(originally published in Winter 2005)

Titus v. Barton Protective Services, Inc. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 906.

In Titus v. Barton Protective Services, Inc. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 906, the Court of Appeal held that although an association’s Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (“CC&Rs”) give the association the authority to make arrests and detain individuals for violating the governing documents, this authority does not create an affirmative obligation to do so whenever the association’s agents suspect someone is violating, or may violate, an association rule. The court also held that the vaguely stated responsibilities of maintaining the association in a safe and secure environment and to preserve, protect, and police the commonly owned facilities do not give rise to such an obligation.

In Titus, Defendant Incorvia crashed into a tree while driving drunk through the Canyon Lake community where he lived, resulting in the death of Mr. Incorvia’s passenger, Mr. Hauser. Subsequently, Mr. Hauser’s child, Titus, brought an action against the Canyon Lake Property Owners Association (“CLPOA”) and its private security company, Barton Protective Services.

As a general rule, a defendant will not be held liable for the failure to control the conduct of third parties (such as criminal conduct). Titus, however, argued that the CLPOA had an affirmative duty to protect Mr. Hauser based on the “special relationship” CLPOA had with Incorvia and the residents of the community. He argued that this duty required CLPOA to eject Incorvia from the community when it observed him intoxicated. Titus further alleged CLPOA was on notice that minors, and specifically Incorvia, had been using drugs and alcohol in the private homes and common areas of the community. He cited various incidents where Incorvia had been ticketed for speeding, evading arrest, and running stop signs in the community.

In determining whether a special relationship existed between CLPOA and Incorvia, the Court of Appeal balanced several factors, including the connection between the defendant and the injury-producing event, the foreseeability of the injury, and the degree of certainty of injury. The court concluded CLPOA’s lack of connection to the event and the burden on CLPOA to eject or arrest Incorvia outweighed the low level of foreseeability of injury and the minimal connection between CLPOA and the individuals involved in the injury-producing event. Here, there were no allegations Incorvia had previously injured anyone, had ever been stopped or arrested for driving while intoxicated, or that CLPOA encouraged or had any involvement in Incorvia’s intoxication. The court also observed the duty to eject Incorvia was further outweighed by the burden on CLPOA to eject a tenant. An ejectment action involves substantially more time and expense than mere eviction of a tenant, has undesirable consequences for the community, and is not favorable as a matter of public policy. Under the facts and circumstances, the court declined to find any type of special relationship, or impose a duty upon CLPOA.

The court held that although the CC&Rs created affirmative obligations to provide for security within the community, such obligations did not, without more, create a special relationship requiring CLPOA to affirmatively act to protect residents from Incorvia. The court went further and held that even if Titus could have alleged the security guard saw Incorvia driving drunk and permitted him to pass through a guarded checkpoint, this would still not give rise to a duty to eject or arrest Incorvia.

The court in this case provided that an association is not always obligated to enforce rules against a member of the community, even if it has the authority to do so in its governing documents, and suspects the member is violating, or may violate, the rules. Given the factually driven nature of this holding, however, associations should take care not to treat this case as permitting wholesale abandonment or disregard of its regulations.