Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

by
Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleging that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Fazzino's equal protection right and has taken his property without compensation, and that BVGCD violated Plaintiff Stratta's First Amendment right to free speech. The district court dismissed plaintiffs' claims on the grounds of Eleventh Amendment immunity, ripeness, Burford abstention, and qualified immunity.  The Fifth Circuit held that the district court erroneously concluded that BVGCD is an arm of the State of Texas and therefore immune from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. In this case, five of the six Clark factors weigh against finding BVGCD is an arm of the state of Texas where, most importantly, funds from the Texas treasury will not be used to satisfy a judgment against the entity. Furthermore, the Directors are likewise not entitled to assert such immunity. The court also held that Fazzino's takings claim is ripe for adjudication because Fazzino fully pursued the administrative remedies available to him before filing this action, and the district court abused its discretion in deciding to abstain under Burford. Finally, the court held that neither BVGCD nor its Board was required to respond on the merits, and thus the substance of these allegations must be tested in discovery and further proceedings. The court reversed the district court's Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal as to all defendants and remanded. However, the court affirmed the district court's judgment dismissing Stratta's First Amendment claims. View "Stratta v. Harris" on Justia Law

by
Owens owns and resides in a single-family Oakland house. He rented individual rooms to three unrelated tenants. Tenant Barghout filed a petition under Oakland’s Rent Adjustment Program alleging her housing became unsuitable due to disruptive construction work and hazardous conditions and that Owens failed to provide the required notice of the Rent Adjustment Program and retaliated by terminating her lease when she complained and sought a reduction in rent. Owens filed an unlawful detainer complaint, identifying Barghout as a month-to-month housemate with “sole use of one or more rooms and shared use of common areas.” A hearing officer rejected an argument that Barghout’s rental was not subject to the Ordinance because the rooms she rented were in a single-family home that was “alienable, separate from the title of any other dwelling unit,” exempt under the Costa-Hawkins Act from local rent control. The Rent Board, trial court, and court of appeal affirmed. The term “dwelling unit” has different meanings under building and planning codes and rent control ordinances. Under landlord-tenant law, “a dwelling or a unit” is not the entire property to which an owner holds title; it is any area understood to be committed to the habitation of a given tenant or tenants to the exclusion of others. The relevant dwelling unit is not Owens’s home but each of the rooms he rented to tenants. View "Owens v. City of Oakland Housing, Residential Rent & Relocation Board" on Justia Law

by
Caquelin's land was subject to a railroad easement. The Surface Transportation Board granted the railroad permission to abandon the line unless the process (16 U.S.C. 1247(d)) for considering the use of the easement for a public recreational trail was invoked. That process was invoked. The Board issued a Notice of Interim Trail Use or Abandonment (NITU), preventing effectuation of the abandonment approval and blocking the ending of the easement for 180 days, during which the railroad could try to reach an agreement with two entities that expressed interest in the easement for trail use. The NITU expired without such an agreement. The railroad completed its abandonment three months later. Caquelin sued, alleging that a taking occurred when the government, by issuing the NITU, prevented the termination of the easement during the 180-day period. Following a remand, the Claims Court again held that a taking had occurred. The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting the contention that the multi-factor approach adopted for government-created flooding in the Supreme Court’s 2012 “Arkansas Game” decision displaced the categorical-taking analysis adopted in Federal Circuit precedents for a NITU that blocks termination of an easement. The categorical taking analysis is applicable even when that NITU expires without a trail-use agreement. A NITU does not effect a taking if, even without a NITU, the railroad would not have abandoned its line during the period of the NITU. Here, the evidence permits a finding that abandonment would have occurred during the NITU period if the NITU had not issued. View "Caquelin v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the judgment of the single justice of the court denying Plaintiffs' complaint for relief in the nature of mandamus and for extraordinary relief pursuant to Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3, holding that the single justice correctly denied relief on all of Plaintiffs' claims. Each plaintiff is or was a defendant in a post-foreclosure summary process action. After an adverse judgment, each plaintiff was required to post an appeal bond or to make periodic use and occupancy payments during the pendency of each plaintiff's summary process appeal. The appellate division affirmed the bond or use and occupancy order in each case. Plaintiffs then collectively filed this complaint for relief in the nature of mandamus and for extraordinary relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 211, 3 seeking relief from the bond and use and occupancy orders. The single justice denied all substantive relief sought. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs did not demonstrate the absence of an adequate and effective alternative remedy. View "Bigelow v. Massachusetts Courts Promulgator of Official Forms" on Justia Law

