Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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The case revolves around Tiffany Smith, who filed a voluntary petition for a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding in May 2019. Smith owned a two-unit rental property in Newark, New Jersey, secured by a mortgage held by Freedom Mortgage Corporation. Smith filed a Chapter 13 payment plan in the Bankruptcy Court, which included a motion to partially void Freedom’s mortgage lien on the property and to reclassify Freedom’s underlying claim as partially secured and partially unsecured. Freedom objected to the plan, particularly the cramdown of its secured claim, the property's listed valuation, the property's rents being applied to reduce its secured claim, and the feasibility of the overall plan.The Bankruptcy Court held a hearing to address Freedom’s objections. During the hearing, Freedom clarified that it was not disputing the listed value of the property. The parties resolved their differences and filed a consent order, in which they agreed to the terms. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed the First Modified Plan, which reflected the terms of the Consent Order.Smith later filed a third modified plan, seeking to extend the payment term due to delinquent tenants and pandemic-related eviction moratoriums. Freedom objected to the Third Modified Plan, arguing among other things, that the plan was not feasible. The Bankruptcy Court held a hearing and concluded that the objections raised by Freedom were precluded by res judicata. The Bankruptcy Court then confirmed the Third Modified Plan in a written order. Freedom appealed the Bankruptcy Court’s order to the District Court, which affirmed it. Freedom then appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s decision, holding that res judicata precluded Freedom’s objections to Smith’s use of rental income to pay its secured claim, to the valuation of the property, and to the plan’s stepped-up payment schedule. The Court also concluded that the Bankruptcy Court did not clearly err when it determined the Third Modified Plan to be feasible. View "In re: Smith" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over property ownership between Rosalinda Ganir Saplan and Recto Ramos Saplan (the Saplans) and U.S. Bank. After the Saplans defaulted on their mortgage, U.S. Bank foreclosed on the property and filed an ejectment action against the Saplans in 2011. However, U.S. Bank failed to schedule a required pretrial conference, leading the circuit court to dismiss the ejectment action for want of prosecution. The Saplans then filed a quiet title action in 2015, arguing that the dismissal of the 2011 action had quieted title in their favor. U.S. Bank moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Saplans had not submitted any evidence in support of their claim of title. The circuit court granted the motion.The Intermediate Court of Appeals (ICA) held that the 2011 dismissal was on the merits for the purposes of claim preclusion, but it did not preclude U.S. Bank’s later action because the parties across these lawsuits were different. The ICA also held that summary judgment was improperly granted because U.S. Bank had not provided evidence that its foreclosure sale was fair, reasonably diligent, and in good faith, and the price was adequate.U.S. Bank appealed to the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai‘i, arguing that the ICA erred in holding that the 2011 dismissal was on the merits for the purposes of claim preclusion and that U.S. Bank had not met its burden of showing there were no genuine issues of material fact for trial. The Supreme Court held that without a final judgment, there cannot be claim preclusion. Here, there was no final judgment, so there can be no claim preclusion against U.S. Bank. The court also held that the ICA incorrectly applied the summary judgment standard when it held that U.S. Bank had not met its burden. Because this is the Saplans’ quiet title action, the Saplans have the burden of proof on the issue of property ownership. The court vacated the ICA’s judgment and affirmed the circuit court’s judgment. View "Saplan v. U.S. Bank" on Justia Law

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This case revolves around a dispute between California Specialty Insulation, Inc. (CSI) and Allied World Surplus Lines Insurance Company (Allied World) over a commercial general liability insurance policy. The policy was issued by Allied World to CSI. The dispute arose when Allied World refused to defend and indemnify CSI against a negligence claim following a construction site accident. The parties disagreed on whether one of the policy’s exclusions for bodily injury liability applied in this situation. The policy excluded coverage for bodily injury to the employees of any “contractor,” but the term “contractor” was not defined in the policy. Allied World argued that the term was unambiguous and the exclusion precluded coverage for the negligence claim, while CSI argued that the term was ambiguous and the exclusion did not apply to the negligence claim.The trial court ruled in favor of CSI, granting its motion for summary judgment and denying Allied World’s. The court found that the term “contractor” in the disputed exclusion was ambiguous and interpreted the term in favor of CSI.The Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District Division Seven affirmed the trial court's decision. The appellate court agreed with the trial court that the term “contractor” in the disputed exclusion was ambiguous. The court interpreted the term based on CSI’s objectively reasonable expectations and concluded that the exclusion did not apply to the negligence claim in question. Therefore, Allied World was obligated to defend and indemnify CSI against the negligence claim. View "California Specialty Insulation, Inc. v. Allied World Surplus Lines Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over a 15,000 square foot vacation home, the Chesapeake, located in Currituck County, North Carolina. The home is owned by Elizabeth LeTendre and has been the subject of