LAKELAND — A Florida appeals court recently reversed a lower court's decision in a case involving liens on condominium units.
The Florida 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Business Law Group, et al, reversing the Circuit Court for Pasco County's decision on AGM Investors LLC's third-party claims of abuse of process and related torts.
This case stems from Business Law Group's efforts to collect unpaid condominium association assessments on behalf of Glendale Villas Condominium Association.
In 2008, the association hired LM Funding LLC to collect unpaid assessments from unit owners that were in arrears, according to court documents. In that effort, the association authorized LM Funding to hire the Business Law Group to represent the association in the collection of assessments and lien enforcement.
In 2009, a lawsuit was filed by the Business law Group to recoup money owed by a lien on a unit owned by LL 194 Investors, which failed to make payments from 2006 onwards.
When LL 194 Investors also failed to pay its real estate taxes, the unit at Glendale Villas in Land O' Lakes, was sold at a public auction to AGM, which meant that the association had no further claims to liens placed on the unit.
"Business Law Group wrote to AGM a few days after the tax deed was issued demanding that AGM pay them and notifying AGM of its intent to record a claim of lien against the unit,” according to the court document.
Business Law Group argued that the "law concerning the effect of a tax deed sale on a lien for unpaid assessments was unclear at the time of the actions at issue in this appeal," court records state.
Over the years, five cases of units sold involving the parties were argued in court, three of which were represented by Business Law Group and two under new representation when the law group withdrew.
After more months of legal wrangling, AGM countersued Business Law Group, which wanted to include all five units in a blanket third-party claim.
"AGM served an answer coupled with counterclaims against the association and third-party claims against LM Funding and Business Law Group,” according to the appeals court ruling. "The five claims against Business Law Group were for abuse of process, malicious prosecution, and slander of title for its filing of multiple claims of lien based on an assessment lien that had been extinguished by the tax deed, by the association's failure to file suit within ninety days of AGM's notice of contest on the second claim of lien, and by the final judgment in the quiet title action.”
Business Law Group filed a motion for summary judgment on all of AGM's tort claims against it, arguing that its "preparation and filing of each of the five claims of lien was subject to the absolute privilege applicable to conduct in connection with judicial proceedings—known as the litigation privilege or the judicial proceedings privilege.”
The trial court agreed and found in favor of the Business Law Group for all third-party claims. AGM appealed.
Upon appeal, the court reversed the decision, ruling that, among other reasons, "the filing of each individual claim of lien occurred at different points with respect to pending and possible future judicial proceedings and cannot be considered one blanket act for the purposes of determining whether the litigation privilege applies.”
The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.