Campbell v. LAKE HALLOWELL, No. 1132

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtKRAUSER, J.
Citation852 A.2d 1029,157 Md. App. 504
Docket NumberNo. 1132
Decision Date02 July 2004

852 A.2d 1029
157 Md.
App. 504


No. 1132, September Term, 2003.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

July 2, 2004.

852 A.2d 1032
Brian Campbell, Brookville, for appellant

Kathleen A. Carey (Jordan & Keys, L.L.P. on the brief), Washington, D.C., for appellee.

HOLLANDER, KRAUSER and CHARLES E. MOYLAN, JR., (Retired, specially assigned), JJ.

852 A.2d 1030

852 A.2d 1031

The principal parties to this dispute are a homeowners' association and a homeowner. Their quarrel, which began over a basketball hoop and a parking space, has resulted in at least four separate actions, with an intimation of more to come. At a loss as to why so little has generated so much conflict, we can only surmise that we are in the middle of what may be the litigatory equivalent of road rage. The number of actions, the sheer ferocity with which they have been pursued, and the inconsequential nature of what has been sought offer us little hope that we are wrong in this assessment.

Whatever the driving force behind this battery of cases, this appeal does present important questions as to the applicability of the collateral estoppel doctrine where an appeal is pending or where an appeal is subsequently dismissed as moot, questions which have not heretofore been fully addressed by our appellate courts.

To answer these and other questions posed by the parties to this appeal, we must delve into the three other actions between them, which we shall designate, to

852 A.2d 1033
avoid confusion: the "administrative action," the "injunction action," and the "peace order action." The instant action, on the other hand, defies facile labels. It combines a derivative action and claims of malicious use of process and abuse of process. It began when appellant Brian Campbell, the homeowner, filed a complaint against his homeowners association, appellee Lake Hallowell Homeowners Association and its Board of Directors, which we shall hereafter collectively refer to as the "Association" and its president, appellee Phillip D. Peters, in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. That complaint contained three counts: a "derivative action" against the Association and the Board, and claims for malicious use of process and abuse of process against Peters.

Appellees responded by filing a motion requesting dismissal of the complaint or, in the alternative, summary judgment as to all three counts. That motion met with only partial success. While the court dismissed the abuse of process claim against Peters, it denied the motion as to the other claims.

After the discovery deadline, imposed by the circuit court, had passed, appellant moved to compel the Association to produce documents that the Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities ("Commission") had ordered were to be made available to appellant in one of the other actions between the parties. When that motion was denied, appellees renewed their motion for summary judgment. This time, they were more successful. Granting that motion in its entirety, the circuit court entered judgment in favor of appellees as to all counts.

From that judgment, appellant noted this appeal pro se, presenting two questions, which we have set forth below as they appear in appellant's brief:

I. Did the trial court err in entering summary judgment as to, or dismissing, any of the counts brought against the Association by appellant?
II. Did the trial court err in denying Campbell's motion, and/or denying Campbell's request for a hearing on Campbell's motion, to compel the Association to comply with the Commission's order?

For the reasons that follow, we shall affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

Prior Litigation

In 1990, appellant purchased a townhouse in the Lake Hallowell Community, a planned community in Olney, Maryland. By virtue of that ownership, appellant was, until he sold his property in 2002, a member of the Lake Hallowell Homeowners Association.

While appellant was living in the Lake Hallowell Community, a dispute arose between appellant and the Association as to where appellant was permitted to park his car. Upon learning that appellant and his family were parking their car in an overflow parking lot designated for visitors, the Association informed appellant that he was not permitted to park there. To comply with that directive, appellant began parking his car elsewhere. Unfortunately, the "elsewhere" was a "fire lane" in front of his townhouse. The Association advised appellant that his new choice of a parking space—the fire lane—was even less acceptable than his previous selection. By letter, the Association requested, "[p]lease park your car on your property." It should have been more specific. Appellant complied and parked his car on his front lawn—which, we are confident, was not what the Association had in mind.

