Coley v. EskatonAnnotate this Case
Eskaton, Eskaton Village-Grass Valley (Eskaton Village), and Eskaton Properties Inc. (collectively, the Eskaton entities) were related corporations that developed and support common interest developments for older adults in Northern California. Ronald Coley owned a home in one of their developments, Eskaton Village Grass Valley (the Village). He brought this suit against the Village’s homeowners association, two of the directors on the association’s board, and the directors’ employers (the Eskaton entities), alleging these directors ran the association for the benefit of the Eskaton entities rather than the association and its members. The trial court agreed with Coley in part, finding these directors breached their fiduciary duty to the homeowners association and its members in several respects. In particular, the court found one director improperly shared with the Eskaton entities the association’s privileged communications with its counsel, and both directors, in violation of the association’s governing documents, approved certain assessments that benefited the Eskaton entities and harmed many of the association’s members. Based on this conduct, the court found the directors’ employers, the Eskaton entities, were liable for any damages Coley suffered as a result, though it declined to find the directors liable in their personal capacities. It awarded Coley damages of $2,328.51 and attorney fees of $654,242.53. Both parties appealed. The Eskaton entities and the two director defendants (collectively, the defendants) contended the court should have afforded the directors more deference under the business judgment rule. They also claimed the court misread the association’s governing documents, miscalculated appropriate damages, and misapplied vicarious- liability principles in finding the Eskaton entities liable for their employees’ conduct even though their employees were not liable themselves. In his cross-appeal, Coley argued the court should have found the two directors personally liable for their conduct, and alleged the court wrongly rejected several of his claims against the defendants. The Court of Appeal agreed in part with both of the parties: (1) the court miscalculated the damages on certain claims and should, after reducing the damages award on remand, reconsider the awarded attorney fees in light of this reduction; and (2) the court should have found the two directors personally liable for their actions. In all other respects, judgment was affirmed.