United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
GARY S. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
PRECISION PROPERTY MANAGEMENT and COUNTRY CLUB GREEN CONDOMINIUMS, Defendants.
HUGH W. BRENNEMAN, Jr., Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff filed the present diversity action against defendants Precision Property Management ("PPM"), and the Country Club Green Condominium Association (sometimes referred to as the "Association") as the result of a dispute involving the collection of unpaid fees and assessments related to plaintiff's condominium unit. This matter is now before the court on defendants' motion for summary judgment (docket no. 31).
Plaintiff set forth the following allegations in his complaint. On July 24, 2012, plaintiff, the owner of Unit C-1 (sometimes referred to as the "property"), executed "a rent-to-own land contract agreement" (the "land contract") in which he sold this unit to Essence Wade Moore. Compl. at ¶ 6 (docket no. 1). The land contract utilized forms provided by PPM and "clearly set forth that purchaser Essence Moore was to be responsible for all future monthly assessments including association fees, and was ultimately signed off on by Jan Demmink, head of Country Club Green Condominium Association." Id. Although plaintiff's claim arises in the context of the land contract, he did not include a copy of that document with the complaint. Under the land contract, Ms. Moore agreed to take financial responsibility for the assessments, but she did not agree to pay those assessments to the Association. Rather, Ms. Moore agreed to pay the assessments to plaintiff:
19. Condominium Association
The buyer acknowledges that rules and regulation regarding this property are established by the Country Club Green Condominium Association and Precision Property Management. The Buyer agrees to abide by all property by-laws, rules, and regulations. The current monthly Association Fee is $198 and can change by vote of the members. This amount is payable to the seller along with the rent.
Land Contract (docket no. 31-2 at p. ID# 122) (emphasis added).
Plaintiff alleged that during the period covered by the land contract, "several frivolous and/or baseless complaints were alleged against Ms. Moore, including dirty carpet outside her doorway which may or may not have been caused by the movement of furniture gifted to Ms. Moore by Ms. Demmink; trash dumping without the use of a plastic bag; and usage of bad language outside building C in which she resided." Id. at ¶ 7. Ms. Moore was not granted an opportunity to object to these claims, "which instead were representative of an unfortunate pattern of discriminatory harassment perpetrated by PPM and Country Club Green against Ms. Moore as the former simply did not want Ms. Moore residing on the premises and went so far as to execute a receipt for damages against Ms. Moore for which she continues to insist she was not responsible." Id. at ¶ 7.
While plaintiff does not allege the amount of the claimed damages, or provide a copies of the invoices, defendants submitted copies of the invoices which PPM sent to both plaintiff and Ms. Moore. The invoices, dated September 10, 2012, were in the amount of $75.00 with the description "Clean new carpet by C-1 Doorway." See Invoices (docket nos. 31-7 and 31-8). Plaintiff's invoice included a handwritten note:
We had to clean the carpet in from of the doorway to C-1. The carpet is only one month old and it was filthy in front of the door. Send check for $75.00. Invoice attached. Jim
Invoice (docket no. 31-8). Defendants also provided a Work Order for carpet cleaning from Guarantee System of West Michigan to the Association in the amount of $75.00 for "C-1 Clean carpet by doorway - rebilled to owner." See Work Order (docket no. 31-5).
Plaintiff's allegations suggest that he had no contact with defendants between September 10, 2012 and January 22, 2013, when "without prior notice to Plaintiff, attorney David T. Caldon of the office of Law Weathers, acting on behalf of the Defendants forwarded a notice of purported condominium assessment delinquency to the Plaintiff after previously dealing exclusively with Ms. Moore, this notice threatening collection against Mr. Taylor if no response was offered within thirty days; the Plaintiff did subsequently offer a formal written objection to this claimed debt." Compl. at ¶ 8. While not referenced in the complaint, plaintiff had contacted PPM about changing his monthly payment method prior to receiving the letter from Attorney Caldon. Specifically, on November 5, 2012, plaintiff sent an e-mail to Cheryl Condon, PPM's property manager, advising her to terminate his automatic monthly payments for Unit C-1:
My auto debit charge needs to be changed effective December 2012 [sic] the auto pay is to be stopped permanently. I will make payments monthly by a different method or they will be paid by Essence Wade Moore the new owner. Please note my hew address as well.
E-Mail (docket no. 31-10 at p. ID# 178). In response, Ms. Condon stated,
Thank you Gary for your email. I will submit your request to Accounting today. November is the last month we will pull from your account.
Id. It is unclear from the e-mail as to whether the terminated monthly "auto pay" involved the $198.00 monthly assessment or some other monthly fee.
In the January 22, 2013 letter, Attorney Caldon stated that his office represented the Association, and advised plaintiff that Unit C-1 "is delinquent in the payment of assessments to the Association" and that "[t]his delinquency totals $571.00 as of January 22, 2013." Caldon Letter (1/22/13) (docket no. 31-11 at p. ID# 180). Attorney Caldon further advised plaintiff:
We have been instructed to begin collection efforts to collect the debt. Since this process could prove costly to you, it would probably be in your best interest to contact me immediately to resolve this matter and, if necessary, to arrange some type of payment plan. If we have not heard from you within 30 days of receipt of this letter, we have little choice but to take further action to collect the debt.
Plaintiff alleged that he "offer[ed] a formal written objection to this claimed debt." Compl. at ¶ 8. Plaintiff is apparently referring to a letter, dated February 1, 2013, which he sent to Attorney Caldon stating as follows:
The $571.00 debt you presented is not valid. It begins with a $75 charge which is not my responsibility. Then they have added $25 per month late charges. I am holding the condo association fee in escrow until this charge is removed along with the late charges. The person living in C-1 is accused of making the carpet dirty but denies this claim. As far as I know they should be attempting to collect this debt from her or someone else. Please contact the Condo Association and have them correct this debt.
Taylor Letter (2/1/13).
Plaintiff alleged that on February 5, 2013, Attorney Caldon (who is not a party to this litigation) sent a letter to plaintiff verifying defendants' intent to pursue collection against plaintiff rather than Ms. Moore, "despite the fact that the Defendants had previously sought collection in similar situations directly from three prior purchasers of the Plaintiff who came to subsequently reside on the Defendants' premises, residents Heath Troupe, Tom Grant, and Antoinette Lott." Id. at ¶ 9. Plaintiff did not attach a copy of Attorney Caldon's February 5th letter to his ...