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Miller v. Homeland Property Owners Association, Inc.

Florida Court of Appeals, Fourth District

July 31, 2019

EWELL MILLER, Appellant,
v.
HOMELAND PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., MARK LLANO, TODD MINIKUS, AMANDA MINIKUS, MELINDA HUBER, EDWARD HUBER, DANNY CAGLE and JOAN GAGLE, Appellees.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          Appeal from the Circuit Court for the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, Palm Beach County; Peter D. Blanc, Judge; L.T. Case No. 502014CA012132AB.

          Patrick Dervishi of the Shir Law Group, P.A., Boca Raton, for appellant.

          Ryan H. Lehrer and Paul O. Lopez of Tripp Scott, P.A., Fort Lauderdale for appellee Mark Llano.

          W. Todd Boyd, Craig J. Shankman, Jamie Mathew, Elaine D. Walter and Yvette Lavelle, of Boyd Richards Parker & Colonnelli, P.A., Miami, for appellee Homeland Property Owners Association, Inc.

          Warner, J.

         Appellant homeowner, Ewell Miller, appeals from partial final summary judgment in favor of Mark Llano, another homeowner in the community regulated by Homeland Property Owners Association, Inc.[1] We affirm, addressing only the issue of whether disputed issues of material fact precluded the entry of summary judgment and the proper application of the business judgment rule.

         Both appellant and Llano live in a community governed by Homeland Property Owners Association, Inc., whose powers and duties are set forth in the Association's governing documents. The Association's Declaration provides that its Board of Directors shall appoint an Architectural Review Board (ARB), which "shall provide for a systematic and uniform review of all proposed improvements and construction of any type or nature whatsoever" in the community. The homeowners were required to obtain approval of their plans by the ARB, including any proposed changes to the plans, prior to the homeowner commencing any work on his or her premises. The Declaration states that the Association "shall have the authority to enforce those restrictions imposed" under the section regarding the community's prohibited uses. These use restrictions include a maximum building height of thirty-two feet and a prohibition against flat roofs, which are allowed only for patio or pool coverings. Similarly, the Association's by-laws provide that the Association "shall" have various powers, including the power to enforce its Declaration through legal means.

         In February 2012, Llano submitted plans to the Association's ARB for permission to alter his residence by adding a garage, and he was granted approval. The original plans for this addition did not include a request for a flat roof. During the months after these original plans were submitted and approved, the plans were revised multiple times. Llano testified that his completed garage differs from the original plans.

         In late 2012, Llano's garage addition was completed. Over one year later, during unrelated legal proceedings between the Association and other community members, the Association learned that Llano's plans for his garage were revised without prior approval by the ARB.

         In January 2014, the Association sent a letter to Llano, informing him that his revised plans were never submitted and that he violated the Declaration's requirement for the ARB to approve any changes to the plans. The primary concerns with Llano's garage were its height and whether it had a flat roof. Llano then submitted a new application and architectural drawings for his garage addition. The updated plans are not part of this record, and the parties do not point out the exact differences between the original and final versions of the plans. However, the record does contain illustrations of the garage roof, which indicate that the final shape of the roof is a modified, gambrel truss shape. Shortly after Llano submitted these revised plans, Llano retracted his updated application for approval because he felt that his garage, which had been completed for about eighteen months, was compliant with the use restrictions. Llano provided the Association with a letter from an engineering and construction firm, which opined that under Palm Beach County's Unified Land Development Code's method for measuring building height, the garage's height was under the maximum height allowed in the Declaration. The construction firm also concluded that the garage's "roof resembles a gambrel roof similar to a barn roof with a small flat walkway at the top. [This is not considered] a flat roof which is typically flat from one end to the other." Additionally, Llano submitted an April 2014 email from a building official for Palm Beach County to Steve Annuziata, Llano's general contractor, in which the official confirmed the method used to measure the roof's height.

         After reviewing these submissions, the Association's Board approved Llano's garage. In its letter to Llano, it noted that although he failed to timely submit his revised plans, the Association was required to strictly construe its restrictions in favor of allowing him the full use of his property. It specifically noted the opinion of the construction firm regarding the garage's compliance. The board informed Llano that he need not make any further applications for approval. A few days later at a Board meeting, the official minutes show that the Board discussed the above documents that were submitted by Llano, and the Association's own legal counsel also provided an opinion that Llano's garage should be approved. The record also contains an email from the Association's counsel, in which he recommends that the Association approve the garage. Notably, in both the attorney's email and the Association's letter of approval, they note that some sort of additional plans were submitted by Llano to the Association during the construction process, but the ARB apparently did not respond to the submission of these materials.

         Later that same year, appellant sued the Association, bringing multiple claims for breach of contract and injunctive relief against the Association for its alleged failure to enforce its restrictions against various property owners. Although appellant listed these homeowners as defendants, all of the claims are directed against the Association. Claims III and IV deal with the Association's failure to act regarding Llano's property, and Llano was joined as a party to these counts. Under count III, appellant alleged that Llano altered his residence without the required approval by the ARB, and the garage violated the Association's height restriction and prohibition against flat roofs. He claimed that the Association avoided its obligations under its governing documents by making a "business judgment" decision not to proceed against Llano. Under count IV, appellant sought injunctive relief to compel the Association to enforce its covenants and restrictions against Llano.

         After lengthy discovery, the Association filed a motion for final summary judgment, which Llano joined. The Association argued that the enforcement of its governing documents was discretionary, not mandatory, and that the Association reasonably exercised its business judgment when deciding to take enforcement action against any homeowners. For the claims against Llano, the Association admitted that Llano's revised plans were not submitted prior to the completion of his garage, but it noted that it later approved the garage based on the opinion of the construction firm. The approval then was discussed at a board meeting and condoned by the Association's own attorney. The Association contended that the decisions of its Board were protected by the business judgment rule, as corporate directors have broad discretion in performing their duties absent a showing of mismanagement, fraud, or breach of trust. In determining that Llano's garage did not violate the Declaration, the Board used reasonable discretion in implementing its restrictions and determining that the height and shape of ...


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