Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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A developer proposed constructing a 12-unit residential condominium in downtown Lafayette, California, on a parcel mostly occupied by a vacant, dilapidated convalescent hospital. The City of Lafayette determined the project was exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review, classifying it as infill development. Nahid Nassiri, who owns an adjacent office building, challenged this decision, arguing the site had value as habitat for rare species and that the project would significantly affect air quality.The Contra Costa County Superior Court initially granted Nassiri's petition, finding insufficient evidence to support the City's determination that the site had no value as habitat for rare species. However, the court rejected Nassiri's other claims regarding general plan consistency, air quality effects, and mitigation measures. The developer and the City filed a motion for a new trial, arguing that the project site, as defined by recent case law, did not include the area with potential habitat. The trial court granted the motion, leading to the denial of Nassiri's petition.The California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, reviewed the case. The court found substantial evidence supporting the City's determination that the project site had no value as habitat for rare species, specifically the oak titmouse and Nuttall’s woodpecker. The court also upheld the City's finding that the project would not significantly affect air quality, dismissing Nassiri's reliance on a health risk assessment that did not accurately reflect the project's construction characteristics. Lastly, the court declined to address the "unusual circumstances" exception to the CEQA exemption, as Nassiri did not properly raise this issue in the trial court. The judgment was affirmed. View "Nassiri v. City of Lafayette" on Justia Law

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Brett Del Valle was sued by Alum Rock Riverside, LLC in California for breach of contract, resulting in a judgment against him for over $4 million. Alum Rock domesticated this judgment in Utah and recorded it with the Weber County Recorder’s Office. At the time of recording, the property in question was held by a revocable trust established by Brett and his wife, but the trust sold the property to the Mulligans before Alum Rock applied for a writ of execution to seize and sell the property.The Third District Court upheld the writ of execution despite the Mulligans' objections. They argued that Alum Rock failed to create a valid judgment lien because it did not record the judgment in the registry of judgments, that the writ was not available since the trust held the title when the judgment was domesticated, and that the court lacked jurisdiction as the property was in a different judicial district. The district court rejected these arguments, holding that recording the judgment with the county recorder was sufficient to create a lien, the writ was valid because Brett retained ownership indicia over the property, and the court had jurisdiction to issue the writ.The Utah Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision. It held that since July 1, 2002, a judgment lien is created by recording the judgment with the county recorder, not by filing it in the registry of judgments. The court also determined that Brett owned the property for purposes of the lien because he retained control over the trust. Finally, the court found no relevant limitation on the district court’s jurisdiction to issue the writ, even though the property was located in a different judicial district. View "Mulligan v. Alum Rock Riverside" on Justia Law

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The case involves two nonprofit organizations, the National Federation of the Blind of Texas and Arms of Hope, which use donation boxes to collect items for fundraising. The City of Arlington, Texas, enacted an ordinance regulating the placement and maintenance of these donation boxes, including zoning restrictions and setback requirements. The nonprofits challenged the ordinance, claiming it violated the First Amendment by restricting their ability to place donation boxes in certain areas of the city.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas reviewed the case. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Arlington on several counts, including the constitutionality of the setback requirement and the ordinance not being overbroad or a prior restraint. However, the court ruled in favor of the nonprofits on the zoning provision, finding it was not narrowly tailored and thus violated the First Amendment. The court enjoined Arlington from enforcing the zoning provision against the nonprofits.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reviewed the case. The court held that the ordinance was content-neutral and subject to intermediate scrutiny. It found that the zoning provision, which limited donation boxes to three of the city's 28 zoning districts, was narrowly tailored to serve Arlington's significant interests in public health, safety, welfare, and community aesthetics. The court also upheld the setback requirement, finding it did not burden more speech than necessary and left ample alternative channels of communication. The court concluded that the ordinance's permitting provisions did not constitute an unconstitutional prior restraint.The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment regarding the zoning provision and rendered judgment in favor of Arlington on that part. The rest of the district court's judgment was affirmed. View "National Federation of the Blind of Texas, Incorporated v. City of Arlington" on Justia Law

