Thursday, February 06, 2020

Aldea Dos Vientos v. CalAtlantic Group (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 6, 2020)

There are already a half-dozen published opinions from the California Court of Appeal today, and the day's only half over.  Fortunately, the Ninth Circuit published nothing today, so it's just the state court today that keeps us busy.

Plus, as a bonus, the first opinion of the day starts with a joke.  Or at least what passes for a joke in the lofty circles in which we travel.  Justice Gilbert begins the opinion by saying:

"It is reputed that condominium projects have three phases—planning, building, and the lawsuit."

Love it.

It's a nice little holding as well.  Which Justice Gilbert concisely explains as follows:

"A condominium association sued the developer alleging construction defects. The association’s governing documents require arbitration of such disputes and a vote of at least 51 percent of the association’s membership prior to beginning arbitration. The association began arbitration without obtaining a vote of its members. Later, the members overwhelmingly voted to pursue the arbitration. The arbitrator dismissed the arbitration for lack of a membership vote prior to its commencement. The trial court confirmed the award and entered judgment for the developer. We reverse. We disagree with Branches Neighborhood Corp. v. CalAtlantic Group, Inc. (2018) 26 Cal.App.5th 743 which holds otherwise."

It's a good set of facts for the Court of Appeal's holding.  In the ultimate vote of the homeowners, 99 percent agreed to go forward with the arbitration.  Given that overwhelming support, it does seem a bit hypertechnical to say the vote's no good because it didn't predate the commencement.

Regardless, I think the California Supreme Court should grant review in this one.  It's not just that there's (1) an express split in the Court of Appeal, (2) regarding an issue that's likely to come up in numerous other cases.  Those interests are often sufficient by themselves to justify review.

But here, not only do these two factors exist, but (as the Court of Appeal notes), the case that today's opinion disagrees with involved nearly identical fact as the one here as well as involved the same developer and arbitrator.  Which just concretely demonstrates that, unless the split is resolved, the outcome of future cases will be decided by the whim of appellate panel assignment.

So while it may not be the most interesting case in the universe, it's one that needs a definitive answer.  And one that the California Supreme Court can probably give without too much trouble.  It's a discrete issue and a relatively important one for the relevant industry.

So go ahead and take it up.

(Even though that means the joke will no longer be binding precedent.)