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LosAngelesLawyer 18th Annual Real Estate Law Issue Construction Defect
18th Annual Real Estate Law Issue
LosAngelesLawyer
JANUARY 2003, VOL.25, NO.10 / $3.00
Los Angeles lawyers
Maura B. O’Connor
and Brett L. Hayes
offer lenders a due
diligence checklist
for income-producing
property
page 26
Caveat
Lender
EARN MCLE CREDIT
Construction
Defect
Mediation
page 39
New Markets
Tax Credit
page 13
New Security
Requirements
page 22
Brownfields
Reform
page 32
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Contents
Los Angeles Lawyer
departments
The Magazine of the
13 Tax Tips
The New Markets Tax Credit
program
By Ted M. Handel
Los Angeles County
Bar Association
January 2003
Vol. 25, No. 10
cover
22 Practice Tips
New rules on providing security
for construction contracts
By Sarah V. J. Spyksma and
Katheryn M. McCarthy
47 Computer Counselor
Current methods for making
backups of data and hard drives
By Benjamin Sotelo and
James Gillen
columns
11 Barristers Tips
Refinancing your home mortgage
By William J. Birney
features
REAL ESTATE LAW ISSUE
52 Closing Argument
Battling through life sentences
By Clinton M. Hodges
26 Caveat Lender
When making lending decisions on real property that involves
49
Index to Advertisers
tenant leases, practitioners must consider the worst-case
Maura B. O’Connor, a partner,
50
Classifieds
scenario of foreclosure
and Brett L. Hayes, an
51
CLE Preview
By Maura B. O’Connor and Brett L. Hayes
associate, in the Los Angeles
32 The Brownfield Blues
office of Holland & Knight LLP,
Needlessly complicated terminology makes it difficult for
specialize in commercial real
owners of brownfields to take advantage of recent
estate financing, acquisitions,
amendments to CERCLA
development, and leasing. In
By Peter Niemiec
“Caveat Lender,” they discuss
the intricacies of due diligence
39 Defective Solutions
for lenders in tenant-occupied
The state legislature continues to try to find a remedy for
real property transactions.
California’s epidemic of construction defect litigation
Their article begins on page 26.
By Leslie Steven Marks and Ryan P. Eskin
Plus: Earn MCLE credit. MCLE Test No. 112 begins on page 43.
Cover photo: Tom Keller
page 32
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4 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
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(In Memoriam)
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from
the
chair
By Gordon K. Eng and Jacqueline Real-Salas
annual Real Estate Law issue, we have cols the U.S. economy in a recession? If so,
lected a variety of articles that touch upon a
when will the recession end? When will
range of issues that will confront real estate
the next recession arrive? Among real
practitioners, whether their clients are faced
estate professionals, these questions are diswith a real estate boom, a bust, or something
cussed often and with great passion. The
in-between.
answer, of course, depends on each person’s
Federal, state, and local governments conpoint of view, though most likely all will agree
tinue to create new laws and regthat the economy is in distress.
Gordon K. Eng and
ulations that lawyers need to
The real estate industr y is a
Jacqueline Realmonitor and analyze for their
major driving force in the econSalas are the
clients. The representation of
omy, so a recession not only
coordinating
clients in real estate matters has
adversely affects the industry
editors of the 18th
evolved into a multidisciplinary
but, conversely, the ills of the
annual Real Estate
practice, and so the number of
industry may be a contributing
Law issue.
laws and regulations, both new
cause of a recession.
and old, requiring the attention
Of course, a recession is not
of real estate practitioners seems
necessarily a bad thing for all
to grow by the day.
people in business. To the extent a poor econFor example, environmental law has
omy forces distress sales of proper ty, it
become an entire practice area with direct relaffords an opportunity to initiate the age-old
evance to the real estate industry. One aspect
formula for success in the real estate indusof environmental law involves the past use of
try—buy low. Owners can then wait for the
chemicals without concern for the environeconomy to rebound to utilize the other half
ment, which may haunt owners and lenders
of the equation—sell high. Still, for those
involved with affected properties. Indeed,
whose business is the operation of tenantthe fear of becoming entangled in remediation
occupied property, a downturn in the econactivities of uncertain cost and duration has
omy is not welcomed if vacancies increase.
led to many properties becoming unmarWhile the real estate industry is affected
ketable as well as unusable. The new law
by national trends, it still remains primarily
designed to stimulate the redevelopment of
subject to local forces. For example, even in
contaminated properties known as brownthe midst of a troubled national economic clifields may not adequately address this fear.
mate, California voters recently passed a
Also, very few residential or commercial
school improvement bond initiative that is
projects are built or purchased without some
expected to inject more than $1 billion into the
amount of third-party financing. Counsel to
local economy.
lenders and borrowers must be mindful of
For lawyers who ser ve the real estate
how loan documents address the relationindustry, whether or not the economy is in a
ship between the parties. Even though interrecession turns on how their clients are surest rates may be lowered as a stimulus to
viving. Even though some practitioners and
prospective borrowers, lenders may still
their clients may be fortunate enough to not
tighten underwriting standards when faced
be adversely affected by the current ecowith the potential of default and the prospect
nomic climate, practitioners should always
of devalued collateral. Thus, it is critical for
temper their own as well as their clients’ optilenders and borrowers to focus on the funmism about the future with the need to plan
damentals of what makes for a strong project.
for the worst. It is important for us as lawyers
We hope you will enjoy reading the articles
to understand the legal issues that affect our
in this special issue. We thank Paul Marks and
clients during good times as well as bad.
Dennis Perez, our colleagues on the Los
This month, in Los Angeles Lawyer’s 18th
Angeles Lawyer Editorial Board, for their edi■
Gordon K. Eng, a sole practitioner in Torrance, torial assistance.
specializes in real estate transactional matters. Jacqueline Real-Salas is an associate with
the law firm of Dicker & Dicker, LLP, in Encino.
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AL4806
barristers
tips
By William J. Birney
Refinancing Your Home Mortgage
As a result of falling interest rates, it may be
possible to save money with a new loan
he Federal Reserve has cut its key lending rate a dozen times
since January 2001. In a survey by Freddie Mac, the quasi-governmental purchaser of the home loans of many Americans, the
median age of home loans refinanced in the first quarter of 2001 was
only 1.6 years—the lowest it has been since Freddie Mac started tracking this figure. Additionally, refinancers generally have enjoyed an
appreciation of their property in recent years, allowing them to take
advantage of newfound equity.
If in 2001 you financed $250,000 for the purchase of a new home
at the then-current fixed interest rate of 7.875 percent, your current
mortgage payment is $1,813 per month. If you qualify at rates effective November 2002 (which may be as low as 6.125 percent), your
monthly payment would be $1,494—a monthly savings of $319. If you
put less than 20 percent down on your original purchase, your lender
likely required private mortgage insurance (PMI) on the mortgage.
If your refinanced mortgage is less than 80 percent of your home’s
newly appraised value, you would not have to pay the PMI premiums
of $50 or more per month.
Keep in mind, however, that while refinancing reduces the monthly
mortgage payment, it also typically increases the term of the loan—
which can dramatically increase the total cost of the loan. Since the
largest interest charges occur at the start of the loan, and beginning
a new loan means making those high interest payments all over
again, if a borrower takes the full time to pay off the new loan, refinancing could easily cost more than keeping the current loan. But
there are other reasons to exchange your current loan.
Perhaps you want to tap the equity that has built up in your home
since your original purchase or last refinance. In that case, you could
elect a “cash-out refi” by obtaining a new loan based on the home’s
current appraised value, thereby allowing you to pay off what is owed
on the old loan and eliminate any secondary financing or other outstanding debt, or reinvest the money in home improvements (potentially further increasing the home’s value).
Another reason to refinance might be to switch from an adjustablerate mortgage (ARM), in which the loan’s interest rate changes
based on market conditions, to a fixed-rate loan, which offers the certainty of set payment amounts no matter what happens to interest rates
in the future. Alternatively, since ARMs often start at rates substantially lower than those charged for fixed-rate loans, you might want
to switch from a fixed rate loan to an ARM (or different type of ARM)
to take advantage of a particularly low introductory interest rate.
The variety of different loan programs in this category has grown in
the last few years so that beyond simply considering whether the loan
should be adjustable or fixed, borrowers now have the option to
choose from a number of hybrids in which they make fixed interest-
T
only payments for a certain period of time, after which the interest rate
floats (or adjusts) to the market interest rate. At that time the borrower
makes a fully amortized payment of principal and interest for the
remainder of the loan term.
Finally, you may want to build the equity in your home faster by
shortening the term of the loan. You can do that by swapping your current 30-year mortgage for a 15- or 20-year loan. If interest rates have
come down enough, you may even be able to achieve this change with
only a marginal increase in your monthly mortgage payment. However,
a disciplined borrower can achieve the same result by making additional principal payments on a 30-year mortgage (for example, a borrower who makes one additional mortgage payment per year can
reduce a 30-year loan term by eight years), so financial planners caution borrowers not to commit too much money to their homes.
Rules of Thumb
At one time, the general rule was that it paid to refinance only when
the new loan’s interest rate was two percentage points lower than the
current loan’s. But with the variety of loan programs now available,
that rule is now too simple. The term “no cost,” however, is something
of a misnomer, because it does not mean that the refinance is free; it
simply means that the borrower will not have to pay anything out of
pocket at closing. The fees charged by the lender will either be added
to the new loan’s principal or the interest rate will be somewhat higher.
To really compare apples to apples, you should compare the aftertax cost of the proposed loan with that of the current loan. Since
mortgage interest is deductible from federal taxes, the after-tax cost
of the loan equals the principal and interest payment after deducting the taxes
saved by the deduction. Continuing the
example in which a $250,000 loan (with
a current balance of $245,942) is refinanced for a 30- year term at 6.125 percent, at a total cost of $2,000, the current monthly mortgage payment is about
$1,813, of which about $1,615 is interest. That translates into an after-tax payment of about $1,360 (assuming the borrower is in the 28 percent tax bracket).
William J. Birney is a
The new loan’s monthly payment would
transactional real
be about $1,494, of which about $1,276 is
estate attorney at
interest, for an after-tax cost of about
Allen Matkins Leck
$1,136 and savings of about $224 per
Gamble & Mallory
month. At the new interest rate, it will
LLP.
take about nine months before the borLOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 11
rower breaks even. Therefore, if the borrower plans to stay in the house longer than
nine months, refinancing may make sense.
Refinancing does not always make sense,
however. Some borrowers with second mortgages, a lot of debt, or trouble paying bills on
time might discover that they would pay more
by refinancing than they will by sticking with
the loan that they already have. Such borrowers may also not want to put their house
at risk by consolidating unsecured debt into
a larger secured mortgage. Alternatively,
such a borrower may be able to obtain a
home equity line of credit (HELOC), which
depending on current interest rates could be
at an interest rate lower than that of first
mortgages—as is the case now. For borrowers who do not require much money and do
not intend to have the loan outstanding for
long, the no-cost lure of a HELOC can be
persuasive. With a HELOC the borrower
pays interest-only payments only when the
line is accessed and then only on the monies
that are actually borrowed. Principal is
payable upon maturity—which typically
occurs after 10 years. This type of loan permits borrowers to tap their equity when it is
necessary without having to go through the
lengthy and time-consuming process of
obtaining yet another mortgage loan.
12 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
As soon as you have made the decision
that you want to refinance, your first step
should be to make certain that you have a
clear picture of your financial situation—in
much the same way that you prepared in
obtaining your current loan. Review and
understand the terms of your current loan,
analyze your current financial situation, and
obtain, review, and correct any discrepancies
or problems on your credit reports.
Where to Start
Your current lender knows your payment
history and is familiar with the property. You
would think that it would be easier for your
current lender to refinance your existing loan,
at a better price than what a third-party lender
could offer, since it is easier to keep a good
customer than it is to find a new one. In some
cases when the borrower is not seeking cashout refinancing, the current lender may even
be able to modify the existing loan by reducing the interest rate, without refinancing the
existing loan. However, the majority of loans
are packaged with other loans and sold to
third-party investors, with the result that the
current lender is limited to servicing the loan
and the existing loan is not able to be modified. Many lenders, however, can offer streamlined refinancing in which the appraisal can
be obtained electronically, the title search is
abbreviated, and other items and documentation that would normally be required on a
new loan are omitted.
If you are looking elsewhere, consider
your credit union; local savings and loan;
community bank; local, regional, or national
mortgage company; and even a commercial
brokerage bank. Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, within three days
after the loan application has been submitted,
the amount of fees and charges that are to be
paid in connection with the loan will be provided on the Good Faith Estimate. The estimate sets forth the annual percentage rate for
the loan, which is the total charges calculated on an annual basis and stated as a percentage, including not only the interest rate
but also such one-time loan fees as discount
points that increase your overall costs. While
the Good Faith Estimate is not perfect—in
that it assumes that the loan will continue
until maturity—it is an invaluable tool for the
borrower to use in comparing proposed new
loans. Practically everyone these days is in the
home loan field, and there is a plethora of
good lenders and mortgage brokers to choose
from, but it will always pay to confirm for
yourself the loan programs, interest rates,
and terms available to you.
■
tax
tips
By Ted M. Handel
The New Markets Tax Credit
Program
New tax credits
retail spending—7 percent of all
U.S. retail spending—comes from
these areas.
will level the
• Approximately one-quarter of
this demand, or $21 billion, is not
playing field for
being met by neighborhood
retailers.
investments in
• Retail demand per inner city
square mile is often two-to-six
low-income areas
times greater than in each metropolitan-area square mile.
A report undertaken for and
nleashing the untapped
economic potential of low- released by the Institute for
income communities and Public Policy at Pepperdine Unimarshalling their financial versity reaches much the same
resources to revitalize impover- conclusion for the local Southished urban and rural areas are Central Los Angeles area: “Comthe ambitious goals of a new fed- pared with the rest of L.A.
eral tax credit program—New County, we find that South L.A.,
Markets Tax Credit (NMTC)— per capita, has 65 percent fewer
now being implemented by the grocery stores, 40 percent fewer
U.S. Treasury Department. The banks and other financial instiNMTC program is intended to tutions, and 20 percent fewer
stimulate $15 billion in invest- clothing stores. Most residents
ments in economically distressed shop outside the area because
communities through the alloca- many of the retail goods and sertion and purchase of special tax vices offered within the neighborhoods do not adequately meet
credits.
The NMTC program is also the type of goods in demand. This
intended to dispel certain long- is particularly true in the case of
held perceptions about low- retail grocery goods….In a previous RLA study
income communiTed M. Handel is of
conducted in 1995,
ties. One is that
counsel in the Los
residents in one
poor communities
Angeles office of
targeted South L.A.
are risky areas in
Loeb & Loeb LLP,
area spent roughly
which to do busiwhere he leads the
$1 billion in retail
ness. Another is
firm’s Affordable
grocer y goods.
that low-income
Housing Practice
However, it was
people cannot afGroup.
estimated that apford to pay for anyproximately $412
thing beyond the
million of this was
bare essentials of
life. Several studies suggest the spent outside the targeted market
opposite, that low-income com- area.”2
munities are ripe for new busiIt is the purpose of the NMTC
nesses and investments. A to reconcile the needs of lownational study on impoverished income communities with the
urban areas1 reveals:
financial requirements of retail• More than $85 billion in annual ers, developers, and investors.
RICHARD EWING
U
Stockton Williams, senior director of public policy for the
Enterprise Foundation, explains,
“Despite this extraordinar y,
largely untapped market opportunity, inadequate information
and higher risks have made many
financial institutions, investors
and businesses reluctant to
commit capital in distressed communities. Those that do invest
demand higher rates of return
than most investments will yield.
The New Markets Tax Credit is
designed to bridge that gap. By
increasing the after-tax return to
investors that provide equity capital, the NMTC will lower risk for
investors and businesses, while
cutting the cost of capital for community development groups trying to bring investment to their
neighborhoods.”3
Under the NMTC program,
investors may claim a 39 percent
credit over seven years (30 percent in present value) on their
federal income tax liability for
qualified investments.4 The credits will be apportioned at 5 percent per year for the first three
years and 6 percent for each of
the remaining four years.5 These
investments must be made in forprofit organizations established
to do business in low-income
communities. By early 2003, $2.5
billion in NMTCs will be allocated—$1 billion in credits carried over from 2001 and $1.5 billion in the 2002 statutor y
allocation. The remaining $12.5
billion will be allocated over the
next several years, ending in
2007.
NMTCs are designed to di-
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 13
rect investment capital solely to “low-income
communities” and “low-income persons.”
Under the Internal Revenue Code, a lowincome community is one or more census
tracts in which the poverty rate for each tract
is at least 20 percent, or, for metropolitan
areas, the median income does not exceed 80
percent of the greater of the statewide median
income or the metropolitan-area median
income.6 Similarly, a low-income person is, for
persons living in metropolitan areas, an individual whose income does not exceed the
greater of 80 percent of the statewide median
family income or 80 percent of the metropolitan-area median family income. 7 Adjustments are made for an individual’s income
based on family size.
The Community Development Financial
Institutions (CDFI) Fund in the Treasury
Department manages the NMTC program.
Congress created the CDFI in 1994 to expand
the availability of credit, investment capital,
and financial services in distressed urban
and rural communities. The CDFI is responsible for certifying the organizations entitled
to receive NMTC allocations and has established a competitive process for making the
actual tax credit allocations to these organizations.
Both the Community Renewal Tax Credit
Relief Act and the NMTC program were
enacted as part of the appropriations bill for
the Labor, Health and Human Services and
Education Departments for fiscal year 2001.8
The NMTC and other legislative programs in
the act represented a true bipartisan effort
between the White House and Capitol Hill.
Community Development Entities
Community Development Entities, or
CDEs, play a pivotal role in the NMTC program. With certain qualifications, CDEs are
the only entities that may apply for NMTCs.
CDEs are also the only entities that can
receive an allocation of these tax credits and
can direct how the proceeds from the sale of
these credits to investors will be used. Any
legal entity duly organized and validly existing under the laws of the state in which it is
incorporated or established may qualify for
CDE status. This includes a for-profit corporation or subsidiary of one, a nonprofit corporation or its affiliate, a partnership, or a
limited liability company.9
Because the claimed NMTC is based on
the amount of an investment—such as the
purchase of stock or a capital interest in a partnership—only CDEs that are for-profit entities
may actually receive an allocation of NMTCs.