by
In this property dispute, the Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court granting Respondents' motion to dismiss on the basis of claim preclusion, holding that Appellant's action in Case 2 could not have been brought in Case 1, and therefore, Case 2 was not precluded. In Case 1, Appellant claimed that its neighbors' masonry wall and other property improvements were compromising Appellant's retaining wall. Appellant sought only monetary damages. The jury rendered a verdict in favor of the neighbors. The neighbors subsequently sold their property to Respondents. In Case 2, Appellant filed a declaratory relief action seeking a declaration that it had a right to remove its own retaining wall, even if doing so would impact the structural integrity of Respondents' masonry wall. The district court dismissed the case based on claim preclusion. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Appellant's declaratory relief action in Case 2 was not brought in Case 1; (2) Appellant's action in Case 2 was not based on the same facts or alleged wrongful conduct as its claims in Case 1; and (3) therefore, Appellant's action in Case 2 was not precluded. View "Rock Springs Mesquite II Owners' Ass'n v. Raridan" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment of the superior court entering a declaratory judgment in favor of Ingrid Doyon, Trustee of the Oscar Olson Jr. Trust, holding that the trial court erred in interpreting a 1941 deed that contained language restriction development of three lots in a subdivision. In 2012, Ingrid Doyon acquired the three lots - Lots 3, 5, and 72 - as trustee of her father's trust. Doyon subsequently conveyed two of the lots but retained her interest in Lot 72. In 2014, Doyon initiated a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination that the restrictive covenant burdening Lot 72 permitted her to construct a single family home and garage on the property. The court issued a judgment in favor of Doyon. The Supreme Judicial Court vacated the judgment, holding that the 1941 deed unambiguously limited the construction that could take place on Lot 72 to a garage to be used with Lot 3, subject to certain setback specifications. View "Doyon v. Fantini" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court sustaining the Virginia Department of Transportation's (VDOT) demurrer as to Plaintiff's action seeking a declaratory judgment ordering the Commissioner of Highways to provide relocation benefits under Va. Code 25.1-406 of the Virginia Relocation Assistance Act (VRAA), holding that no private cause of action for payment of relocation expenses can be implied under section 25.1-406. The VDOT sent Plaintiff a letter informing him that he would be required to relocate his dental office to accommodate an interstate road project. When Plaintiff failed timely to vacate his dental office VDOT initiated eviction proceedings. After moving his practice, Plaintiff submitted a claim to VDOT for $567,278 in relocation assistance payments. VDOT ultimately approved $35,346 in reimbursements and notified Plaintiff that it could not make a decision about the balance of his claim until he submitted additional documentation detailing his expenses. Plaintiff neither submitted the requested documentation, nor did he appeal VDOT's decision. Instead, he brought this suit. The circuit court sustained VDOT's demurrer, finding that there is no private cause of action under the VRAA. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the VRAA does not provide a private cause of action. View "Fernandez v. Commissioner of Highways" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court dismissed this appeal from a decision of the circuit court reversing the decision of the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) holding that short-term rentals were not authorized by Fairfax County zoning ordinances, holding that this case was moot. The Ratcliffs owned a home in Fairfax County that they made available as a short-term rental. After the decisions of the BZA and circuit court, the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County filed a petition for appeal with the Supreme Court. The Ratcliffs filed a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot because they had sold the home. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as moot because there was no live controversy. The Court then ordered that the circuit court's judgment be vacated, holding that vacatur of the lower court judgment was appropriate. View "Fairfax Board of Supervisors v. Ratcliff" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court granting the demurrer filed by the City of Chesapeake and dismissing this declaratory judgment action brought by Landowner claiming that the closure of one of two roads from which Landowner accessed its property constituted a taking that entitled it to compensation, holding that where Landowner was not deprived of reasonable access to its property, the trial court did not err. Previously, Landowner's property was accessible from two roads. In 2017, the City closed one road to all but emergency vehicles. Landowner sought a declaration that the City's elimination of direct access from the property from the closed road constituted a taking of its property without just compensation. The City filed a demurrer. The trial court sustained the demurrer, concluding that Landowner failed to plead that its property right of access was taken or damaged because access to the property still existed from the other road. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court properly sustained the demurrer. View "Hooked Group, LLC v. City of Chesapeake" on Justia Law

by
In this land use case, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court sustaining a demurrer and dismissing a landowner's appeal from the decision of the city council, holding that the circuit court did not err in granting a motion craving oyer of the legislative record upon which the city council's decision was based and in thereafter sustaining a demurrer. Plaintiff, who owned a house in the historic district of the City of Alexandria, submitted a plan to install a Victorian metal "wicket and spear" fence pierced by two gates. The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) approved a certificate of appropriateness as to the materials and fence design but with the condition that the width of the double gate not exceed six feet. The City Council affirmed the BAR's decision. Plaintiff appealed to the circuit court. In response, the City filed a demurrer and a motion craving oyer of the legislative record that had been before the city council when it made its decision. The court granted the motion craving oyer and then sustained the demurrer. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in granting the motion craving oyer of the legislative record in Plaintiff's appeal or in sustaining the demurrer. View "Byrne v. City of Alexandria" on Justia Law