By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Good news for homeowners in Solera at Kern Canyon, a Bakersfield, CA, del Webb community designed for senior residents.
A group of residents, previously denied access to the community club house for bible study and Sunday worship meetings, recently settled their civil rights litigation in mediation.
According to a news release by Pacific Justice Institute (PJI), two residents filed lawsuits against the homeowners’ association in 2016, after Solera suspended religious gatherings at the community clubhouse.
Although Solera reversed their suspension several months later, the HOA insisted it had legal authority to restrict activities at the community center, with the right to suspend certain group meetings in the future. That essentially left the issue unresolved, so the Plaintiffs moved forward with their lawsuits.
Both Plaintiffs were represented by Doug Gosling of Braun Gosling (Bakersfield), with PJI intervening on behalf of one of the Plaintiffs in Spring of 2017.
According to its website, Pacific Justice Institute is a “non-profit 501(c)(3) legal defense organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, parental rights, and other civil liberties. Pacific Justice Institute works diligently, without charge, to provide its clients with all the legal support they need.”
PJI founder and President, Brad Dacus, successfully argued in favor of state of California civil rights and religious freedom protections for residents at Solera.
The HOA agreed to mediation in March 2018, just two months before their scheduled trial date. A confidential settlement has been reached. According to the news release, the terms of that settlement include favorable concessions for residents, including the fact that the court has designated the Plaintiffs as prevailing parties. Therefore, the HOA cannot hold Plaintiffs accountable for paying its attorney fees.
Solera at Kern Canyon is an active adult community, currently managed by Associa. The HOA sponsors dozens of clubs and groups, including the previously disputed Sunday worship services and bible study groups.
Regardless of one’s personal views on the highly charged issue of religious freedom, the successful resolution of litigation against Solera’s HOA has broad implications for the protection of civil rights and liberties for all residents of association-governed communities.
It seems that HOAs are no longer able to count on the community association management industry’s argument of decades past: that Constitutional constraints at the federal and state level need not apply to homeowners,’ condominium, and cooperative associations, simply because they are private organizations, and not public governing entities.
Americans are also reminded that if some of their neighbors are compelled by their HOA to give up personal rights and freedoms today — under the guise of protecting property values — their own rights and freedoms can easily be taken away tomorrow.
Fortunately, the tide is turning toward preservation of the U.S. Constitution, and civil rights for all Americans, no matter where they happen to live.
Groundbreaking Settlement Protects Religious Freedom in Senior Community
Bakersfield, CA–A court case that tested the application of civil rights protections to Bible studies and a worship service in a senior community has been favorably resolved through a settlement.
Pacific Justice Institute represented the leadership of four religious groups that had been suspended in late 2016 by their homeowners’ association (HOA). The suspension followed a complaint from one atheist in the retirement community, Solera at Kern Canyon. Other than the one complaint, the religious groups had become quite popular within the community, with approximately 100 weekly attendees of the four groups in a community of 558 homes. Like other interest groups, the Sunday morning worship service, men’s Bible study and two women’s Bible studies meet in the community center.
After the Bible studies and worship service were suspended just before Thanksgiving of 2016, one attendee of the worship service and men’s Bible studies filed suit, and the suspension was lifted at the end of that year. The HOA, however, continued to insist that it had done nothing wrong and possessed the authority to suspend the groups again at anytime, so litigation continued throughout 2017 and early 2018 to resolve that issue. PJI intervened in the suit last spring on behalf of the leadership of the Bible studies and worship service. PJI argued that, although the homeowners’ association was not directly subject to the First Amendment, it owed residents similar obligations under the state’s civil rights laws.
The case was scheduled for trial in mid-May when the parties met on March 12 for mediation. In mediation, the HOA agreed to a number of concessions that will protect the seniors’ religious rights going forward. Once the settlement was finalized over the next several weeks, the plaintiffs filed for dismissal of the case earlier this month. They were designated in the settlement as the prevailing parties.