Consequently, nonprofit organizations
involved in community development must
form for-profit affiliates to receive tax credit
allocations.
14 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
Regardless of the legal form, no organization may represent that it is a CDE until it
has been certified by the CDFI. CDE certification requires passing two tests: the “primar y mission” test and the “community
accountability” test.10
The primary mission of the entity must be
to promote community development. The
entity’s organizational documents (e.g., articles of incorporation, bylaws, annual reports)
must clearly show that its purpose is to serve
the needs of, or provide investment capital for,
low-income communities or low-income persons. In addition, at least 60 percent of the
products and services of the entity must be
devoted to serving these communities or persons, such as investments in or loans to businesses or persons in these areas or financial
support to organizations that promote community development.
The entity must also be accountable to
the residents of its “service area.” A service
area may include a neighborhood, city, multiple cities, a state, a multistate area such as
Appalachia, or even the nation as a whole.
Accountability is satisfied by representation:
At least 20 percent of the governing board of
the entity or an advisory committee formed
by the entity must include representatives of
low-income communities within the service
area. While the CDFI encourages CDE applicants to include low-income persons on the
board or committee, this requirement may
also be satisfied, for example, by representation from a business owner from these communities or a board member or staff person
from an organization serving the area.
CDE certification is valid for 15 years
unless revoked or terminated by the CDFI. A
CDE must certify annually to the CDFI that
it meets the primary-mission and servicearea requirements. By August 2002, the CDFI
had certified 544 CDEs and, based on pending applications, the total could eventually
exceed 1,000. Many applications are from
nonprofit organizations seeking certification
of for-profit entities. Local CDEs certified by
the CDFI include the California Community
Reinvestment Corporation, Community Commerce Bank, Century Community Development, Inc., Los Angeles Community Resources Financial Center, and the Inglewood
Neighborhood Housing Services, Inc.
Century Community Development, Inc.,
an affiliate of Century Housing Corporation,
intends to apply for an NMTC allocation. Century Housing is the successor nonprofit organization to a program established by the consent decree in Keith v. Volpe.11 Since 1979,
Century Housing has met its judicial mandate
of replacing low-income housing displaced
by the Century Freeway by financing and/or
developing 9,500 affordable units through-
out Los Angeles. Century Community Development envisions using the proceeds received
from investors to finance mixed development
projects. These projects could comprise
affordable housing financed with low-income
housing tax credits and commercial projects
backed by the sale of NMTCs. The proceeds
may also be used to support nonprofit service
providers, such as child care and educational
organizations.
The CDFI issued a Notice of Allocation
Availability in June 2002 and set August 29,
2002, as the deadline for submission of allocation applications. By that date, the CDFI had
received more 350 applications from CDEs
seeking $25.8 billion in NMTC allocations—
10 times the amount of credits available for
this year. The CDFI is expected to announce
its allocation decisions in early 2003.
Once the CDFI deems an applicant eligible and its application complete, the application is evaluated according to four criteria,
each with a maximum of 25 points. There
are also two bonus criteria worth an additional five points each.12 The CDFI has indicated that the following is required for an
applicant to score well:13
• Business investment strategy. A CDE
must show that it will make loans or investments that meet the needs of underserved
markets, are flexible or nontraditional, and are
focused on customers who lack access to
conventional sources of capital. A CDE also
has to show a track record of investing in
low-income communities and a readily identifiable set of business activities in which it will
be involved between the allocation date and
December 31, 2003, and a strategy for identifying other potential transactions in the
future. A CDE must also describe the extent
to which the entity will invest in unrelated
businesses.
• Capitalization strategy. A CDE must
demonstrate that it has secured commitments
from investors or has a reasonable strategy of
obtaining such commitments. The CDE must
also show that its NMTC allocation request
matches the level of investments that it
expects to raise and the loans and equity that
it will disburse. Consistent with one of the key
reasons for enactment of the NMTC, a CDE
has to show that it can leverage other sources
of funding in addition to the cash that it will
receive from NMTC investors. Finally, the
CDE must indicate if it will invest the proceeds from investors that exceed the
requirements of the “substantially all” test
(described below).
• Management capacity. The CDFI will
evaluate the experience of the CDE’s management and staff in investing in low-income
communities, raising capital (especially from
for-profit investors), asset and risk manage-
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ment, and its history of complying with other
federal programs, such as the program for
low-income housing tax credits.
• Community impact. The CDFI will look
at the involvement, if any, of low-income community representatives in the development
and implementation of the CDE’s investment
strategy; the current activities of the CDE in
these communities; the extent to which the
CDE’s investment strategy is consistent with
federal, state and local development plans;
the economic results that could not be
achieved without NMTCs; and why those
results could not be duplicated or enhanced
through other sources.
The CDFI will also award up to five points
to CDEs that satisfy each of two bonus criteria established by statute.14 The first criterion is a record by the CDE itself or an organization controlling the CDE of successfully
providing capital or technical assistance to
disadvantaged businesses and communities.
The other five bonus points will be awarded
to CDEs that demonstrate that they will make
investments in businesses in which persons
unrelated to the CDE hold a majority equity
interest.
The 2002 applications were initially
reviewed and scored by three outside reviewers. CDFI staff are now evaluating the applications, and the CDFI will award allocations
to the most qualified CDEs. The CDFI has not
made any determination on the maximum
amount of NMTCs that may be allocated to a
given CDE. However, it is anticipated that
the maximum allocation to a single CDE will
not exceed $100 million.
If a CDE receives an NMTC allocation, an
allocation agreement will be entered into
between the CDE and the CDFI. The terms
and conditions of the agreement will include
the amount of NMTCs allocated to the CDE,
the approved uses of the allocation (e.g., loans
or equity investments to qualified businesses
or to other CDEs), the service areas in which
the NMTC proceeds may be disbursed, the
deadlines by when the CDE must have
received investments, and reporting requirements. Nonprofit organizations that receive an
allocation must also satisfy the CDFI that
they control the for-profit subsidiary that will
actually receive the NMTCs and that the nonprofit intends to transfer the allocation to that
subsidiary.15
Qualified Low-Income Community
Investments
AMCC
www.AMCCenter.com
(800) 645-4874
Once the agreement is in place, a CDE
may exchange its NMTCs for Qualified Equity
Investments (QEI). A QEI may take the form
of a purchase of stock (if the CDE is a corporation) or a capital interest (if the CDE is
a partnership or limited liability company).16
A CDE may receive only one form of consideration for a QEI—cash.17
An important feature of the NMTC program is the flexibility it affords a CDE in
using its cash proceeds and structuring the
terms and conditions of its investment in lowincome communities. Any investment that
meets the legal requirements of a Qualified
Low-Income Community Investment is
acceptable. A QLICI can take several forms.
One form is an equity investment in, or
loan to, a Qualified Active Low-Income
Community Business.18 A QALICB is any corporation or partnership in which 1) at least 50
percent of the total gross income of the business comes from the active conduct of a qualified business in a low-income community,
2) at least 40 percent of the tangible property
that the business owns or leases is located
within a low-income community, and 3) at
least 40 percent of its employees’ services
are performed in a low-income community.
Determining if a business meets the 50
percent gross income test is difficult if a business has offices, plants, and distribution centers both inside and outside low-income communities or if the business conducts some
of its transactions, for example, over the
Internet. In these situations, the IRS has indicated the requirement will be met if 50 percent of the business’s tangible property is
located within a low-income community or if
50 percent of the services it performs is by
employees in a low-income community.19
The term “qualified business” also
requires definition. Generally, a QALICB may
engage in any trade or business with certain
exclusions. Those exclusions include the
rental of residential property or businesses
that consist predominantly of the development or holding of intangibles; the operation
of golf courses, country clubs, massage parlors, hot tub or tanning facilities; racetracks
or other gambling facilities; liquor stores; or
farming.20
Other types of QLICIs include:
• An investment in, or loan to, another
CDE,21 in which the recipient CDE makes
loans to a QALICB or provides financial counseling or other services to businesses in or
residents of low-income communities.
• The purchase of a loan (but not investments) from another CDE if the loan is a
QLICI.22
• Providing financial counseling and other
services (i.e., advice on organizing or operating a business) to businesses located in,
and residents of, a low-income community.23
Regardless of what form the QLICI takes,
the CDE must ensure that the investment
meets the “substantially all” test,24 which may
be met in one of two ways. The first is that at
least 85 percent of the taxpayer’s investment
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must be directly traceable to a QLICI. This
percentage is calculated by taking the aggregate cost basis in all QLICIs that are directly
traceable to the taxpayer’s cash investment
and dividing it by the total amount of the taxpayer’s investment. The other way to meet
this test is through the “safe harbor” calculation, under which at least 85 percent of the
aggregate gross assets of the CDE must be
invested in QLICIs. This percentage is calculated by taking the CDE’s aggregate cost
basis in all its QLICIs and dividing it by the
CDE’s aggregate cost basis in all its assets.
This test must be met annually during the
entire seven-year compliance period, and the
test must be performed every six months. If
a CDE makes loans and receives repayment
of principal or equity, the substantially-all test
will be considered to be met if the loan principal repayments are reinvested by the end of
the next calendar year or equity payments are
reinvested within 12 months.25 Repayments of
loan principal or equity received within the
last year of the seven-year credit period do not
have to be reinvested. This is also true for
interest or dividend payments. Under the
NMTC rules, up to 5 percent of the cash
received for an investment may be held for
loan loss reserves, and these proceeds can
also be applied towards meeting the substantially-all test.
As with any provision in the IRC, there are
many other rules that govern the conduct of
a CDE and investors in these transactions. For
example, a CDE must allocate its entire share
of NMTCs within five years of the date of its
allocation agreement.26 A CDE must also disburse within one year the cash it receives
from an investor in exchange for an NMTC
allocation.27 For investors, NMTCs may only
be claimed in an amount equal to the actual
investment in the CDE and not the amount
used by the CDE from the investment proceeds to buy a project or provide financial
assistance to a business.28 Also, the investor’s
basis is reduced by the NMTCs allocated to
the investor.29
A CDE may use the 15 percent of its
investment that is not dedicated to meeting
the substantially-all test for other purposes,
including broker fees, under writer fees,
issuance expenses, or cash reserves.
New Markets Tax Credit Deals
Investors may choose, as they already do
under the low-income housing tax credit program, to invest directly in a CDE receiving an
NMTC allocation or make their investment
through funds that will purchase NMTCs
from CDEs that have received allocations.
Commercial banks may therefore become a
significant investment source. KeyBank, for
example, is marketing itself as a “one stop
shop” for investments using NMTCs. To
accomplish this, the bank qualified several
related entities as CDEs and applied for an
NMTC allocation of $250 million. The bank
has also formed several funds with an investment banking firm through which investor
proceeds will be used to make mezzanine
loans to QALICBs and purchase federal historic tax credits.
To illustrate how NMTCs could fit within
a loan package of fered by a bank like
KeyBank, consider a QALICB needing $10
million for a commercial development. The
bank would make a conventional loan of $7.5
million and a mezzanine loan of $750,000 (30
percent of $2.5 million). The mezzanine loan
would be financed by cash that a KeyBankaffiliated CDE receives from the purchase of
its NMTC allocation. Because of the tax savings realized by these investors from the
NMTCs, the bank could charge the QALICB
a lower interest rate on the mezzanine loan.
An economic investor such as a high networth individual would then finance the balance. Although the QALICB would pay a
higher interest rate to this investor, its overall debt ser vice payments would be less
because of the lower rate charged on the
mezzanine loan.
The treasury secretary is authorized to
issue regulations limiting “the credit for
investments which are directly or indirectly
subsidized by other Federal tax benefits.”30
One subsidy specifically referenced was the
low-income housing tax credit. However, in
September 2002, the IRS issued a notice indicating that it would not apply limitations to historic rehabilitation tax credits, depreciation
deductions, and tax benefits allocated to
empowerment zones and enterprise communities.31 The IRS also said that it is continuing to review the limitation between
NMTCs and low-income housing tax credits. For CDEs and investors, this notice is
significant. It means, for example, that financing for a commercial development involving
the restoration of a historic property could be
eligible for both NMTCs and historic tax
credits.
Apart from the risks perceived in investing in low-income communities, investors
must also take into consideration the actual
risk that NMTCs can be subject to recapture
for seven years after an equity investment is
made. Recapture may occur if 1) a CDE
ceases to meet the CDFI’s cer tification
requirements, 2) the CDE fails to continuously use substantially all of a qualified equity
investment, 3) the CDE redeems the qualified
equity investment, or 4) the IRS finds that the
principal purpose of a transaction is inconsistent with the purpose of the NMTC program.32 Bankruptcy of a CDE does not con-
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stitute a recapture event.
In 2003, $4 billion in NMTCs will be allocated by the CDFI—$2.5 billion at the beginning of the year from the 2001 and 2002 allocations and eventually $1.5 billion from this
year’s allocation. In 2004 and 2005, $2.5 billion
more will be allocated each year, followed by
$3 billion in both 2006 and 2007. If any credits remain unused after 2007, Congress has
provided that the CDFI can allocate them
until 2014.
The amount of NMTCs actually allocated
by the CDFI will not determine the success
or failure of this tax credit program; rather, its
immediate future rests in the response of
investors. A CDE’s receipt of a NMTC allocation does not guarantee that investors will
purchase stock or a capital interest in that
CDE. Investors are expected to weigh many
factors before deciding to make an investment. A significant factor will be whether or
not the rate of return measures up to the
risks associated with the CDE’s proposed
use of the investor’s cash and if those risks will
be mitigated through diversified investments.
Other considerations will be the track record
of the CDE or its sponsor, the qualifications
of its management, and the procedures created by the CDE to ensure ongoing compliance with the requirements of the NMTC
program. Investors will also take a hard look
at the strategy proposed by the CDE for the
investor to exit the entity after the seventh
year and receive a return of its capital.
Investors will also look to maximize the tax
benefits of NMTCs, especially if the IRS permits these credits to be leveraged. Leveraging
is already an essential part of the NMTC program because CDEs are expected to build on
the capital raised from the sale of NMTCs to
attract other financing sources for investments.
Leveraging can also make NMTCs more
attractive to investors. In a simple, straightforward NMTC transaction, an investor only
receives tax credits based on the amount of
cash that it pays for its investment in a CDE.
By contrast, as an example of a leveraged
transaction, an investment partnership could
be formed in which the investor puts its
money into the partnership and a bank makes
a loan to the partnership and not the CDE.
The investment partnership would invest the
total proceeds received from the investor and
the bank into a CDE. The investor would
then receive NMTCs based on the total
amount of the partnership’s investment and
not just its own funds. In this case, the rate of
return to an investor could rise dramatically.
As of early November 2002, the IRS was evaluating if NMTCs could be leveraged in this
fashion and, if so, under what terms and conditions.
While these and other issues will need to
be resolved, there are many reasons to be
optimistic about investor response to the
NMTC program. First, CDEs that succeed in
the application process and receive allocations will most likely be those that developed
programs in which investors have committed
to buy NMTCs or expressed a strong interest
in doing so.
The experience of the Low-Income
Housing Tax Credit program also provides a
basis for optimism. When the LIHTC was
created by the Tax Reform Act of 1986, many
dismissed the notion that investors would be
willing to purchase tax credits generated
from the construction or rehabilitation of
affordable housing. The IRS, investors, and
housing developers also had to resolve many
issues presented by the statute creating the
LIHTC program. Sixteen years later, these
issues have been largely resolved, the LIHTC
is a permanent tax credit, and investors have
demonstrated their confidence in the program by purchasing billions in credits.
Some observers believe the NMTC program is even more attractive than the lowincome housing program. The NMTC program has a shorter compliance period—7
years, compared to 15 years for LIHTCs.
Another is that the exact stream of financial
benefits can be calculated more readily; the
flow of benefits is not dependent on when a
building becomes occupied. Other perceived
advantages include the absence of foreclosure risks and a reduced chance of tax credits being recaptured in a NMTC transaction.
Over the next seven years, the NMTC
program will be successful if investors recognize that their investments are creating
new business ventures that will tap the considerable economic potential of low-income
communities and the people who reside in
them. By doing so, the tax credits will not only
provide these communities with needed jobs
and services but also will eventually lead to
their revitalization.
■
8
Community Renewal Tax Relief Act of 2000, Pub. L.
No. 106-554.
9
Guidance for Certification of Community Development
Entities, New Markets Tax Credit Program, Notice, 66
Fed. Reg. 65806,65809 (Dec. 20, 2001).
10
I.R.C. §45D(c).
11
Keith v. Volpe, No. 72-355-HP (C.D. Cal. filed July 7,
1972). Under a consent decree, the Century Freeway
Housing Program was mandated to replenish affordable
housing stock depleted during construction of the
Century Freeway.
12
Notice of Allocation Availability Inviting Applications
for the New Markets Tax Credit Program, 67 Fed.
Reg. 40012, 40017 (June 11, 2002).
13
Id. at 40117-18.
14
I.R.C. §45(D)(f)(2).
15
Notice of Allocation Availability Inviting Applications
for the New Markets Tax Credit Program, 67 Fed.
Reg. 40012, 40016 (June 11, 2002).
16
I.R.C. §45D(b)(6).
17
I.R.C. §45D(b)(1)(A).
18
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(d)(1)(i).
19
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(d)(4)(A).
20
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(d)(5).
21
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(d)(1)(iv).
22
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(d)(1)(ii).
23
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(d)(1)(iii).
24
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(c)(5).
25
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(b)(1).
26
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(c)(4)(i)(A).
27
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(c)(5)(iv).
28
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(b)(1).
29
I.R.C. §45D(h).
30
I.R.C. §45D(i)(1).
31
I.R.S. Notice 2002-64.
32
Treas. Reg. §1.45D-1T(e).
Look to First American
Exchange Corporation of California
to assist you and your clients’ §1031
Tax Deferred Exchange needs
Cynthia Pettyjohn
Frances Buerman
Anthony Alosi
Vice President
President
Vice President
1
Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, Research Facts,
available at http://www.icic.org/research/research
_facts.asp.
