sue and be sued "on behalf of all unit owners concerning matters of common interest, " section 718.111(3), Florida Statutes (2016), and (b) the statute requiring the "taxpayer" to be the party defendant in a circuit court action brought by a county property appraiser to appeal an administrative determination of the county's value adjustment board, section 194.181(2), Florida Statutes (2016), apparently presents a case of first impression in Florida's appellate courts. As the issue turns on the meaning and application of the two statutes, our review of the circuit court orders denying class certification is de novo. Borden v. East-European Ins. Co., 921 So.2d 587, 591 (Fla. 2006).

         Proceedings Below

         Central Carillon Beach Condominium is condominium with some 140 residential units and various common elements. It is operated and maintained by petitioner/appellant Central Carillon Beach Condominium Association. Similarly, 2201 Collins Avenue Condominium has some 180 residential units and various common elements, all operated and maintained by petitioner/appellant 2201 Collins Avenue Condominium Association.

         For tax year 2015, each of the Associations filed, with the approval of its board of directors, a single joint petition with the Miami-Dade County Value Adjustment Board (the "VAB") challenging the Appraiser's proposed assessments for all of the units within the applicable condominium building.[2] Such a joint petition by an association on behalf of the unit owners is expressly authorized by a provision within the ad valorem tax statutes, though it is subject to (1) a determination by the property appraiser that the units "are substantially similar with respect to location, proximity to amenities, number of rooms, living area, and condition, " and (2) notice by the association to each unit owner of a twenty-day right to opt out of inclusion in the joint petition.[3] These conditions were satisfied in the present case, and the joint petitions were heard administratively and ruled upon by the VAB.

         Each Association obtained, for its respective unit owners, substantial reductions in assessed value in the VAB decision-approximately 20% in the case of Central Carillon, and approximately 40% in the case of 2201 Collins Avenue. As further permitted by the ad valorem statutes, the Appraiser appealed those VAB determinations to the circuit court in separate lawsuits for each condominium. Each lawsuit, however, named each of the individual unit owners as a defendant; it did not sue the applicable Association "on behalf of" all of the unit owners.

         In response, each Association moved to dismiss the lawsuit and to strike the unit owners as defendants. Each Association sought joint representation of all unit owners in its condominium, as a defendants' class action (joint, representative defense, versus the joint, representative petition protesting the assessments, as had been the case before the VAB). The Appraiser opposed the motions to dismiss and moved to default all of the condominium unit owners for failing to file an individual responsive pleading. These motions were further briefed by counsel and then heard on the same day by the trial court.[4]

         The trial court entered separate, but (appropriately) nearly identical orders in each case, denying each Association's motion to dismiss and also denying its motion for certification of the unit owners as a defense class with the ...

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