State Court is Proper Venue for Satellite Disputes
(originally published in Winter 2005)
Opera Plaza Residential Parcel Homeowners Association v. Hoang, 376 F.2d 831 (9th Cir. 2004)
In Opera Plaza Residential Parcel Homeowners Association v. Hoang, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal held that federal courts do not have jurisdiction over cases in which a condominium homeowners association sues to enforce its rules against the placement of television satellite dishes in the common area. The proper venue for such an action is state court.
In this case, the plaintiff homeowners association (“Association”) adopted a policy as part of its Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) prohibiting the placement of satellite dishes in common areas. In violation of this policy, defendant homeowners installed a satellite dish on the exterior of their home in a common area. The Association subsequently filed suit in federal court seeking a permanent injunction requiring the homeowners to remove the satellite dish and damages for breach of contract. The district court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, and the Association appealed.
The Association argued that the court had jurisdiction to hear the case under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (“Act”). The Act requires the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) to establish regulations prohibiting restrictions that impair a viewer’s ability to receive programming through broadcast satellite services. The Act also allows parties to petition the FCC or a court of competent jurisdiction to determine whether a restriction is prohibited. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument, holding that private individuals may not sue under the Act. The Association also argued that because the Act completely preempts private regulations, such as the Association’s satellite policy, the FCC (and thus federal courts) had exclusive jurisdiction over the case. The court rejected this argument as well, holding that preemption is used to avoid the enforcement of restrictions, not to enforce the restrictions, as the Association requested. Furthermore, the court observed that there was simply no evidence that Congress intended to create federal jurisdiction over a suit by a homeowners association to enforce covenants and restrictions involving television antennas.
The court concluded that the Association’s suit did not raise any substantial questions of federal law sufficient to give federal courts jurisdiction over the matter. Accordingly, actions to enforce restrictions regarding satellite dishes and television antennas should be brought in the appropriate state court.