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AUUE, Inc. applied for a zoning permit to develop a medical center, including a hospital, medical clinic, and professional offices, on five parcels of land in Jefferson Hills Borough. The Borough's Zoning Officer issued a use permit, recognizing that the proposed use was allowed by right in the Office Park District (O-P District), but conditioned the permit on AUUE obtaining further approvals before any development could commence. Residents of Jefferson Hills appealed, arguing that the application violated several provisions of the Borough’s Zoning Ordinance.The Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) overturned the Zoning Officer’s decision, concluding that the proposed medical center was not permitted by right in the O-P District and that the Zoning Officer exceeded his authority by issuing a permit without ensuring full compliance with the Ordinance. The ZHB identified several violations in the application, including improper use of accessory parking lots and lack of direct access to a collector or arterial road.The Commonwealth Court reversed the ZHB’s decision, holding that the Zoning Officer had the authority to issue a use permit recognizing the proposed use as allowed by right in the O-P District. The court found that the ZHB should have limited its review to whether the proposed use was permitted by right, rather than considering overall compliance with the Ordinance.The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the Commonwealth Court’s decision. It held that the Zoning Officer had the authority to issue a use permit for the limited purpose of recognizing that the proposed use was allowed by right in the O-P District. The ZHB was required to limit its review to this issue and was not permitted to overturn the Zoning Officer’s decision based on other potential violations of the Ordinance. View "AUUE, Inc. v. Borough of Jefferson Hills" on Justia Law

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David and Amy LeFevre own a residential property in Deering, New Hampshire, adjacent to a property owned by Tiffany and James Hogan. In 2002, a deed (the Spragg-McEwan deed) conveyed the LeFevre property and included a reservation for a 30-foot-wide easement for the benefit of the Hogan property. This easement was intended to provide access and utility purposes. The Hogans began using this easement, leading the LeFevres to file a lawsuit seeking to quiet title and for declaratory and injunctive relief, arguing that the easement was invalid.The Superior Court initially granted a preliminary injunction in favor of the LeFevres. However, upon cross-motions for summary judgment, the Superior Court ruled in favor of the Hogans, finding that the 2002 Spragg-McEwan deed validly created an easement over the LeFevre property. The court denied the LeFevres' motion for reconsideration and clarification, leading to the current appeal.The Supreme Court of New Hampshire reviewed the case and affirmed the lower court's decision. The court held that the Spragg-McEwan deed clearly intended to create an easement for the benefit of the Hogan property. The court rejected the "stranger to the deed" doctrine, which would have invalidated the easement because it was reserved for a third party not named in the deed. The court emphasized that modern principles of deed interpretation prioritize the intent of the parties over archaic formalistic requirements. The court also found that the deed was properly delivered and accepted, as evidenced by its recording and the clear intent expressed in a confirmatory deed. Thus, the easement was validly created, and the Hogans were entitled to use it. View "LeFevre v. Hogan" on Justia Law

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Samuel Boytor, an engineer and businessman, and his wife Carol, defaulted on loans they had personally guaranteed. They entered into a settlement agreement with EFS Bank’s successor, restructuring their debt into three new promissory notes secured by mortgages on their properties. PNC Bank, which eventually held these notes, filed a complaint in 2018 against the Boytors for defaulting on two of the notes. PNC sought foreclosure on the Boytors’ residential property and a money judgment for the nonpayment of a separate note.The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois held a bench trial and found in favor of PNC on both counts. The court ordered foreclosure on the Boytors’ residential property and issued a deficiency judgment after the property was sold. The Boytors appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment. The appellate court held that PNC had established a prima facie case for foreclosure by presenting the mortgage and underlying note. The Boytors’ affirmative defenses, including lack of consideration and payment of the notes, were rejected. The court found that the $203,000 note was supported by consideration and that the Boytors had not paid the note. Additionally, the court determined that the $200,000 note was not paid, and the release of the mortgage did not extinguish the underlying debt. The court also rejected the Boytors’ argument of accord and satisfaction, finding no evidence of a new arrangement to pay less than the outstanding debt. View "PNC Bank, National Association v. Boytor" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Mark Coziahr filed a class action against Otay Water District, alleging that Otay's tiered water rates for single-family residential customers violated Section 6(b)(3) of Proposition 218, which mandates that property-related fees not exceed the proportional cost of the service attributable to the parcel. The trial court certified the class and found that Otay failed to meet its burden of demonstrating compliance with Section 6(b)(3). In the remedy phase, the court awarded an estimated refund of approximately $18 million, with monthly increases until Otay imposed compliant rates. Otay appealed the liability decision and damages, while Coziahr appealed only as to damages.The Superior Court of San Diego County found that Otay's tiered rates were based on non-cost objectives like conservation and did not correlate with the actual cost of providing water service. The court determined that Otay's reliance on peaking factors and adherence to industry standards were insufficient to justify the tiered rates. The court also found that Otay discriminated against single-family residential customers by charging them more for water than other customer classes without a cogent reason. The court rejected Otay's peaking factor analysis and Mumm's independent analysis as flawed and unsupported by the record.The California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, affirmed the trial court's liability determination, holding that Otay did not establish its tiered rates complied with Section 6(b)(3). The court found that Otay's evidence did not withstand independent review and that the trial court properly applied the principles from Capistrano and Palmdale. However, the appellate court reversed the refund amount, finding the trial court's calculations unreasonable due to reliance on projected data and a proxy from another case. The matter was remanded for a new trial on the refund amount, including monthly increases and prejudgment interest. The judgment was otherwise affirmed. View "Coziahr v. Otay Wat. Dist." on Justia Law

