Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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Justin Beckstrand and James Beckstrand, through his surviving spouse, Cynthia, appealed a judgment awarding $164,202.40 in 2015 farm rental payments to Julie Beckstrand, the personal representative of John Beckstrand's estate. The Supreme Court found that because the district court's findings were inadequate to explain the basis for its equitable decision to award the farm rental payments to Julie Beckstrand, it reversed and remanded for the court to explain the rationale for its decision. View "Beckstrand v. Beckstrand" on Justia Law

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Kevin and Lynn Klein appealed a judgment dismissing their claims and quieting title to certain real property in Gregory Sletto. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in granting summary judgment because the Kleins failed to present any evidence supporting their claims about the existence of a valid contract. View "Klein v. Sletto" on Justia Law

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XTO Energy, Inc., appealed and Darwin and Jean Krenz cross-appealed a judgment awarding the Krenzes $800,000 for a pipeline trespass and ordering the parties to abide by certain documents for their future relationship after the district court construed a pipeline easement to authorize one pipeline on the Krenzes' land and found XTO's unauthorized construction and operation of a second pipeline on the Krenzes' land and use of their private road was a trespass. After review of this matter, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded an April 2007 pipeline easement was ambiguous and the court erred in construing the easement as a matter of law. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's decision construing the pipeline easement and awarding the Krenzes $800,000 for the pipeline trespass and the court's decision requiring the parties to abide by their unexecuted negotiations involving their future relationship. View "Krenz v. XTO Energy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Charles Breland was a developer of real property, with properties in Alabama and Florida. In 2002, Breland hired David Hudgens to provide legal services for him and his companies. According to Hudgens, Breland informed him early during their professional relationship that he "was suffering significant cash flow problems." As a result, Hudgens says, the various law firms with which Hudgens worked while providing Breland and his companies with legal services delayed billing "a significant portion of the attorneys' fees and costs" for those services. Breland disputed that, claiming that he and/or his companies paid Hudgens more than $2.7 million for Hudgens's legal services between 2004 and 2010. In 2009, Breland filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. Breland filed the required schedules, required disclosure statement, and a proposed plan of reorganization that identified Hudgens & Associates, LLC ("H&A") as an unsecured creditor holding a $1 million claim and identified ETC as an unsecured creditor holding a $390,000 claim. Hudgens filed a proof of claim in the Breland bankruptcy on behalf of H&A for "legal fees" in the amount of $2,334,987.08 and filed proofs of claim on behalf of ETC for "guaranty of note" in the amounts of $879,929.55. Breland did not make payments according to the bankruptcy reorganization plan. Breland conveyed property to Gulf Beach Investment Company of Perdido, LLC which Hudgens alleged was in violation of the reorganization plan. Hudgens filed suit against Breland and Gulf Beach seeking enforcement of the plan, monies owed under the plan, and to void transfer of the property to Gulf Beach. The trial court entered a judgment on the parties' motions for a partial summary judgment, noting that it was not addressing the plaintiffs' "mortgage claim" because it had denied that claim in a September 2015 order. After setting forth extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court awarded the plaintiffs $2,189,342.96 (consisting of $1.5 million in principal, plus interest); "denied and dismissed" the defendants' fraud, breach-of-contract, and slander-of-title claims; and certified the judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b). The trial court denied the defendants' postjudgment motion, and the defendants appealed. That case was assigned case no. 1150876, and the Alabama Supreme Court consolidated case nos. 1150302 and 1150876 for the purpose of writing one opinion. After review, the Court dismissed both appeals, finding the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying as final the underlying appeals. View "Equity Trust Co. v. Breland" on Justia Law

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Rick Snider and Janan Snider, doing business as RJ Snider Construction ("Snider"), appealed the grant of summary judgment, forfeiting a construction lien against the property that formerly housed the Dickinson Elks Lodge later owned by private investors, the Dickinson Elks Building, LLC ("DEB"), and prohibiting Snider from recording additional liens against the property without performing additional work. The North Dakota Supreme Court was not convinced that perfecting a lien amounted to creating a lien, as argued by the Sniders. As such, the Court concluded that when a Court declares a lien is deemed forfeited or satisfied, the right to the lien for the construction services or materials provided is deemed forfeited, not just the document recording the lien and establishing its priority. The district court correctly interpreted N.D.C.C. 35-27-25 in concluding the statute barred Snider from recording another construction lien against DEB's property for the same work. The district court also correctly concluded Snider forfeited its construction lien created and attached as a matter of law under N.D.C.C. sections 35-27-02 and 35-27-03 when it failed to comply with DEB's demand to enforce the lien. View "Snider v. Dickinson Elks Building, LLC" on Justia Law

