No racket: Judge won't punish Greene group
U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon has ruled for the Dogwood Valley Citizens Association, the defendants in a civil Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization Act lawsuit brought by some neighbors in the Greene County subdivision called Dogwood Valley.
The plaintiffs did not prove a "pattern of racketeering" against the homeowners association, Moon writes in his August 28 decision. Nor, Moon ruled, did the association commit extortion when it levied special assessments in 2005– in apparent defiance of the 2004 Dogwood Valley v. Winkelman state high court ruling that said the association couldn't levy special assessments and auction off the property of non-paying homeowners as it had done in 1998.
The special assessments levied after the state Supreme Court ruling, writes Moon, were made in "good faith" because the association attorney had filed curative documents to meet the Virginia Property Owners Association Act and allow collection of special assessments to fix roads.
After the Supreme Court of Virginia said for the second time in 2006 that the Dogwood Valley Association lacked legal authority to levy such assessments, it hasn't levied any more, Moon notes.
"He looked at all the evidence," says John Loehr, attorney for the defendants, one of whom is association board member Gary Lowe, who is also the mayor of Stanardsville and the auction purchaser of one of the lots sold over a disputed special assessment of $35.
"There was no evidence of extortion or wrongdoing," says Loehr, "and that's from a person who listened to all the evidence."
Dogwood Valley residents have been embroiled in litigation for more than two decades. Plaintiff Douglas Dye took the association to court in 1984– and testified that liens still remain on his property, despite prior rulings.
Plaintiffs Mitch Miller and Grant Colby also have tussled with the association in Greene County General District and Circuit courts. And according to testimony in federal court, Dogwood Valley Citizens Association treasurer Matthew Brown, another defendant, bankrolled $159,000 worth of litigation for the group. Brown declined to comment on the decision. The other defendants a
"I'm a little bit disappointed," says plaintiff Miller. "We've got some reflecting to do."
"I have great respect for Judge Moon," says plaintiffs' attorney Joe D'Erasmo. "But we are going to appeal this decision. They're willing to take it all the way."
While the plaintiffs didn't get the decision they wanted in federal court, perhaps some things in the often-hostile neighborhood have improved.
"I'm no longer losing animals," says Miller, who claims a mule and dogs were poisoned. "I'm no longer falsely arrested, traffic stops [by police] have stopped, and the vandalism has stopped. I find that very encouraging."
"I'd say as an entity, they're pretty much done," says plaintiff Colby about the Dogwood Valley Citizens Association, which hasn't had a membership meeting as required by the State Corporation Commission since June 2005, according to Colby, although the board still meets behind closed doors, he says.
While declining to say how much he's spent on this case that's headed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, Miller says, "I spent enough to get peace of mind, and that was worth it."
The version above has been changed to show the correct date of when the defendants sold lots at auction.