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Young v. Heins

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

June 1, 2017

PAUL T. YOUNG, Appellant
v.
WILLIAM HEINS, LEAH VIDRINE, EMILY LUECK, AND WAYDE SHIPMAN, Appellees

         On Appeal from the 56th District Court Galveston County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 13-CV-0293-A

          Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Jennings and Bland.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Terry Jennings Justice

         Appellant, Paul T. Young, challenges the trial court's summary judgment orders in favor of appellees, William Heins, Emily Lueck, Leah Vidrine, and Wayde Shipman, the individual members of the Board of Trustees (the "trustees" or the "Board") of The Landing Community Improvement Association, Inc. (the "Association"), on Young's third-party claims against the trustees for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and declaratory judgment. In two issues, Young contends that the trial court erred in granting the trustees summary judgment and severing his claims against them from The Landing Community Improvement Association, Inc. v. Paul T. Young (the "main case").[1]

         We affirm.

         Background

         In his third amended third-party petition, Young alleged that in 1992, he purchased a house in The Landing, a subdivision in League City, Texas, has attempted to abide by the covenants outlined in The Landing's "Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions" ("Deed Restrictions"), and has timely paid his annual maintenance assessments to the Association. "For years, he has been assessed fees, fines, and charges by the [trustees] . . . for allegedly violating Deed Restrictions, which [he] has never violated"; has been "victimized by . . . deliberate, knowing, and intentional unlawful enforcement [of the Deed Restrictions], when there was no proper basis for enforcement actions against him before and during this lawsuit"; and has "undergone continued threats and harassment by [the trustees] . . . to intentionally instill fear in [him] that he might lose his homestead of over twenty years." And Young asserted that the trustees have refused his payments for his annual maintenance assessments "in order to further harass [him], inflict intentional emotional distress, and to cause him mental anguish to ultimately force [him] to move out of The Landing . . . through foreclosure."

         In regard to the Deed Restrictions, Young alleged that in 2003, he replaced the roof of his house; re-painted his house, changing it from a chocolate-brown color to a cream color; replaced all of his siding, windows, and exterior doors; replaced and added new light fixtures to the exterior; and replaced his garage doors. Subsequently, after a storm blew off some of the shingles of his roof, he replaced them with spare shingles that he had purchased when he replaced his roof.

         In January 2012, Young received from the Association's attorney, Michael Treece, a letter "allegedly" written "on the orders of [the trustees], " ordering him to "completely re-roof his home" with materials pre-approved by The Landing's Architectural Control Committee ("ACC"). The Association required that he, within ten days of receiving the letter, submit documentation regarding the proposed roofing material, including style, strength, and color, and, within twenty days of approval, replace his roof. Young, in a letter to Treece, explained that he "faced physical and financial limitations due to disability and being out of work."

         In February and May 2012, Young received from Treece letters in which the Association again ordered him to replace his entire roof with materials preapproved by the ACC. Although Treece did acknowledge Young's concerns and offered a "few months" for him to comply, Treece offered "[n]o hearing or appeal" and labeled each letter as a "final notice."

         Young, in September 2012, again received from Treece a letter in which the Association demanded that he replace his roof with ACC pre-approved materials. It also demanded that he re-paint the trim, fascia boards, and shutters on his house because, it claimed, the paint was faded and peeling. Young denied that the paint on his house was faded or peeling, stated that "only [a] relatively small number of shingles were missing" from his roof, and alleged that other houses in The Landing had weathered, discolored, or missing shingles, or had replacements made with shingles of mixed colors. He also noted that he had replaced individual shingles on his roof with spare shingles left over from the 2003 roof replacement, it would take time for them to weather and match the rest of the roof, and the Deed Restrictions did not require him to completely re-paint or re-roof his house. Moreover, he asserted that the Association's demand that he replace his entire roof was "arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory" and "part of a plan to force [him] from the subdivision."

          Young also, "sometime in 2012, " received from the Association a letter "request[ing]" that he remove a tree stump from his front yard. Although Young complied, he asserted that other homeowners in The Landing had tree stumps in their yards and they did not receive violation letters from the Association.

         Young further alleged that the trustees, "as they became trustees" on the Board, "deliberately and knowingly misapplied" his payments for maintenance assessments for "the years of 2007 through 2011, respectively to who was on the board of trustees at the time." In May 2011, Margaret Eckhardt of AVR Management Consultants, Inc. ("AVR"), [2] a property management company representing the Association, notified Young that he was delinquent in paying his 2011 maintenance assessments. He responded that he had timely "dropped [payment] in the mail slot at the club house the last weekend of January, " as he "ha[d] done many times over 19 years." Eckhardt, in a letter dated May 10, 2011, wrote:

We are in receipt of your letter informing us of the payment made for the year 2011 Maintenance Fees in January. In reviewing your account, I do see where you have always made payments on time and I apologize for this inconvenience.

