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Pinnacle Museum Tower v. Pinnacle Market Development

August 16, 2012


Ct.App. 4/1 D055422 San Diego County Super. Ct. No.37-2008-00096678- CU-CD-CTL

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baxter, J.

An owners association filed the instant construction defect action against a condominium developer, seeking recovery for damage to its property and damage to the separate interests of the condominium owners who compose its membership. In response, the developer filed a motion to compel arbitration, based on a clause in the recorded declaration of covenants, conditions, and restrictions providing that the association and the individual owners agree to resolve any construction dispute with the developer through binding arbitration in accordance with the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA; 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.).

We granted review to determine whether the arbitration clause is binding on the association, and if so, whether it must be invalidated as unconscionable. As we shall explain, even though the association did not exist as an entity independent of the developer when the declaration was drafted and recorded, it is settled under the statutory and decisional law pertaining to common interest developments that the covenants and terms in the recorded declaration reflect written promises and agreements that are subject to enforcement against the association. We conclude that the arbitration clause binds the association and is not unconscionable.


Pinnacle Market Development (US), LLC, and others (collectively Pinnacle) developed a mixed use residential and commercial common interest community in San Diego known as the Pinnacle Museum Tower Condominium (the Project). Pursuant to the Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act (Civ. Code, § 1350 et seq.; the Davis-Stirling Act or the Act), Pinnacle, as the owner and developer of the Project property, drafted and recorded a "Declaration of Restrictions" to govern its use and operation (the Project CC&R's). The Project CC&R's contains a number of easements, restrictions and covenants, which it describes as "enforceable equitable servitudes" and "binding on all parties having any right, title or interest" in the property, and their heirs, successors and assigns. The Project CC&R's also provided for the creation of a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation called the Pinnacle Museum Tower Association (the Association) to serve as the owners association responsible for managing and maintaining the Project property.

In selling the Project units, Pinnacle conveyed to each buyer an airspace condominium in fee and a proportionate undivided interest in the common area as a tenant in common. All other real property (including the property in the tower module, the parking structure, and other appurtenances) was deeded directly to the Association in fee.*fn1 Pursuant to the Project CC&R's, each condominium owner is a member of the Association with certain voting rights, and each agrees to pay assessments for all purposes described in the declaration, including the Association's maintenance and improvement of the Association's property and the common areas.

As relevant here, article XVIII of the Project CC&R's (article XVIII) recites that, by accepting a deed for any portion of the Project property, the Association and each condominium owner agree to waive their right to a jury trial and to have any construction dispute resolved exclusively through binding arbitration in accordance with the FAA and the California Arbitration Act (CAA; Code Civ. Proc., § 1280 et seq.).*fn2 Article XVIII specifies that it applies only to a construction dispute in which Pinnacle has been named as a party, and provides that no amendment may be made to its terms without Pinnacle's written consent.

The individual owners bought condominium units in the Project pursuant to a standard purchase agreement. The agreement anticipated creation of the Association and explicitly provided: "By acceptance of the Grant Deed to the Condominium, Buyer shall be deemed to have accepted and agreed to comply" with the recorded Project CC&R's. Section 8 of the purchase agreement stated that, by agreeing to resolve all disputes as provided in article XVIII, the parties give up their respective rights to have such disputes tried before a jury. Section 8 also required the parties to initial a provision reciting their agreement "TO COMPLY WITH ARTICLE XVIII OF THE DECLARATION WITH RESPECT TO THE DISPUTE REFERENCED THEREIN."*fn3

The Association filed the instant action against Pinnacle, alleging that construction defects caused damage to the Project. As the sole plaintiff, the Association seeks recovery not only for damage to its own property, but also for damage to the interests held by its individual members. The Association claims standing to represent the owners' interests pursuant to Civil Code section 1368.3, which grants an owners association the requisite standing to sue a developer in its own name for damage to the common areas and damage to the separate interests the association is obligated to maintain or repair. (See Windham at Carmel Mountain Ranch Assn. v. Superior Court (2003) 109 Cal.App.4th 1162, 1172, 1174-1175 [addressing predecessor to Civ. Code § 1368.3]; see also Civ. Code, § 945.)

Pinnacle filed a motion to compel arbitration, contending the FAA mandates enforcement of article XVIII's arbitration provisions. The trial court determined that the FAA is applicable and that article XVIII embodies an agreement to arbitrate between Pinnacle and the Association. Nonetheless, the court invalidated the agreement upon finding it marked by slight substantive unconscionability and a high degree of procedural unconscionability.

