A Texas appellate court has ruled that the Garden Oaks Maintenance Organization can’t enforce its deed restrictions against one resident. However, the ruling also said GOMO still has authority and standing to enforce the neighborhood’s bylaws.
The result is that the case of GOMO vs. Peter and Katherine Chang has done nothing to clarify whether GOMO can enforce any of the deed restrictions in the neighborhood.
In 2012, GOMO filed suit against the Changs, seeking to stop an additional two-car garage they built. Not only did they seek a permanent injunction, they also sought damages for every day the extra garage door was still standing. In the suit, GOMO claimed the deed restrictions did not allow a second garage.
A trial court disagreed, but not because of verbiage in the Garden Oaks deed restrictions. Instead, the trial court ruled that the Changs didn’t have to abide by the restrictions because GOMO was an “invalid” organization. Specifically, the court said the Changs proved that GOMO was not formed legally.
The trial court also ruled the Garden Oaks bylaws had “no force and effect” against the Changs, and that GOMO did not have “authority or standing to pursue legal action” against the Changs for “any alleged deed restrictions in the Garden Oaks Section Three.”
But last week, in a 38-page opinion, the 14th Court of Appeals overturned two of the key rulings from the trial court.
“Because the Changs did not meet their burden… we conclude the trial court erred in declaring that GOMO’s bylaws have no force and effect against the Changs,” the opinion said.
And in the fourth issue of the case – whether GOMO has the legal standing and authority to enforce the neighborhood’s bylaws – the appellate court overturned the trial court.
“…We conclude that GOMO, as an association, has standing to bring suit against the Changs for the purported garage deed-restriction violation. Therefore, the trial court erred in declaring that GOMO has no standing,” read the court’s opinion.
The same was true for GOMO’s legal “authority.”
“…The trial court erred in declaring that GOMO has no authority,” wrote Justice Marc W. Brown.
Where that leaves both sides of this case is confusing.
One of the Chang’s attorneys, Shawn McKee, said he did not want to comment on the ruling. He did, however, say the first two declarations of both the trial and appellate courts were the most important for his clients. Those declarations, in essence, said the Changs did not have to demolish their second garage because GOMO was an invalid and ineffective committee.
The Changs also asked for attorney’s fees in the case, and the appellate court agreed with the trial court that attorney’s fees should not be granted.
One of GOMO’s attorneys, W. Austin Barsalou, said his client is still reviewing the ruling.
“The association has just gotten this opinion, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to say what they are considering yet,” Barsalou said. He did point out that the appellate court’s ruling allows for the deed restrictions to stay, whether or not GOMO is deemed to be a legal organization.
McKee, the Chang’s attorney, said there were no plans to appeal the court’s ruling. Barsalou, representing GOMO, said he did not know if his client would consider appealing to the Texas Supreme Court.
If there is no appeal, the legal status of GOMO would still appear to be in limbo, while the deed restrictions, and the standing and authority of GOMO to enforce those deeds does not seem to be in question.