How a Miami Suit Grew So Contentious,

No One Knew Who Won

Article Courtesy of The Daily Business Review
By Samantha Joseph

Published May 11, 2017


After years of litigation, there's finally a winner in a legal fight pitting a Miami condominium association against two unit owners over whether receivers can vote in place of delinquent unit owners.

The dispute grew so contentious it cycled through three judges, attorney substitutions and multiple receivers before landing as a consolidated appeal before a state judicial panel to determine who won and was entitled to attorneys fees.

After about four years of litigation, the association appeared victorious on the substantial issues, winning a final judgment for attorneys fees and costs in May 2015.

But that changed April 26 when the Third District Court of Appeal picked a new winner.

"We find that the owners prevailed on those issues," Judge Vance E. Salter wrote for a judicial panel that vacated the final judgment.

Defendant International Park Condominium I Association Inc. had litigated with Maria Gonzalez and Ida Leal for years following the members' suit over voting procedures at the property at 11780 SW 18th St. in Miami. A year earlier, the association had petitioned for a receiver after 75 of its 312 units fell behind on association payments.

Judge Vance E. Salter of the Third District Court of Appeal.

The court approved the request and later granted the receiver authority to vote for the units with past-due fees.

That move spawned the first lawsuit—a bid by Gonzalez for an emergency motion to limit the receiver's voting power in 2013.

The plaintiff's first attempt fizzled when the court agreed with the association that the issues raised were res judicata, and granted the defendant's motion to dismiss. But Gonzalez filed an amended complaint that survived a second challenge.

Fellow plaintiff Teal followed with a separate action to compel the association to comply with its bylaws, articles of incorporation, declaration of condominium and other rules stripping voting rights from units with unpaid balances.

Three Miami-Dade Circuit Court judges — Rodney Smith, Victoria S. Sigler and Judith L. Kreeger — presided over the litigation as the cases transferred to various sections.

The court consolidated the suits in 2014, but not before it discharged the initial receiver for cause and appointed a successor. A second receiver suffered a similar fate, with removal on the court's own motion. A third receiver stepped in, but this time without the power to vote on behalf of unit owners with delinquent accounts.

"Through no fault of any of the circuit judges who ruled in the two consolidated cases, three different judges heard different aspects of the cases at different times," Salter wrote in a unanimous decision with Third DCA Chief Judge Richard J. Suarez and Judge Edwin A. Scales III. "The last circuit judge to hear the cases ruled on the attorney's fee motions and cannot be faulted for lacking the full four-year history of the cases."

The appellate court remanded the consolidated cases to enter a final judgment that denies the association's motion for attorneys' fees and costs.

Miami attorney Javier Guadayol represented Gonzalez and Leal.

William G. Essig of Essig Law in Miami represented International Park Condominium I Association.