2
Thomas Tseng, Common Paths: Connecting Metropolitan Growth to Inner-City Opportunities in South Los
Angeles (May 1999), available at http://publicpolicy
.pepperdine.edu/institute/RethinkingSouthLA/home
.htm.
3
Stockton Williams, The New Markets Tax Credit: A
Promising New Tool for Community Revitalization
(Apr. 2001), available at http://www.frbsf.org
/publications/community/investments/cra01-1
/newmarket.pdf.
4
I.R.C. §45D(a).
5
I.R.C. §45D(a)(2).
6
I.R.C. §45D(e).
7
Notice of Allocation Availability Inviting Applications
for the New Markets Tax Credit Program, 67 Fed.
Reg. 40012, 40013 (June 11, 2002).
Visit us online at: www.la1031.com
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LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 21
practice
tips
By Sarah V. J. Spyksma and Katheryn M. McCarthy
New Rules on Providing Security
for Construction Contracts
Civil Code Section
the importance of understanding
the requirements and ambigui3110.5 creates
ties of Section 3110.5 cannot be
overstated.
uncertainty for
The obligations of Section
3110.5 apply to owners of interowners, lenders,
ests in real property that enter
into construction contracts with
and contractors
original contractors for works of
improvement3 on the property.
An owner of an interest in real
alifornia Civil Code Section property includes the fee simple
3110.5, which became ef- absolute owner as well as owners
fective Januar y 1, 2002, of lesser interests in the propwas passed into law with little or erty, such as a lessee or an easeno fanfare and apparently caught ment holder.4
many practitioners off guard.1
Certain property owners are
Among its provisions, the statute exempt from the requirements
requires that the owner of an of Section 3110.5. These include:
interest in real property provide 1) A qualified publicly traded
security for the owner’s payment company, or a wholly owned subobligations under a construction sidiar y of a qualified publicly
contract for cer tain works of traded company (provided that
improvement. It also provides the the qualified publicly traded paroriginal (or prime) contractor ent guarantees the obligations of
with the right to suspend work the subsidiar y under the conon the contract if the security is struction contract).
2) A qualified privately traded
not furnished.
The legislative histor y of company, or a wholly owned subSection 3110.5 makes it clear that sidiar y of a qualified privately
traded company
the statute’s proSarah V. J. Spyksma is
(provided that the
ponents were rea partner and
qualified privately
sponding to the
Katheryn M.
traded parent guarinjustice inherent
McCarthy is an
antees the obligain prior case law
associate in the Los
tions of the subthat required an
Angeles Real Estate
sidiar y under the
original contractor
Group of Sidley
construction conto pay its subconAustin Brown &
tract).5
tractors even if the
Wood LLP.
original contractor
In order to be
itself had not been
exempt, a publicly
paid.2 The legislatraded company
tors intended to provide con- must have nonsubordinated debt
tractors with sufficient leverage of at least investment grade qualto induce owners to make ity, while a privately traded comprogress payments promptly. pany must have a minimum net
Moreover, the statute declares worth of not less than $50 milthat contractual waiver of its ben- lion as determined in accordance
efits is against public policy. Thus with generally accepted account-
C
22 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
ing principles.6 An exempt owner
who ceases to qualify for an
exemption at any time prior to
final payment on a construction
contract other wise subject to
Section 3110.5 will, upon losing
the exemption, be obligated to
provide the security required by
the statute.7
Owners involved in large
development deals may have
assets sufficient to satisfy the net
worth criteria. However, owners
seeking to engage in smaller
transactions may find themselves
saddled with a new and unanticipated cost that may render the
deals economically unsound or
impractical. Although the security required by the statute is
intended to be composed of a portion of the contract price, the
interplay between the statute’s
requirements and the methods
by which construction projects
are typically financed will likely
result in the owner at best incurring costs of making the security
available in the manner required
by statute and at worst being
obligated to make the security
available in addition to the entire
contract price.
Further, while large companies themselves may be exempt
from the requirements of the
statute, the involvement of an
exempt company as a partner or
member holding less than 100
percent of the ownership interests in a property owner will not
extend the exemption to the proper ty owner, which must independently meet the exemption
criteria.
The statute’s requirements
apply only to works of improvement that exceed certain minimum value thresholds. Section
3110.5 protections do not apply
unless either the contracting
owner has a fee simple interest in
the property and the value of the
contract exceeds $5 million, or
the contracting owner holds
some lesser interest in the property and the value of the contract
exceeds $1 million.8 It is unclear
whether owners will be able to
avoid the applicability of the
statute by contracting for works
of improvement using multiple
small contracts, thereby creating
a situation in which no single contract meets the minimum threshold requirement. However, this
mechanism could be challenged
easily. First, even initial compliance with such a plan by an original contractor later could be
characterized as an unenforceable waiver of the protections to
which the contractor was entitled
under the statute. Further, to the
extent that these contracts were
between the same owner and contractor and given that a “work of
improvement” is defined as the
entire scheme of improvements,9
courts would probably not have
much difficulty characterizing
groups of small contracts between an owner and a contractor
as one contract for a single work
of improvement.
Certain types of construction
contracts are themselves exempt
from the statute’s requirements.
These exempt contracts are for
the construction of:
1) Single-family residences,
including those located within a
subdivision or “any associated
fixed works that require the services of a general engineering
contractor.” A single-family residence is defined in Section 3110.5
as an “improvement used or
intended to be used as a dwelling unit for
one family.”
2) Public works projects.
3) Housing developments eligible for a density bonus.10
Section 3110.5 is clear in its exclusion of
single-family residential projects. Less clear
is whether apartment projects and condominium or townhouse projects that are
intended as single-family residences but possess many of the characteristics of multiuser
projects would be exempt from the statute as
well.
The Security Requirement
If an owner enters into a contract that is
subject to Section 3110.5, the owner is
required to provide the original contractor
with security for the owner’s payment obligations under the construction contract. The
amount of the security should consist of at
least 25 percent of the total amount of a construction contract providing for substantial
completion within 6 months, or 15 percent of
the total amount of any other construction
contract.11 If the construction contract does
not contain a fixed price, the amount of security must be based on a percentage of a guaranteed maximum price; if there is no guaranteed maximum price, the security amount
is determined “with reference to” the contracting owner’s and original contractor’s
good faith estimate of the contracting owner’s
payment obligations under the construction
contract.12
If the valuation of a contract is uncertain,
Section 3110.5 does not provide guidance for
the parties in determining whether the statute
applies. The statute provides for the use of a
good faith estimate, if necessary, to ascertain the amount of the construction contract
for the purpose of determining how much
security should be provided. This mechanism, however, is not extended to the valuation of the contract for the purpose of determining whether the statutor y obligations
attach. Therefore, parties cannot avoid the
statute by intentionally omitting a contract
price and giving “good faith estimates” that
the contract will be worth less than the minimum threshold requirements. On the other
hand, the statute does not address what parties should do when there is genuine uncertainty about whether the contract exceeds
the statute’s minimum value thresholds.
The contracting owner may provide the
required security in one of three alternative
forms: a payment bond,13 an escrow account,14
or a letter of credit that is issued by a financial institution.15
For a payment bond to satisfy the requirements of Section 3110.5, it must be payable if
the contracting owner has defaulted on an
undisputed payment obligation16 under the
contract and the obligation has been due and
payable for more than 30 days.17 This option
may be unattractive to some owners because
bonds are increasingly less available and
more expensive, and bonding companies are
accustomed to dealing with and issuing bonds
to contractors rather than owners.
In order to meet the security requirement
with an escrow account,18 the contracting
owner must establish the account before work
commences under the construction contract
with an initial deposit of an amount that is not
less than the minimum required security.19 If
the construction contract provides for retentions from progress payments, the retentions
must be deposited into the escrow account as
the progress payments are made. However,
the outstanding balance of the escrow account
at any given time need not exceed the total
amount of remaining payments to the original
contractor under the construction contract.20
While the funds in the escrow account remain
the property of the contracting owner, they
are subject to a first priority security interest
in favor of the original contractor21 and are
effectively unavailable to the owner until
released.
Funds held in an escrow account may be
disbursed only upon either the joint authorization of the owner and contractor or in
accordance with a court order that is binding
on both parties.22 The conditions for disbursement upon the joint authorization of
the owner and contractor are subject to negotiation between the parties so long as the
required minimum balance is maintained.
Because the owner and the contractor can
negotiate additional conditions to the disbursement of funds from a Section 3110.5
escrow account, a construction lender may be
able to require the owner to add a condition
of prior consent from the construction lender.
It is unclear, however, whether courts will
see this type of condition as an impermissible
impediment to construction contract payments or will evaluate the requirement with
recognition of the need of the contracting
owner to obtain financing.
The provisions regarding escrow accounts
almost certainly conflict with the customary
construction loan draw procedures, which
often provide that the construction loan funds
do not belong to the borrower until the funds
are advanced (at which point they will accrue
interest). Alternatively, if the construction
loan funds are deemed advanced at the origination of the construction loan, the funds
would be subjected to a first priority security
interest in favor of the construction lender.
Moreover, under a typical construction loan,
the lender will hold all retainages as additional collateral. Because Section 3110.5
expressly does not require a lender to deposit
its funds into the escrow account, the borrower may have to fund the escrow with separate money, resulting in a significant duplication of certain funds required for a financed
project. This would render many prospective
transactions a practical impossibility for developers that need to borrow funds in the first
place.
There are several criteria for using a letter of credit to fulfill the security requirement
of Section 3110.5. The letter of credit 1) must
be irrevocable, 2) must inure to the benefit of
the original contractor, and 3) must be maintained in effect until the owner has satisfied
all of its payment obligations to the original
contractor.23 As long as these criteria are met,
the maturity date and other terms of the letter of credit may be determined by the contracting owner, the original contractor, and the
issuer of the letter of credit.24 Because contracting owners may have difficulty obtaining
payment bonds, and because an escrow
account ties up substantially more funds, the
letter of credit may be the most attractive
choice for owners, at least in financed projects. Although issuers of letters of credit
increasingly require cash collateral—and this,
like an escrow account, restricts available
funds—the parties may find that construction
financing can be structured to provide for a
letter of credit when collateral has already
been provided. However, even under this scenario, the lender that issues the letter of credit
will likely include the amount of the letter of
credit (whether or not drawn) in the financing and thereby reduce the net proceeds of
the loan. As a result, the contracting owner
may still find itself short of funds.
If the contracting owner fails to provide or
maintain the security required by Section
3110.5, the original contractor may make a
written demand on the owner.25 If the contracting owner fails to comply with the
requirements of Section 3110.5 within 10 days
of the contractor’s demand, whether or not
the owner has timely performed its payment
obligations to date, the original contractor
may suspend work until compliance occurs.26
Other Interested Parties
Section 3110.5 as drafted also may confer
benefits upon parties other than the original
contractor. These include contractors other
than the original contractor (for example,
subcontractors) that have provided work at a
particular property. Section 3110.5 explicitly
provides that it does not affect other provisions in the Civil Code regarding mechanic’s
liens, stop notices, bond remedies, or prompt
payment rights of subcontractors (including
the payment responsibilities of the original
contractor).27 Since any payment bond proLOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 23
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vided by the contracting owner must satisfy
the requirements of Civil Code Section 3096,
which contemplates a bond covering a range
of claimants, the bond provided by the contracting owner under Section 3110.5 may be
subject not only to the claims of the original
contractor but also to the claims of others.
Further, under the Civil Code, a wide
range of claimants may give stop notices to
either the contracting owner or the construction lender.28 The Civil Code defines
“construction lender” broadly to include “any
escrow holder or other party holding any
funds furnished or to be furnished by the
owner or lender or any other person as a
fund from which to pay construction costs.”29
This definition includes the issuers of Section
3110.5 letters of credit and the escrow agents
of Section 3110.5 escrow accounts. Thus, any
party entitled to issue a stop notice pertaining
to a particular work of improvement could
presumably enforce this right against an
issuer of a Section 3110.5 letter of credit or the
escrow agent of a Section 3110.5 escrow
account.
Contractors and owners will not be the
only parties grappling with the practical application of Section 3110.5. Indeed, construction lenders also will be interested in the
requirements of the statute, particularly the
extent to which they can obtain interests in
Section 3110.5 security.
Construction lenders may want to be certain that they obtain from owners specific
covenants to ensure that the parties are in
compliance with Section 3110.5, including
covenants regarding the present and continued exemption of the owner or construction
contract from the statute’s requirements. This
will create added pressure on the transaction, since neither the lender nor the owner
will want to increase the project costs, but the
lender will want the ability to act quickly to
prevent the stoppage of work should that
issue arise.
Construction lenders may also consider
taking a security interest in Section 3110.5
escrow accounts or letters of credit. Section
3110.5 does not prohibit the granting of such
a security interest but clearly contemplates
that the contractor will have a first priority
security interest in Section 3110.5 escrow
accounts, and that letters of credit issued pursuant to the statute will be in favor of the
original contractor.30 Further, Civil Code
Section 3166 provides that an assignment of
any construction loan funds by an owner or
contractor will not have priority over the
rights of a claimant giving a stop notice to a
construction lender, whether the assignment
was made before or after the stop notice was
given.31 Since a stop notice could also be
issued to an escrow agent or issuer of a letter
of credit holding Section 3110.5 security, the
lien of a construction lender on the security
would likely be junior to the rights of other
stop notice claimants.
Practitioners should pay heed to Section
3110.5, which creates considerable uncertainty for owners, contractors, and lenders. At
least initially, the statute presumably will
result in a significant increase in project costs
for all but the most substantial developers.
And construction financiers may be less
inclined to finance transactions that are subject to Section 3110.5 requirements.
■
1
2001 Cal. Stat. ch. 833 (AB 1534).
2
See http://www.leginfo.ca.gov. In 1997 the California
Supreme Court ruled that “pay if paid” provisions in contracts between the general contractor and its subcontractors are unenforceable. WM. R. Clarke Corp. v.
Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., 5 Cal. 4th 882 (1997).
3
See CIV. CODE §3106.
4
CIV. CODE §3110.5(a)(1). If there are multiple parties
with interests in the same property, the obligations of
§3110.5 fall only upon the owner contracting for the
work of improvement. Thus the landlord whose tenant
has contracted for a work of improvement has no obligation under §3110.5—although the tenant’s failure to
comply with the statute may have detrimental consequences for the landlord whose tenant defaults and
leaves behind a partially completed project.
5
CIV. CODE §3110.5(f).
6
Id.
7
Id.
8
CIV. CODE §3110.5(a)(2).
9
CIV. CODE §3106.
10
CIV. CODE §3110.5(e).
11
CIV. CODE §3110.5(b)(1-3).
12
CIV. CODE §3110.5(c).
13
CIV. CODE §§3110.5(b)(1), 3096.
14
CIV. CODE §3110.5(b).
15
“Financial institution” means a thrift institution, a
commercial bank, or a trust company. C IV . C ODE
§3110.5(b)(2); FIN. CODE §5107.
16
The statute offers no guidance as to what is an “undisputed” payment and therefore on what basis the contractor may make a claim. However, since the type of
payment bond that may be provided under Civil Code
§3110.5 is the same form of bond to be provided by contractors and subcontractors under Civil Code §3096, it
may be reasonable to infer that the dispute mechanisms applicable to §3096 bonds also are applicable to
§3110.5 payment bonds. See CIV. CODE §3110.5(b)(1).
17
CIV. CODE §3110.5(b)(1).
18
In order to satisfy the requirements of §3110.5, the
escrow account must be 1) designated as a “construction security escrow account,” 2) maintained with a
licensed or exempt escrow agent, and 3) located in
California. CIV. CODE §3110.5(b)(3)(A).
19
CIV. CODE §3110.5(b)(3)(B).
20
CIV. CODE §3110.5(b)(3)(B).
21
CIV. CODE §3110.5(A).
22
CIV. CODE §3110.5(b)(3)(B).
23
CIV. CODE §3110.5(b)(2).
24
Id.
25
CIV. CODE §3110.5(c).
26
Id.
27
CIV. CODE §3110.5(d).
28
CIV. CODE §§3158, 3159.
29
CIV. CODE §3087.
30
CIV. CODE §3110.5(b)(3)(A) (escrow accounts), CIV.
CODE §3110.5(b)(2) (letters of credit).
31
CIV. CODE §3166.
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LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 25
REAL ESTATE LAW ISSUE
By Maura B. O’Connor and Brett L. Hayes
Caveat
Lender
The due diligence of real property financing is
complicated when tenant leases are involved
26 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
should know about the risks of disputes that could interrupt the flow
of rents—and how and if they can limit these risks.
3) The provisions that would apply to the lender as successor landlord if it were to foreclose upon the property.
When a lender’s due diligence review involves tenant leases, the
lender’s lawyer should review each lease, together with all lease
amendments, side letters, work letters covering construction of tenant improvements (commonly referred to as TIs), and any other documents outlining the obligations of the landlord and the tenant. This
review should be done as early as possible in order to correct or
address any problems in the leases before the transaction closes. The
documentation for the planned transaction should include representations and warranties from the current owner/landlord and the tenants. The lender or its counsel should review all parts of each lease.
Ideally, the lender should also receive confirmation from the borrower/landlord in the loan documents and from each tenant in the tenant estoppel certificates that there are no oral or written underMaura B. O’Connor is a partner and Brett L. Hayes is an associate in
the Los Angeles Real Estate, Land Use, and Environmental Department
of Holland & Knight LLP. O’Connor and Hayes focus their practices on
commercial real estate financing, acquisitions, development, and leasing.
KEN CORRAL
I
n today’s real estate market, time is the most priceless
commodity. Clients, more than ever before, insist that their
counsel close real estate transactions quickly and inexpensively. The result is that lawyers have less time to investigate the real property that drives these transactions.
Under these circumstances, a due diligence review that misses a
key fact might become a malpractice trap for the unwary lawyer.
This may be particularly true for lawyers who represent lenders
financing real property loan transactions that involve tenants. When
these lawyers undertake a due diligence review for their clients, they
face unique problems that will be neglected unless the lawyers know
what to look for during the review. The primary problem is the
lender’s reluctance to foreclose on the real property. Most lenders
are not equipped to manage rental properties, and the last thing any
lender wants to do is spend more money on foreclosed property.
