SARASOTA – Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of a homeowners’ association.

The appeals court ruling follows a July 2016 decision by the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. The circuit court granted the Southfield Subdivision Maintenance and Property Owners’ Association’s motion for summary judgment against homeowner Toni Sexton, also awarding it reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

The homeowners’ association had filed its complaint against Sexton in June 2014, alleging she was in violation of the association’s bylaws because “shrubbery on the property is overgrown, the trees need to be trimmed, a piece of the facia needs to be painted and there are cars parked on the lawn and the curb,” the complaint said. 

The plaintiff sought an order requiring Sexton to perform the necessary repairs and maintenance to make her property comply with the association’s rules, along with its court costs and attorney’s fees.

In an opinion filed April 19, however, the appeals court reversed the judgment and remanded the case.

“At the time of the summary judgment motion’s hearing, the court had before it affidavits from both the association and Ms. Sexton… Although succinct in their respective renderings of the facts, these conflicting affidavits clearly evinced disputed issues about the condition of  Ms. Sexton’s property and her compliance with the association’s recorded restrictions," the court wrote.

In its motion for summary judgment, the association had argued that although Sexton had addressed most of the violations of which she was accused, since the plaintiff had filed its lawsuit, “such violations are capable of repetition, (so) the Association is entitled to the entry of an injunction, requiring that Sexton continue to comply with the Governing Documents as to the issues raised in the Complaint.”

With its motion, the association included affidavits claiming that since cleaning up her property after the initial complaint filling, she had “again allowed the property to fall into a state of violation of the Governing Documents.”

Sexton, meanwhile, provided a separate affidavit certifying that all of the alleged violations had been resolved “and are maintained on a consistent basis.”

In its opinion, the appeals court quoted the decision from Dade County School Board v. Radio Station WQBA, noting that “It is a well-settled principle of Florida jurisprudence that summary judgment should not be granted unless the facts are so clear and undisputed that only questions of law remain.” 

The decision cites several other cases that found that conflicting affidavits are enough reason to deny a motion for summary judgment, therefore the court concluded “Ms. Sexton’s argument that the circuit court improvidently entered summary judgment against her is well taken.”

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