litigation for over a decade regarding its compliance with county and state zoning requirements. The home's design includes a central area and two side wings, each structurally independent and less than 5,000 square feet. LeTendre's neighbors, Marie and Michael Long, contested that the Chesapeake violated a county zoning ordinance, which was upheld by the North Carolina Court of Appeals. The County then sued LeTendre to enforce the mandate and hold her in contempt if she refused to comply.LeTendre removed the case to federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Chesapeake now complies with both county and state requirements. She argued that a recent amendment to North Carolina’s state zoning law abrogated the previous ruling. The district court agreed with LeTendre, holding that the County’s interpretation of a single-family detached dwelling, as applied to the Chesapeake, is “inconsistent with the State Building Code’s definition of a dwelling.”The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court held that the Building Code Council’s determination that the Chesapeake is “a building” controls. The court rejected the appellants' arguments that the district court's ruling violated principles of res judicata and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, stating that the court was not reviewing whether the previous rulings correctly interpreted the Ordinance, but rather that the zoning amendment made the Council decision controlling. View "Currituck County v. LeTendre" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute between a condominium association and the owner of two commercial units over parking and storage space. The commercial owner, Cooper Leasing, claimed ownership of certain parking spots and a storage area within the condominium property. The condominium association, Woronzof Condominium Association, disputed this claim.The Superior Court of the State of Alaska ruled that the condominium’s governing documents did not grant the commercial owner ownership of any parking spots. However, it ruled in favor of the commercial owner on the storage dispute, finding that the association had agreed decades earlier to swap the condominium’s general storage area with the area designated for commercial storage.Cooper Leasing appealed the ruling on parking, and the association cross-appealed the ruling on storage. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the ruling on parking, but vacated the ruling on storage. The court held that the terms of the declaration, in light of relevant extrinsic evidence, were ambiguous as to whether it was intended to give the commercial units the exclusive rights to use certain parking spots. The court also held that owners of condominiums have a property interest in both their own units and in the common areas of the condominium. Because a special test for when the doctrine of quasi-estoppel can be used to defeat record title to real property was not applied to the commercial owner’s quasi-estoppel claim to the storage space, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cooper Leasing, LLC v. The Woronzof Condominium Association" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reviewed a case involving a group of plaintiffs who owned properties near proposed wind turbine sites in Page County, Iowa. The plaintiffs sued the county, its board of supervisors, and county officials after the board issued a commercial wind energy permit to Shenandoah Hills Wind Project, LLC (SHW). The plaintiffs claimed that the issuance of the permit violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Iowa Constitution, Iowa Code, and county ordinances. They also claimed that county officials violated the Iowa Open Meetings Act by holding nonpublic meetings on SHW's application. The defendants removed the case to federal court based on the federal due process claim.The district court dismissed the federal due process claim for lack of prudential standing and as implausibly pleaded under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). It also dismissed the state claims as time-barred under Iowa law and implausibly pleaded under Rule 12(b)(6). After the district court's decision, the county revoked the permit. Despite the revocation, the plaintiffs appealed the district court's order.The Court of Appeals held that the county's revocation of SHW's permit mooted the plaintiffs' claims, except for their claims under the Iowa Open Meetings Act. The court affirmed the district court's exercise of supplemental jurisdiction over these remaining claims and its dismissal of them. The court vacated the remainder of the district court's order and remanded the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the non-Open Meetings claims as moot. View "Hunter v. Page County, Iowa" on Justia Law

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Westwood Motorcars, LLC leased commercial property in Dallas to operate an automobile dealership. The lease was set to expire in 2013, but an addendum allowed Westwood to extend the lease for two additional 24-month terms. In 2015, ownership of the property changed hands and Virtuolotry, LLC became the new landlord. Westwood sought to exercise its option to extend the lease for the second additional term, but Virtuolotry’s lawyers refused, asserting that Westwood had breached the lease in numerous ways. Amidst this dispute, Westwood claimed that Virtuolotry and its manager, Richard Boyd, harassed Westwood at the premises, interfering with its business operations. Westwood sued Virtuolotry in district court, seeking a declaratory judgment that it had not breached the lease and that it had properly extended the lease for another two years. Virtuolotry sued in justice court to evict Westwood for unpaid rent, lease violations, and holding over unlawfully.The justice court ruled in favor of Virtuolotry, awarding it "possession only." Westwood appealed the judgment to the county court at law. However, a few weeks before the trial date, Westwood formally withdrew its appeal in county court, and the county court entered a “stipulate[d] and agree[d]” judgment ordering “that possession of the Premises