Monday, November 2, 2015

Visitor Opinion On Recovering Costs

A visitor sent an extremely interesting reaction to yesterday's post (my emendations):
Actually, it appears that Citibank paid the rent to the wrong party, and thus is on the hook for the entire amount, during the period when the squatters occupied the property. Citibank has deep pockets, and undoubtedly will pay an amount under seven figures as soon as the situation becomes clear to corporate counsel. If Citibank has insurance that will cover this (not exactly unlikely), the insurance company will pay the claim equally quickly. Whoever pays the claim [then] will sue the squatters collectively to recover the amount of the previous payments. In this type of case, all of the squatters and their accomplices are liable for the entire amount (there is no apportionment) so the plaintiff can confiscate assets of any and all of them to collect. If the squatters and their accomplices turned over any of the money to other parties, they might or might not be able to sue to recover those payments. The legal issue here will be whether, and to what extent, ACA Bishop Brian Marsh was involved in the decisions associated with the occupation and thus is deemed an accomplice, but the diocesan bishop will be deemed an accomplice in any case.
The seizure was initiated by Anthony Morello, at the time rector of the ACA parish in Fountain Valley, CA, but also at the time canon to the ordinary to Stephen Strawn, who was episcopal visitor to the Diocese of the West, and clearly acting at Strawn's direction. Mr and Mrs Creel of the Fountain Valley parish (Mrs Creel is on the Diocese of the West standing committee and also diocesan secretary, while Mr Creel is a representative to the ACA Executive Council) were also involved in the seizure and presumably would also be accomplices.

In addition to e-mails and letters from Strawn indicating his supervision and approval of the occupation, Presiding Bishop Marsh flew to California to visit the parish during events related to the seizure in June 2012, clearly indicating that he was involved in it. The ACA House of Bishops also strongly endorsed Morello's conduct in seizing the parish in a letter over Marsh's signature designating Morello "vicar general" in late 2012. Marsh himself was episcopal visitor to the Diocese of the West during 2013, after which Owen Rhys Williams took this position. All are presumably vulnerable to collection efforts.

The visitor continues,

The more interesting issue is the vacancy of the commercial building since the tenant elected not to renew the lease and moved to another location, resulting in loss of revenue. Here, the vestry clearly has a case against the squatters for the lost revenue on the basis that the squatters wrongful actions rendered the property unrentable. This case easily meets the burden of proof for a civil case ("more probable than not"), and can extend to a reasonable time to find a new tenant after the resolution of ownership. It seems very likely that executives of the former tenant will testify, or at least supply affidavits, saying that uncertainty of ownership of the property was what drove the decision to move the office to another location, but the suit probably is sustainable even without such testimony or affidavits, in which case the vestry probably can collect lost rent for the entire period, including a reasonable amount of time to find a new tenant. There could also be a claim for lost rent going forward if a new tenant pays less in rent than that which the previous tenant would have paid to remain there, though this could be more difficult to prove.

The vestry also can sue the squatters for

  • cost of repairs of any damages caused by the squatters or as a result of their actions, including changing the locks,
  • costs incurred for meeting and worship space until the parish actually can return to the church building, and
  • cost of anything belonging to the parish that the squatters may have moved or sold, including the van mentioned in your post.
I assume that efforts to recover damages from the ACA by the St Mary of the Angels rector, wardens, and vestry will begin in a fairly short time. While they have a fiduciary responsibility to recover damages, they will not pursue a vendetta, especially if the ACA treats their reasonable requests promptly and with courtesy and respect.