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Atkinson v. Harbor Homeowners Association, Inc.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

May 24, 2017

ALICE ATKINSON, DAVID WELLS, AND JOHN MCHUGH
v.
HARBOR HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., BOARD OF DIRECTORS, MICHAEL GEORGE, PETE INGRASSIA, LISA SCHULER; AND BONNIE LOFTIS, AS PRESIDENT OF FONTAINE MANAGEMENT COMPANY (MANAGERS OF HARBORVIEW CONDOMINIUMS)

         APPEAL FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NO. 2013-10431, DIVISION "G-11" Honorable Robin M. Giarrusso, Judge

          Pierre V. Miller, II Patrick H. Patrick PATRICK, MILLER, L.L.C. COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT.

          Caleb H. Didriksen, III Erin Bruce Saucier Carl A. "Trey" Woods, III Michael S. Finkelstein DIDRIKSEN, SAUCIER, WOODS & PICHON, PLC COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE.

          Court composed of Judge Edwin A. Lombard, Judge Roland L. Belsome, Judge Daniel L. Dysart

          DANIEL L. DYSART, JUDGE

         Alice Atkinson and David Wells instituted actions for declaratory judgment and mandamus against the Harborview Homeowners Association, Inc.; Michael George, Pete Ingrassia, Lisa Schuler, as members of the Association's board; and, Bonnie Loftis, as president of Fontaine Management Company (hereinafter "defendants" or "association"). Subsequently, an Amended Petition for Writ of Mandamus, Declaratory Judgment and Damages was filed by Alice Atkinson and John McHugh, plaintiff/appellants ("plaintiffs") herein.[1] On May 25, 2016, the trial court rendered summary judgment dismissing all of plaintiffs' claims. Plaintiffs appealed, and defendants answered the appeal complaining that the award of attorney fees for plaintiffs' successful mandamus claim was excessive.

         For the reasons that follow, we affirm the judgment in part, reverse the judgment in part, and remand this matter for further proceedings.

         BACKGROUND:

         Initially, Atkinson and Wells sought a declaratory judgment relative to the composition and operation of the board of directors of the association. They also sought a temporary restraining order to prohibit the board of directors from taking any further actions, including spending monies in the association's account and assessing fines against property owners, until the court appointed a special master to conduct an annual meeting, and sought discovery of numerous documents allegedly held by the board of directors.

         The trial court denied the request for a temporary restraining order and injunctions. Plaintiffs Atkinson and McHugh filed an amended Petition for Writ of Mandamus, Declaratory Judgment and Damages. The writ of mandamus sought to have the association produce its membership roll for examination, to have the court declare certain board members ineligible to serve, and to declare plaintiff McHugh eligible to serve on the board. They also requested the court to invalidate all business conducted while an allegedly illegally constituted board was in place, in particular, amendments to the original bylaws. Ms. Atkinson sought damages, including attorney fees and costs.

         Defendants filed exceptions including improper cumulation, unauthorized use of summary proceedings, prematurity, lack of procedural capacity and no right of action. The trial court overruled all of the exceptions as they pertained to Ms. Atkinson's petition for writ of mandamus, and ordered defendants to produce the membership records. The court granted Ms. Atkinson's request for attorney fees and costs, the amount to be determined at a later date.

         Another judgment was rendered on August 13, 2015 granting in part a motion to compel filed by plaintiffs, awarding them limited court costs. Additionally, the judgment indicated that defendants' exceptions of lack of procedural capacity and no right of action were withdrawn, and the exceptions of improper cumulation and unauthorized use of summary proceedings were also withdrawn, reserving their right to object to any new summary proceedings. Defendants' exception of prematurity was deferred pending a ruling by the court on the validity of the associations' bylaws. Last, summary judgment was granted in part, finding that Michael George was eligible to serve on the association's board. The judgment denied summary judgment as to the validity of the amended bylaws, and deferred John McHugh's request to be deemed eligible to serve on the board.

         On November 19, 2015, the trial court ruled on the request for attorney fees and costs relative to the Ms. Atkinson's writ of mandamus. The court awarded $7, 822.41. Defendants asked for a new trial, which was denied ex parte on December 1, 2015. On December 31, 2015, defendants filed a Notice of Intent to Seek Supervisory Writ, and was given a return date of February 5, 2016. No writ was filed in this Court.

         Defendants filed a second Motion for Summary Judgment on March 28, 2016, seeking dismissal of all of plaintiffs' claims arguing that no genuine issues of fact remained. The trial court rendered a judgment on May 25, 2016, ruling that the vote of the association to amend its bylaws was valid and was retroactive to the date filed in the Orleans Parish conveyance records (12/23/13), and dismissing all of plaintiffs' claims, with ...


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