CHARLESTON – A Morgan County man has lost his appeal to the state Supreme Court and will have to pay the attorneys fees and costs for the homeowners’ association he brought suit against.
Keith William DeBlasio filed separate actions against the homeowners’ association of the subdivision where he lives and against individual members of the association and its attorney.
In both actions, DeBlasio represented himself.
According to the memorandum opinion filed by the Court on Dec. 7, DeBlasio’s suit against the Cold Spring Forest Homeowners Association “alleged a failure to maintain association records and a failure to allow him to review the records.”
“In the civil action against the homeowners’ association’s individual members and its attorney, petitioner alleged the following: (1) failure to conduct business as a legal entity; (2) failure to file required articles and by-laws; (3) failure to maintain association records; (4) failure to allow him to review the records; (5) failure to conduct required annual meeting; (6) misappropriation of funds; and (7) property damage as a result of Mr. Lambert’s snow plowing," the opinion says.
The association and individual defendants filed a motion to dismiss in both actions arguing that DeBlasio did not have standing to file suit because he was not an owner of a lot within the subdivision during the times he alleged in the complaints.
A hearing on both matters was held on March 25, 2011. To the Court’s questions regarding the assertion that he owned no property during the period in question, DeBlasio answered, “I would say that I was not on the deed.”
In an order dismissing the suits, the circuit court found that “the Plaintiff lacks legal standing to maintain either civil action before this court... (and) the Plaintiff cannot establish an injury in fact of a legally protected interest.”
Court records note that DeBlasio was a long-time resident of the subdivision and that he first had an ownership interest in a lot from 2001 to 2003 and also had a diminutive fee simple interest in two lots within the subdivision after July 2, 2010.
After the hearing dismissing the two actions, the homeowners’ association filed a motion for sanctions, attorneys fees and costs to be assessed against DeBlasio.
The judge, ruling from the bench at the Aug. 24, 2011, hearing, stated, “Petitioner, although he is a pro se litigant and is representing himself, has a very agile intelligence and is perfectly capable representing himself in a lawyer-like manner... so we feel that perhaps more so than any other pro se case we can remember, this matter has been pretty fully laid before the Court.
“But, the Court, this Court, stands by its ruling that he did not have standing to raise the issue and as such that issues as raised and litigated did constitute and do constitute a vexatious, wanton, oppressive litigation which when asserted against a very small association with a very small minimal annual income is burdensome in the extreme and as such the Court finds that your motion for sanctions in the form of attorney’s fees... is well taken.”
The court awarded $5,276.25 in attorney’s fees and DeBlasio appealed to the state Supreme Court on the award of attorney’s fees and the circuit court’s finding of lack of standing.
On the issue of standing, the Supreme Court wrote, “Petitioner admitted to not owning an interest in a lot within the subdivision from 2003 to July of 2010. In its ruling from the bench, the circuit court found that a reading of the complaints that they alleged misconduct 'during the period of [petitioner’s] non-ownership.'
"(T)his Court concludes that the circuit court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendants, because of lack of standing, in each of petitioner’s two actions should be affirmed.”
DeBlasio asserted that he made a “valid and colorable argument in both fact and law” and he made procedural claims that he alleged denied him the opportunity to correct his complaints, presumably justifying his legal action and forming a basis for the award of attorneys fees and costs to be overturned.
“A court may order payment by an attorney to a prevailing party of reasonable attorney fees and costs incurred as the result of his or her vexatious, wanton, or oppressive assertion of a claim... that cannot be supported by a good faith argument for the application, extension, modification, or reversal of existing law," the opinion says.
“After careful consideration of the parties’ arguments, this Court concludes that the circuit court did not err in awarding the homeowners’ association its attorney’s fees and costs in the amount of $5,276.25.”