Houston solo Mary Masterson turned a couple’s $50 dispute with a homeowner’s association into a $71,500 final judgment, which includes $68,000 in fees.

Back in 2007, the plaintiffs’ filed an original petition over a $50 fine the homeowners’ association imposed after allegedly finding aluminum foil on an exterior pipe of the plaintiffs’ home. On April 18, 270th District Court Judge Brent Gamble entered the final judgment, after the case had made a trip to Houston’s 1st Court of Appeals.

"It took a while but we finally got it figured out," says Masterson.

William Rice, who represents the defendant, says his client is considering an appeal. "The last chapter has not yet been written," Rice says.

In a Feb. 28, 2008, amended complaint, Gabriele and Edward Duncan alleged, among other things, that the Dominion Estates Homeowner’s Association acted in bad faith when it imposed the fine. Among other things, the plaintiffs alleged breach of restrictive covenant claims. They sought a declaratory judgment outlining their rights and attorney fees.

The homeowner’s association denied the couple’s allegations. In a counterclaim filed May 19, 2008, the defendant alleged that all members of the association were harmed by the plaintiffs’ alleged failure to abide by the association’s contractual rules governing the property’s upkeep and sought payment of the fine with additional charges for late-payment and attorney fees.

The case went to trial in 2009, and Gamble issued a take-nothing judgment for the defense. Masterson’s clients appealed to the 1st Court and won a reversal, issued Aug. 1, 2011. The appeals court remanded the case to the trial court to decide the issue of attorney fees and awarded the plaintiffs $3,500 in appellate costs.

On March 18, a jury issued its verdict, approving of $68,000 in attorney fees. In his April 19 final judgment, Gamble included both the appellate costs and the jury-awarded attorney fees, as well as an additional $25,000 for any appeals.

Masterson says the win is gratifying because her clients were not given the opportunity to remove the foil before they were fined. That fundamental unfairness, Masterson says, is what may her persevere in this case for so long.

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