Florida Homeowner's Association Sues Resident For Critical Blog Comments, Seeks Identity Of Other Commenters
from the but-of-course dept
I’m not sure what it is about “Homeowners Associations” (HOAs), but I can’t recall ever coming across one which didn’t involve all sorts of acrimony. A few years back, I lived in a house that was a part of a (mandatory) HOA. I was renting, so I didn’t really care or pay much attention to any details. And then, one day I found a bright yellow document sitting on my front step, which had a long and rambling letter from a neighbor who apparently was challenging the HOA on something and the fight had escalated. He had placed the letter on the front steps of every single house in our neighborhood. While I don’t even recall what the argument itself was about, I do recall him explicitly asking that the police be present at the next HOA meeting, and the phrase: “I fear my life will be taken; I fear my wife will become a widow; if this situation is not brought under control.” The whole thing seemed so bizarre to me — who would ever take an HOA so seriously? — that I remember telling people about that phrase, and it’s stuck with me.
And the thing is, every time I ever hear anything about HOAs, it always seems to involve some similar crazy story. A few months back, we wrote about an HOA president in Indiana going ballistic with bogus legal threats towards pretty much anyone who criticized him. And now, here’s a story out of Naples, Florida, where an HOA for “Fiddler’s Creek” is using homeowners’ fees to sue one of their own homeowners, a resident named James Schutt, because he made some comments the HOA board members don’t like on a blog about the community.
You can see the actual comments in the original lawsuit. I read them over and my first reaction was “they’re suing over that?!” Basically, it sounds like a typical HOA fight. Schutt isn’t thrilled with how the HOA is being run, and he accuses them of failing their fiduciary responsibility, and he feels that some of the things the HOA pays for — such as management — are excessive and possibly corrupt. You see these kinds of things all the time. Even if they’re not exactly true, they’re standard rhetorical hyperbole that happens online. Get over it and move on. Instead, the HOA sued.
It seems pretty clear that this is a SLAPP lawsuit, designed to shut up Schutt and potentially other critics. Schutt is being defended by Marc Randazza (a name many of you will hopefully recognize) who let us know that the HOA is seeking to depose the blogger and are trying to “out” other anonymous commenters on the blog (to clarify, Schutt is not the blog owner, but was merely a commenter). The fact that the HOA is now trying to out other anonymous commenters certainly adds weight to the idea that this is a SLAPP suit designed to shut up critics. The blogger is pushing back but the anonymous commenters themselves might want to find some legal representation to protect their own rights as well, and to make sure that their identities aren’t disclosed due to baseless threats that seem designed solely to create a chilling effect on critics of the HOA.
Did I mention that I no longer live anywhere near an HOA… and I have fantastic neighbors who all seem to get along splendidly with each other?