By Lawrence Szabo, Esq. | Case Decisions, Dispute Resolution

This case involved a dispute between two husband-wife couples who are members of a homeowners’ association (“Association”) that governs a luxury condominium complex. The first couple, Mr. and Mrs. Bents (hereinafter jointly “Bents”), have lived in the community since 2008. The second couple, Mr. and Mrs. Tarter (hereinafter jointly “Tarters”), moved into the community in 2013. The acrimony between the two couples dated back to 2013, when Mr. Tarter and the Bents ran Association’s annual election of new directors for the year 2014. Mr. Tarter, who was one of the candidates for election to the board, was elected to the board for 2014 and his fellow board members elected him to serve as president for that year.

During Mr. Tarter’s term as a director and the president of Association, Mrs. Bendt engaged in a campaign of attacking Mr. Tarter’s reputation and his actions as president of Association. Mrs. Bendt’s attacks on Mr. Tarter were contained in a newsletter that was emailed to other members of Association. In response to Mrs. Bendt’s attacks, the Tarters filed suit against the Bendts for defamation. In the lawsuit, the Tarters alleged that Mrs. Bendt’s assertions caused other members to falsely believe, in part, that: (1) Mr. Tarter lacked ethics and/or behaved unethically or illegally; (2) Mr. Tarter concealed material financial information from Association members; (3) Mr. Tarter misled Association members and acted unlawfully; (4) Mr. Tarter conducted and facilitated secret Board meetings; and (5) Mr. Tarter wrongfully over-spent Association funds.

Evidence presented to the trial court showed that on various occasions Mrs. Bent called Mr. Tarter: “idiot”, “fool”, “spineless”, “disgusting”, and:

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