SWB Wins Insurance Coverage for Clients in Federal Court


Congratulations to our firm’s clients, Phil and Susan Swartztrauber, for winning a court order obtaining insurance coverage against Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America.

The case was handled by Alex Beard.  The Swartztraubers were board members of their Home Owners Association (HOA), and were sued for alleged defamation in an underlying suit filed by the HOA’s President.  Travelers insured the HOA, but refused to provide the Swartztraubers with a defense to the defamation suit.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner disagreed, and ruled that Travelers breached its policy contract, and violated the Texas Prompt Payment Statute, by failing to provide the Swartztraubers with a defense.  So, Travelers will have to pay for the defense, legal fees and costs of the coverage case, as well as the underlying lawsuit.

Great work, Alex!


Texans “Slap” Back

free speech

Freedom of Speech is Alive and Well in Texas.  The Texas Citizens Participation Act Strikes Again: This time in an HOA dispute.

If you run for office these days, you probably need to have pretty thick skin.  People have always “talked about” leaders, but now with the advent of community websites, neighborhood websites, and texting, information spreads like wildfire.  Even local positions, like little league President or Board Member of your Homeowners Association (HOA), can become hotbeds of controversy.  The information people spread should be relatively accurate (“substantially true” in legal terms), or you can be held liable for defamation of character.   Spreading lies, rumors, or innuendo can get you sued – and rightfully so.  However, I keep coming across cases where people get their feelings hurt over tiny things and they want to run to the courthouse to shut up their opposition; or as they see it “demand justice”- through intimidation. Said another way, they want to file “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” (SLAPP).

      I just finished handling one such case where a couple of homeowners who were Board members of their local HOA took offense to people questioning their business judgment.   To stop the criticism, they decided to file a lawsuit against their fellow homeowners (and the HOA, and the past Board) for “defamation”, “slander,” and for “ruining their reputation”.

We represented the homeowner that was the alleged “slanderer.” He had disagreed with the approach taken by members of the Board who decided it was best to pay off or “settle” with people who had issues with the Board rather than fight them.  He wrote a strong, but professional letter to the community stating his position that he felt the Board was wasting their money and should be replaced.   This letter was the basis of the “slander” claim as alleged by the Plaintiff.

Unfortunately for the Plaintiff, the letter, while direct, was simply one homeowner exercising   his right of free speech to question the direction of the current Board.

For those of you who follow our blog, you might guess what happened next.   First, we nicely asked them to non-suit the case and pointed out their risks.  They refused to nonsuit (as I’ve found is common, “how could we be wrong?”), and instead demanded money.    I consistently find it revealing when someone who “stands on principle” wants dollars in exchange for his principle.    So we were then forced to ask the Judge to award our client all of his legal fees, costs, and sanctions under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (often referred to as the Anti-SLAPP statute).

We are proud to report, that once again, freedom of speech prevailed.    The   Ellis County Judge defended the right of Texas citizens to exercise their right of freedom of speech.  The case was dismissed and the Plaintiffs were ordered to pay our client’s attorneys’ fees of over $10,000.00 plus costs.  Further, the Judge ordered the Plaintiffs to pay “sanctions” to our client in the amount of $25,000 to deter the Plaintiffs from filing another lawsuit attempting to quash Freedom of Speech.  Hopefully, the Plaintiffs in that suit will reconsider before trying to SLAPP someone in the future; because they learned the hard way: Texans slap back.


HOA Texas

Recent changes in the law finally give Texas homeowners a stick to fight back against abusive practices by Texas homeowners associations.  If you are reading this, you’ve no doubt heard of HOA horror stories. Perhaps you’ve been a victim of HOA harassment or bullying.  HOAs are not regulated by the state or federal government. They are often formed as “non-profit” corporations and claim to be “self-governing entities,” but all too often they act more like private governments, claiming the power to tax, have a police force, impose regulations, and dictate zoning.

HOA Horror Stories


Ahh, HOA’s.  You either love ‘em or you hate ‘em.  And those who hate ‘em usually have a good reason.  Maybe the HOA is on their case about a fence needing repair.  Maybe it’s that dues haven’t been paid on time and the HOA is threatening foreclosure (yes, strange as it may seem, most HOA’s have the authority to take your home if you do not pay).  Maybe it’s a fine that was imposed because you went on vacation and forgot to have someone cut the grass. No infraction is too small for some HOAs.

I’ve represented homeowners in disputes with their HOAs, and let me tell you, nothing surprises me anymore.  Sure, there are some good HOAs out there.  But there are also a lot of bad ones, ones that will spare no expense in “ensuring a homeowner’s compliance.” That often means legal action, with the homeowner viewed as easy prey.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Fortunately the laws governing homeowners associations are beginning to change, with more protections built in for homeowners.  But a lot more work is left to be done.  I will be attending a conference in a couple of weeks where some of these changes will be discussed.  I’ll make another blog entry upon my return.

In the meantime, check out Jacquielynn Floyd’s editorial in Dallas Morning News about how living is easy IF you bow to your HOA.