The Court of Appeal affirmed. Although finding unanimously that the FAA is applicable, the court concluded, by a split vote, that the arbitration clause in the Project CC&R's does not constitute an agreement sufficient to waive the Association's constitutional right to jury trial for construction defect claims. The majority additionally held that, even assuming the Association is bound by the jury waivers in the purchase agreements signed by the individual condominium owners, the waivers are unconscionable and unenforceable.

We granted Pinnacle's petition for review.


Article XVIII of the Project CC&R's provides that Pinnacle and, by accepting a deed to any portion of the Project property, the Association and each individual condominium owner agree to submit any construction dispute to binding arbitration in accordance with the FAA (and the CAA to the extent it is consistent with the FAA). (See ante, fn. 2.) To determine whether article XVIII is binding upon and enforceable against the Association, we consider the rules governing compelled arbitration of claims, the principles relating to the contractual nature of the covenants and restrictions in a declaration recorded pursuant to the Davis-Stirling Act, and the doctrine of unconscionability.

A. Arbitration under the FAA

Consistent with the express terms of article XVIII, both the trial court and the Court of Appeal determined that the FAA applies in this case because materials and products incorporated into the Project were manufactured in other states. (9 U.S.C. § 2; see Allied-Bruce Terminix Cos. v. Dobson (1995) 513 U.S. 265, 281-282 (Allied-Bruce).) Although the Association currently disputes the FAA's applicability, we accept the determination of the lower courts because the issue was not preserved for review.

Section 2 of the FAA provides in relevant part: "A written provision in . . . a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract or transaction . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract." (9 U.S.C. § 2.) This statute stands as "a congressional declaration of a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements, notwithstanding any state substantive or procedural policies to the contrary." (Moses H. Cone Hospital v. Mercury Constr. Corp. (1983) 460 U.S. 1, 24 (Moses H. Cone).)*fn4

To ensure that arbitration agreements are enforced according to their terms, "the FAA pre-empts state laws which 'require a judicial forum for the resolution of claims which the contracting parties agreed to resolve by arbitration.' " (Volt Info. Sciences v. Leland Stanford Jr. U. (1989) 489 U.S. 468, 478 (Volt); e.g., Perry v. Thomas (1987) 482 U.S. 483 [FAA preempts Cal. Labor Code provision allowing maintenance of wage collection actions despite private agreement to arbitrate]; Southland Corp. v. Keating (1984) 465 U.S. 1 [FAA preempts Cal. statute rendering agreements to arbitrate franchise claims unenforceable].) Likewise, the FAA precludes a court from construing an arbitration agreement "in a manner different from that in which it otherwise construes nonarbitration agreements under state law. Nor may a court rely on the uniqueness of an agreement to arbitrate as a basis for a state-law holding that enforcement would be unconscionable, for this would enable the court to effect what . . . the state legislature cannot." (Perry, at pp. 492-493, fn. 9.)

One of the consequences of the FAA's applicability is its effect on Code of Civil Procedure section 1298.7, which allows a purchaser to pursue a construction and design defect action against a developer in court, even when the parties have signed a real property purchase and sale agreement containing an arbitration clause.*fn5 Even assuming this California statute might otherwise extend to a recorded condominium declaration, the FAA would preempt its application here because it discriminates against arbitration. (See Shepard v. Edward Mackay Enterprises, Inc. (2007) 148 Cal.App.4th 1092, 1095.) The Court of Appeal agreed on this point, and the Association does not rely on this statute to avoid arbitration.

Nonetheless, it is a cardinal principle that arbitration under the FAA "is a matter of consent, not coercion." (Volt, supra, 489 U.S. at p. 479.) Thus, " 'a party cannot be required to submit to arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit.' " (AT&T Technologies v. Communications Workers (1986) 475 U.S. 643, 648; see Cronus Investments, Inc. v. Concierge Services (2005) 35 Cal.4th 376, 384-385.) In determining the rights of parties to enforce an arbitration agreement within the FAA's scope, courts apply state contract law while giving due regard to the federal policy favoring arbitration. (Volt, at p. 474; see Moses H. Cone, supra, 460 U.S. at p. 24.)

