Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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This appeal stemmed from a dispute between neighbors over the validity of an easement. In 1997, the Fitzpatricks bought two adjacent lots. In 2016, while they still owned both lots, they recorded an easement that granted the owners of the first lot (themselves) the right to maintain, repair, and improve a portion of the second lot. They then sold the second lot to the Kents. Two years later, the Kents allegedly made certain modifications to the easement area that the Fitzpatricks opposed. The Fitzpatricks claimed that the easement precluded the Kents from making the modifications, but the Kents asserted that the easement was unenforceable. The Fitzpatricks and Kents filed cross-complaints in district court, each seeking to quiet title to the easement area. The district court granted the Kents’ motion for summary judgment after concluding that the easement was invalid under the merger doctrine. The district court granted costs to the Kents but denied them attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121. The Fitzpatricks appealed the district court’s summary judgment decision and the Kents cross-appealed the district court’s denial of their request for attorney fees. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court's decisions. View "Fitzpatrick v. Kent" on Justia Law

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The Town of Ludlow appealed a Property Valuation & Review Division (PVR) hearing officer’s decision lowering the fair market value of two quartertime-share condominium properties, Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House, located at the base of Okemo Ski Resort. On appeal, the Town argued that the time-share owners in Jackson Gore Inn and Adams House failed to overcome the presumption of validity of the Town’s appraisal. The Town also argued that hearing officer incorrectly interpreted 32 V.S.A. 3619(b) and failed to properly weigh the evidence and make factual findings. After review of the PVR hearing officer’s decision, the Vermont Supreme Court first held that the hearing officer correctly determined that the time-share owners met their initial burden of producing evidence to overcome the presumption of validity by presenting the testimony of their expert appraiser. Second, the Supreme Court conclude that the hearing officer correctly determined that section 3619 addressed who receives a tax bill when time-share owners were taxed but said nothing about how to value the common elements in condominiums. Finally, the Supreme Court concluded the hearing officer made clear findings and, in general, provided a well-reasoned and detailed decision. Accordingly, the decision was affirmed. View "Jackson Gore Inn, Adams House v. Town of Ludlow" on Justia Law

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In 2016, Mario Holland parked his vehicle at Black’s Food Market and walked to West Lounge. Upon returning to his vehicle after patronizing West Lounge, Holland was shot and robbed in the Black’s Food parking lot. He alleged the assailant came from a vacant lot across the street from Black’s Food. Murphy Oil owned the vacant lot. Holland suffered serious injuries from the assault. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of defendant Murphy Oil, finding that, as a landowner that owned land near the scene of an assault, it did not owe any legal duty to Holland. Holland appealed, arguing that the Mississippi Supreme Court should adopt Section 54 of the Restatement (Third) of Torts, which provided for instances when landowners might owe a duty to persons or property located off the landowner’s property. The Supreme Court determined it did not need to address the Restatement because it did not apply to the facts of this case. Further, the Court affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment because the landowner did not owe any legal duty to Holland. View "Holland v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeal affirming the trial court's grant of Defendant's demurrer and dismissing Plaintiff's complaint alleging that Defendant negligently allowed a fire to spread from Defendant's property to Plaintiff's property, harming some of Plaintiff's trees, holding that Plaintiff could not rely on Cal. Civ. Code 3346's extended statute of limitations and that his complaint was otherwise untimely. Section 3346 provides enhanced damages to plaintiffs suffering wrongful injuries to timber, trees, or underwood. The relevant statute of limitations where a plaintiff seeks such damages is five years. In this case, Plaintiff alleged that section 3346's enhanced damages and five-year statute of limitations applied to property damage from a fire negligently allowed to escape from Defendant's property. Defendant filed a demurrer, arguing that Plaintiff's claims were time-barred. The trial court granted the demurrer. The court of appeal affirmed, concluding that the three-year statute of limitations in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 338(b) applied to this action for trespass upon or injury to real property. The court of appeal agreed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that section 3346 is inapplicable to damages to timber, trees, or underwood from negligently escaping fires and that Plaintiff's complaint was otherwise untimely. View "Scholes v. Lambirth Trucking Co." on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs own land abutting a railroad right-of-way that was long ago granted to, and for decades used by, the Railway in Dade County, Florida. When the Railway abandoned the right-of-way for rail use, full rights to the underlying land, unencumbered by the easement, would have reverted to whoever owned such rights, had there been no overriding governmental action. However, the Railway successfully petitioned the Surface Transportation Board to have the railroad corridor turned into a recreational trail under the National Trails System Act Amendments, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The landowners sued, alleging that the agency’s conversion of the right-of-way into a recreational trail constituted a taking of their rights in the corridor land abutting their properties and that the government must pay just compensation for that taking. To establish their ownership of the corridor land, the plaintiffs relied on Florida's “centerline presumption,” which provides that when a road or other corridor forms the boundary of a landowner’s parcel, that landowner owns the fee interest in the abutting corridor land up to the corridor’s centerline, absent clear evidence to the contrary. The trial court ruled in favor of the government. The Federal Circuit reversed. The centerline presumption applies to railroad rights-of-way and the plats at issue do not clearly express the intent required to avoid application of the centerline presumption. View "Castillo v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's award of statutory damages to plaintiffs under the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990. Defendants are developers who destroyed aerosol artwork that plaintiff painted on buildings owned by defendants. The site was known as 5Pointz in Long Island City, New York, and evolved into a major global center for aerosol art, attracting thousands of visitors, numerous celebrities, and extensive media coverage. The court held that the district court correctly determined that temporary artwork may achieve recognized stature so as to be protected from destruction by VARA and that plaintiffs' work had achieved that stature. The court also held that the district court did not err in finding defendants' violations of VARA to be willful and that the district court's award of statutory damages was not an abuse of discretion. View "Castillo v. G&M Realty L.P." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, Bridge Aina Le'a, filed suit challenging the Commission's 2011 reversion of land on the island of Hawaii from a conditional urban land use classification to the prior agricultural use classification. The reversion came after twenty-two years during which various landowners made unfulfilled development representations to the Commission to obtain and maintain the land's urban use classification. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of the state's motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), because the evidence did not establish an unconstitutional regulatory taking under either Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003 (1992), and Penn Central Transportation Co. v. City of New York, 438 U.S. 104 (1978). Accordingly, the panel vacated the judgment for plaintiff and the nominal damages award, remanding with instructions for the district court to enter judgment for the state. The panel affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's equal protection claim, holding that issue preclusion barred plaintiff from litigating the claim. View "Bridge Aina Le'a, LLC v. Hawaii Land Use Commission" on Justia Law

