Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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In 2012, the assessor for the city of Attleboro determined that Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette Inc. (Shrine) owed property taxes in the amount of $92,292.98. The Shrine filed an application for abatement, which the city’s board of assessors denied. The Shrine appealed, arguing its property was exempt under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 59, 5, Eleventh (Clause Eleventh), the exemption for “houses of religious worship.” The Appellate Tax Board divided the Shrine’s property into eight distinct portions, determined that the first four portions of the property were exempt under Clause Eleventh, that the fifth portion was only partially exempt, and that the last three were fully taxable. The Shrine appealed these latter four determinations. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the board erred when it found that the Shrine’s welcome center and maintenance building were not exempt under Clause Eleventh; and (2) the former convent that the Shrine leased to a nonprofit organization for use as a safe house for battered women and the wildlife sanctuary that was exclusively managed by the Massachusetts Audubon Society in accordance with a conservation easement were not exempt under Clause Eleventh. View "Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette Inc. v. Board of Assessors of Attleboro" on Justia Law

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Two trial courts invalidated San Francisco ordinances increasing the relocation assistance payments property owners owe their tenants under the Ellis Act, Gov. Code 7060, finding the ordinances facially preempted by the Act. The Ellis Act prohibits a city or county from “compel[ling] the owner of any residential real property to offer, or to continue to offer, accommodations in the property for rent or lease.” The ordinances, intended to mitigate the impact of evictions on low-income tenants, required the greater of either an inflation-adjusted base relocation payout per tenant of $5,555.21 to $16,665.59 per unit, with an additional payment of $3,703.46 to each elderly or disabled evicted tenant or “the difference between the tenant’s current rent and the prevailing rent for a comparable apartment in San Francisco over a two-year period.” In a consolidated appeal, the court of appeal affirmed, stating that “a locality may not impose additional burdensome requirements upon the exercise of state statutory remedies that undermine the very purpose of the state statute.” View "Coyne v. City and County of San Francisco" on Justia Law

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Property Owners in this case collectively owned numerous properties on or near Whitefish Lake in the Houston Lakeshore Area. The City of Whitefish had annexed several tracts and a section of road in the Houston Lakeshore Area. In 2005, the City passed a resolution annexing Whitefish Lake to its low water mark. In 2014, the City passed a resolution acknowledging the City’s decision to advance the Houston Lakeshore Area to the first priority area for annexation. Property Owners filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that the City has no statutory authority combine separate tracts for purposes of annexation and that the Houston Lakeshore Area is not “wholly surrounded” by the City for purposes of annexation. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) a city may annex multiple tracts or parcels under Montana Code Annotated Title 7, chapter 2, part 45; and (2) the district court correctly determined that the Houston Lakeshore Area was wholly surrounded for purposes of annexation. View "Houston Lakeshore Tract Owners v. City of Whitefish" on Justia Law

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In 2014, Brown filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, disclosing her ownership of a residence in Ypsilanti, Michigan, valued at $170,000 and subject to $219,000 in secured mortgage claims held by two separate creditors. Brown’s initial petition stated her intent to surrender her residence to the estate and did not claim any exemptions for the value of her redemption rights under Michigan law. The Trustee sought the court’s permission to sell the house for $160,000 and to distribute the proceeds among Brown’s creditors and professionals involved in selling the home. Brown objected and sought to amend her initial disclosures to claim exemptions for the value of her redemption rights (about $23,000) under Mich. Comp. Laws 600.3240, citing 11 U.S.C. 522(d). The bankruptcy court granted the Trustee permission to sell the property and denied Brown’s requested exemptions. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that Brown lacked any equity in the property after it sold for substantially less than the value of the secured claims. View "Brown v. Ellmann" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff owned property traversed by Red Hill Road, which was used by the public to access White Peak, a popular hunting and wildlife area in northern New Mexico. Believing the road to be private, Plaintiff installed a cattle guard, locked gate, and barbed-wire fence to prevent access to his land. Believing the road to be a public right-of-way, Defendant (a district attorney) wrote to Plaintiff on August 3, 2011, demanding that the gate be removed. The next week Plaintiff filed a still-pending quiet-title action in state court to determine whether the road is private or public. After three weeks with no response from Plaintiff, Defendant took matters into his own hands. Accompanied by a former president of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, four deputy sheriffs, and 18 private persons, Defendant cut the lock on the gate and, with the help of others, removed the barbed wire and T-posts from the road. When Defendant learned a few weeks later that Plaintiff had locked the gate a second time, Defendant directed the local sheriff to cut the lock and chain on the gate. This case presented an issue of first impression in the Tenth Circuit. The violation of federal law was not clearly established, but under state law, the action was unauthorized. A question of whether a public officer loses the protection of qualified immunity when he acts outside the scope of his authority was presented by the facts of this case: is there any justification for granting immunity in that context? The district court endorsed a “scope-of-authority” exception to qualified immunity and ruled that Defendant Donald Gallegos, a district attorney, had clearly acted without state-law authority in forcibly removing a barrier that Plaintiff David Stanley had placed on a road to prevent traffic through his property. It therefore held that Defendant could not invoke the protection of qualified immunity. The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded for the district court to consider whether Defendant violated clearly established federal law or was instead entitled to qualified immunity. View "Stanley v. Gallegos" on Justia Law