In California, "[g]eneral principles of contract law determine whether the parties have entered a binding agreement to arbitrate." (Craig v. Brown & Root, Inc. (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 416, 420; see Engalla v. Permanente Medical Group, Inc. (1997) 15 Cal.4th 951, 972-973.) Generally, an arbitration agreement must be memorialized in writing. (Fagelbaum & Heller LLP v. Smylie (2009) 174 Cal.App.4th 1351, 1363.) A party's acceptance of an agreement to arbitrate may be express, as where a party signs the agreement. A signed agreement is not necessary, however, and a party's acceptance may be implied in fact (e.g., Craig, at p. 420 [employee's continued employment constitutes acceptance of an arbitration agreement proposed by the employer]) or be effectuated by delegated consent (e.g., Ruiz v. Podolsky (2010) 50 Cal.4th 838, 852-854 (Ruiz).) An arbitration clause within a contract may be binding on a party even if the party never actually read the clause. (24 Hour Fitness, Inc. v. Superior Court (1998) 66 Cal.App.4th 1199, 1215.)

The party seeking arbitration bears the burden of proving the existence of an arbitration agreement, and the party opposing arbitration bears the burden of proving any defense, such as unconscionability. (Engalla v. Permanente Medical Group, Inc., supra, 15 Cal.4th at p. 972.) Where, as here, the evidence is not in conflict, we review the trial court's denial of arbitration de novo. (Service Employees Internat. Union, Local 1021 v. County of San Joaquin (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 449, 455.)

B. Contractual Nature of Terms in a Recorded Declaration

The Davis-Stirling Act governs the creation and operation of common interest developments such as the condominium development here. Pursuant to the Act, a condominium development may be created when a developer of land records a declaration and other documents to that effect and thereafter conveys one of the units in the development. (Civ. Code, § 1352.)

As one of the primary documents governing the development's operation, the declaration must set forth a legal description of the development, the name of the owners association that will own or operate the development's common areas and facilities, and the covenants and use restrictions that are intended to be enforceable equitable servitudes. (Civ. Code, §§ 1351, 1353.) In addition, the declaration may "contain any other matters the original signator of the declaration [e.g., the developer] or the owners consider appropriate." (Civ. Code, § 1353, subd. (b); Cal. Code Regs., tit. 10, § 2792.8, subd. (a).)

Terms commonly included in a declaration concern membership and voting rights in the owners association, maintenance responsibilities, procedures for calculating and collecting assessments, accounting and insurance requirements, architectural and/or design control, and enforcement of the declaration. Pursuant to state regulatory law, a declaration may also include provisions for binding or non-binding arbitration of disputes between a developer and an owners association, so long as the designated process for arbitration satisfies certain regulatory requirements. (Bus. & Prof. Code, §§ 11001, 11004.5, 11018.5; Cal. Code Regs., tit. 10, § 2791.8; see post, fn. 7.) When terms have been included for the benefit of the declarant (developer), an association's ability to delete them is limited. That is, although an association may freely amend a declaration to remove certain types of restrictions once the developer has completed its construction and marketing activities (Civ. Code, § 1355.5, subds. (a), (b)), no court may approve an amendment that will "eliminate any special rights, preferences, or privileges designated in the declaration as belonging to the declarant, without the consent of the declarant" (Civ. Code, § 1356, subd. (e)(2)).

Once the first buyer manifests acceptance of the covenants and restrictions in the declaration by purchasing a unit, the common interest development is created (Civ. Code, § 1352), and all such terms become "enforceable equitable servitudes, unless unreasonable" and "inure to the benefit of and bind all owners of separate interests in the development." (Civ. Code, § 1354, subd. (a); see Bus. & Prof. Code, § 11018.5, subd. (c).) For this reason, we have described recorded declarations as "the primary means of achieving the stability and predictability so essential to the success of a shared ownership housing development." (Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Assn. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 361, 382 (Nahrstedt).) Having a single set of recorded covenants and restrictions that applies to an entire common interest development protects the intent, expectations, and wishes of those buying into the development and the community as a whole by ensuring that promises concerning the character and operation of the development are kept. (See Citizens for Covenant Compliance v. Anderson (1995) 12 Cal.4th 345, 364 (Citizens for Covenant Compliance); Nahrstedt, at p. 383.)

