Southland Owners Association, Inc. (Association), a mandatory homeowners' association for Southland subdivision in DeKalb County, sued Joe E. Myles, a resident of the subdivision, alleging that by adding a second driveway to his property, Myles violated the recorded Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (Declaration) that governed the subdivision. The Association sought an injunction requiring Myles to remove the driveway, attorney fees, and litigation expenses. The Association filed a motion for summary judgment, which, after a hearing, the trial court denied. After a bench trial, the court found in favor of Myles. The Association appeals, contending that the trial court erroneously denied it summary judgment and that it improperly shifted the burden of proof at trial, which led to the erroneous denial of injunctive relief and attorney fees. Because the record shows that the court did not manifestly abuse its discretion in denying the injunction and because the denial of summary judgment and the issue of attorney fees are now moot, we affirm.
Pro se, Myles defended the action by essentially claiming that there had been no valid decision by the ARC because the decision it made was procedurally unfair and the substantive decision was arbitrary and capricious. He testified that his second driveway was "not in violation of the appearance in the surrounding area" and was "not interfering with the aesthetic[s] of the architecture[e] and beauty . . . of the community." He presented the testimony of his wife, who described two other houses in their cul-de-sac with second driveways -- one parallel to the main driveway, and another one that was circular, but, nonetheless, detached from its main driveway. Myles also introduced into evidence photographs showing those neighbors' driveways. Myles and his wife testified that the house located behind their home was the only one in the neighborhood painted in its particular colors and that the house had the only yard in the neighborhood consisting of fifty percent pine needles, rather than grass, trees, and shrubs. Myles argued that permitting that house to exist in that condition violated the Declaration and further demonstrated that the ARC had enforced the Declaration unfairly, arbitrarily, and capriciously.
During cross-examination of Myles and his wife, the Association's attorney adduced testimony that they did not know of the circumstances of any of their neighbors' applications or the ARC's approvals/denials of second driveways. Myles had not served on the Association's board nor the ARC's board. And although Myles had requested to review meeting minutes of those boards and had asked for the names of the members of those boards, his requests were not granted.
1. The Association contends that the trial court erroneously denied it injunctive relief. It claims that the denial was caused by the court improperly shifting the burden of proof, pointing to language in the court's order, "Here, the [Association] seeks a permanent injunction and it is [the Association's] burden to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the denial was not based on arbitrary or capricious grounds." The Association argues that it had no such burden and further asserts that Myles presented no evidence on that issue. "Where, as here, the declaration delegates decision-making authority to a group and that group acts, the only judicial issues are whether the exercise of that authority was procedurally fair and reasonable, and whether the substantive decision was made in good faith, and is reasonable and not arbitrary and capricious." 1
Here, the Association claimed that Myles violated the covenant by adding a second driveway without first obtaining the Association's approval. It denied Myles's subsequently submitted request. Myles admitted that he did not have approval to install the second driveway, but he asserted that the Association's denial was procedurally unfair and substantively arbitrary and capricious. Because proof of that assertion was essential to his defense, the burden of proving that affirmative defense by a preponderance of the evidence rested on Myles. 2
Contrary to the Association's assertion, the record shows that Myles produced prima facie evidence to that effect through his own testimony, the testimony of his wife, and photographs. Therefore, the burden of producing rebuttal evidence shifted to the Association. 3
The Association put forth no basis for a finding that it had not acted as asserted. Rather, it pointed to what it considered to be weaknesses in Myles's defense. Although the Association's attorney referred to meeting minutes of the board and the ARC, he did not introduce any minutes into evidence. And although the Association's board member testified that the ARC had "considered" Myles's request, the board member went on to admit that he was not a member of the ARC at that time, was not present when it met regarding Myles's request, and did not know why the request was denied.
We agree with the Association that Myles had the burden of proving his defense. And we find that Myles presented uncontradicted circumstantial evidence of his affirmative defense. 4
Under these circumstances, because we find that the evidence authorized the trial court's ruling, 5
we cannot say that the court manifestly abused its discretion in denying the injunction.
2. Based on our decision in Division 1, the Association's contention that the trial court should have granted it attorney fees pursuant to OCGA 13-6-11
because Myles acted in bad faith in forcing it to file suit is moot. 6
3. The Association contends the trial court erroneously denied it summary judgment, asserting that it made its prima facie case and Myles failed to respond. Because the case went to trial and the court rendered judgment, this contention is moot. 7
Joe E. Myles, pro se.