The appeal decision in a recent defamation case involving two board members of a residential co-op (Van Sickle v. Conlon, 2014ONSC 4337) provides a wake-up call to condominium board directors. Ms. Van Sickle and Mr. Conlon were both board members who had attended a meeting to discuss the possible eviction of a resident. Ms. Van Sickle left the board meeting with a copy of a confidential report relating to the matter. After the meeting, Mr. Conlon sent an e-mail to all of the other directors with the following reference line: “Verna’s theft of the document from the meeting on Thursday night”.
Ms. Van Sickle sued Mr. Conlon for defamation and was awarded damages of $7500 at trial. Mr. Conlon’s appeal was dismissed as the Appeal Court agreed with the trial judge’s conclusion that Mr. Conlon “intended to to harm the plaintiff and had a total and reckless disregard for the truth.” In addition to the damages, Mr. Conlon was also required to pay Ms. Van Sickle’s costs of $12,000. Plus Mr. Conlon also had to pay for his own legal fees for the trial and the appeal. This was a very expensive lesson for Mr. Conlon.
Since condominium boards comprise a minimum of three directors and in large condominiums there are often five or seven directors on the board, it is inevitable that not all board members will agree on everything. In some condominiums disagreements can become quite heated. Board members need to conduct themselves in a professional and business-like manner and act at all times in the best interests of the condominium corporation. They need to respect other directors and their input. As we have noted in previous blog posts, corporations should be adopting a code of conduct for the directors to abide by.
Based on what happened in the Van Sickle v. Conlon case, board members need to be mindful about what they say or write about other board members, particularly when communicating on-line. Care must be taken to avoid communicating anything that is in accurate, biased or malicious. E-mails and internet posts are quick to send and post, but virtually impossible to delete, once published/disseminated.