One important feature contributing to the stability and success of condominium developments is that actual notice is not required for enforcement of a recorded declaration's terms against subsequent purchasers. (Nahrstedt, supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 379.) Rather, the recording of a declaration with the county recorder "provides sufficient notice to permit the enforcement" of the covenants and restrictions contained therein (ibid.; see Citizens for Covenant Compliance, supra, 12 Cal.4th at pp. 364-365; Villa Milano Homeowners Assn. v. Il Davorge (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 819, 825 (Villa Milano)), and condominium purchasers are "deemed to agree" to them. (Citizens for Covenant Compliance, at p. 365; see Villa Milano, at p. 825.)

In this regard, the Legislature has provided various protections to help ensure that condominium purchasers know what they are buying into. For example, developers and subsequent sellers must provide copies of the declaration and other governing documents to prospective purchasers. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 11018.6; Civ. Code, § 1368, subd. (a).) Additionally, developers generally must provide prospective purchasers with a copy of the Department of Real Estate's public report approving the particular condominium development and a copy of a statutory statement outlining general information regarding common interest developments. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 11018.1, subds. (a), (c); see Bus. & Prof. Code, § 11018.2.) The statutory statement informs prospective purchasers that their ownership in the development and their rights and remedies as members of its association "will be controlled by governing instruments" such as the "Declaration of Restrictions (also known as CC&R's)," and that they should "[s]tudy these documents carefully before entering into a contract to purchase a subdivision interest." (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 11018.1, subd. (c).) Hence, condominium owners should not be surprised by the covenants and restrictions in a recorded declaration, which ordinarily are given binding effect even if they would not fulfill the common law requirements for creation of an equitable servitude or a restrictive covenant (Villa De Las Palmas Homeowners Assn. v. Terifaj (2004) 33 Cal.4th 73, 87), or the privity requirements of a contract (Civ. Code, §§ 1350-1378; Nahrstedt, supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 380).

Another significant way in which the Act promotes stability and predictability is by providing that the "covenants and restrictions in the declaration shall be enforceable equitable servitudes, unless unreasonable, and shall inure to the benefit of and bind all owners of the separate interests in the development." (Civ. Code, § 1354, subd. (a), italics added.) This statutory presumption of reasonableness requires that recorded covenants and restrictions be enforced " 'unless they are wholly arbitrary, violate a fundamental public policy, or impose a burden on the use of affected land that far outweighs any benefit.' " (Villa De Las Palmas Homeowners Assn. v. Terifaj, supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 88 [quoting Nahrstedt, supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 382].)

In Nahrstedt, supra, 8 Cal.4th 361, we elaborated upon the contractual nature of a declaration and the enforcement of its terms as equitable servitudes under the Davis-Stirling Act. "[E]quitable servitudes permit courts to enforce promises restricting land use when there is no privity of contract between the party seeking to enforce the contract and the party resisting enforcement. Like any promise given in exchange for consideration, an agreement to refrain from a particular use of land is subject to contract principles, under which courts try 'to effectuate the legitimate desires of the covenanting parties.' [Citation.] When landowners express the intention to limit land use, 'that intention should be carried out.' " (Nahrstedt, at pp. 380-381.) Although Nahrstedt spoke specifically in terms of land use restrictions, its analysis logically extends to all covenants in a declaration, which by statute are also enforceable as equitable servitudes unless unreasonable. (Civ. Code, § 1354, subd. (a); e.g., Arias v. Katella Townhouse Homeowners Assn., Inc. (2005) 127 Cal.App.4th 847 [condominium owner who prevailed in enforcement action entitled to recover contractual attorney fees under CC&R's].)

Moreover, settled principles of condominium law establish that an owners association, like its constituent members, must act in conformity with the terms of a recorded declaration. (See Civ. Code, § 1354, subd. (a); Lamden v. La Jolla Shores Clubdominium Homeowners Assn. (1999) 21 Cal.4th 249, 268 [homeowner can sue association to compel enforcement of declaration's provisions]; Ritter & Ritter, Inc. Pension & Profit Plan v. The Churchill Condominium Assn. (2008) 166 Cal.App.4th 103, 124.) There is, of course, no question that an owners association functions as an entity distinct and separate from its owner members and may hold title to real property in a condominium development in its own name. However, an association must exercise its property rights and its right of management over the affairs of a development in a manner consistent with the covenants, conditions, and restrictions of the declaration. That a declaration operates to bind an association is both logical and sound, for the success of a development would be gravely undermined if the association were allowed to disregard the intent, expectations, and wishes of those whose collective interests the association represents. (See Citizens for Covenant Compliance, supra, 12 Cal.4th at p. 364; Nahrstedt, supra, 8 Cal.4th at pp. 382-384.)

