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Coastal Creek Condominium Association Inc. v. Fla Trust Services LLC.

Florida Court of Appeals, First District

July 16, 2019

Coastal Creek Condominium Association, Inc., Appellant,
v.
Fla Trust Services LLC, as Trustee; Unknown Tenant #1, and Unknown Tenant #2, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.

          On appeal from the Circuit Court for Duval County. Eric C. Roberson, Judge.

          James Roche of McCabe & Ronsman, Ponte Vedra Beach, for Appellant.

          J. Richard Young of Law Office of J. Richard Young, PLLC, Goldenrod, for Appellee Fla Trust Services, LLC.

          LEWIS, J.

         Appellant, Coastal Creek Condominium Association, Inc., appeals the trial court's final summary judgment in favor of Appellee, FLA Trust Services LLC, and raises three issues on appeal. We affirm without discussion as to the first and third issues. Appellant argues in the second issue that the trial court erred in interpreting section 718.116(1)(a), Florida Statutes (2017), to limit the present condominium owner's joint and several liability to assessments and related expenses that came due during the immediate prior owner's ownership. For the reasons that follow, we agree and reverse.

         BACKGROUND

         Tracy Langley and Todd Levraea (the Original Owners) acquired ownership of Unit 142 of Coastal Creek Condominium, the property at issue, by way of a special warranty deed on July 25, 2007. Subsequently, JPMorgan Chase Bank, NA, as mortgagee, obtained a final judgment of foreclosure against the Original Owners, as mortgagors. At the ensuing judicial sale, Homes HQ, LLC (the previous/immediate prior owner) was the successful bidder and a certificate of title was issued to it on June 13, 2016. On July 26, 2016, Homes HQ granted the property by a quit claim deed to FLA Trust (the present owner). In December 2016, the Association recorded a claim of lien against the property.

         In 2017, the Association filed against FLA Trust and Unknown Tenants #1 and #2 a verified complaint for lien foreclosure and damages. The Association alleged that it levied assessments against the property for common expenses during the ownership of FLA Trust and any former owners with whom FLA Trust is jointly and severally liable pursuant to section 718.116, Florida Statutes, and that FLA Trust has failed to pay assessments and related expenses that have come due since August 15, 2015. The Association sought to foreclose its claim of lien for delinquent assessments for FLA Trust's proportionate share of assessments and related expenses.

         In its answer and affirmative defenses, FLA Trust admitted that assessments have come due during its ownership of the property, which are due and owing to the Association, but argued that the Association has demanded payment to which it is not entitled. Specifically, FLA Trust asserted that pursuant to section 718.116(1)(a), Florida Statutes, the present owner shares joint and several liability with only the previous owner and, therefore, FLA Trust's joint and several liability is limited to the assessments that came due during Homes HQ's ownership of the property from June 13, 2016, through July 26, 2016. FLA Trust also filed a counterclaim, in which it argued that upon acquiring ownership of the property, Homes HQ became jointly and severally liable with the Original Owners for all unpaid assessments that came due from July 25, 2007, through June 13, 2016; maintained that FLA Trust is not responsible for assessments that came due during the Original Owners' ownership because section 718.116(1)(a) limits such liability to "the previous owner"; and sought a judgment declaring who is responsible for the assessments and related expenses incurred during the Original Owners' ownership.

         The Association and FLA Trust filed competing motions for final summary judgment, disputing whether pursuant to section 718.116(1)(a) FLA Trust's joint and several liability is limited to assessments that came due during Homes HQ's ownership or also encompasses assessments that came due during the Original Owners' ownership. At the hearing on the parties' motions, the trial court explained that the disputed issue concerned the amount FLA Trust owed in assessments-all the prior unpaid assessments, as contended by the Association, or only the assessments that came due during its ownership and the immediate prior owner's ownership, as argued by FLA Trust-, and the parties agreed that the issue was dispositive. Much of the discussion at the hearing focused on the Third District's Aventura Management, LLC v. Spiaggia Ocean Condominium Association, Inc., 105 So.3d 637 (Fla. 3d DCA 2013), line of cases interpreting the 2013 version of the statute. The trial court ultimately interpreted section 718.116(1)(a) as limiting FLA Trust's joint and several liability to assessments that came due during the immediate prior owner's ownership. The court explained that it felt bound to follow the Third District's decisions interpreting the statute in that manner, and were it not for those decisions, it would interpret the statute such that Homes HQ's liability for unpaid assessments that came due during the Original Owners' ownership flowed to FLA Trust. Accordingly, the trial court entered a final summary judgment in favor of FLA Trust. This appeal followed.

         ANALYSIS

         An order granting summary judgment is reviewed de novo. Convergent Techs., Inc. v. Stone, 257 So.3d 161, 166 (Fla. 1st DCA 2018). Likewise, an issue of statutory interpretation is reviewed de novo. Whitney Bank v. Grant, 223 So.3d 476, 479 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017). The polestar of statutory interpretation is legislative intent, which is to be determined by first looking at the actual language used in the statute. Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley, etc. v. State, 209 So.3d 1181, 1189 (Fla. 2017). If the statutory language is clear and unambiguous, the court may not resort to the rules of statutory construction and the statute must be given its plain and obvious meaning. Id. The court must give effect to all parts of the statute and avoid readings that would render a part thereof meaningless, and it must read all parts of a statute together in order to achieve a consistent whole. Id. The court may not construe a statute in a way that would extend, modify, or limit its express terms or its reasonable or obvious implications. Id. The statute's plain meaning must control, unless it leads to an unreasonable result or a result that is clearly contrary to legislative intent. Id. If the statutory language is ambiguous, however, the court should look to the rules of statutory construction to help interpret legislative intent, which may include the examination of the statute's legislative history. Hardee Cty. v. FINR II, Inc., 221 So.3d 1162, 1165 (Fla. 2017). Additionally, "amendments enacted shortly after controversies as to the interpretation of the original act arise may be considered useful guidance for the original intent." Id. at 1166-67.

         Section 718.116(1)(a), Florida Statutes (2017), which is part of the ...


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