         And Eckhardt noted that Young's payment may have been "thrown away by mistake." He then provided AVR with a replacement check, which he marked "paid in full, " and, in an accompanying letter, stated that the check would pay his account "in full in its entirety." And the Association "cashed []his check." Young alleged that he had "always" written "paid in full" on the checks to the Association to pay his maintenance assessments.

         After Young, in 2012, had submitted a check to pay his 2012 maintenance assessment, he received from Treece a letter returning his check and claiming that his account had a balance of $487.31 outstanding from 2011. In March 2013, Young re-issued a check for his 2012 maintenance assessment and submitted a check to pay his 2013 maintenance assessment. The trustees, however, returned both checks. Young asserted that the trustees were responsible for his being in arrears on his annual maintenance assessments and for the associated attorney's fees and collection costs. He alleged that the trustees held his checks for months, "so that they could file a lawsuit against [him] to take his home."

         Young brought third-party claims against the trustees for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and for a declaratory judgment. In his claims for breach of fiduciary duty and the duty of good faith and fair dealing, he argued that because the trustees had a fiduciary relationship with him, they owed him a "duty to refrain from self-dealing, a duty of care and loyalty, a duty of full disclosure, a duty to act with the strictest integrity, and the duty of fair, honest dealing." Young further argued that they breached their duties to him because they had claimed that he had violated the Deed Restrictions and Guidelines, knowing that he had not done so, and claimed that he had not timely paid his 2012 and 2013 maintenance assessments, knowing that he had in fact paid them. He asserted that the trustees knew, or should have known, that "harassing him with false Deed Restriction violations" and refusing his 2012 and 2013 maintenance-assessment payments would "cause him to be under extreme emotional distress and mental anguish when he trusted them to show him a duty of good faith and fair dealing, and loyalty." And they knew, or should have known, that he was "injured and susceptible to extreme emotional stress when they caused him to believe he could lose his home."

         Young further claimed that the trustees' refusal to properly apply his maintenance-assessment payments violated the Texas Property Code.[3] And, alternatively, "all debt" that he allegedly owed to the Association up to December 31, 2011 had been "satisfied by the acceptance and processing" of his 2011 check, on which he had written "paid in full" and to which he had appended a letter "verifying" that his account was "paid in full in its entirety."

         In his breach-of-contract claim, Young asserted that the Association, in promulgating the Guidelines, violated the Deed Restrictions by "knowingly attempting to amend, alter, modify, extend, or alter the Deed Restrictions without the required vote of the homeowners." And the trustees "knew or should have known that they did not have the authority to alter the Deed Restrictions in any way without the vote of the [homeowners]."

         In his claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, Young asserted that the trustees, after having been informed of his financial hardship, refused his checks for maintenance assessments, charged him "unlawful fees, " and required that he make over $13, 000.00 in repairs to his house that were not required under the Deed Restrictions. The trustees' conduct was extreme and outrageous, and they intended to harm him financially and personally by forcing him to move from the subdivision. Further, the fear of losing his house caused him extreme emotional distress; he was in pain from multiple surgeries and particularly susceptible to emotional distress; he could not sleep, "especially on days when a letter came from Treece or Eckhardt"; the "continued harassment" by the trustees caused him to be depressed and in "constant fear and worry of losing his home, " which would subside only until the next letter came; and he has "not had any peace" since the Association filed its lawsuit against him in the main case.

         Young generally sought damages in the amount of at least $95, 190.00. And he further sought declarations that

• the Deed Restrictions do not have exterior maintenance guidelines and that the homeowners have not approved any extension of, addition to, or modification of the Deed Restrictions by a vote of the majority[;]
• the [trustees] have used the address at 1109 Landing Blvd., League City, Texas 77573 to conduct transactions between themselves and the homeowner's of the Landing Subdivision . . . [;]
• the [trustees] have instructed the Landing subdivision residents to deposit "money in the drop box (below the mail box)" at 1109 Landing Blvd., League City, Texas 77573[;]
• the [trustees] have received, and on all occasions cashed/processed prior to 2012, payments for assessments made by Young at the "drop box" . . . [;]
• when he deposited the payment for 2012 and 2013 assessments, respectively, in the "drop box" . . . and [the trustees] acknowledged receipt of the payment, that Young had fulfilled his legal obligation to pay assessments under the Deed Restrictions requiring annual payment of his homeowner's fees[;]
• the [trustees] are not entitled to extra fees, expenses, and attorney's fees over and above Young's Assessment payments if Young's payment was received but lost . . . [or] was received but returned unprocessed (not cashed) . . . [;]
• the [Association] failed to comply with all the requirements of the Tex. Prop. Code § 209 [notice ...

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