Court Rules Email Exchanges Without Board Action Are Not Board Meetings – Updated 2/12/24

*Updated 2/12/24

LNSU #1, LLC v. Alta Del Mar Coastal Collection Community Association, 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 646.

 

Previously, we shared the ruling of the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District in LNSU#1 v. Alta Del Mar Coastal Collection Community Association (2023) 94 Cal. App. 5th 1050.  In that case, the court held that an email discussion among board members regarding items of association business did not violate the Open Meeting Act, because such email exchanges are not considered “board meetings” as that term is defined in Civil Code section 4090(a).

As a reminder, the case involved two homeowners who sued their homeowners association arguing, among other things, that the board violated the Open Meeting Act by conducting board meetings through a series of emails. The trial court found in favor of Alta Del Mar. The homeowners appealed and the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision.

It’s important to keep in mind that this ruling is limited to email discussions among board members.  It probably would not extend to a discussion among a quorum of the board physically present at the same time and place, because that likely would constitute a “board meeting” under Civil Code section 4090(a), even if the board took no action at that meeting.

It’s also important to remember that the purpose of the Open Meeting Act is to foster transparency.  Although email discussions might not violate the Open Meeting Act, those email exchanges could be discoverable in future litigation.  Certainly, discussions of agendas, date, time and place of meetings, and dissemination of necessary new information would appear to be (both before and after the Alta Del Mar decision) appropriate, wisdom dictates that the less a director uses email to discuss board business, homeowner personalities and conflicts, vendor qualifications and the like, the better.

 

ORIGINAL ARTICLE AS PUBLISHED ON 8/31/23

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District just held that an email discussion among board members regarding items of association business did not violate the Open Meeting Act, because such email exchanges are not considered “board meetings” as that term is defined in Civil Code section 4090(a).

Two homeowners sued their homeowners association Alta Del Mar Coastal Collection Community Association arguing, among other things, that the board violated the Open Meeting Act by conducting board meetings through a series of emails. The trial court found in favor of Alta Del Mar. The homeowners appealed and the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision.

The Court of Appeals explained that the definition of “board meeting” in Civil Code section 4090(a) refers to “a gathering of a quorum of the directors … at the same time and in the same physical location….” Consequently, the appellate court reasoned that emails sent by board members at different times from different physical locations did not constitute a “board meeting” within the meaning of Section 4090(a).

The Court of Appeals went on to explain that “[b]y discussing items of Association business in e-mails …, the directors did nothing contrary to the purpose of the [Open Meeting Act], because they took no action on those items in the e-mails. Although the [Open Meeting Act] prohibits the board from acting on items of Association business outside a board meeting…, it does not prohibit the board from discussing the items outside a meeting.” (Emphasis in original.)

Therefore, the appellate court concluded that the phrase, “board meeting,” as defined by Civil Code section 4090(a), refers to “an in-person gathering of a quorum of the directors of a homeowners association at the same time and in the same physical location for the purpose of talking about and taking action on items of association business. E-mail exchanges among directors on those items that occur before a board meeting and in which no action is taken on the items…do not constitute board meetings within the meaning of that provision.”

As momentous as this case is, caution must be exercised for the moment because it is possible that this decision may yet be altered, withdrawn from publication, or further appealed. Once the time to take any of these actions has expired, we will immediately issue an update. Please consult with your own legal counsel, if you have questions concerning the interpretation of this case.