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Ruggiero v. Valleybrook Homeowners' Association

May 30, 2008

GREGORY RUGGIERO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
VALLEYBROOK HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION, INC.; BOARD OF DIRECTORS OF VALLEYBROOK HOMEOWNERS' ASSOCIATION INC.; JOHN J. QUINESSO, JR.; BETH WEST-REISS; PLAYERS PLACE I CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, INC.; AND PLAYERS PLACE II CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION, INC., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Camden County, Docket No. C-139-06.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Argued May 6, 2008

Before Judges Skillman, Winkelstein and Yannotti.

Valleybrook is a six-community, 1038-unit planned real estate development in Gloucester Township, Camden County. Each of the six Valleybrook communities is governed by its own condominium or homeowners' association. Those communities include defendants Players Place I and Players Place II, both condominiums, St. Andrews, also a condominium, and Links I, Links II and Glen Eagles, where properties are owned in fee simple. Defendant Valleybrook Homeowners' Association (VBHOA) is the association for the entire development, which owns and operates a recreation center for use by members of the six communities.

Residents of the six communities pay charges both to their respective association and to the VBHOA. This appeal involves the method of collection of the VBHOA charges, which were $170 per year at the time the case was brought before the trial court.

The VBHOA annual charges are governed by Section 5.07 of its Declaration of Covenants, which provides in pertinent part:

A. Annual Charges payable by each Residential Owner shall be the same charges as are paid by any other Residential Owner. . . .

C. Annual charges shall be assessed on an annual basis but shall be payable in monthly installments of one-twelfth (1/12) of the annual charge. . . . The Board of Directors shall also have the power to assess annual charges other than on a monthly basis.

D. The Board of Directors shall have the power to alter the annual charges as is set forth in this Section 5.07, provided that such alternate method is fair and equitable to the Owners.

Under the system now in effect at Valleybrook, the owners of properties in the Glen Eagles, Links I and II and St. Andrews communities are required to pay their entire annual $170 VBHOA charges directly to VBHOA by February 1 of each year. However, the owners of properties in the Players Place communities are permitted to pay their VBHOA charges through monthly payments to their condominium associations, which then make monthly payments to the VBHOA.

These arrangements for the payment of the VBHOA charges by the property owners in the Players Place communities have been in effect for nearly twenty years. In fact, the public offering statements for the condominiums in those communities indicated that the VBHOA charges would be paid by the condominium associations out of condominium common expense funds.

Plaintiff Gregory Ruggiero is the owner of a condominium in the St. Andrews community and a past president of the VBHOA. After expressing objections to the method of collection of the VBHOA annual charges from the owners of the properties in the Players Place communities and unsuccessfully seeking arbitration of the matter, plaintiff brought this action against the VBHOA, its Board of Directors and two individual Board members, John J. Quinesso, Jr. and Beth West-Reiss. His complaint alleged that the defendants had breached a "fiduciary duty to the members of VBHOA to enforce the provisions of the Declaration and By-Laws pertaining to collection of annual charges, penalties and late fees[.]" He sought an order requiring uniform enforcement of the "provisions pertaining to collection of annual charges, penalties and late fees." The Players Place condominium associations intervened in the action as defendants.

The case was brought before the trial court by cross-motions for summary judgment. The court denied plaintiff's motion and granted ...


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