The Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Maronda Homes, Inc. of Florida v. Lakeview Reserve Homeowner’s Association, Inc., 38 Fla. L. Weekly S573a (Fla. 2013) has been a long awaited decision for both homeowners associations and home builders.
This case started when a homeowners association sued the home builder of the residential subdivision for common law breach of implied warranties of fitness and merchantability (also known as the warranty of habitability in the residential context) due to construction defects. The association asserted that infrastructure, particularly as it pertained to the storm water drainage system, was defective and was causing substantial flooding and other damage (e.g., severe soil erosion, damage to roadways, etc.).
The trial court entered summary judgment for the home builder finding that common law implied warranties do not extend to infrastructure, private roadways, drainage systems, retention ponds, or other common locations in a subdivision because these structures (or construction improvements) do not immediately support the homes.
On appeal, the Fifth District reversed the trial court holding that the common law implied warranties are applicable to the facts of the case. The Fifth District maintained that the common law implied warranties “have application to improvements to real property that not only support residences in a structural sense, but also apply to improvements which provide ‘essential services’ for the habitability of homes.” Maronda Homes, supra. Essential services for the habitability of homes include “roads for ingress and egress, drainage systems to divert flooding, retention ponds to correct water flow damage, and underground pipes (whether they be storm water or sanitary sewer pipes) which are necessary for living accommodations.” Id. In other words, the Fifth District held that the common law implied warranties apply to structures / construction improvements in a subdivision that immediately support the homes in the form of essential services. Id.
After the Fifth District’s holding, the Florida Legislature enacted Florida Statute s. 553.835 which it intended to apply retroactively (meaning the homeowners association would have no claims against the home builder in Maronda). This statute was enacted as a reaction to the Fifth District’s ruling to apply common law implied warranties to improvements that support the homes in a subdivision. This statute provided:
“There is no cause of action in law or equity to a purchaser of a home or to a homeowners association based upon the doctrine or theory of implied warranty of fitness and merchantability or habitability for damages to offsite improvements.”
Offsite improvements were defined in the statute as follows:
“(a) The street, road, driveway, sidewalk, drainage, utilities, or any other improvement or structure that is not located on or under the lot on which a new home is constructed, excluding such improvements that are shared by and part of the overall structure of two or more separately owned homes that are adjoined or attached whereby such improvements affect the fitness and merchantability or habitability of one or more of the adjoining structures; and
(b) The street, road, driveway, sidewalk, drainage, utilities, or any other improvement or structure that is located on or under the lot but that does not immediately and directly support the fitness and merchantability of the home itself.”
Based on this new statute, the Florida Supreme Court needed to determine (a) whether the statute applied retroactively and (b) if it did not apply retroactively, do the common law implied warranties apply to structures / construction improvements in a subdivision that immediately support the homes in the form of essential services.
The Florida Supreme Court, agreeing with the homeowners association, held that (a) the statute did not apply retroactively, and (b) the Fifth District’s ruling was correct with their “essential services” test or standard to “determine whether a defect in an improvement beyond the actual confines of a home impacts the habitability and residential use of the home.” Maronda Homes, supra.
However, what the Florida Supreme Court importantly touched upon was the enforceability or constitutionality of Florida Statute s. 553.835 moving forward. Under this new statute, if the homeowners in Maronda sued today, its common law implied warranty claims would be barred by virtue of this statute (since its claims were asserted after the enactment of the statute).
An important portion of the Florida Supreme Court’s opinion provides:
“Article I, section 21 of the Florida Constitution declares the right to access the courts, stating that ‘The courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay. In Kluger v. White, 281 So.2d 1, 3-4 (Fla. 1973), this Court interpreted the meaning of the phrase ‘redress of any injury.’ It held that where a cause of action exists under the statutory or common law of Florida, the Florida Legislature may not abolish that action unless it provides a reasonable alternative for redress of injuries, or demonstrates an overpowering public necessity for its abrogation and no other means by which to meet that necessity.”
Here, Lakeview Reserve [association] contends that section 553.835 violates article 1, section 21, because it abolishes the cause of action for breach of the implied warranties and fails to provide a reasonable alternative or demonstrate an overpowering public necessity for that abrogation. Maronda Homes…allege that although section 553.835 curtails the cause of action for breach of the implied warranties, it preserves other viable remedies that may exist in tort, contract, or by statute, such as negligence, misrepresentation, and rescission.
Section 553.835 violates the right of access to courts because it attempts to abolish the common law cause of action for breach of the implied warranties for certain injuries to property. In section 553.835(4), the Legislature establishes its intent to abolish some implied warranties by expressly limiting a cause of action for their breach by eliminating “offsite improvements for that action’s scope, even if such improvements impact the on-site habitability of the home….The statute even provides that the purpose of the law is to place limitations on the applicability of the doctrine or theory of implied warranty of fitness and merchantability, and to reject the decision by the Fifth District Court of Appeal in the Maronda case. This is a clear violation of separation of powers because the Legislature does not sit as a supervising appellate court over our district courts of appeal.”
Based on this portion of the decision, a homeowners association that has potential claims for “offsite improvements” after the enactment of s. 553.835 may still have these common law implied warranty claims based on an argument that the statute violates constitutional rights. If the statute is determined to violate constitutional rights by trying to abrogate common law implied warranties, the association will still have to satisfy the “essential services” standard set forth by the Fifth District and approved by the Florida Supreme Court in Maronda.
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