Conflicts of Interest
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CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

No man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause because his interest would certainly bias his judgment and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity. -James Madison (4th US President, Federalist Paper #10.)

Conflicts of interest occur when a board member’s decisions are influenced by his/her personal interests rather than the interests of the association, which can lead to breaches of their fiduciary duties. Moreover, the director loses the protections of the Business Judgment Rule:

An exception to the presumption afforded by the business judgment rule ... is that it does not shield actions taken without reasonable inquiry, with improper motives, or as a result of a conflict of interest. (Berg & Berg Enterprises, LLC v. Boyle (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 1020, 1045-1046.)

Example. A board member votes to award a roofing contract to a company owned by the director or the director's spouse, brother, son, granddaughter, etc. The award of the contract results in a personal benefit to the director. Such contracts are voidable.

Not a Conflict. Oftentimes board members vote on matters that result in a benefit to them that is not a conflict of interest because the matter also benefits the membership as a whole. For example, if a board member votes to add security patrols to the development, there is no conflict of interest since the benefit he receives from the patrol is same benefit received by all members of the association.

Potential Liability. Conflicts or potential conflicts of interest, however, do not not necessarily create personal liability if:

1.  Full Disclosure. The interested director makes full disclosure of the conflict.

2.  No Influence on Vote. The interested director should leave the room so remaining directors can discuss the issue fully and freely, and take vote without the interested director.

3.  Just & Reasonable. Even if the director makes full disclosure and avoids influencing the vote, the transaction must be fair and reasonable as to the association at the time it is authorized, approved or ratified. (Corp. Code §7233; Corp. Code §310.)
Regardless of whether he has a material financial interest, a director “may not make decisions for the association that benefit their own interests at the expense of the association and its members.” Raven's Cove Townhomes, Inc. v. Knuppe Development Co. (1981) 114 Cal.App.3d 783. A director who breaches the basic fiduciary duties are liable to the Association. (Id.) Where a director finds himself in a position to vote on a matter in which he has a personal interest, he should be recused.

Recusal. Interested directors may be counted in determining the presence of a quorum at a meeting of the board or a committee thereof which authorizes, approves or ratifies a contract or transaction. (Corp. Code §7234.) However, directors must recuse themselves from discussion and voting on issues in which they have a direct personal or pecuniary interest not common to other members of the board. (Robert's Rules, 11th ed., p. 407.)
...no person can, at one and the same time, faithfully serve two masters representing diverse or inconsistent interests with respect to the service to be performed. The principle has always been one of the essential attributes of every rational system of positive law, even reaching to private contractual transactions, whereby there are created between individuals trust or fiduciary relations. ( Stockton Plumbing & Supply Co. v. Wheeler (1924) 68 Cal. App. 592, 601-2.)
Burden Shifts. If the interested director makes full disclosures and recuses himself and if a disinterested majority of directors approves the proposal of the interested director, the burden of proof falls to the person challenging the transaction. (Harvey v. The Landing HOA.)

Problems. Even when a director recuses himself, associations should avoid contracting with companies where a director has a financial interest. Such arrangements are fraught with peril both politically and legally.
1.  Political Problems. At election time, owners may accuse the board member of reaping secret profits, taking advantage of his or her position on the board, doing shoddy work, etc. and demand his/her ouster.

2.  Legal Problems. If the work by the interested director's company is defective, the board faces the unpleasant prospect of making legal demands on a fellow board member. At the same time, they face political problems with the membership for having given the fellow director the contract in the first place.
Ethics Policy: To avoid problems, boards should adopt and carefully follow an ETHICS POLICY.

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

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