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This case concerned accreting land along the South Carolina coast that owned by the Town of Sullivan. Petitioners Nathan and Ettaleah Bluestein and Theodore and Karen Albenesius (collectively, Petitioners) bought property in the Town that abutted the accreting land. Petitioners' properties were once considered oceanfront lots only a short distance from the beach, but due to accretion, the properties were now a substantial distance away. The accreting land was subject to a 1991 deed, which set forth certain rights and responsibilities respecting the condition of the property and the Town's duties concerning upkeep of the land. Petitioners were third party beneficiaries of the 1991 deed. Petitioners argued the 1991 deed mandated the Town keep the vegetation on the land in the same condition as existed in 1991, particularly as to the height of shrubs and vegetation. Conversely, the Town contended the 1991 deed granted it unfettered discretion to allow unchecked growth of the vegetation on the accreting land. The South Carolina Supreme Court determined all parties cherrypicked language from the 1991 deed to support their respective interpretations of the deed. But contrary to the holding of the court of appeals and the trial court's findings, the Supreme Court held the deed was “far from unambiguous;” because the 1991 deed is ambiguous in terms of the Town's maintenance responsibilities, the court of appeals erred in affirming the entry of summary judgment for the Town. As a result, the matter was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Bluestein v. Town of Sullivans Island" on Justia Law

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The City of San Diego (the City) appealed a judgment in a lawsuit filed by Citizens for South Bay Coastal Access (Plaintiff), which challenged the City's issuance of a conditional use permit allowing it to convert a motel that it recently purchased into a transitional housing facility for homeless misdemeanor offenders. Specifically, the City contended the trial court erred by ruling that the City was required to obtain a coastal development permit for the project because the motel was located in the Coastal Overlay Zone as defined in the City's municipal code. After review, the Court of Appeal concluded the trial court erred in concluding that a coastal development permit was required under state law regulations promulgated by the California Coastal Commission (the Commission). Because the Commission certified the City's local coastal program, those provisions applied here rather than the Commission's regulations. "Under the City's local coastal program, the project is exempt from the requirement to obtain a coastal development permit because it involves an improvement to an existing structure, and no exceptions to the existing- structure exemption are applicable." Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment. View "Citizens for South Bay Coastal Access v. City of San Diego" on Justia Law

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The common issue from three property tax cases presented to the Colorado Supreme Court for review centered on what constituted "residential land" under 39-1-102(14.4)(a), C.R.S. (2019). In Colorado, residential land was taxed as a lower rate than vacant land. The Mooks owned two parcels of land in Summit County, Colorado. One parcel contained the Mooks’ house, classified as residential land. The other parcel was undeveloped, and it was classified as vacant land (“the subject parcel”). The parties agreed that these two parcels didn't physically touch. The Homeowners’ Association (“HOA”) owned an approximately seventeen-foot-wide strip of land that completely separated the two properties (that strip provided other members of the HOA access to adjacent public land). The Mooks petitioned the Board of County Commissioners of Summit County (“BCC”) to reclassify the subject parcel from vacant land to residential land. The BCC denied their petition, and the Mooks appealed to the Board of Assessment Appeals (“BAA”). The BAA upheld the BCC’s decision. Notably, the BAA determined that contiguous parcels are those that are “physically connected.” Here, the residential and subject parcels didn't physically touch, and the BAA “was not persuaded that the use of the subject lot in conjunction with the residential lot was sufficient to defeat the plain meaning of contiguity.” Thus, the BAA concluded that the two parcels aren’t contiguous, and it denied the Mooks’ appeal. Taking the three appeals together, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded: (1) only parcels of land that physically touch qualify as “contiguous parcels of land;” (2) a residential improvement isn’t needed on each contiguous and commonly owned parcel of land and a landowner can satisfy the “used as a unit” requirement by using multiple parcels of land together as a collective unit of residential property; and (3) county records dictate whether parcels are held under “common ownership.” View "Mook v. Bd. of Cty. Comm’rs" on Justia Law