is awarded” to Virtuolotry. Westwood fully vacated the property, but continued its pending suit in district court, adding claims for breach of contract (against Virtuolotry) and constructive eviction (against Virtuolotry and Boyd). The district court ruled in favor of Westwood, awarding damages and attorney’s fees.Virtuolotry and Boyd appealed, and the court of appeals reversed the district court's decision, ruling that by agreeing to the eviction-suit judgment in county court, Westwood “voluntarily abandoned the premises” and thus “extinguish[ed] any claim for damages.” Westwood then petitioned the Supreme Court of Texas for review.The Supreme Court of Texas reversed the court of appeals' decision, ruling that the court of appeals erred by giving a judgment of possession from a court of limited jurisdiction preclusive effect over Westwood’s claim for damages in district court. The Supreme Court of Texas held that Westwood’s agreement to entry of the county-court judgment cannot reflect assent to anything more than what that judgment resolves—i.e., who receives immediate possession of the property. The court remanded the case to the court of appeals for further proceedings. View "WESTWOOD MOTORCARS, LLC v. VIRTUOLOTRY, LLC" on Justia Law

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Mark and Birgit Self owned a tract of rural land that adjoined a portion of Farm-to-Market Road 677 in Montague County, Texas. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) had a right-of-way easement that reached fifty feet from the centerline of the road in each direction, which burdened part of the Selfs’ property. As part of a highway maintenance project, TxDOT contracted with T.F.R. Enterprises, Inc. (TFR) to remove brush and trees from the right-of-way. TFR subcontracted with Lyellco Inc. to remove the trees. Following TxDOT’s instruction to TFR to “clear everything between the fences,” Lyellco workers cut all trees up to the Selfs’ fence line, including trees that were outside the State’s right-of-way easement. The Selfs sued TxDOT for negligence and inverse condemnation.The trial court denied TxDOT’s plea to the jurisdiction, asserting immunity from both causes of action. On appeal, the court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. It held that there was a fact issue on whether the Texas Tort Claims Act waived immunity for the negligence cause of action, but reversed the trial court’s judgment on the cause of action for inverse condemnation, holding there was no evidence that TxDOT intentionally destroyed the Selfs’ property.The Supreme Court of Texas disagreed with the court of appeals. It held that the Selfs had not shown either that the subcontractor’s employees were in TxDOT’s paid service or that other TxDOT employees operated or used the motor-driven equipment that cut down the trees, as required to waive immunity under the Tort Claims Act. Therefore, the negligence cause of action was dismissed. However, regarding inverse condemnation, the court found that the Selfs had alleged and offered evidence that TxDOT intentionally directed the destruction of the trees as part of clearing the right-of-way for public use. Therefore, the cause of action for inverse condemnation was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION v. SELF" on Justia Law

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An elderly woman, Janice Geerdes, and her long-time friend, Albert Gomez Cruz, had a partnership raising hogs on a piece of land. Initially, Janice deeded half of her interest in the land to Albert. Over a decade later, she deeded the rest of her interest in the land to Albert, receiving nothing in return. About six months later, Janice’s adult daughters were appointed her conservator and guardian. The conservator challenged the validity of the quitclaim deed based on undue influence and lack of capacity.The district court set aside the deed, finding that there was undue influence through a confidential relationship and that Janice lacked the necessary capacity to deed her interest in the land. The court of appeals affirmed the decision on the basis of lack of capacity.The Supreme Court of Iowa, however, disagreed with the lower courts. The Supreme Court found that the conservator did not establish by clear, convincing, and satisfactory evidence that there was undue influence or that Janice lacked capacity at the time of the gift. The court found that the lower courts gave too much weight to the perceived improvidence of the transaction and too little weight to the testimony of the third-party accountant who witnessed the transaction. Therefore, the Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals, reversed the district court judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Conservatorship of Janice Geerdes v. Cruz" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Alabama reviewed a case involving a dispute over an undeveloped island ("the island") located within a canal system on Ono Island, a residential subdivision. The island was created during the development of the canal system and was later sold in a tax sale. F Family South, LLC ("FFS") acquired the island and sought to construct a boat shelter on it. The Property Owners Association of Ono Island, Inc. ("the POA") objected, arguing that the island was subject to certain covenants restricting its use.The Baldwin Circuit Court ruled in favor of the POA, finding that the island was subject to both express and implied covenants restricting its use. The court also invalidated the 1995 tax sale through which FFS had obtained ownership of the island, and declared the POA as the island's owner.FFS appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in voiding the 1995 tax sale and in concluding that the island was subject to the covenants. The Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the trial court's decision to void the tax sale, but affirmed the finding that the island was subject to implied restrictive covenants governing its use. The case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion. View "F Family South, LLC v. Property Owners Association of Ono Island, Inc." on Justia Law