Fourth District Court of Appeal Hands Big Win to Brannock & Humphries’ Client

In a thoughtful opinion emphasizing the limited role of the judiciary in policing the internal affairs of voluntary membership organizations, a three-judge panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal unanimously decided that a trial court should not have second-guessed a Martin County aviation community’s decision to suspend and terminate one of its members for violating the community’s rules.

The dispute arose when the resident began using the community’s airplane runway in the early morning hours to fly coworkers around the state.  The community’s board objected to these actions, informing the resident that he was causing a nuisance and improperly using the facilities for commercial operations, which threatened the community’s FAA licensure.  After a hearing giving the resident the opportunity to contest the allegations, the board suspended the resident and ultimately terminated his membership.  The resident continued to use the community’s facilities despite his termination, forcing the community to file a lawsuit to enforce its membership decision.

A Martin County judge held a ten-day trial, essentially conducting a de novo inquiry into the board’s allegations and finding that the resident had not violated the community’s rules.  Brannock & Humphries was then brought on board to assist the community on appeal.  Today, the Fourth District reversed, agreeing with the community’s argument that the trial judge should have deferred to the community’s decision instead of conducting an independent review of the merits.

According to the Fourth District, the trial judge’s inquiry should have been limited to whether the resident’s membership was terminated pursuant to a procedure that was fair, reasonable, and carried out in good faith.  Because the community gave the resident notice of the allegations and an opportunity to be heard, the Fourth District approved the suspension and removal of the resident and ordered that judgment be entered in favor of the community—granting a complete victory to Brannock & Humphries’ client.