Thus most lenders have a lower tolerance for risk than most landlords
borrowing money. Lawyers should ensure that the lender’s due diligence review is expansive enough to determine:
1) The financial terms of the tenant leases. Lawyers should inquire
whether there is sufficient cash flow to service any debt and create
a profit.
2) The areas of the leases most likely to cause legal problems. Lenders
standings between the landlord and any tenant other than those provided to the lender in
writing. (See “Tenant Estoppel Certificates,”
this page.)
Basic Terms
The lawyer’s review of the existing leases
should cover the basic terms of each lease:
the name of the tenant, the space covered
by the lease, the amount of the rent, and the
method by which it is calculated. In a retail
lease, it is important for lenders to learn
whether percentage rent (usually based on
retail sales) is paid. In an office lease, lenders
need to know whether the tenant must pay
any other charges, such as utilities; taxes;
common area maintenance (CAM) charges;
heating, ventilation and air conditioning
(HVAC) services during business hours or on
weekends; or part of the cost for any TIs.
The lawyer also typically evaluates the credit
enhancements for each tenant—including
lease guaranties, letters of credit, or other
mechanisms that secure the tenant’s obligations—to determine if there are alternative
sources of recovery for the lender if the tenant defaults.
The due diligence review should clearly
identify the circumstances that allow tenants
to terminate their leases. Usually lenders
want leases to state that a tenant can terminate
its lease only if a casualty or condemnation
destroys most or all of the leased premises
and the damage will not be repaired for a significant period of time. Most leases also
should provide that a tenant cannot terminate its lease for reasons beyond the landlord’s control. For example, a shopping center tenant should not be able to terminate its
lease due to the failure of an anchor tenant to
operate during required mall operating hours
because the anchor tenant has filed for bankruptcy protection. The lawyer should check
the insurance provisions of the leases as well
to determine whether they are compatible
with the casualty and condemnation provisions of the leases.
The due diligence review should also
reveal whether TI allowances are provided. TI
allowances are sums of money that are some-
Tenant Estoppel Certificates
A
due diligence review by a lawyer for a lender client
regarding a loan secured by real property with tenants
should ensure that the lender is aware of all aspects of
the tenants’ leases and other agreements. The lender should
secure a representation by each tenant, in the form of a tenant estoppel certificate, of the specific details of the tenant’s
lease, and the lender should be able to rely on the certificate
when closing the transaction and in the event of any disputes.
The statements in the certificate should confirm, at a minimum,
all of the following:
• A true and correct copy of the lease and all amendments,
side letters, and any other agreements modifying the lease are
attached, and the amended lease is in full force and effect.
• The tenant has accepted the premises and is currently
occupying them and paying rent and any other charges (such
as operating costs and CAM costs). The certificate should contain the amount of the rent and the other charges.
• The actual commencement date of the lease.
• The square footage of the premises.
• The amount of any security deposit paid to the landlord by
the tenant.
• The tenant has not paid any amounts to the landlord other
than rent and the security deposit.
• The landlord has not defaulted under the lease, and the tenant knows of no action or omission that, with the giving of notice
or the passage of time, or both, would become a default by
the landlord.
• The tenant has no claims or defenses to enforcement of the
lease, nor any right to any offsets against rent. Or, if the tenant has any such claims, defenses, or rights, the tenant must
specifically list them.—M.B.O. & B.L.H.
28 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
times provided by a landlord to a tenant for
the tenant’s use in “building out” the tenant’s
premises. The use of TI allowance funds
should generally be restricted to items that
increase the value of the building. If TI
allowances may be used for “soft” costs (such
as architect’s fees and permit costs), the dollar amount that can be used for these costs
should be specifically stated in the lease. The
amount of (or formula used to calculate) any
TI allowance should be clearly stated, especially in leases for premises in which construction of the tenant’s improvements is not
yet complete and in future leases. When the
TI allowance is based on the square footage
of the premises, the lease should specify
whether the reference to square footage is to
total or usable square footage and should
state which one of the standard methods of
measuring these types of square footage was
used. These methods include those of the
Building Owners and Managers Association
(BOMA) or the American Industrial Real
Estate Association (AIR).
Ideally, counsel should review all agreements concerning brokers’ commissions for
all leases that are involved in the property.
Before a loan is made, lender’s counsel should
make sure that all commissions that are due
before the closing of the loan have been paid
for the leases in effect. Because some commissions may have a structured payoff over
a number of years, lawyers for lenders should
analyze whether the payment of any future
leasing commissions will adversely affect
cash flow and the borrower’s ability to repay
the loan. In addition, the lender needs to
know whether additional commissions are
due if tenants expand their premises or extend
the terms of their leases. Since a lender will
assume the obligations of the borrower following foreclosure, a lender’s lawyer should
determine whether, if foreclosure were to
occur, the lender would be liable for the broker’s commissions.
Valuation and Cash Flow
Once a lender’s lawyer has determined all
the charges that the tenants are required to
pay under their leases, and all the expenses
that the landlord must bear (including unpaid
TIs and commissions and all concessions to
the tenants), the lender’s principals or underwriters can use the information to estimate the
value of the property based upon the capitalization of the actual net income generated
by the property. A lender usually will want its
underwriters to determine whether the net
cash flow from the property is sufficient for
the borrower to make all payments in a timely
fashion. The estimated value for the property should be compared to the appraised
value of the property. If a great discrepancy
exists, a lender may wish to reconsider the
validity of its appraisal and the amount it is
willing to lend.
To determine whether the income stream
derived from the leases will support the repayment of the loan, a prudent lender will estimate the cash flow from the tenants’ rent—
net of all expenses—while applying a
reasonable vacancy factor to account for occasional tenant attrition. This cash flow estimate should include an analysis of what would
happen if certain contingencies allowed by the
leases were to take place—for example, if a
tenant were to exercise its option to purchase
its premises or to buy out its lease for a predetermined termination fee. The estimate
also may include the effect of any credit
enhancements provided by the tenants.
Determining the value of the property and the
cash flow are usually tasks that are assumed
by lenders because of their own unique underwriting requirements. Nevertheless, a savvy
lender’s lawyer should be intimately familiar
with the lender’s underwriting process in
order to better advise a lender on actual versus improbable risks.
A thorough due diligence review will also
disclose whether tenants have any right to
self-help in the resolution of problems with the
landlord. The lease, for example, may allow
a tenant to set off rent against the costs of
repairs or similar costs. Self-help rights have
become extremely prevalent in retail leases
involving anchor tenants or other sophisticated tenants, and these rights can impede
cash flow in a variety of unpredictable ways.
If a lender’s due diligence discloses these
rights, then the lender could craft a resolution
with the borrower precluding the enforcement of these remedies against the lender
after a foreclosure.
The review also should disclose whether
an original tenant is automatically released
from liability for payment under its lease if it
assigns its lease to a third party. Most lenders
object to such a provision because they want
as many creditworthy parties on the hook
as possible.
Another important issue is whether the
leases are structured so that inflation is not
likely to diminish their profitability. Some
leases provide that rents may increase by a set
amount over time, or that rents may be
adjusted by the increase in the Consumer
Price Index or some similar formula. Some
leases adjust the rents to estimated market
rates by means of dueling appraisals or
through arbitration. A careful lawyer will also
check to make sure that CAM costs and other
operating costs that the tenant is required to
pay are adjusted for inflation.
If one or two large tenants are involved in
the property, the lender needs to consider
whether the cash flow from the property will
be severely diminished if those key tenants
leave. If anchor tenants have the right to terminate their leases upon payment of a fee or
by exercising an option to purchase the property, the size of the fee or purchase price
should be considered. In addition, some
lenders require that all lease termination fees
be paid directly to them instead of to the borrower/landlord. If a tenant has an option to
purchase the property, most lenders will insist
that the option price be equal to at least the
unpaid balance of the mortgage (plus any
senior liens) at the time of purchase, and that
the mortgage be paid in full when the option
price is paid. Again, the familiarity of lawyers
with their lender clients’ underwriting requirements will help the lawyers identify these
economic concerns and advise their clients
about them earlier rather than later in the
transaction.
Exclusive Use Clauses
As part of the due diligence analysis, lenders’
lawyers should be aware of any exclusive use
clauses in tenants’ leases. Tenants with these
clauses could have conflicting rights. From a
lender’s perspective, exclusive use clauses
can be troublesome because they limit lease
activity, increase the likelihood that a tenant
may terminate the lease, and potentially limit
the lender’s ability to lease space to competing tenants in other nearby properties owned
by the lender.
The pitfalls associated with exclusive use
clauses are boundless. Therefore, a lender’s
lawyer should be intimately familiar with all
exclusive use provisions and should correct
any shortcomings in the clauses prior to the
close of any loan transaction.
Lenders’ lawyers must assess whether
the exclusive use clause is “business-oriented” or “product-oriented.” A narrowly
drawn business-oriented exclusive use clause
is limited in scope and does little to restrain
competition between tenants. For example, if
an exclusive use clause has been granted to
a tenant to operate an office supply store,
tenants operating a computer store or business furniture store in the same shopping
center would not violate the first tenant’s
exclusive use clause.
Alternatively, a product-oriented exclusive use clause curbs competition because it
specifically identifies products that other tenants cannot sell. The problem with productoriented exclusives is that they place a significant burden on landlords to continuously
super vise and monitor their tenants. For
example, in a California case involving a drug
store, the landlord promised its drug store
tenant that no other store would be permitted
to sell drugs, medicines, or cosmetics in the
shopping center.1 A supermarket tenant subsequently began to sell these types of products. The landlord argued that it relied on
the supermarket to work out its differences
with the drug store tenant. But the court
held that the landlord could not avoid its
obligation under the lease by seeking to delegate its performance to others.
Ideally, the lawyer’s review of the leases
should be used as a base from which to obtain
tenant estoppel certificates, which are detailed
representations about the leases typically prepared by buyer’s or lender’s counsel for
review and execution by each of the tenants
of a property. A certificate should expressly
provide that in closing the contemplated transaction, the buyer or lender and its counsel will
rely on the statements in the certificate. If a
tenant signs such an estoppel, it cannot later
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 29
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30 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
take a different position about facts it has
affirmed in its signed certificate.
Foreclosure Issues
While lawyers need to conduct their due diligence review against the backdrop of knowing that lenders seek to avoid foreclosure,
lawyers still must evaluate whether the leases
of the property at issue would be acceptable
to the lender if the lender were to foreclose
on the property and step into the shoes of the
landlord.
Typically, a lender’s lawyer will analyze
the financial terms of the leases with the
lender, considering which agreements of the
original landlord would be so burdensome to
the lender after a foreclosure that the lender
would not be willing to be bound to them.
Some of the types of agreements that might
be overly burdensome include:
• An agreement by the landlord to provide
or finance a TI allowance to the tenant or to
build TIs for any expansion space.
• An agreement allowing a tenant to use the
premises without paying rent during certain
periods. (These periods usually occur early in
the term of the lease, but agreements sometimes provide for rent-free periods at other
times during the term.)
• An agreement by a landlord to pay the
obligations of its tenant under the lease at a
different location (usually the tenant’s former premises).
The object of this review is to identify
obligations that the lender is not willing to
assume, so that the lender’s counsel can draft
appropriate Subordination, Nondisturbance
and Attornment agreements (SNDAs) in
which the lender is absolved from liability
for those obligations if it forecloses.2
A key question that the lender’s lawyer will
need to answer in advance is whether the
leases will survive a foreclosure. The black letter law of real estate priorities is “first in time,
first in right,” meaning that a mortgage (or
deed of trust) recorded in the public records
after the recordation of a notice or memorandum of lease is junior in priority to the
lease. If a memorandum or notice of a lease
is recorded after a mortgage is recorded, the
lease is generally junior to the mortgage.
Many leases contain subordination clauses
that may not work to a lender’s advantage.
Automatic subordination clauses are provisions that make the tenant’s lease automatically junior to any lender’s mortgage. Such
provisions can be dangerous for lenders to
accept, because they are often too broadly
drafted. For example, such a clause can make
a tenant’s lease junior in priority, or subordinate, to all mortgages, including junior financing. From the senior lender’s position, this
could lead to an unpleasant situation in which
a junior lender that forecloses its mortgage
could extinguish leases that the senior lender
would prefer to keep in place. For these reasons, any lender that accepts an automatic
subordination clause in leases should make
sure that the clause operates only to subordinate the lease to its own mortgage.
With each important tenant, it is prudent
to enter into an SNDA that provides contractually that the tenant’s lease will remain
effective after a foreclosure by the lender.
Without an SNDA, it can be difficult to predict
whether, after a foreclosure, the lender or
other purchaser of the foreclosed property
will be entitled to enforce the leases.
Typically, if a mortgage junior to a lease is
foreclosed, the lease remains in effect and the
purchaser at the foreclosure sale (usually the
foreclosing lender) takes title to the property subject to the lease terms. If a mortgage
senior to a lease is foreclosed, under
California law the junior lease usually is terminated by the foreclosure, the tenant is no
longer obligated under the lease, and the
purchaser at foreclosure gets title to the property—but risks losing the tenants. In some
states, however, including California, tenants
in possession when the loan is made may
have certain rights, even if their leases are not
recorded and are therefore junior to the foreclosed mortgage, but the obligations of the
purchaser as successor landlord may not be
clear.3
In California, although case law is rather
muddled and may result in unexpected consequences, the general rule is that a lease that
is subordinate to a deed of trust is extinguished by foreclosure of the deed of trust.4
Since using an SNDA both creates a more predictable outcome and protects foreclosing
lenders by ensuring that the existing leases
will be enforced after a foreclosure even in a
falling rental market, most lenders should
use SNDAs to limit their risks.
If the review of a lease discloses major
problems that are so severe that a carefully
drafted tenant estoppel certificate alone will
not fix them, the lender’s lawyer should recommend that the lender ask its borrower,
the landlord, to resolve all those lease issues
by use of either an SNDA or an amendment
to the lease. The extent to which a lender
can obtain the agreement of a tenant to
resolve the ambiguities and problems caused
by the lease depends upon the bargaining
power of the lender, landlord, and tenant.
Alternatively, the lender and the tenant
can agree, in an SNDA or in a separate contract, that certain obligations and promises of
the original landlord will not be binding upon
the lender if it forecloses on the property.
Lenders’ lawyers may require representa-
tions and warranties from the borrower concerning the performance of its obligations
as landlord, including the borrower’s confirmation that it is not in default in its obligations
as landlord under the leases, and the borrower’s express promises to perform its obligations as landlord under the leases.
There is no magic to due diligence. It is,
in many respects, a thankless job. Nevertheless, if done properly, the service provided to clients is invaluable, not to mention
one that they genuinely appreciate in the end.
Although time may be in short supply for
real proper ty transactions, conducting a
sound and thorough due diligence review
will help most lawyers sleep soundly through
the night after their deals have closed.
■
1
Hildebrand v. Stonecrest Corp., 174 Cal. App. 2d 158
(1959).
2
See, e.g., David P. Kassoy, The Tension Between
Lenders and Credit Tenants over SNDAs, LOS ANGELES
LAWYER, Jan. 2001, at 16.
3
See Morton P. Fisher Jr. & Richard H. Goldman, The
Ritual Dance Between Lessee and Lender—
Subordination, Nondisturbance, and Attornment, 30
REAL PROP. PROB. & TR. J. 364, 376 et seq.(Fall 1995).
4
Dover Mobile Estates v. Fiber Form Prods., Inc., 220
Cal. App. 3d 1494 (1990). But see Miscione v. Barton
Dev. Co., 52 Cal. App. 4th 1320 (1997) (contradicting
Dover because it suggests that a lease subordinate to
a loan is not extinguished if an attornment clause is in
place).
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REAL ESTATE LAW ISSUE
By Peter Niemiec
Blues
The Brownfield
Recent legislation intended to promote the cleanup and
reuse of brownfields may actually have the opposite effect
B
rownfields are proper ties
whose redevelopment is hindered by the presence of contamination. Ostensibly passed
to “promote the cleanup and
reuse of brownfields,” 1 the Brownfields
Revitalization and Environmental Restoration
Act of 2001 (BRERA),2 signed into law in
2002, is the latest set of amendments to the
Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).3
However, analysis of the complex provisions
of these amendments reveals little that will
promote those ends. Instead, the amendments offer more sticks than carrots, create
as many problems as they solve, and contain
traps for the unwary.
This situation, unfortunately, is not new.
CERCLA has been problematic for owners
and purchasers of real estate ever since its
passage in 1980 in response to national con-
32 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
cern over sites such as the infamous Love
Canal.4 CERCLA was intended to provide the
legal tools to clean up contaminated sites.5
One of those tools is the imposition of strict,
joint, and several liability for cleanup on current owners and operators of properties from
which there is a release of hazardous substances, as well as persons who owned and
operated a property at the time that any disposal of hazardous substances occurred.6
The list of hazardous substances is long,7
and liability is not dependent on the amount
of hazardous substances released.8 Current
owners are liable even if they had nothing to
do with causing the contamination.9
This draconian liability scheme has
brought much financial pain to those who
have bought industrial and commercial properties either before CERCLA’s passage or,
afterwards, without due consideration for the
problems they were purchasing.10 It has also
resulted in many contaminated properties
lying fallow because of the well-founded concern that their purchase could lead to liabilities that far exceed any economic value that
might otherwise be derived from the property.11 The notion of providing incentives for
the redevelopment of contaminated properties was entirely absent from CERCLA.
Recognition that this liability scheme was
causing problems came fairly early, but the
response was timid—the reform was so narrowly crafted as to be of dubious value.
