Cases in Real Estate
is a weekly update on real estate law, with legal principles illustrated and
explained by lawsuits from around the country. The topics are wide-ranging for
appeal to a broad spectrum of readers including lawyers, homeowners, investors
and the general public. Andrea Lee Negroni, a Washington DC
attorney and legal writer with 25 years of experience in financial services and
mortgage law, contributes the case summaries.
Real Cases in Real Estate will learn and be entertained by lawsuits
involving nuisance, trespass, zoning violations, deed restrictions, title
insurance, public utilities, mechanics liens, construction defects, adverse
possession, foreclosure and eviction, divorce and marital property rights,
tenants' rights, and more. Real Cases in Real Estate uncovers the
unpredictable, amusing, and sometimes outrageous disputes between next-door
neighbors, contractors and homeowners, condo boards and residents, real estate
brokers and homebuyers, and zoning administrators and developers.
cited case summary highlights the essential law of the case and explains the
principal legal theories and concepts relevant to the outcome. Plain language
treatment makes Real Cases in Real Estate accessible to lawyers and
follow real estate law professionally or as a hobby, you'll find something new
and useful every week in Real Cases in Real Estate.
for the Week of May 9th, 2011
A yard sign inviting the public to ask the homeowners why
not to buy a homebuilder's products is Constitutionally protected speech.
The Chaneys bought a house in Atlanta that was built by Harrison & Lynam.
Before closing, the builder disclosed to the buyers that the property had
drainage problems but the Chaneys closed anyway, believing the builder would
fix the problems. The builder took some steps to solve the flooding and drainage
problems, including installing a catch basin, but the Chaneys, and eventually
some of their neighbors became unsatisfied enough with their homes to put up
yard signs with the message: "Ask Our Opinion Why Not to Buy a Harrison &
The Chaneys believed the City of Atlanta had some
responsibility for the drainage problems, and wrote to several city officials
to advise them he planned to sue the builder for negligent construction and for
damaging a storm drain.
The builder sued the Chaneys, claiming the yard signs and
their correspondence to the City were defamatory. The Chaneys obtained a
summary judgment. In analyzing the yard signs, the Georgia appeals court observed
that "as a general rule, a mere statement of opinion is not considered defamatory." The reason is that an opinion is a subjective
assessment which cannot be proved false. Since the Chaneys' sign merely invited
others to ask them their opinion, it could not have been defamatory. In fact, their
sign was Constitutionally protected speech.
The decision discussed another Georgia case in which a
homeowner put up a sign saying "This lemon is for sale. Built by Janet Ricker
Builder, Inc." Even this language, referring to a home as a "lemon," is a
Constitutionally protected expression of opinion.
The Chaneys' correspondence to the City was privileged and
therefore could not support a defamation claim by the builder because it was
deemed to be a statement made in good faith by the Chaneys to further free
speech or the right to petition government for a redress of grievances. In
effect, the Chaneys reported their drainage complaints to the City because they
believed the City might have some responsibility to resolve the problem. Their
communications to the City were not made with the "actual malice" required to
defeat a claim to privilege.
Lexis.com subscribers can
view the enhanced version of Chaney v. Harrison & Lynam, LLC, 2011 Ga. App. LEXIS 282 (Ga. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2011)
Non-subscribers can use
lexisOne's Free Case Law search to view the free, un-enhanced version of Chaney v. Harrison & Lynam, LLC, 2011 Ga. App. LEXIS 282 (Ga. Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2011)
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