Case Study –
Federal Point Yacht Club Association v. Gregory Moore (North Carolina)
There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon for associations struggling with what to do about obnoxious – even hostile – residents who scoff at the fines and suspensions typically used to try and bring them back into line. Gregory Moore did that and then some at the Federal Point Yacht Club where he lives in Carolina Beach. In a recent opinion, the NC Court of Appeals sent a clear message to Moore that if he doesn’t mend his ways he may face more than a simple fine and the loss of a few privileges – he might be held in contempt of court.
WARNING: Some of what you are about to read may not be suitable for children!
The Problem and the Association’s Efforts to Deal with It (Him)
Federal Point Yacht Club is a residential waterfront community governed by a recorded Declaration of Covenants, as well as adopted Bylaws and a collection of community Rules and Regulations. On January 17, 2012, the Club filed suit against one of its members, Gregory Moore, alleging a shocking pattern of misconduct in violation of the Club’s rules and regulations. Specifically, the Club cited numerous instances in which Mr. Moore defaced community property with urine and feces, allowed his dog to run without a leash, failed to follow Club rules with respect to parking and storing his boat trailer, hurled profanity and made offensive gestures toward various members of the community, and even threatened certain members of the board with physical injury and death.
Prior to filing suit in January of 2012, the Club’s board met on at least two separate occasions in an effort to deal with Mr. Moore’s misconduct using the typical avenues provided by the Club’s governing documents. At the first hearing on March 4, 2011, the board voted to assess a $496.80 fine against Mr. Moore – which he promptly paid. When that didn’t deter Moore’s continued misconduct, the board met again on November 5, 2011, this time slapping him with a $550.00 fine and suspending his Club membership privileges for a period of 60 days, all to no avail.
The Trial Court’s Order
Eventually, on October 5, 2012 – ten months after the Club filed its complaint against Moore – Judge W. Allen Cobb of the New Hanover County Superior Court heard the case and granted the Club’s request for a permanent injunction against Moore. That injunction required Mr. Moore to refrain from engaging in seventeen “Prohibited Actions” including, among other things: screaming profanities at fellow residents; trespassing on personal property; engaging in violent outbursts, name-calling and communicating threats; moving or altering community signs, structures and equipment; docking unauthorized boats in community boat slips; defacing, damaging or vandalizing Club common areas; and “exposing himself, grabbing his crotch, sticking hoses between his legs, or making any profane and/or obscene gesture” toward any of his fellow residents and their guests.
The Ruling on Appeal
On April 1, 2014, the North Carolina Court of Appeals considered Judge Cobb’s order against Mr. Moore and announced – for the first time in North Carolina – that trial courts in this state are well within their rights to issue injunctions enforcing the terms of restrictive covenants like the ones in place at Federal Point. The key message seems to be that the Court of Appeals is ready and willing to let trial courts balance the equities in cases like this, and decide what needs to be done to enforce broken rules and restore order from the chaos – at least when the conduct at issue is as shocking and egregious as Mr. Moore’s.
It’s important to note that, while the Court of Appeals did uphold the injunction against Mr. Moore in principle, it did send the matter back to New Hanover for clarification of some vagueness in the original order. Specifically, the Court asked that the injunction be redrafted to prohibit only (a) certain conduct directed toward specifically-identified individuals, in any location (i.e., certain acts against specific members of the Club’s board, wherever they may be found) or, in the alternative, (b) certain conduct directed toward anyone, but only in certain, specified locations (i.e., certain acts directed against any person within the physical boundaries of the Club community).
Hope for the Future
Even though the Court of Appeals wasn’t completely satisfied with the wording of the original court order against Mr. Moore, it’s decision to send the order back for a re-write – rather than strike it entirely – signals that trial courts in NC have a great deal of discretion in deciding whether injunctive relief is warranted in cases like this one. One thing does seems clear: The cleaner an Association can keep its own hands – by following procedures spelled out in its governing documents, providing adequate notice and opportunity to be heard before handing out fines and other sanctions, etc. – the better the Association’s chance of obtaining an enforceable court order against a habitually bad neighbor like Gregory Moore.
Please feel free to call or email Stephen Sellers, Esq. with any questions about this post.