Specifically, the first set of amendments to
CERCLA, passed in 1986,12 created what is
now widely known as the innocent purchaser
defense. In a typically obscure bit of CERCLA
Peter Niemiec is a solo practitioner based in
Manhattan Beach whose practice focuses on
real estate transactional and environmental
matters.
drafting, this defense was created by inserting a definition of “contractual relationship,”
a term used in one of the three original
defenses provided for in the original statute.13
To qualify as an innocent purchaser, a
landowner had to prove satisfaction of six
conditions: 1) the disposal of the hazardous
substances occurred prior to acquisition, 2)
the disposal was caused solely by the act or
omission of a third party, 3) “all appropriate
inquiry” was made into previous ownership
and uses of the property, 4) despite this
inquiry, the landowner did not know and had
no reason to know that any hazardous substance was disposed of at the facility, 5) the
landowner exercised “due care” with respect
to the hazardous substances, and 6) precautions were taken against the foreseeable consequences of the acts and omissions of the
third party that caused the problem.14
This is a formidable set of hurdles to avoid
liability for a problem that the landowner did
not cause. However, from the perspective of
someone considering the purchase of real
estate, the most glaring problem with this
defense is the nature of its availability: It is
necessary to make “all appropriate inquiries”
about the property and yet have no reason to
know that hazardous substances were disposed of. If the inquiry uncovered reasons to
believe that hazardous substances had been
disposed of, the defense was not available. On
the other hand, if the prospective purchaser
did an investigation and hazardous substances
were later found, there was a significant risk
that the earlier investigation would be found
to be insufficient. As a result, this defense was
useless to someone hoping to redevelop a
property with known contamination issues
and was of little comfort to any other purchaser of real estate.
Perhaps the best example of these limitations is the new CERCLA Section
107(r)(1).15 At first blush, the section seems
straightforward: It provides that bona fide
prospective purchasers are not liable as owners or operators as long as they do not
“impede the performance of a response action
or natural resource restoration.”16 However,
the simplicity vanishes when one reads the
definition of “bona fide prospective purchaser.”17 In addition to specifying that the
defense only applies to persons who purchased property after January 11, 2002, the
definition places eight conditions that one
chaser must comply with EPA subpoenas
and requests for information, and 8) the purchaser must not be affiliated with any other
liable person.18
For many reasons, this long list should
give pause to anyone hoping to qualify as a
bona fide prospective purchaser. Failure to
meet any one of these criteria—and many of
them are quite complex—relegates the buyer
to the status of liable party, doomed to the
long and expensive process of negotiating or
litigating a share of liability with other liable
parties—or, worse yet, left as the only deep
pocket at a site where the other liable parties
has to meet to be considered a bona fide
prospective purchaser: 1) all disposal of hazardous substances must have occurred prior
to acquisition, 2) the purchaser must have
made all appropriate inquiry into previous
uses (much like an innocent purchaser), 3)
the person must have provided all legally
required notices regarding the release of hazardous substances, 4) the person must exercise appropriate care with respect to the hazardous substances, including reasonable steps
to prevent or limit exposure, 5) the purchaser
must provide full cooperation to anyone authorized to take response actions, 6) the purchaser must comply with established land
use restrictions and avoid doing anything
that would impede the ef fectiveness or
integrity of any institutional control, 7) the pur-
are dead, defunct, or bankrupt.
The second reason to be wary of this list
of criteria is less obvious but just as troubling. Criteria three through seven involve
actions that the purchaser may be required to
take after the acquisition. Thus, someone
who qualifies as a bona fide prospective purchaser at the time of acquisition can lose this
status because of actions or events that occur
later. The most extreme example is the
requirement to comply with land use restrictions established in connection with any
response action and not to impede the effectiveness of institutional controls.19 Unless the
site is one where all the response decisions
have been made and implemented, this means
that the purchaser runs the risk that land
use restrictions or institutional controls may
DENNIS IRWIN
Continuing Risks
Unfortunately, the BRERA amendments to
CERCLA represent a similarly timid response.
They create the possibility of purchasing a
known contaminated property without incurring CERCLA liability by establishing a new
defense of being a bona fide prospective purchaser, but this defense is burdensome to
establish. The amendments also specify that
certain owners of properties contiguous with
contaminated sites are not considered liable
persons, but they place many restrictions on
the availability of this relief. These statutory
forms of relief have a dark side in that they
suggest liability for owners who previously
had good arguments against liability. The
standards for qualifying as an innocent purchaser have actually been made tougher.
Funding is available for planning and site
characterization, but only through local government entities and only in limited amounts.
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 33
be imposed, perhaps long after acquisition,
that will be at odds with the planned or actual
development of the property. The bona fide
purchaser may not have much influence on
these cleanup decisions for many reasons,
including the fact that the decision maker
will know that bona fide purchasers who do
not cooperate lose their defense.
The potential for trouble does not end
there. Another criterion requires the purchaser to take “appropriate care” with the
hazardous substances found at the facility to
stop releases, prevent future ones, and limit
exposure.20 The phrase “appropriate care” is
new to the CERCLA regime—previously, persons tr ying to qualify for the preexisting
defenses in Section 107(b)21 had to show that
they had exercised “due care” with regard to
hazardous substances found at the site.22 It
remains unclear what, if any, difference the
cour ts will find between “due care” and
“appropriate care.” And when that issue is
addressed, another will remain regarding
what kind of steps will be “appropriate” to
stop releases, prevent future ones, and limit
exposure. Finally, differences between the
provisions for the bona fide prospective purchaser and the owner of contiguous property raise troubling questions about what will
be required to meet the appropriate care element of this defense. Accordingly, an attorney
can offer no clear advice to a client about
how to avoid becoming a liable party after the
property is acquired.
The criterion that all disposal needs to
occur before acquisition also contains a trap.
To the uninitiated, the provision sounds simple: If the purchaser does not add any contamination, there is no liability. However, examination of the CERCLA case law reveals how
wrong this reading may be. The holding in
Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation v.
Catellus Development Corporation,23 for example, is that moving contaminated soil to uncontaminated portions of the property constitutes disposal. CERCLA’s definition of a
hazardous substance pays no regard to quantity, so it is actually quite likely that any redevelopment of a brownfield property could
involve this kind of “disposal.” Thus, the criterion can easily be violated unwittingly during redevelopment.
Even if the purchaser does nothing to
move existing contamination, this condition
may still be violated. The possibility arises
from the holding in Nurad v. William E.
Hooper & Sons, Inc.,24 in which the court
found that “the reposing of hazardous waste
and its subsequent movement through the
environment” can constitute disposal under
CERCLA. 25 While several circuit cour ts,
including the Ninth Circuit, have explicitly
rejected the notion that the passive migra34 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
tion of contaminants through soil, without
more, constitutes disposal for CERCLA purposes,26 the rationale for these cases has been
undercut by provisions in BRERA concerning
the liability of owners of properties contiguous to the source of hazardous substance
releases. In short, if the passive migration of
contaminants is not disposal under CERCLA,
then these contiguous owners would not be
liable, and it would not be necessary to establish a defense to protect them. Thus, the contiguous landowner defense may render meaningless the relief that is supposedly afforded
by the bona fide prospective purchaser
defense. Undoubtedly, the courts will have to
decide what this muddle means.
As if all that were not enough to deter
anyone from relying on being a bona fide
prospective purchaser, BRERA goes on to
provide that if EPA has unrecovered response
costs in connection with the “facility” (which
could include properties beyond the one purchased),27 EPA is entitled to place a lien on the
property for less than or equal to the amount
that the cleanup increases the fair market
value of the property.28 The possibility of such
a lien raises questions about the purchaser’s
potential return on investment and carries
the prospect of litigation over the amount of
the lien. Just as important, if the property is
acquired with a loan, the imposition of such
a lien runs a high probability of violating the
terms of the deed of trust securing the loan.
Contiguous Property Owners
If the bona fide purchaser provisions are a
trap for the unwary, BRERA’s provisions on
contiguous properties are a dangerous solution in search of a problem to justify their
creation. To summarize these provisions is
challenging because the statute contains
needlessly complex grammatical structures,29
making one wonder if some darker meaning
is being intentionally obscured.
Under BRERA’s provisions, owners or
operators of properties contaminated by offsite sources can escape liability if they meet
eight criteria which in simplified form are
that the person 1) did not cause, contribute,
or consent to the release, 2) is not affiliated
with someone who is liable for the release,30
3) takes reasonable steps to stop the release
and limit human or environmental exposure
(note the absence of either “due care” or
“appropriate care,” which are found in otherwise parallel requirements for the innocent purchaser and bona fide purchaser
defenses), 4) provides full cooperation to
those conducting the cleanup, 5) is in compliance with land use restrictions established
as part of the response and does not interfere
with other institutional controls associated
with the release, 6) is in compliance with any
information request from EPA, 7) provides all
legally required notices with respect to the
release of hazardous substances, and 8) conducted appropriate inquiry into the property
at the time of acquisition and yet had no reason to know of the contamination.31
This defense raises the question of what
need it fills. Arguably, it was necessar y
because of the holding in Nurad that the passive migration of contaminants constitutes a
disposal under CERCLA. Under this logic,
since passive migration is “disposal,” people
whose property is contaminated by hazardous
substances migrating from off the site are
“owners and operators” at the time of disposal and thus liable under CERCLA.
However, Nurad appears to be a minority
view among the circuits.32 Thus, on the basis
of case law, adjoining property owners (especially those in the Second, Third, Sixth, and
Ninth Circuits) have had a good argument
that they were not liable at all under CERCLA.
Besides, if Nurad were the problem, a simpler
solution is available—namely, a provision
indicating that passive migration from an offsite source is not a basis for liability under
CERCLA.
There is also a practical reason to question
the necessity for the contiguous property
owner provisions of BRERA. Little or no evidence exists that contiguous owners have
been subject to liability claims. For example,
contaminated aquifers underlie large parts
of the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys,
and the contamination in these aquifers continues to migrate. This situation theoretically
makes most of the property owners in those
areas liable under CERCLA as owners of facilities at the time of disposal, if disposal includes
passive migration. Yet to date neither the government nor the private parties that have
been the subject of government cleanup
claims have sought recovery from these socalled contiguous proper ty owners. 33
Although there were some problems with
lenders who were concerned about this
source of liability, those concerns appear to
have subsided, and lending is a problem in
these areas only for properties for which data
suggests that they may be a source of contamination.
Yet another reason to question the need
for this defense is EPA’s 1995 document titled
“Policy toward Owners of Property Containing Contaminated Aquifers.”34 In the policy, EPA indicated that, subject to certain
conditions, it would not take enforcement
action or seek cost recover y from those
defined as contiguous property owners under
BRERA. EPA based its policy on the notion
that such contiguous property owners could
claim the defense, already existing in Section
107(b)(3) of CERCLA ,35 that the release was
caused solely by the act or omission of a third
par ty. If this indication is true, why did
Congress create a new defense rather than
simply continue to rely on the third-party
defense found in Section 107(b)(3)? That
defense has fewer conditions and would not
have raised questions about whether
Congress intended that passive migration
constituted disposal.36
As it stands, this new defense raises the
implication that Congress agreed with the
theory of Nurad that passive migration constitutes disposal. In so doing, it undermines
the holdings of the courts that have declined
to follow Nurad. Those holdings may be saved
by Section 107(q)(2),37 which provides that
the new subsection does not limit any existing defenses or create any new liability.
However, that seems to be small comfort in
the face of the rest of the section, which
imposes many conditions on the availability
of this new defense and adds even more confusion to CERCLA’s already confusing liability provisions.
Those daring to take advantage of this
new defense will have to face its shortcomings. The most glaring is that it shares the
Catch-22 of the original innocent purchaser
defense; namely, it is unavailable if the person
acquiring the property had reason to know of
the contamination prior to acquisition. This
requirement makes the defense useless to
anyone wishing to redevelop a brownfield
proper ty. Like the bona fide purchaser
defense, its availability further depends on
events that can occur after acquisition, such
as compliance with land use restrictions established as part of the hazardous substance
response and compliance with EPA information requests.
One (rather limited) positive aspect of
this provision is that Congress specified that
the requirement to take reasonable steps to
stop or prevent releases does not include a
requirement to conduct groundwater investigations or install groundwater remediation
systems, except as required by the “Policy
toward Owners of Proper ty Containing
Contaminated Aquifers.”38 That policy only
requires this action in unspecified “exceptional circumstances” or if operation of an
existing groundwater well on the property
affects the migration of contaminants. The
dark side of this provision is that no similar
limitation was placed on the obligations of
bona fide prospective purchasers, who must
comply with a virtually identical appropriate
care provision to qualify for that defense.39
Does this mean that Congress concluded
that bona fide purchasers might, in some circumstances, have to conduct groundwater
investigation or remediation to preserve their
status? Was this an intentional policy choice
or just sloppy drafting? One suspects the latter, but ultimately it will probably be the subject of an appellate decision.
With a similarly double-edged sword,
Congress gave EPA the explicit authority to
grant persons qualifying for this defense
assurances that no enforcement action will be
brought or offer protection against cost recovery and contribution suits.40 No such provision was included for bona fide prospective
purchasers, again raising the question of
whether this was just an oversight or an intentional policy choice. Since EPA stated in its
1995 policy that it intended to make such
relief available to contiguous owners, this
provision provides another source of dread
about why it was necessary.
Complicated Innocence
Another telling sign that BRERA was not necessarily designed to alleviate the harshness of
CERCLA liability is that the innocent
landowner defense (which was the original,
limited form of CERCLA liability relief) was
made more complicated and harder to demonstrate under BRERA. The first source of complication is the six new conditions that a
landowner must meet to qualify for this
defense. Specifically, a landowner must now
1) provide full cooperation to EPA’s response,
2) comply with any land use restrictions established in connection with EPA’s response
actions, 3) not do anything that interferes
with any institutional control that is part of the
response action, 4) take reasonable steps to
stop any continuing release, 5) take reasonable steps to prevent any future release, and
6) take reasonable steps to prevent or limit
human or environmental exposure to the contamination.41
These new conditions are puzzling, in
light of the fact that to establish the innocent
landowner defense, a person already had to
demonstrate that due care was exercised with
regard to the hazardous substance and that
precautions were taken against the foreseeable consequences of the acts or omissions of
the third party who caused the contamination.42 It would be convenient if these new
conditions were merely meant to be a clarification of what constitutes due care and precautions. Nevertheless, given how these
amendments are structured, it is equally plausible to argue that these conditions are in
addition to the requirements of Section
107(b)(3) for due care and precaution.
However, even if the new requirements are
read as defining “due care” and “precaution,”
this significantly limits the discretion of a
court to fashion standards that are tailored to
the facts of the transaction before it.
Another source of complication for the
innocent landowner defense arises from the
statute’s attempt to standardize preacquisition
environmental due diligence. The BRERA
amendments direct EPA to promulgate standards for what constitutes “all appropriate
inquiries” for the purposes of establishing
this defense.43 This has the potential to be a
positive development, as long as EPA does not
create unreasonable standards. However, the
amendments also established an interim criterion for property purchased after May 31,
1997: the 1997 version of the Standard Practice
for Environmental Site Assessment: Phase I
Environmental Site Assessment Process, published by the American Society for Testing
and Materials.44 This has the potential to be
a complication for current transactions,
because the ASTM has updated its Phase I
standard since issuing the 1997 standard.45
Thus, an attorney should counsel a client
that is considering a purchase to request the
consultant doing the Phase I assessment to
represent that the report will meet both the
1997 standard and the 2000 standard.
This provision may spell trouble for anyone who acquired property after May 31,
1997, and did not conduct an investigation
that complied with the 1997 ASTM Phase I
standard. Twenty-two years after CERCLA’s
passage, there are still people who buy industrial or commercial properties without environmental investigation. At a less extreme
level, many people seemed to think that the
more abbreviated investigation represented
by the ASTM Transaction Screen46 was a sufficient investigation in some circumstances.
Hopefully, when EPA adopts a new standard,
it will not be retroactive.
BRERA not only offers new hazards but
also lacks incentives to brownfields redevelopment. Few, if any, of BRERA’s carrots come
in the form of liability relief. Subtitle A of
BRERA47 authorizes EPA to establish a grant
program to state and local governments to
allow those local entities to engage in remediation themselves or make loans to site operators or developers. BRERA places limitations on the kind of sites for which this
assistance is available, specifically excluding
sites that are the subject of cleanup orders
(even orders on consent) under many federal
and state programs.48 The amounts are limited—a maximum of $1 million to each state
or local government, and a maximum loan of
$200,000 to an owner or developer. While
these amounts may be significant for a particular project, the limited amount of authorized appropriations—a maximum of $200
million over five years—together with the
limitation on eligible sites, guarantees that this
program is not likely to have widespread
impact.
Since BRERA affords little in the way of
either liability relief or financial incentives, it
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 35
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36 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
is likely that brownfields redevelopment will
continue to be driven by the market forces
that have driven it to date—namely, the need
for retail, and in some cases, residential development in urban and suburban areas where
a location has become attractive because of
changes in surrounding uses and development. Redevelopment will be far more likely
where the contamination can be addressed
relatively cheaply, or there is a solvent party
who is already cleaning up the property, or a
redevelopment agency has taken on the burden of getting the site cleaned up.
Lawyers representing parties seeking to
acquire brownfield properties will have to
rely on the tools that have already been developed for these deals. The cornerstone of the
approach to doing the deals is a thorough
investigation of the property, including the history of the property’s use, the sources of the
contamination, and its potential impact on
the planned development. The investigation
needs to be performed by competent engineering and scientific professionals. The information gathered is essential to advise the
prospective purchaser about the risks
involved in the deal and how best to protect
against them.
Probably the best way to protect against
risk is through indemnities and cleanup agreements with other parties who are responsible
for the contamination, if those parties have
significant resources. Agreements with the
government agency that has jurisdiction over
the cleanup can be very useful in making
financing more available or clarifying the
responsibility of the prospective purchaser,
especially if there are questions or limitations concerning the ability of other liable
parties to perform the cleanup. More often
than not, these agreements are with state
and local agencies rather than EPA.
There are many reasons for this.
Historically, EPA has not been receptive to
making agreements with prospective purchasers (although it has done so in the past,
especially for high-profile projects having
strong support from local political leaders).
Probably more important, state and local
agencies supervise far more cleanups. There
are even some kinds of contamination—such
as that associated with gasoline stations—
that are beyond CERCLA’s statutory reach.49
If anything, the BRERA amendments will
only increase the likelihood that any agreement from the government to protect a
prospective purchaser will be with a state or
local agency, as EPA has taken the position
that formal agreements are less necessary
now that there are so-called protections available in the statute.50 The BRERA amendments, however, do not affect liability under
California environmental statutes.51
Environmental insurance is another
approach that has been used to facilitate deals
on properties with contamination issues. In
general, however, it is an approach that consumes large amounts of time and money,
since the policies almost always need to be
specifically negotiated. The market for these
products also changes rapidly. Thus, it is difficult to say whether BRERA will have any significant impact on the availability of these
products as a solution to making brownfields
deals work.
