Group of people exercising in a fitness center
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Is a personal trainer in a fitness center like a call girl sitting at a clubhouse bar? This was the trial court’s analogy, rejected by a unanimous panel of the Fourth District Court of Appeal on case brought by Scott J. Edwards, P.A. and co-counsel Sajdera Kim, PLLC.

Our clients are homeowners in a residential community governed by a homeowner’s association. The community’s amenities include a fitness center, which under the Association’s declarations may be used by owners, family members, guests, invitees, and tenants.

On several occasions, our clients paid and authorized their friend, a personal trainer, to accompany them to the fitness center. The trainer was only present when invited by our clients, and did not conduct any other business in the fitness center or attempt to solicit business from any other homeowner.

However, the Association later entered into a contract granting a third party vendor the right to be the exclusive provider of fitness services in the Association’s fitness center. Pursuant to this contract, the Association enacted a rule forbidding any other private trainers or instructors from working in the fitness center. Under this new rule, our clients were forbidden from working out at the fitness center with their own personal trainer.

Our clients sued the Association, claiming that the Association’s new rule violated the Association’s declaration, which granted homeowners (including their guests and invitees) a permanent easement for use of the fitness center and other community amenities. The Association vigorously opposed the lawsuit. It argued that because the trainer was being paid, his status was not as an “invitee,” but rather was as a “licensee” who was properly excluded.

The trial court judge agreed with the Association, concluding at a summary judgment hearing that the trainer was a licensee because he was paid for his personal training services. The trial judge commented:

If [the personal trainer] is getting a dime for training [our clients], at any time, which you have basically said he is, then he is carrying on a business, and you’re going to the Fourth DCA if you have a problem with my ruling.

As soon as [the personal trainer] starts getting paid for his services is the difference between the girlfriend sitting at the clubhouse bar and the call girl. One is getting paid, they’re a licensee; the other one is an invitee. Invitees are welcome, businesses are not.

On appeal, our clients successfully argued that their trainer should be considered an invitee, and that the rule excluding personal trainers exceeded the Association’s rulemaking authority.

First, the opinion discussed Florida law regarding the three categories of visitors who enter private property: invitees, uninvited licensees, and trespassers. It notes that Florida law now follows the “invitation test” to determine whether an individual should be treated as an invitee. Thus an “invitee” is defined as an individual present on the premises for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public, for a purpose connected with the business operated on the premises, or anyone present via the express or reasonably implied invitation of the property owners.

The opinion confirms that Florida has moved away from the prior common law “economic benefit test,” which considered individuals to be invitees only if there was a mutually beneficial relationship between the owner and the visitor.

Thus, an uninvited licensee is neither an invitee nor a trespasser. Rather, a “licensee” is a legal status between the two whose presence is neither sought nor forbidden, but merely tolerated by the land owner.

Because the definition of an “invitee” is broad under Florida law, only a narrow category of visitors can be properly defined as “licensees.” Florida’s courts have only held that visitors were licensees when present on the premises solely for their own convenience. Examples of licensees under Florida law include individuals taking a late night shortcut across a shopping center’s property, individuals entering private property to allow a dog to relieve itself, and individuals entering an office building to use the building’s private telephone.

In this case, the Fourth DCA held that the evidence established that the personal trainer was an invitee, because he was expressly invited by our clients to use the fitness center for permissible recreational purposes. Importantly, the trainer was never at the fitness center without our clients, and did not attempt to gain business from other residents.

The Fourth DCA further held that the trial court incorrectly focused on the fact that the trainer was paid, and thus improperly applied the old “economic benefit” test in classifying the trainer as a “licensee.” It rejected the trial court’s “call girl” analogy, stating that because the trainer was invited, he could not be compared to an “uninvited licensee ‘call girl’ soliciting her services to provide a ‘girlfriend experience’ for paying customers.”

In light of the court’s conclusion that the trainer was an invitee, the opinion next held that the rule excluding personal trainers was invalid because it exceeded the authority granted by the Association’s declarations, which specifically permitted member’s invitees to use the fitness center. The declaration is an association’s “constitution,” thus an association’s board may not enact rules that contravene the declaration.

This opinion establishes important precedent in the areas of homeowner’s and condominium association law, as no prior Florida appellate opinion had specifically applied the definitions of “invitee” and “licensee” in the association law context. Furthermore, this opinion reaffirms that an association’s declarations are its constitution: thus, rules enacted by the association’s board of directors cannot violate the terms of the declarations.

The opinion can be found at Charterhouse Associaties, Ltd. v. Valencia Reserve Homeowner’s Association, Inc., 4D17-2640 (Fla. 4th DCA Nov. 28, 2018).

EDWARDS-SMALL_002511Scott J. Edwards is an appellate and civil litigation attorney in Boca Raton, Florida, with a practice focused on personal injury, commercial litigation, technology law, and insurance law.  He can be reached at scott@scottjedwards.com or 561-609-0760.

 

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