In light of the foregoing, it is no surprise that courts have described recorded declarations as contracts. (E.g., Frances T. v. Village Green Owners Assn. (1986) 42 Cal.3d 490, 512-513 [CC&R's as contract between condominium owners association and unit owner]; Villa Milano, supra, 84 Cal.App.4th at pp. 824-826 [CC&R's as contract between developer and homeowners association]; see Barrett v. Dawson (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 1048, 1054 [right of neighbors to enforce a recorded restrictive covenant limiting the neighboring property's use was "clearly contractual"]; Harbor View Hills Community Assn. v. Torley (1992) 5 Cal.App.4th 343, 346-349 [amendment to Civ. Code § 1717, which governs contractual attorney fees, was applicable to CC&R's of homeowners association]; see also Franklin v. Marie Antoinette Condominium Owners Assn. (1993) 19 Cal.App.4th 824, 828, 833 [accepting parties' assumption that CC&R's formed a contract between condominium owners and owners association].)

In the proceedings below, the Court of Appeal held the arbitration clause in the Project CC&R's was not binding on the Association. Specifically, the court observed that the Association could not have agreed to arbitrate or waive its constitutional right to a jury trial, because "for all intents and purposes, Pinnacle was the only party to the 'agreement,' and there was no independent homeowners association when Pinnacle recorded the CC&R's." This reasoning is not persuasive in light of the statutory and contract principles at play.

"It is true we have emphasized that arbitration derives its legitimacy from the fact that the parties consent to resort to the arbitral forum rather than to litigation, with its possibility of a jury trial. [Citation.] Such consent is generally required." (Ruiz, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 852.) As we have previously recognized, however, various legal theories allow for delegated authority to consent. Not only do common law principles such as fiduciary duty and agency permit enforcement of arbitration agreements against nonsignatory third parties, but the Legislature can also provide for the reasonable delegation of authority to consent. (Id. at pp. 852-854.)

In Ruiz, supra, 50 Cal.4th 838, we addressed the operation of Code of Civil Procedure section 1295, which allowed, but did not require, a patient to contract with a health care provider to resolve all medical malpractice claims through binding arbitration. The question presented was whether an arbitration agreement signed by a patient applied to the resolution of wrongful death claims, which are not considered derivative of a patient's claims, even though the wrongful death claimants were not themselves signatories to the arbitration agreement. (See Ruiz, at p. 841.) After observing that the statute intended to create "a capacity of health care patients to bind their heirs to arbitrate wrongful death actions," we found that binding the heirs "does not in any sense" extinguish or restrict their claims, "but merely requires that the claims 'be resolved by a common, expeditious, and judicially favored method.' " (Id. at p. 852.) We firmly rejected the argument that a rule permitting a person to bind his or her adult children to arbitration would violate the state constitutional right to a jury trial. (Cal. Const., art. I, § 16.) As we explained, "the Legislature may devise reasonable rules in civil litigation to permit the delegation to another party of the power to consent to arbitration instead of a jury trial. . . . In the present case, the Legislature by statute has created the right of certain heirs to a wrongful death action and may also by statute place reasonable conditions on the exercise of that right." (Ruiz, at p. 853.)

While not directly on point, the principles articulated in Ruiz support a similar result in the context of recorded declarations. As discussed, the Legislature has crafted a statutory scheme providing for the capacity of a developer to create a condominium development subject to covenants and restrictions governing its operation and use. There appears no question that, under the Davis-Stirling Act, each owner of a condominium unit either has expressly consented or is deemed by law to have agreed to the terms in a recorded declaration. As the exclusive members of an owners association, the owners have every right to expect that the association, in representing their collective interests, will abide by the agreed-upon covenants in the declaration, including any covenant to invoke binding arbitration as an expeditious and judicially favored method to resolve a construction dispute, in the absence of unreasonableness. That a developer and condominium owners may bind an association to an arbitration covenant via a recorded declaration is not unreasonable; indeed, such a result appears particularly important because (1) the Davis-Stirling Act confers standing upon an association to prosecute claims for construction damage in its own name without joining the individual condominium owners (Civ. Code, ยง 1368.3) and (2) as between an association and its members, it is the members who pay the assessments that cover the expenses of resolving construction disputes. Given these circumstances, an association should not be allowed to frustrate the ...

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