BRERA offers little reform, little incentive to do brownfields deals, and little reason to think that the fundamental ways of
doing these deals will change. The amendments do, however, add significant complication to an already complicated statutory
scheme and many potential traps for those
who might be tempted to take advantage of
the so-called reforms being offered. The
treacherous conditions that BRERA places
on the defenses it creates, and its quirky
drafting, will require lawyers who advise
clients about its applicability to think long
and hard about the possible implications of
BRERA’s terms. Caveat emptor.
■
1
Preamble to the Brownfields Revitalization and
Environmental Restoration Act of 2001, tit. 2 of the
Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields
Revitalization Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-118 (Jan. 11,
2002).
2
The Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental
Restoration Act of 2001, tit. 2 of the Small Business
Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act of
2001, Pub. L. No. 107-118 (Jan. 11, 2002).
3
The Comprehensive Environmental Response,
Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. §§9601 et seq.
4
See 1 B ROWNFIELDS L AW & P RACTICE §3.01(2)(a)
(Michael B. Gerrard, ed., 2000).
5
United States v. Reilly Tar & Chem. Co., 546 F. Supp.
1100, 1111-12 (D. Minn. 1982).
6
United States v. Chem-Dyne Corp., 572 F. Supp. 802
(S.D. Ohio 1983); United States v. SCRDI, 653 F. Supp.
984 (D. S.C. 1984), aff’d sub nom. United States v.
Monsanto Co., 858 F. 2d 160 (4th Cir. 1988), cert.
denied, 490 U.S. 1106 (1989).
7
The definition of “hazardous substance” in CERCLA,
which appears at 42 U.S.C. §9601(14), references lists
in five other statutes. In addition, EPA generated a
separate list of hazardous substances that appears at 40
C.F.R. §302.4, pursuant to the authority granted under
42 U.S.C. §9602.
8
B. F. Goodrich Co. v. Murtha, 958 F. 2d 1192 (2d Cir.
1992).
9
See, e.g., New York v. Shore Realty Corp., 759 F. 2d
1032 (2d Cir. 1985); Idaho v. Bunker Hill Co., 635 F.
Supp. 665 (D. Idaho 1986).
10
See, e.g., Amoco Oil Co. v. Borden, Inc., 889 F. 2d 664
(5th Cir. 1989), in which Amoco sued Borden over
contamination on a property it purchased from Borden
in 1978 (two years before CERCLA’s passage). Amoco
claimed in the suit that the cleanup of the property, for
which it paid $1.8 million, would cost between $17 million and $22 million.
11
1 BROWNFIELDS LAW & PRACTICE §1.03(2)(b) (Michael
B. Gerrard, ed., 2000).
12
Pub. L. No. 99-499, commonly known as the Super-
fund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986,
or SARA.
13
42 U.S.C. §§9601(35), 9607(b)(3).
14
Id.
15
42 U.S.C. §9607(r)(1).
16
Id.
17
42 U.S.C. §9601(40).
18
Id.
19
An institutional control is usually a restriction on the
use or development of the property—e.g., a deed restriction forbidding residential use or a requirement to
maintain paving over a certain area of the site—that is
designed not to achieve actual cleanup but rather to prevent the spread of contamination or exposure to it.
20
42 U.S.C. §9601(40)(D).
21
42 U.S.C. §9607(b).
22
Id.
23
Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Corp. v. Catellus Dev.
Corp., 976 F. 2d 1338, 1142 (9th Cir. 1992).
24
Nurad v. William E. Hooper & Sons, Inc., 966 F. 2d
837, 845 (4th Cir. 1992).
25
Id.
26
Carson Harbor Village Ltd. v. Unocal Corp., 270 F. 3d
863, 879 (9th Cir. 2001), cert. denied, 152 L. Ed. 2d 381,
122 S. Ct. 1437 (2002); United States v. 150 Acres of
Land, 204 F. 3d 698, 705-06 (6th Cir. 2000); ABB Indus.
Sys., Inc. v. Prime Tech., Inc., 120 F. 3d 351, 358 (2d Cir.
1997); United States v. CMDG Realty Co., 96 F. 3d
706, 711 (3d Cir. 1996).
27
“Facility,” as defined in CERCLA at 42 U.S.C. §9601(9)
and in implementing regulations at 40 C.F.R. §300.5,
includes “any site or area where a hazardous substance
has been deposited…or come to be located.…” Thus,
a CERCLA facility is not limited to a particular legal parcel and can encompass a large area. See, e.g., Colorado
v. Idarado Mining Co., 707 F. Supp. 1227 (D. Colo.
1989), where it was held that areas of a river where mine
tailings had come to be located were a facility within the
meaning of CERCLA despite the fact that these areas
were downstream of where the defendant mining companies had actually deposited them.
28
42 U.S.C. §9607(r).
29
E.g., “A person that owns real property that is contiguous to or otherwise similarly situated with respect
to, and that is or may be contaminated by a release or
threatened release of a hazardous substance from, real
property that is not owned by that person.…” 42 U.S.C.
§9607(q)(1)(A).
30
See 42 U.S.C. §9677(q)(1)(A)(ii).
31
42 U.S.C. §9607(q)(1)(A).
32
See note 26, supra.
33
The exception to this has been certain owners of
groundwater wells. These owners have been subjected
to liability claims when there is evidence that the operation of the wells has contributed to the spread of contaminants.
34
Policy toward Owners of Property Containing
Contaminated Aquifers, 60 Fed. Reg. 34790 (July 3,
1995).
35
42 U.S.C. §9607(b)(3).
36
While EPA policy is not necessarily a binding interpretation of the law, it is usually given substantial deference if the agency is interpreting a statute it has the
authority to administer and Congress has not clearly
addressed the question at issue. Chevron v. Natural
Resources Defense Council, 467 U.S. 837, 842-45 (1984).
37
42 U.S.C. §9607(q)(2).
38
42 U.S.C. §9607(q)(1)(D).
39
Compare 42 U.S.C. §9607(q)(1)(A)(iii) (contiguous
owners) with 42 U.S.C. §9601(40)(D) (bona fide purchasers).
40
42 U.S.C. §9607(q)(3).
41
42 U.S.C. §9601(35)(A) and (B).
42
The innocent landowner defense was created by
expanding the definition of “contractual relationship.”
To qualify as an innocent landowner one had to prove
that the contamination was caused by the act or omission of a third party with whom one did not have a contractual relationship as well as establishing the other elements of the §107(b)(3) defense. Since the purchase of
real estate presumably created a contractual relationship, the defense was created by specifying that in certain conditions, this purchase/sale agreement did not
qualify as a contractual relationship. See 42 U.S.C.
§§9601(35) and 9607(b)(3).
43
42 U.S.C. §9601(35)(B)(ii) and (iii).
44
A MERICAN S OCIETY FOR T ESTING AND M ATERIALS ,
S TANDARD P RACTICE FOR E NVIRONMENTAL S ITE
ASSESSMENT: PHASE I ENVIRONMENTAL SITE ASSESSMENT
PROCESS, E1527-97 (1997).
45
Id. at E1527-00.
46
A MERICAN S OCIETY FOR T ESTING AND M ATERIALS ,
STANDARD PRACTICE FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SITE ASSESSMENT: TRANSACTION SCREEN PROCESS, E1528-00 (2000).
47
42 U.S.C. §§9601(39), 9604(k).
48
See 42 U.S.C. §§9601(39)(B) (definition of “brownfield
site”).
49
Wilshire Westwood Assocs. v. Atlantic Richfield Co.,
881 F. 2d 801 (9th Cir. 1989).
50
Memorandum, Bona Fide Prospective Purchasers
and the New Amendments to CERCLA, from Barry
Breen, Director, OSRE to Superfund Senior Policy
Managers and Regional Counsels (May 31, 2002).
51
The one exception to this may be that BRERA’s
changes to the innocent purchaser defense may flow
through to California’s state Superfund law, more formally known as the Carpenter-Presley-Tanner Hazardous
Substance Account Act, HEALTH & SAFETY CODE §§25300
et seq. See HEALTH & SAFETY CODE §25323.5(b).
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 37
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Latham & Watkins
Bingham McCutchen LLP
Cooley Godward LLP
has leased 73,276 sq. ft. at
has leased 76,500 sq. ft. at
650 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA
355 South Grand Avenue
Los Angeles, CA
Skadden, Arps, Slate,
Meagher,
Flom LLP
and 24,585 sq. ft. at
The Los Angeles office represented
Bingham McCutchen LLP in this transaction.
1 Newark Center
Newark, NJ
The Los Angeles, Newport Beach, New York
and New Jersey offices represented Latham &
Watkins in these transactions.
Vision is our most important property.
Vision is our most important property.
has leased 6,510 sq. ft. at
has leased 85,000 sq. ft. at
One Freedom Square
Reston, VA
Akasaka Twin Tower, Main
Tower
Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo,
Japan
and 83,000 sq. ft. at
The Tokyo office represented Skadden, Arps,
Slate, Meagher, Flom LLP in this transaction.
The Washington, DC office represented
Cooley Godward LLP in these transactions.
Waterstreet Building
380 Amber Drive
Broomfield, CO
Vision is our most important property.
For Information on the Insignia/ESG Law Firm Advisory Group contact Clay Hammerstein,
Executive Managing Director at 213-593-1355 or visit us at www.insigniaesg.com.
Vision is our most important property.
Vision is our most important property.
REAL ESTATE LAW ISSUE
MCLE ARTICLE AND SELF-ASSESSMENT TEST
By reading this article and answering the accompanying test questions, you can earn one MCLE credit.
To apply for credit, please follow the instructions on the test answer sheet on page 43.
By Leslie Steven Marks and Ryan P. Eskin
Defective
Solutions
Legislation intended to encourage the resolution of
condominium defect disputes may inhibit effective
association management
I
n 1965, there were 500 residential
community associations in the
United States. Today, there are
more than 231,000. An estimated
47 million Americans now live in
residential community associations.1 The
demand for new common interest developments has spurred a construction boom of
unprecedented proportions over the past 20
years, and the California legislature has struggled to keep up with the pressures that this
phenomenon has imposed on the courts. In
the early stages of the boom, developers
began to feel overwhelmed by the number of
lawsuits initiated by homeowners’ associations alleging defects in the design and construction of their planned communities.
The legislature and the gover nor
responded to this problem in 1995 by enacting Civil Code Section 1375 with the hope
that it would provide an efficient mechanism
for resolving disputes between homeowners’
associations and developers before the filing
of a lawsuit. Although well intended, the
results have been mixed at best, most likely
as a result of the flaws inherent in the statute.
Indeed, the dispute resolution process often
seemed to be nothing more than a speed
bump on the road to full-blown litigation.
Among other shortcomings, the statute’s prelitigation period was too short—and its penalties for noncompliance were too vague—for
the dispute resolution process to be meaningful. The process clearly needed more teeth
Leslie Steven Marks is a senior litigation partner and Ryan P. Eskin is an associate with the
Los Angeles law firm of Wolf, Rifkin & Shapiro,
LLP. Marks, an arbitrator with the American
Arbitration Association, specializes in real
estate and construction litigation. Eskin specializes in commercial and real estate litigation.
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 39
to be truly effective.
To address this need, on October 12, 2001,
Governor Davis signed into law SB 1029, a
bill that, effective July 1, 2002, made several
significant changes to Civil Code Section 1375
with the aim of strengthening the usefulness of the dispute resolution mechanism.
Nevertheless, the new amendments to Section 1375 may have rendered the prelitigation
process too rigid and complex for meaningful settlements to be reached. Ironically, the
revised Section 1375 may have unwittingly
frustrated the original purpose of the statute—
namely, the orderly and efficient resolution of
disputes.
When the state legislature originally
enacted Civil Code Section 1375, which is
commonly known as the Calderon Process,2
it was seeking to stem the tide of construction
defect litigation and was no doubt prompted
by lobbying efforts on behalf of the construction industry. The purpose of the Calderon
Process was to provide a prelitigation forum
for the informal resolution of construction
defect claims brought by homeowners’ associations.
In essence, the law required associations
to engage in a structured settlement process
C
before commencing suit against a real estate
developer for defective design or construction
of a development of 20 units or more. 3
Specifically, the law provided that before filing a complaint, the association must give
written notice to the developer identifying
the name and location of the project, a defect
list, and the results of any testing or surveys.4
Any association that failed to satisfy this notice
requirement risked having its action stayed
by the trial court or dismissed.
Service of the notice triggered a 90-day
window in which the developer and the association were to “attempt to settle the dispute
or attempt to agree to submit it to alternative
dispute resolution.”5 The developer had the
right to conduct additional discovery to further settlement efforts. At some point, both
the developer and the association were supposed to meet and confer concerning any
settlement offer or proposal for alternative dispute resolution.
The association was also required under
the statute to communicate with the individual homeowners to discuss the merits of any
proposed settlement offer.6 If the developer
was unwilling to participate in the settlement
process, however, the association’s respon-
ivil Code Section 1375—which is applicable to all real
estate developments that consist of 20 units or
more and were sold before January 1, 2003—is currently the most important statutory scheme for construction
defect litigation. However, SB 800, which was passed in 2002
and is codified in Civil Code Sections 875 et seq., will ultimately replace Civil Code Section 1375. SB 800 is the statutory framework for construction defect litigation involving all
new residential property sold on or after January 1, 2003.1
The California Supreme Court’s 2000 decision in Aas v.
Superior Court2 became the impetus for SB 800. In Aas, the
supreme court seemingly settled a longstanding issue:
whether developers, contractors, and their insurers were
liable to homeowners for repairs of construction defects that
had not manifested damage. The court ruled that construction defect plaintiffs were not allowed to recover damages for economic loss when the alleged defects had not
caused property damage. The court’s holding, however, was
met with derision from trial lawyers and many in the real
estate industry. Many people echoed the sentiments of
Chief Justice George, who, in dissent, asked why a homeowner should “have to wait for a personal tragedy to occur
in order to recover damage to repair known serious building code safety defects caused by negligent construction.”
In 2002, the California legislature answered Chief Justice
George’s question and passed SB 800. The principal purpose of SB 800 is to specify the rights and requirements of
a homeowner seeking to bring an action for construction
defects. The bill includes applicable standards for home
construction, the statute of limitations, the burden of proof,
40 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
sibilities under the statute were excused.
The Calderon Process, as originally
enacted, contained three basic flaws. First, the
90-day period in which the parties were to
meet and confer was simply too short for
accomplishing what needed to be done. By
the time the developer had finished analyzing
the association’s defect list and related materials and had conducted its own inspection
and testing, the 90-day period typically had
expired. Additionally, there was simply not
enough time to bring in subcontractors, insurance representatives, and other parties necessary to bring about an effective resolution
of the dispute.
Second, subcontractors and insurers were
not required to participate in the process.
Without the participation of subcontractors
and insurers, developers were left alone to
grapple with the economic burdens of settlement. In many circumstances, the absence
of these necessary parties in the Calderon
Process forced developers to bring subsequent indemnity suits against subcontractors, which resulted in increased litigation.
Third, the statute was vague regarding
the penalties to be imposed on parties who
failed to adhere to the Calderon Process pro-
the damages that are recoverable, applicable prelitigation
procedures, and the obligations of the homeowner.3 By its
purpose and provisions, SB 800 overrules the Aas court’s
interpretation of what constitutes actionable damage.
The more significant changes in SB 800 include:
• Accrual date for statute of limitations purposes. In
construction defect actions, the statute of limitations will run
from either 1) the date of the close of escrow between the
builder and the original homeowner or 2) the date of substantial completion of the project as defined by Code of Civil
Procedure Section 337.15—whichever is later.4
• Prelitigation procedure. Prior to the filing of a complaint,
the plaintiff is required to provide the developer with written
notice of the plaintiff’s intent to commence a legal proceeding. The plaintiff must describe the claim in reasonable
detail sufficient to determine the nature and location, to
the extent these are known, of the claimed violation. The
notice has the same force and effect as the Notice of
Commencement of Legal Proceeding outlined in Civil Code
Section 1375.5
• Receipt and acknowledgment of the notice of
claim. The developer must acknowledge receipt of the
plaintiff’s notice within 14 days of receiving it. Once the developer has acknowledged the claim, the developer has 14
days to perform an initial inspection and destructive testing.6
• Notice to other parties related to the dispute. The
developer is required to provide notice of a planned inspection and testing to any subcontractors, design professionals, and other parties related to the dispute, including insurance carriers. The notice must be provided “sufficiently in
cedures. Many parties—developers and associations alike—simply chose to disregard the
prelitigation process and march directly into
litigation.
According to one commentator, ultimately
the statute had “little to do with ADR or settling claims prior to litigation” but instead
had “more to do with homeowner-association politics and deterrence of constructiondefect claims.”7
Critics of the Calderon Process, spearheaded by the insurance industry, were vocal
early and often. And in late 2000, after the
California Supreme Court in Aas v. Superior
Court barred construction defect plaintiffs
from recovering damages for economic loss
when the alleged defects do not cause property damage,8 it became readily apparent that
a significant overhaul of the entire construction defect resolution process—including
both the prelitigation and litigation aspects—
was necessary.
The first step was the revision of Civil
Code Section 1375 in 2001, which effected
changes in the prelitigation dispute resolution
process. The next step was the passage of SB
800 in 2002, which sets forth the framework
for construction defect litigation after Aas
and also contains prelitigation procedures as
well. Revised Section 1375, which became
effective July 1, 2002, remains applicable for
specified developments sold before January
1, 2003; SB 800 applies to all residential property sold after that date. (See “In the Wake of
Aas,” page 40.)
Revised Civil Code Section 1375
The revised Civil Code Section 1375, like the
original statute, requires an association to
give written notice to the developer. The
notice, titled the “Notice of Commencement
of Legal Proceeding,” must include the name
and location of the project, an initial defect list,
a summary of the damages resulting from
the defects, and either a summar y of the
results of testing and surveys or the actual test
results.9
The revised statute also tolls all statutes of
limitations on all parties for 180 days, which
is an increase from the 150-day tolling period
in the previous incarnation of Civil Code
1375.10 The parties can also agree to a further
extension of up to another 180 days.11
The revised statute still allows for an early
meeting between the developer and the board
of the association. In keeping with the legis-
advance” in order to allow the relevant parties to attend the
initial inspection (or, if requested, the second inspection)
“of any alleged unmet standard and to participate in the
repair process.”7
• Second inspection and testing. If considered “reasonably necessary,” the developer can conduct a second
inspection and testing within 40 days of the initial inspection
and testing.8
• Offer to repair. If the developer believes that repairs are
warranted, the developer may, within 30 days of the inspection and testing, offer in writing to repair the violation. The offer
to repair should also compensate the homeowner for all
applicable damages as provided in Civil Code Section 944.
