Fifth District reverses judgment in homeowners association dispute

By Erianne Leatherman | Apr 12, 2018

MOUNT VERNON – A ruling in favor of property owners in a case involving homeowners association dues has been reversed by the Fifth District Appellate Court.

In the decision filed April 11, Judges Melissa Chapman, John Barberis and Richard Goldenhersh reversed St. Clair County Associate Judge Chris Kolker’s summary judgment ruling involving a dispute between the Briars subdivision homeowners association in Millstadt and lot owners.

Ralph Weilbacher Jr. developed the Briars subdivision on his land and drafted a final plat for 46 lots on June 3, 1999, prior to their sale. The final plat listed two statements about property maintenance. The final plat also included two pages of restrictions. In 2001, Weilbacher amended the subdivision restrictions and the lot owners voted to incorporate The Briars Property Owners Association and adopted bylaws; the first board meeting was held in 2002.

Afterward, tennis court, lighting and lake repair dues were assessed each year and special assessments passed in 2004, court documents state. In 2013, some owners stopped paying annual dues and special assessments, and the homeowners association filed a petition against the defendants.

The homeowners association retained lawyer Jay Dowling, who filed a petition against lot owner defendants, seeking damages in miscellaneous relief court, court documents state. The owners then filed a motion for summary judgment arguing Weilbacher was not authorized to amend restrictions, that supplemental restrictions were invalid, that the homeowners association was invalid because it did not have bylaws, which were enacted before it was incorporated, among other arguments. The lower court agreed, and the association appealed.

 On review, the appellate court found many mistakes in the homeowners association paperwork.

“First, we conclude that paragraph 35 of the 2001 restrictions does not mandate 100% consent of the lot owners in order to enact the 2001 restrictions,” the court stated. “That paragraph clearly only applies to future amendments or revocations. It is nonsensical to declare that an amendment policy within the 2001 amended restrictions is applicable to the passage of those very restrictions.” 

The lower court relied on Exchange National Bank of Chicago v. City of Des Plaines for its decision but the appellate court disagreed.

"Overall, Exchange National Bank of Chicago is factually and legally distinguishable from the facts of this case and the court’s reliance on the case is misplaced," the ruling states. "Here, Weilbacher amended the restrictions; he did not attempt to revoke the restrictions as the majority of the lot owners did in Exchange National Bank of Chicago. In finding that Exchange National Bank of Chicago supported entry of summary judgment, the court stated that there was no difference between an amendment of a restriction and a revocation of a restriction.”

In conclusion, “We have thoroughly reviewed the record in this case and conclude that there are genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. In addition, we have found legal support for Weilbacher’s retained right to amend the restrictions and conclude that the cases cited by the court and the defendants in opposition are distinguishable. For the foregoing reasons, we reverse the judgment of the St. Clair County circuit court and remand for further proceedings.”

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