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Western Ethanol Co., LLC obtained a judgment lien on Midwest Renewable Energy, LLC’s Lincoln County real property. Western Ethanol then dissolved and transferred its assets to its members. Douglas Vind, the managing member of Western Ethanol, claimed that Western Ethanol transferred the Midwest Renewable judgment to him. Thereafter, Midwest Renewable filed a quiet title action against several entities and all known and unknown parties claiming an interest in its Lincoln County property, including Western Ethanol. After a trial, the court ruled that Western Ethanol’s judgment had been assigned to Vind, who was never made a party to the litigation, and that the judgment lien against the real estate owned by Midwest Renewable was still valid and subsisting. The court subsequently dismissed with prejudice Midwest Renewable’s action regarding Western Ethanol. The Supreme Court vacated the court’s opinion and judgment, holding (1) Western Ethanol was amenable to suit; and (2) the trial court erred in not making Vind a party to the action sua sponte because he was an indispensable party to the controversies decided by the court. Remanded with direction to make Vind a party. View "Midwest Renewable Energy, LLC v. American Engineering Testing, Inc." on Justia Law

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In the 1980s, Simonson began exploring for deposits of pumicite, a porous volcanic rock, which he thought had potential commercial applications. Simonson found high quality pumicite in Kern County and located 23 mining claims in his name. For two decades, Simonson commissioned scientific testing. Lab reports and industry analyses confirmed that pumicite could be useful in industrial paint and plastic manufacture; Simonson began taking orders. In 1987, Simonson submitted a Plan of Operations to Bureau of Land Management to mine 100,000 tons per year. BLM conditionally approved the plan, specifying that it had not yet determined whether Simonson had discovered valuable minerals under the General Mining Law, 30 U.S.C. 22. Simonson postponed mining until BLM completed its common/uncommon variety determination, but hired a consultant to generate investor interest. In 1989, the BLM concluded that Reoforce pumicite was an uncommon mineral, locatable under federal law, but did not establish that Simonson had a right to patent his claims. From 1987-1995, Simonson mined only 200 tons of pumicite and sold only five. In 1995, BLM stated that the lands encompassing 10 of the claims would be transferred to become part of Red Rock Canyon State Park. An agreement between BLM and California permitted some mining claimants to continue operating, depending on prior use of the mine, subject to California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. Ultimately, BLM found pumicite not marketable and the claims invalid. The Department of the Interior later granted Simonson a conditional right to mine some claims. Simonson then sought compensation for a temporary taking (1995-2008). The Federal Circuit affirmed rejection of the claims. Although the character of the government's action did not weigh heavily against the taking claim, the economic-impact and reasonable-investment-backed-expectations factors weighed heavily against Simonson. View "Reoforce, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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After the Mississippi Supreme Court held in "Jones County School District v. Mississippi Department of Revenue," (111 So. 3d 588 (Miss. 2013)), that a school district was not liable for oil and gas severance taxes on royalties derived from oil and gas production on sixteenth-section land, the Chancery Court of Wayne County held that Wayne County School District (WCSD) was owed interest by the Mississippi Department of Revenue (MDOR) on its overpayment of severance taxes at the rate of one percent (1%) per month. The chancellor determined, based on Section 27-65-53 of the Mississippi Code, that the payment should have started on June 5, 2013, ninety days after the Jones County decision. Finding that the chancellor correctly applied the statute, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the chancery court. View "Wayne County School District v. Morgan" on Justia Law

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Friends of Great Salt Lake (Friends) challenged the decision of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (Division) granting a mining lease covering a small portion of the Great Salt Lake. Friends made three simultaneous attempts to halt the lease in requests and petitions submitted to the Division or to the Utah Department of Natural Resources (Department). The Division and Department issued a single agency order denying all three. Friends appealed and sought leave to amend its complaint to raise additional constitutional and statutory arguments. The district court affirmed the rejection of Friends’ requests and petitions, denied in part Friends’ attempt to amend its complaint, and subsequently dismissed Friends’ remaining arguments on summary judgment. Friends appealed and, alternatively, sought extraordinary relief. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed in large part and denied Friends’ request for extraordinary relief; and (2) reversed to a limited extent, holding that the Division was required to engage in “site-specific planning” under the applicable provisions of the Utah Administrative Code. Remanded to allow the Department to decide on the appropriate remedy for the failure to perform such planning. View "Friends of Great Salt Lake v. Utah Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case were the proper valuations for tax year 2008 of two government-subsidized housing complexes in Franklin County. For each of the two properties, the property owner filed a complaint challenging the auditor’s 2008 valuations. The Franklin County Board of Revision (BOR) rejected the appraisal evidence the property owner presented in support of a claimed reduction and adopted the auditor’s original valuation. The Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) reversed and adopted the property owners’ appraisal valuations. The South-Western City Schools Board of Education (BOE) appealed. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the BTA and remanded for further proceedings, holding that the BTA erred by failing to give any consideration to the contravening evidence presented by the BOE at the BTA hearing. View "Lutheran Social Services of Central Ohio Village Housing, Inc. v. Franklin County Board of Revision" on Justia Law