These damages include the reasonable cost for repair, reasonable relocation and storage expenses, lost business
income (if there is any), “investigative costs,” and “all other
costs or fees recoverable by contract or statute.” These provisions of the new law regarding the applicable damages that
may be part of the offer to repair specifically override Aas.
The offer to repair also must include a detailed, specific,
step-by-step statement 1) identifying the particular violation
that is being repaired, 2) explaining the scope, nature, and
location of the repair, and 3) setting a reasonable completion date for the repair.9
• Authorization to proceed with repair. The homeowner
has three options once the developer’s offer to repair is
received. The homeowner can 1) authorize the developer to
proceed with the repair, 2) request that the developer provide the names of three contractors other than the developer or the original contractor to perform the work, or 3) pro-
lature’s intent on keeping the prelitigation
process moving quickly and efficiently, the
developer must call for the meeting within 25
days of the association’s service of the Notice
of Commencement of Legal Proceedings.12
The discussions at the early meeting are privileged communications and are not admissible in any subsequent civil action.13 This clarifies a point that was left ambiguous in the
language of the earlier statute.
The legislature’s goal of expediting the
prelitigation process is also reflected in the
revised statute’s provisions dealing with document exchange. Civil Code Section 1375
now requires the developer to provide the
association with full access to all plans, specifications, subcontracts, and other construction files for the project.14 Similarly, the association must provide the developer with
access to all documents concerning the
claimed defects, including all reserve studies,
maintenance records, survey questionnaires,
and test results.15 The same rules apply for
subcontractors and all third parties involved
in the dispute.16
The inclusion of subcontractors as well
as design and related professionals (and their
insurance companies) in the ADR process is
ceed to mediation.10
• Use of alternative contractors. If the homeowner
elects to use an alternative contractor to perform the repairs,
the developer (who may also be the original contractor) is
entitled to an additional noninvasive inspection of the premises
to permit the proposed contractors to review the proposed
site of the repair.11 The developer has 35 days from the date
of the homeowner’s request for the names of other contractors to comply with the request. The homeowner then
has 20 days to authorize either the developer or one of the
three proposed alternative contractors to perform the requisite repairs.
• Mediation. The parties may choose to resolve their dispute
through mediation. Either the developer selects and pays for
the mediator or the developer and homeowner agree to split
the cost and jointly select the mediator. The statute provides
for a mediation limited to four hours unless the parties mutually agree to another arrangement.12——L.S.M. & R.P.E.
1
2002 Cal. Legis. Serv. ch. 722 (SB 800). See CIV. CODE §911.
2
Aas v. Superior Court, 24 Cal. 4th 627 (2000). See Cynthia A. R. Woollacott, In
the Land of Aas, LOS ANGELES LAWYER, Jan. 2002, at 35.
3
Legislative Counsel’s Digest for SB 800.
4
CIV. CODE §895(e).
5
CIV. CODE §910.
6
See CIV. CODE §§913, 916.
7
CIV. CODE §916(e).
8
CIV. CODE §916(c).
9
See CIV. CODE §§917, 944.
10
See CIV. CODE §918, 919.
11
CIV. CODE §918.
12
CIV. CODE §919.
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 41
likely the most significant positive development in the revised statute. The revised
statute now requires the developer to forward the Notice of Commencement of Legal
Proceedings to these parties within 60 days
of service of the original notice on the developer.17 The association, developer, and all relevant subcontractors and their insurers are
deemed “nonperipheral par ties” and are
required to attend the case management
meeting, participate in the selection of the
neutral mediator (whom the statute refers to
as the “dispute resolution facilitator”), and
participate in other discovery and settlement
sessions under the revised statute.
Once involved, any minor subcontractor or
design professional whose total claimed exposure is less than $25,000 can make a request
to be designated a “peripheral party.”18 If no
objection to that designation is received within
15 days, the subcontractor or design professional is only obligated to participate in dispute resolution sessions deemed “peripheral
party sessions.”19
The revised statute thus tries to strike a
balance between having developers bear
alone the burden of responding to and settling
a construction dispute and involving subcontractors and like parties in the settlement.
This balance is accomplished without proce-
dures that completely clog the dispute resolution process.
The revised statute emphasizes the role of
the neutral mediator. All involved parties
must meet and confer to select the dispute
resolution facilitator within 20 days of the
developer’s service of its notice on subcontractors.20 The dispute resolution facilitator’s
powers and duties are vaguely defined, however. The revised statute states that the role
of the facilitator is to “attempt to resolve the
conflict in a fair manner.”21 The facilitator
must be “sufficiently knowledgeable in the
subject matter and be able to devote sufficient time to the case.”22 But there is little
guidance on determining the appropriate
grounds for rejection of a proposed neutral
beyond the standard grounds specified in
Code of Civil Procedure Section 170.1 for the
disqualification of a judge based on a prior
relationship. Ultimately, selection of the facilitator is left to the auspices of the court if the
parties cannot agree on one themselves.
The facilitator’s chief role is to preside
over the case management meeting, which
must be held within 100 days of service of the
association’s notice to the developer.23 The primary purpose of the case management meeting is to develop a case management statement in which the parties detail the technical
The less traveled road.
Making a difference.
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www.ballcm.com
800-919-7899
42 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
aspects of the case. Among the items outlined in the case management statement are
the use of a document depository and dates
for visual inspection and invasive testing.
Once the procedural aspects of the case
management statement have been accomplished, the focus of the resolution process
under revised Civil Code Section 1375 shifts
to settlement negotiations. The provisions of
the revised statute that address settlement
issues represent a drastic departure from the
old scheme.
First, the revised statute allows a developer hoping to resolve a dispute to submit:
• A request to meet with the board of the
association to discuss a written settlement
offer.
• A written settlement offer to the association.
• A statement that the developer has sufficient funds to satisfy the conditions of the
settlement offer.
• A summary of the developer’s test results,
if any.24
The statute is ambiguous as to whether
the developer must submit all these items or
whether the developer can pick and choose
among them.
If the developer chooses to submit a settlement offer, the revised statute further
requires the association’s board to hold an
MCLE Answer Sheet #112
DEFECTIVE SOLUTIONS
MCLE Test No. 112
Name
Law Firm/Organization
Address
The Los Angeles County Bar Association certifies that this activity has been approved for
Minimum Continuing Legal Education credit by the State Bar of California in the amount
of 1 hour.
City
State/Zip
E-mail
1. Civil Code Section 1375 was first enacted in:
A. 1991.
B. 1993.
C. 1995.
D. 1997.
2. Civil Code Section 1375 only applies to disputes between homeowner associations and real
estate developers for defective design or construction of developments of 20 units or more.
True.
False.
3. Under the revised version of Civil Code Section
1375 that became effective July 1, 2002, the
statute of limitations on all claims is tolled 150
days.
True.
False.
4. Revised Section 1375 requires the developer to
forward the Notice of Commencement of Legal
Proceedings to subcontractors, design professionals, and their insurers within 25 days of service of
the original notice.
True.
False.
5. Revised Section 1375 still allows for an early
meeting between the developer and the board of
the association.
True.
False.
6. Discussions at an early meeting are privileged
communications and are not admissible in any
subsequent civil action.
True.
False.
7. In order to be a dispute resolution facilitator, one
must:
A. Have at least 5 years’ experience as a
court-appointed neutral.
B. Be sufficiently knowledgeable in the
subject matter and be able to devote
sufficient time to the case.
C. Be confirmed by the presiding judge of
the court.
D. All of the above.
8. In furtherance of settlement, revised Section
1375 allows the developer to submit to the association:
A. A written settlement offer.
B. Test results.
C. A request to meet with the association’s
board.
D. All of the above.
9. A party that participates in the prelitigation
process without settlement authority is bound by
any subsequent settlement reached.
True.
False.
10. The case management meeting must be held
no later than 30 days before the association files
its lawsuit.
True.
False.
11. A subcontractor whose total exposure is less
than $25,000 may be considered a peripheral
party.
True.
False.
12. The board cannot initiate a lawsuit against
the developer until it discusses any formal settlement offer proposed by the developer with the
members of the association at an open meeting of
the members.
True.
False.
13. Revised Section 1375 requires the developer to
personally attend any open meeting of the association’s members.
True.
False.
14. SB 800 applies to all residential property sold
January 1, 2003, or later.
True.
False.
15. New Civil Code Sections 875 et seq. apply only
to real estate developments of 20 units or more.
True.
False.
16. Under the new procedures in SB 800, the developer must give notice of a planned inspection
and testing to subcontractors, design professionals, and other parties related to the dispute:
A. Within 14 days of receipt of the
homeowner’s notice.
B. Within 25 days of receipt of the
homeowner’s notice.
C. Within 60 days of receipt of the
homeowner’s notice.
D. Sufficiently in advance of the inspection
and testing.
17. According to SB 800, the developer can conduct a second inspection and testing of the premises
at issue as a matter of right.
True.
False.
18. Under SB 800, the developer may, within 30
days of any inspection and testing, offer in writing
to repair the violation.
True.
False.
19. According to SB 800, after the homeowner
receives the developer’s offer to repair, the homeowner may select an alternative contractor to perform the repairs—but the contractor must be one
of three designated by the developer.
True.
False.
20. If the parties agree to mediate their dispute,
under SB 800 the mediator will be selected and paid
for by the developer unless the homeowner agrees
to split the cost.
True.
False
Phone
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Mark your answers to the test by checking the
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5.
■ True
■ False
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■ True
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■A
■B
■C
■D
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■A
■B
■C
■D
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■ True
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10.
■ True
■ False
11.
■ True
■ False
12.
■ True
■ False
13.
■ True
■ False
14.
■ True
■ False
15.
■ True
■ False
16.
■A
17.
■ True
■ False
18.
■ True
■ False
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■ True
■ False
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■ True
■ False
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LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 43
Judge Howard J. Thelin, Retired
More than 40 years of experience as
lawyer, legislator, trial judge,
and private judge.
available as mediator.
PHONE
818.242.3398
44 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
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open meeting of the association to discuss the
offer. If the board decides to reject the offer,
the open meeting must still occur, where the
discussion presumably will include the
board’s rationale for its decision to reject the
developer’s offer of settlement.25
The importance of this requirement for an
open association meeting following the submission of an offer by a developer should not
be understated. The board cannot initiate formal litigation against the developer until such
a meeting is held.26 Additionally, the board is
required to send each member of the association written notice about the meeting. In
connection with this meeting, the revised
statute requires that the board provide specified information in writing to the association, including:
• “That a meeting will take place to discuss
problems that may lead to the filing of a civil
action, and the time and place of this meeting.”27
• “The options that are available to address
the problems, including the filing of a civil
action and a statement of the various alternatives that are reasonably foreseeable by
the association to pay for those options and
whether these payments are expected to be
made from the use of reserve account funds
or the imposition of regular or special assessments, or emergency assessment increases.”28
Thus the statute now forces the association’s
board from the onset of the dispute to present
worst-case scenarios to association members,
thus increasing the chances for dissension
among the ranks of the association. The board
could essentially find itself in the middle of
hostile forces, including the developer on the
one hand and a potentially dissatisfied association on the other.
• “The complete text of any written settlement offer, and a concise explanation of the
specific reasons for the terms of the offer
submitted to the board at the meeting….”29 In
essence, revised Civil Code Section 1375
gives the developer unfettered access to association members, against whom the developer may use scare tactics to dissuade members from supporting a board’s decision to
proceed with litigation. For example, a developer with no intention of settling can make a
nominal written settlement offer and include
reasons why litigation would not be in the
association’s best interests: It will be too
costly, will damage the market value of residences, and the like. This provision of the
revised statute seems designed to undermine
board authority and decision making in favor
of mob rule. Association boards are now
placed in the unenviable position of deciding
between what may be right and what may be
popular.
With all its flaws, the requirements of the
revised statute must be followed or penalties
will ensue. Parties to a construction dispute
can no longer circumvent or hope to delay the
process by refusing to participate or hiding
behind mountains of discovery and protracted
litigation. To deter this kind of conduct, the
legislature created new penalties to encourage participation in the new scheme. The
revised statute provides that any party that
does not participate in the process, or participates without settlement authority, is
bound by any subsequent settlement
reached. 30 Moreover, the revised statute
severely restricts the ability of the parties to
conduct further discovery once a complaint
is filed.31 Finally, a new section of the Civil
Code, Section 1375.05(b), provides that for
purposes of trial setting, the complaint in any
action that falls under Section 1375 is deemed
to have been filed on the original date of service of the association’s Notice of Commencement of Legal Proceedings, and the
case will be given the earliest possible trial
date.
Chilling Effect
Even if the parties do reach a successful resolution of the dispute, the requirements
imposed on the association after settlement
are hardly conducive to participating in the
revised statute’s settlement process.
In the first place, according to Civil Code
Section 1375.1, the association must disclose
to its members not only a description of the
defects to be corrected and the date of completion of the work but also the status of all
defects originally identified but not included
in the final settlement agreement. 32
Essentially, this provision forces the association to disclose to its members those items
on which it compromised. Therefore, even if
the board reaches an agreement that it feels
is in the best interests of its members, it may
be faced with the unenviable task of having to
explain itself to its constituents.
Perhaps even more troublesome are the
privilege issues implicated by requiring such
a disclosure. Many if not all associations retain
legal counsel to help them navigate through
myriad tasks and procedures. Legally, the
attorney’s duty is to the association—not to the
individuals who are represented by the association.33 However, forcing the association to
disclose what it chose to give up in the spirit
of compromise is akin to disclosure of trial tactics and would appear to be a clear violation of
the attorney-client privilege.
The settlement proposal provisions in
revised Civil Code Section 1375, despite the
legislative purpose of the statute, ultimately
may prove to have a chilling effect on construction defect litigation and the prelitigation
resolution of this type of dispute. While the
Steven Richard Sauer, Esq.
Counselor at Law
Professional arbitrator and mediator since 1974.
Settlement Impasse?
Masterful guidance when the stakes are high.
4929 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 740 · Los Angeles, California 90010-3821
Telephone: (323) 933-6833 · Fax: (323) 933-3184 · E-mail: [email protected]
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 45
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■
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46 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
revised statute represents a noble attempt to
remedy the ambiguities and shortcomings
found in the earlier version of Section 1375,
the legislature, in its effort to install structure
and fluidity to a process that was largely amorphous and undefined, may have created what
it feared most—rigidity and intractability.
Given the complexity of the legal and factual issues in construction defect disputes, and
the likelihood of the involvement of numerous
parties, many homeowners’ associations may
forego dispute resolution in favor of a more
relaxed and deliberate process, such as informal settlement negotiations. Still, this course
is risky, because a mandatory prerequisite for
construction defect litigation is the utilization of the revised Civil Code Section 1375 prelitigation resolution procedure.
Nevertheless, some plaintiff’s groups may
forego litigation altogether rather than face
the harsh requirements of disclosure that
accompany the new provisions of Civil Code
Section 1375. The new statute may satisfy its
goal of curbing litigation—but only by creating a huge disincentive to bring an action in
the first place.
■
1
Figures from Community Associations Institute, at
www.caionline.org.
2
State Senator Charles M. Calderon was the author of
the bill that became Civil Code §1375.
3
See generally CIV. CODE §1375(a), as added by SB
1029, 1995 Cal. Stat. ch. 864, §1.
4
CIV. CODE §1375(b).
5
Id.
6
See generally CIV. CODE §1375(g).
7
Ross R. Hart & Timothy K. Cutler, Settlement
Negotiations for Condominium-Defect Disputes, LOS
ANGELES LAWYER, July/August 1996, at 17.
8
Aas v. Superior Court, 24 Cal. 4th 627 (2000).
9
CIV. CODE §1375(b).
10
CIV. CODE §1375(b)-(c).
11
CIV. CODE §1375(c).
12
CIV. CODE §1375(d).
13
Id.
14
CIV. CODE §1375(e)(1).
15
Id.
16
Id.
17
CIV. CODE §1375(e)(2).
18
CIV. CODE §1375(e)(3).
19
Id.
20
CIV. CODE §1375(f)(1).
21
Id.
22
Id.
23
Id.
24
CIV. CODE §1375(k)(1)(A).
25
CIV. CODE §1375(k)(1)(D).
26
See id.
27
CIV. CODE §1375(k)(1)(E)(i).
28
CIV. CODE §1375(k)(1)(E)(ii).
29
CIV. CODE §1375(k)(1)(E)(iii).
30
CIV. CODE §1375.05(d).
31
For example, in most circumstances defendants are
not permitted to conduct further inspections or testing
once a complaint is filed.
32
CIV. CODE §1375.1.
33
See, e.g., Smith v. Laguna Sur Villas Cmty. Ass’n, 79
Cal. App. 4th 639, 643 (2000) (holding that the condominium association, not individual unit owners, held the
attorney-client privilege).
computer
counselor
By Benjamin Sotelo and James Gillen
Current Methods for Making
Backups of Data and Hard Drives
The first cornerstone dictates
how the second two will be configured.
depend on their
For example, if the amount of
data is relatively small and the
computers need
content of the data is relatively
unimportant to the practice, then
backup systems
simply making CD backups of
the data from time to time could
and procedures
be sufficient. This may be the
case, for example, if a sole pracata backup is not terribly titioner uses his or her computer
difficult, while the conse- as little more than an address
quences of not perform- book. If the data is critical to the
ing backups can go beyond the practice, however, then a more
cost of data recovery and encom- robust (and expensive) solution is
pass legal malpractice. Yet, new needed. The best method of data
storage replication software, cou- backup depends on the size of
pled with the falling cost of hard- the firm, how much it needs the
ware and high-speed connec- data, and how much it needs to
tions, has created the potential keep its data up-to-date, among
to eliminate the problems related other factors.