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The property owners, participants in the “Section 8” federal rental assistance program (42 U.S.C. 1437f(a)), sued the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority for allegedly breaching the contracts that governed payments to the owners under the program, by failing to approve automatic rent increases for certain years, by requiring the owners to submit comparability studies in order to receive increases, and by arbitrarily reducing the increases for non-turnover units by one percent. Because Wisconsin Housing receives all of its Section 8 funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Authority filed a third-party breach of contract claim against HUD. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Wisconsin Housing and dismissed the claims against HUD as moot. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the owners’ Section 8 contracts were renewed after the challenged requirements became part of the program. “The doctrine of disproportionate forfeiture simply does not apply,” and Wisconsin Housing did not breach any contracts by requiring rent comparability studies in certain circumstances or by applying a one percent reduction for non-turnover units. View "Evergreen Square of Cudahy v. Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority" on Justia Law

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In consolidated cases, the debtors obtained Federal Housing Administration-insured residential mortgage loans and subsequently defaulted due to financial hardship. The law firms represented the loan servicing agents in filing Illinois foreclosure complaints, using the statutory complaint template (Illinois’ Mortgage Foreclosure Law, 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/15-1504(a)), which includes the language: “Names of defendants claimed to be personally liable for deficiency, if any[,]” and, “[a] personal judgment for a deficiency, if sought.” The firms included both allegations, and identified debtors to be personally liable for any deficiency. The debtors filed suit under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692, alleging that the FHA does not authorize deficiency judgments where borrowers suffered a financial hardship. They submitted a letter from the FHA responding to a Freedom of Information Act request, stating: There have been zero foreclosed FHA loans in Illinois in which the pursuit of a deficiency judgment was authorized. FHA is not currently pursuing deficiency judgments.” The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Debtors did not identify any law, regulation, or FHA policy requiring a mortgagee to obtain authorization from the FHA prior to including the two allegations at issue in their state-foreclosure complaint. View "Zuniga v. Pierce & Associates" on Justia Law

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Barry Ackerley died in 2011. In 2008 and 2010, Ackerley made substantial gifts of money. On these inter vivos gifts, Ackerley paid the required federal gift taxes, which amounted to over $5.5 million. Upon his death, Ackerley was required under the federal estate tax code to include the value of the gift taxes paid in his federal taxable estate because he died within three years of making the gifts. Ackerley's estate thus included the gift taxes in its federal estate tax return. But when Ackerley's estate filed his Washington estate tax return, it did not include the $5.5 million in federal gift taxes paid as part of the Washington taxable estate. The Department of Revenue issued a notice of assessment, notifying Ackerley's estate that it owed additional Washington estate taxes on the amount of federal gift taxes paid. The Estate and Transfer Tax Act, chapter 83.100 RCW, made clear that calculating a Washington taxable estate begins with the federal taxable estate and that the Washington definition of "transfer" is the same as the federal definition. Under federal estate tax law, the gift tax paid is included in the taxable estate under the "gross-up rule" and, as such, is transferred upon death as part of the entire estate. Following the legislature's clear mandate, the Washington Supreme Court must also find that the gift tax paid is part of the Washington taxable estate and transferred upon death as part of the entire estate. Thus, the DOR properly included the gift tax paid in its assessment of Ackerley's estate. View "Estate of Ackerley v. Dep't of Revenue" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Supreme Court’s review was whether the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe's (Tribe) assertion of sovereign immunity requires dismissal of an in rem adverse possession action to quiet title to a disputed strip of land on the boundary of property purchased by the Tribe. The superior court concluded that because it had in rem jurisdiction, it could determine ownership of the land without the Tribe's participation. An inquiry under CR 19, involved a merit-based determination that some interest will be adversely affected in the litigation. Where no interest is found to exist, especially in an in rem proceeding, nonjoinder presents no jurisdictional barriers. The Supreme Court found that the Tribe did not have an interest in the disputed property; therefore, the Tribe's sovereign immunity was no barrier to this in rem proceeding. The trial court properly denied the Tribe's motion to dismiss and granted summary judgment to the property owner. View "Lundgren v. Upper Skagit Indian Tribe" on Justia Law

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Twelve individuals in the Houston area who receive Section 8 housing assistance filed suit against AmeriPro and Wells Fargo, alleging discrimination in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), 15 U.S.C. 1691 et seq., on the basis of their receipt of public assistance income. The district court granted defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion and dismissed the claims. The court concluded that the Wells Fargo Applicants did not plausibly allege that Wells Fargo discriminated against them on the basis of their Section 8 income or failed to consider their Section 8 income in assessing their creditworthiness; the AmeriPro Inquirers did not plausibly allege that they are "applicants" under the ECOA because they did not actually apply for credit with AmeriPro; and the AmeriPro Applicants did not plausibly allege that Wells Fargo was a "creditor" with respect to them. Therefore, the court affirmed as to these claims. The court concluded that the AmeriPro Applicants did plausibly allege violations of the ECOA by alleging that AmeriPro refused to consider their Section 8 income in assessing their creditworthiness as mortgage applicants, and that they received mortgages on less favorable terms and in lesser amounts than they would have had their Section 8 income been considered. Accordingly, the court reversed as to these claims and remanded for further proceedings. View "Alexander v. Ameripro Funding" on Justia Law