Unfortunately, the discord between the parties did not end here. Indeed, it was only the first battle in what was to become

852 A.2d 1034
a war. Appellant next placed a basketball hoop on his front lawn. The hoop, the Association claimed, violated the community's architectural guidelines prohibiting the installation of basketball hoops in front of townhouses, and it demanded that appellant remove both his car and basketball hoop from his front lawn. That demand, to no one's surprise, went unheeded.

On September 11, 2001, appellant filed a complaint against the Association with the Montgomery County Commission on Common Ownership Communities (the "administrative action"). The record does not disclose the details of the complaint but the Commission's order lists the four issues that were before it: (1) "Does the Fire Lane Establishment Order of November 16, 1990, Order No. DFRS 39-90, prohibit [appellant] from parking [on the street in front of his townhouse]?"; (2) "May the Association prohibit the Complainants from parking in the 25 overflow spaces on Dumfries Circle as well?"; (3) "Do the documents of the Association, specifically the Declaration of Covenants and/or the revised Architectural Control Guidelines effective November 1, 1998, prohibit [appellant] from maintaining the movable, collapsible basketball goal in the front yard of [his] townhouse?"; and (4) "Has the Association improperly denied or limited [appellant's] right to inspect the books, records and papers of the Association"?

Following a hearing, the Commission found that the Association had properly prohibited appellant from parking his vehicle in the fire lane, but that nothing in the Association's rules, regulations, or guidelines prohibited appellant from parking in the overflow visitors' parking lot. It further found that the Association's Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions prohibited appellant from placing a basketball hoop in his front yard. On the other hand, it agreed with appellant that the Association had improperly denied him access to its records. The Commission declared that the Association had "crossed the line" by "constructively preclud[ing] inspection of [the Association's records] through charging a substantial fee" to inspect those records. It therefore ordered the Association to permit appellant "to inspect all of [its] books, records and papers... without restriction as to date," subject to the payment by appellant of reasonable copying fees and costs.

On September 12, 2001, one day after appellant filed his complaint with the Commission, the Association filed suit against appellant in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County seeking an injunction to enjoin him from parking his car on his front lawn and placing a basketball hoop in front of his townhouse (the "injunction action") and requesting an award of attorneys' fees. Granting the Association's request for injunctive relief, the circuit court issued a temporary injunction ordering appellant and his wife to "remove the vehicle" and to place "all vehicles under their control ... in a designated parking [area]." Three weeks after the issuance of that injunction, appellant chose a new location for his vehicle—his backyard.

At the trial of the injunction action, Ed Thomas, the Association's agent, testified that appellant "would have been permitted to park his car in the visitors' lot all along, provided he moved it at least once a week," but admitted that the Association had not conveyed this information to appellant until two weeks before trial. When appellant had his chance to testify, he attributed the actions of the Association to a desire to discriminate against him and his family because he had two young children while most of the homeowners in the community were childless. The Association, he claimed, "bent" the rules for other homeowners, but strictly applied them to

852 A.2d 1035
him and his family, even to the extent of "interpreting the rules and regulations to prohibit actions that were not truly prohibited."

Dismissing appellant's claim as "bizarre," the circuit court granted the Association's request for a permanent injunction requiring appellant to refrain from parking on his lawn and to remove his basketball hoop from his front yard. The circuit court found:

[T]he covenants do apply to [appellant] and his wife and that the ... architectural guidelines do apply to him, and they clearly discussed the basketball issue[.] I think it is certainly worth saying that the ... actual words in the covenants are not specific, but their intent is clear, the intent being you don't park your car on the grass and you don't put a basketball hoop in the front of the yard, it is as clear as it can be.

It further ordered appellant to pay the Association $12,500.00 in attorneys' fees.

Appellant noted an appeal to this Court but, before argument, moved out of the Lake Hallowell Community. That act of relocation, we held, rendered his appeal moot, leaving only the issue of attorneys' fees for our consideration. Campbell v. Lake...

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