In the typical law office, howto data backup, storage, and
restoration. The small firm or ever, the firm’s data is its bread
sole practitioner who has been and butter. Restoring a hard drive
relying on divine protection now is no trifle, so for most firms the
has no excuse not to establish a time and the money spent on
establishing an appropriate backproper data backup system.
The value of a data backup up system and training people to
use and maintain it
system depends
amount to cheap
upon how well a
Benjamin Sotelo is a
insurance.
law of fice underlegal engineer with
After a crash,
stands the options
legalfriendly.com
an attor ney who
available, its level
and can be reached
has to per for m
of understanding of
at benjamin
nothing more than
the technology, and
@legalfriendly.com.
a simple restorahow efficiently the
James Gillen
tion of data is
software is used.
practices personal
indeed lucky. Less
Although there are
injury law in Marina
for tunate is the
approximately 200
del Rey.
attorney who has
software backup
to perform a sysproducts, most operating systems now provide sim- tem restoration. If a hard drive
ple, effective data backup options. fails completely, it will probably
Fundamentally, a firm needs to take days to restore a computset three cornerstones for data er’s operating system, modem
backup: an understanding of the and network drivers, printer dritechnology and the needs of the vers, scanner driver, and all its
firm, software, and hardware. complicated law office software.
Lawyers who
D
If a computer’s hard drive is
physically damaged or breaks
down, data recovery may not be
possible. Sending the hard drive
to a data recovery firm is an option, but the results are unpredictable. With a physically disabled hard drive, however, this
is the only way to accomplish data
recovery. The cost (expect to pay
around $1,500) is usually nonrefundable, due in advance, and
without any guarantee that useful
data can be extracted once the
drive is repaired.
Moreover, if the firm cannot
afford to operate without computers and their data for a few
days, then a backup system that
refreshes itself continually and
that maintains a copy of an entire
hard drive may be the most appropriate option. Such a system
may involve new hardware, new
software, and possibly the hiring
of a consultant to install everything and get it working, but the
alternative could be the loss (during trial, perhaps) of the data and
the means of using it.
For this reason, attorneys
should remember the difference
between data backup and system
backup. For most firms, the more
thorough system backup should
be preferred. Additionally, a practitioner who backs up but does
not use adequate virus protection is inviting trouble. Many
viruses corrupt all the data on
the hard drives they infect. An
example of this is the Klez virus.
Therefore it is critical to make
sure no viruses are on the systems before running backups.
Note that the best method to
scan for viruses is not to do a full
system scan with your current
antivirus software, even if it is a
recent version that automatically
visits Web sites that are maintained by the makers of the software and downloads the latest
inoculations. Instead, the virus
scan should be run online.
Online scanning is a new virus
scanning technique. This method
provides a more comprehensive
scan, in that it does not rely on
the antivirus software that is
installed on the local computer’s
hard drive—which may be installed incorrectly, corrupted, or
out-of-date. For an example of an
online scan, users can go to www
.sarc.com and click on Free
Online Virus and Security Check.
Hardware Options
Zip drives once were the most
familiar method of data backup,
but by today’s standards they
have limited speed and storage
capacity. Today, CD burners have
replaced the Zip drive as the standard data backup method. The
cost to implement a data backup
system with a CD burner is minimal, because most computers
already have a burner (and if
yours does not, they are no longer expensive), and blank CDs are
quite cheap. The limitation of CD
burners is that they cannot perform system backups, because
they do not have enough disk
space. The common remaining
alternatives that can perform system backups are external hard
drives and off-site storage.
Currently, the preferred method for small firms with limited
technical knowledge is to use an
external or removable hard drive
for each computer that contains
vitally impor tant data. This
device, coupled with software that
copies information from one drive
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 47
to another (Norton Ghost is an example),
covers data and system backups and is recommended for firms of small to medium size.
Larger firms, firms with especially valuable
data, and firms staffed by people who cannot
or will not keep their backup system up-todate should consider off-site, managed storage solutions.
Tapes remain a popular backup method
for network administrators performing onsite backups, because the storage capacity
of tapes greatly exceeds Zip drives or CDs.
Tapes are relatively inexpensive, so administrators can keep a fairly large number of
tapes in rotation. This method is particularly
48 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
efficient if a virus infects a firm’s system,
because the administrator can restore the
system to a time that predates the infection.
Tapes are less easy to use, however, than
separate hard drives. Another large-capacity,
removable storage method is the DVD
burner. This option is still rather uncommon,
but it may become the preferred backup
medium for most small firms because of its
large storage capabilities.
Backing Up with Windows
For many small and solo law firms, a workable data backup and storage system will consist of Windows and a removable hard drive.
To use this system, purchase and install a
removable or external hard drive. Make sure
the drive is formatted and ready for data storage. When the drive is ready, follow this path
in Windows: Start, Programs, Accessories,
System Tools, Backup. Begin with the backup
wizard. If you have installed a removable
hard drive that is larger than your internal
one, choose Backup Ever ything on My
Computer. Assign a name to the backup (this
name can be the date of the backup) and use
the Browse button to point the system to the
removable hard drive. Then choose Finish.
This method will back up everything—all
system data and critical data. If the computer’s internal hard drive fails, the whole system
can be recovered by running the Windows
backup program again. To do so, choose the
restore wizard and follow the directions. As
with all backup methods, it is advisable to
practice the procedure before having to perform it in a real emergency.
If you do not have a removable hard drive,
another method is to use Windows backup
and a working CD burner. No system backup
is possible with this method, but you can create copies of your data. Begin by labeling a
blank, burnable CD as Critical Data Backup.
Add the date and make sure the CD is ready
in the burner drive. Launch your CD burning
software, make sure your burnable CD speed
matches the speed of your burner, and configure the settings so that the computer will
recognize and add to the blank CD that has
been formatted as a separate drive on your
system. Go to Windows backup and choose
Backup Selected Files. Check those folders
that contain critical data and choose Next.
In the next screen, choose Browse and point
the software to the drive you previously configured. Then click Finish.
Note that the main screen for Windows
backup (which appears behind the wizard
dialogue box) provides an easy, automated
feature that allows users to schedule daily,
weekly, or monthly backups. Click on the
Schedules tab and select Add a Job at the
bottom right. Follow the wizard to establish
dates and times for backups.
These two methods—complete system
backups with an external hard drive and critical data backups with a CD burner—can be
used together, and they are the current standard for the needs of small firms. Remember
that there are other devices that may need
backups, such as Palm and pocket PC devices,
and establish a system for making, filing, and
testing your backup media. Data management is critical for the legal professional who
is dependent on a computer, and with an
effective backup system, your firm will be in
a safe position if a critical system failure
should occur.
■
IndextoAdvertisers
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AT&T Wireless, p. 9
The Mann Law Firm, p. 44
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Ball CM, Inc, p. 42
Arthur Mazirow, p. 6
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California Community Foundation, p. 5
National Properties Group, p. 36
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The Chugh Firm, p. 24
Noriega Chiropractic Clinics, p. 50
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Cohen Miskei & Mowrey, p. 20
North American Title Company, p. 2
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Coldwell Banker, p. 16
Old Republic Title Co., p. 15
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Commerce Escrow Company, p. 37
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Wesley L. Davis, APC, p. 46
Ringler Associates/Manuel Valdez, p. 36
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Fax & File, p. 16
Dennis H. Sapire, LLB PhD, p. 19
Tel. 415-491-0606 www.faxfile.com
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Field & Testing Engineering, Inc., p. 8
Sanli Pastore & Hill, Inc., p. 17
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First American Exchange Corp., p. 21
Steven R. Sauer APC, p. 45
Tel. 888-310-3015 www.la1031.com
Tel. 323-933-6833 e-mail: [email protected]
ForensisGroup Inc., p. 45
SecurityKit.com, p. 48
Tel. 626-795-5000 www.forensisgroup.com
Tel. 866-8839 www.securitykit.com
Samuel K. Freshman, p. 19 Tel. 310-410-2300
Semmens Cosmetic Dentistry, p. 8 Tel. 866-831-9394
[email protected]
www.jacksemmens.com
Gibb, Giden, Locher & Turner, LLP, p. 45
Hon. Anita Rae Shapiro, p. 30
Tel. 310-552-3400 www.GGLT.com
Tel. 714-529-0415 www.adr-shapiro.com
Steven L. Gleitman, Esq., p. 17
Southland Credit Union, p. 4
Tel. 310-553-5080
Tel. 800-426-1917 www.southlandcivic.org
Hilton Checkers Los Angeles, p. 6
Stephen Sears, CPA-Attorney at Law, p. 46
Tel. 213-624-0000 www.hiltoncheckers.com
www.searsatty.com
Hirson Wexler Perl, p. 31
Judge Howard J. Thelin, Retired, p. 44
Tel. 323-936-0200 [email protected]
Tel. 818-242-3398 [email protected]
Law Offices of Clinton Hodges, PC, p. 48
Tri-S Environmental, p. 36
Tel. 818-999-1184, p. 8 Tel. 310-792-3636
Tel. 714-966-8490 www.tri-s.com
insignia/ESG, p. 38
Mr. Truck, p. 25
Tel. 213-593-1300 www.insigniaesg.com
Tel. 800-337-4994 e-mail: [email protected]
Jack Trimarco & Associates Polygraph, Inc., p. 18
Vision Sciences Research Corporation, p. 18
Tel. 310-247-2637 e-mail: [email protected]
Tel. 925-837-2083 www.vsrc.net
Kaplan, Sherman Law Offices, p. 20
Temmy Walker, Inc., p. 25
Tel. 310-278-2510 www.skaplan.com
Tel. 818-760-3355 e-mail: [email protected]
Jeffrey Kichaven, p. 44
West Group, Back Cover
Tel. 310-556-1444 www.jeffkichaven.com
Tel. 800-762-5272 www.westgroup.com
KPA Associates, Inc., p. 46
White, Zuckerman, Warsavsky, Luna & Wolf, p. 19
Tel. 619-725-0980 [email protected]
Tel. 818-981-4226 www.wzwlw.com
lawnetinfo.com, p. 30
Windows, p. 24
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LACBA CLE Replay Convention, Inside Back Cover
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50 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
CLE Preview
The Bench Meets the Bar
The HIV Waiver
ON THURSDAY, JANUARY 30, the Litigation Section will present its annual
ON WEDNESDAY,
luncheon for federal and state court judges and justices. At the luncheon,
JANUARY 22, the
Judge Consuelo B. Marshall and Judge Robert A. Dukes will provide updates
Barristers AIDS Legal
on issues of current concern to the courts, and the section will give its
Services Project will
Seventh Annual Clerk of the Year Award to a federal and state courtroom
offer CLE training on
clerk. The luncheon will take place at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel (formerly
the HIV waiver in
the Hotel Inter-Continental), 251 South Olive Street, Downtown. On-site
immigration law. The
registration will begin at 11:30 A.M. and lunch at noon, with the program
training will discuss the
continuing from 12:30 to 1:30 P.M. The event code number is 804LA30.
adjustment of status for
CLE+PLUS members free (meal not included). Judges and justices free,
immigrants and the HIV
including meal. Prices below include meal.
exclusion, including the
$55—Litigation Section members
I-601 waiver and other
$550—Table of 10 (8 firm members and 2 judicial officers)
supporting documents.
$75—all others
This event will be held
1 CLE hour
at the LACBA/LEXIS
Publishing Conference
The Basics of Commercial Leasing
Center, 281 South
ON WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 5, the General Real Estate Law Subsection of the
Figueroa Street,
Real Property Section will present a program on the basic elements of commercial
Downtown. Parking at
leasing transactions. Speaker John Duffy also will describe in more detail the
the Figueroa Courtyard
common issues that arise in these transactions. This program will be an excellent
Garage will be available
follow-up to the subsection’s program on the vocabulary of leasing, which was
for $7 with LACBA
held in November 2002. The event will be held at the LACBA/LEXIS Publishing
validation. On-site
Conference Center, 281 South Figueroa Street, Downtown. Parking at the
registration and the
Figueroa Courtyard Garage will be available for $7 with LACBA validation. On-
meal will begin at 11:30
site registration will begin at 11:45 A.M. and lunch at noon, with the program
A.M.,
continuing from 12:30 to 1:30 P.M. The event code number is 803LB05. CLE+Plus
continuing from noon
members free (meal not included). Prices below include meal.
to 1:30 P.M. The event
$45—Real Property Section members
code number is
$55—LACBA members
210TA22.
$65—all others, including at-the-door registrants
$15—all who attend
1 CLE hour
1.5 CLE hours
with the program
The Los Angeles County Bar Association is a State Bar of California MCLE approved provider. To register for the programs listed
on this page, please call the Member Service Department at (213) 896-6560 or visit the Association Web site at
http://forums.lacba.org/calendar.cfm. For a full listing of this month’s Association programs, please consult the January County Bar Update.
LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003 51
closing
argument
By Clinton M. Hodges
Battling through Life Sentences
Litigators need to identify and neutralize the
“limiting beliefs” of clients and witnesses
he unseen can play a critical role in a trial. This fact has been
underscored by recent speculation over whether juries have
been affected by such public events as the terrorist attacks of
September 11 or the epidemic of corporate skullduggery.
Often overlooked is another category of the unseen: the contents
of the minds of parties and witnesses that form “limiting beliefs.” We
all have limiting beliefs. From moments of fear or danger we experienced in childhood, we have formed largely irrevocable opinions
about how life is and how we must act to ensure future safety. While
the outward manifestations of these opinions may be quite visible to
those around us, limiting beliefs remain largely buried and invisible.
I call them “life sentences” because we can carry them for life.
However, a life sentence can be identified and commuted—if we
know what it is and how to look for it. After more than two decades
of picking juries and trying lawsuits, I have concluded that this area
of trial preparation is easily as important as guessing whether external events will affect jury results.
I became very interested in this concept many years ago when a
client objected to cutting his hair for trial. His objection was so firm
that I became quite interested and not a little concerned. After much
prodding, he confided in me that his ears were deformed. When he
finally showed them to me, I was astonished to see that his ears
looked quite normal. I pointed this out to him in front of a mirror and
asked him where he had gotten the idea that they were deformed.
He told me this intense feeling sprung from what he had experienced one day as a youngster when he burst into the family kitchen
after school. His mother was apparently gossiping on the telephone
and looked upset when she saw her son. Then he heard her say, “I
have to hang up now. Billy has just come home, and little pitchers have
big ears.” He had been kidded about the size of his ears on earlier occasions, so his mother’s comments were the last straw. He had long forgotten why he wore long hair but vigorously protected his right to do
so. We both began to laugh, and my client ultimately agreed to cut his
hair for trial.
As litigators, we do not have the time or wisdom to clear up life sentences for prospective jurors (although we can reject them if we suspect they carry life sentences that will work against our clients).
Therefore, we must turn our attention to our clients and to the wit-
T
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52 LOS ANGELES LAWYER / JANUARY 2003
nesses we intend to call and to be on the lookout for their life sentences.
Common life sentences to watch for include:
• For me to succeed, disaster must be at hand. Only when being
dragged up the steps of the gallows does this client finally call a
lawyer. Why did the client wait? What causes this kind of eleventhhour behavior? How is such behavior likely to effect the client’s case
and ability to prepare properly for trial? This life sentence must be dismantled, or you will inevitably have a client who comes in at the last
minute with “suddenly discovered” evidence or new witnesses that
require revamping the entire trial strategy.
• I don’t want the money. This life sentence is impoverishing to
both the client and the lawyer. It can stem from a childhood notion
that people with money are defective, greedy, untrustworthy, or unattractive. A variation on this life sentence is the idea that since I am
“bad,” I do not deserve abundance in life. These individuals go to court
because they have lost money through a silly investment or have been
unjustly fired, but they will inexplicably shoot themselves in the foot
in front of a jury.
• You didn’t ask. You have to pull teeth to get vital information out
of this client. Issues remain unexpressed, objections are unstated, feelings and vital facts are buried. The resultant misunderstanding makes
the client’s relationships, including those with counsel, terribly unsatisfying. The fact that the client knows he or she should disclose
everything has no impact. Even facts that would place the client in a
better light and would generally help resolve the case are withheld.
Be aware that when a life sentence is driving a client’s litigation,
the client can “succeed” without actually
winning at trial. Just bringing the litigation or having a deposition taken or
telling a threadbare story or an oft-told lie
to the jury is all the client really wants.
Such cases are the hardest to handle.
They are most easily spotted when you
get the feeling that a client wants nothing
so much as his or her day in court. As a
professional, make sure your client’s
story resonates with you. If it does not,
a life sentence may be lurking in the
Clinton M. Hodges, a
background, and the results will be quite
solo practitioner in
disappointing. Remember as well that
Woodland Hills, is a
our duty to our clients is broader than the
trial attorney and
instant litigation; it also includes a duty to
personal coach to
keep clients out of litigation. Being alert
litigators.
to life sentences can be a major tool in fulfilling that duty.
■
S AV E T H E D AT E !
LOS ANGELES COUNTY BAR ASSOCIATION
Super Simple CLE
Video Replay Convention
January 2003
■ Earn CLE participatory credits—attend the
convention on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
No extra charge to
attend replays for
CLE+PLUS members
1
WEEKEND
■ Earn CLE self-study credits—buy audio tapes
at our CLE Tape Store at the convention.
WEEKEND
2
WEEKEND
3
■ Thursday, January 9
- - - - - - REPEATS - - - - - - -
- - - - - - REPEATS - - - - - - -
■ Friday, January 10
■ Thursday, January 16
■ Thursday, January 23
■ Saturday, January 11
■ Friday, January 17
■ Friday, January 24
■ Saturday, January 18
■ Saturday, January 25
ALL SESSIONS WILL BE HELD AT THE LACBA/LEXIS NEXIS CONFERENCE CENTER
281 S. FIGUEROA STREET, LOS ANGELES
Los Angeles County Bar Association Continuing Legal Education gratefully acknowledges the sponsorship of
Aon Direct Insurance Administrators, LexisNexis, and AT&T Wireless
in helping make the Super Simple CLE Convention possible for our members.
Look for complete details and registration information in the December and January issues of
County Bar Update or call the Member Service Department at 213/896-6560. You can also find our
convention information online at www.lacba.org/cle/convention/
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