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A commercial tenant and landlord entered into a contract for the construction and lease of a warehouse, with the landlord also acting as the general contractor. The contract included a waiver of subrogation, where both parties waived subrogation against each other for certain losses, including those caused by their subcontractors. After the warehouse sustained weather damage, the tenant’s insurer sought to recoup insurance payments by suing the subcontractors.The Circuit Court for Baltimore City granted summary judgment in favor of the subcontractors, concluding that they were intended beneficiaries of the waiver of subrogation in the contract between the tenant and landlord. The court did not consider any extrinsic evidence regarding the parties' intent. The Appellate Court of Maryland reversed this decision, finding that the waiver of subrogation in the contract did not unambiguously benefit the subcontractors and that the subcontractors were not intended third-party beneficiaries.The Supreme Court of Maryland reviewed the case and held that the waiver of subrogation in the contract between the tenant and landlord did not extend to the subcontractors. The court found that the language of the waiver was unambiguous and did not show an intent to benefit the subcontractors. However, the court found that the waiver of subrogation included in the subcontracts was ambiguous regarding whether it applied to the tenant’s insurer’s claims against the subcontractors. Therefore, the court held that extrinsic evidence was needed to determine the parties' intent regarding the scope of the subrogation waiver in the subcontracts.The Supreme Court of Maryland affirmed the Appellate Court's decision, reversing the Circuit Court's summary judgment in favor of the subcontractors, and remanded the case for further proceedings to consider extrinsic evidence. View "Lithko Contracting v. XL Insurance America, Inc." on Justia Law

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Citizens of a town submitted a document to the town's Board of Commissioners, seeking a referendum on a zoning ordinance that reclassified certain properties. The document contained 1,051 signatures and requested the reversal of the zoning changes. However, it did not reference the specific ordinance or request a referendum vote. The Commissioners determined that the document did not meet the requirements of the town's charter for a valid petition for referendum.The Circuit Court for Harford County reviewed the case and ruled that the Commissioners' determination was invalid. The court found that the Commissioners should have submitted the document to the Board of Election Judges for verification of signatures before making any determination on its validity. The court also ruled that the Commissioners' action by verbal motion was insufficient and that they should have acted by ordinance or resolution.The Supreme Court of Maryland reviewed the case and held that the Commissioners correctly determined that the document did not meet the charter's requirements for a valid petition for referendum. The court found that the charter did not require the Commissioners to submit the document to the Board of Election Judges for signature verification before making a threshold determination of its validity. The court also held that the Commissioners were authorized to make their determination by verbal motion, as memorialized in the meeting minutes.The Supreme Court of Maryland vacated the Circuit Court's judgment and remanded the case for entry of a declaratory judgment consistent with its opinion. The court concluded that the citizens were not entitled to a writ of mandamus or permanent injunctive relief. View "Town of Bel Air v. Bodt" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae) acquired the high bid at a foreclosure sale of Anthony Michael Branch's property. Fannie Mae then initiated a summary process action in the Housing Court to gain possession. The court ruled in favor of Fannie Mae, and Branch appealed. During the appeal, Fannie Mae sold the property to Roberto Pina Cardoso. Cardoso intervened in the case and was awarded use and occupancy payments from Branch. The Appeals Court later vacated the Housing Court's judgment for possession, declaring it moot since Fannie Mae no longer had a possessory interest, and required Cardoso to establish his right to possession in a new case.The Housing Court initially granted summary judgment in favor of Fannie Mae for possession and dismissed Branch's counterclaims. Branch appealed, and during the appeal, Cardoso was allowed to intervene and was joined as a party with Fannie Mae. The Appeals Court vacated the judgment for possession as moot but affirmed the dismissal of Branch's counterclaims.The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reviewed the case and disagreed with the Appeals Court's mootness determination. The court held that Cardoso, having acquired Fannie Mae's interest, maintained a live stake in the adjudication of the judgment for possession. The court affirmed the Housing Court's order allowing Cardoso to intervene and be joined as a party. It also affirmed the summary judgment in favor of Fannie Mae for possession and the dismissal of Branch's counterclaims. The court concluded that the foreclosure was valid and that Pentagon Federal Credit Union, as the authorized agent of the note holder, had the authority to foreclose. View "Fannie Mae v. Branch" on Justia Law