Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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Kevin Johnson, APLC, Kevin Johnson, and Jeanne MacKinnon (collectively, the attorney defendants) filed a petition for writ of mandate and complaint on behalf of their clients Christian Clews (Christian), Barbara Clews (Barbara), and Clews Land & Livestock, LLC (CLL) (collectively, Clews Horse Ranch) challenging a decision of the City of San Diego (City) to approve the construction of a private secondary school adjacent to the Clews’ commercial horse ranch. The petition asserted the City’s approval of the project and adoption of a mitigated negative declaration for the project violated the California Environmental Quality Act, the San Diego Municipal Code, and the City’s land use plan. The trial court denied relief and, in Clews Land and Livestock, LLC v. City of San Diego, 19 Cal.App.5th 161 (2017), the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment. Jan Dunning, Cal Coast Academy RE Holdings, LLC, and North County Center for Educational Development, Inc. (collectively, Cal Coast), the developers of the project and real parties in interest in the CEQA Litigation, then filed this lawsuit against Clews Horse Ranch and the attorney defendants for malicious prosecution. Cal Coast asserted the defendants lacked probable cause and acted with malice when they pursued the CEQA Litigation. The attorney defendants filed a special motion to strike Cal Coast’s complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute, to which the Clews Horse Ranch joined. The trial court denied the motion after finding that Cal Coast established a probability of prevailing on its malicious prosecution claim. Clews Horse Ranch and the attorney defendants appealed the order denying the anti-SLAPP motion. The Court of Appeal concluded Cal Coast established a probability of prevailing on its malicious prosecution claim against Clews Horse Ranch, but not against the attorney defendants. Therefore, the Court affirmed the order denying the anti-SLAPP motion as to Clews Horse Ranch, and reversed the order denying the anti- SLAPP motion as to the attorney defendants. View "Dunning v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In this admiralty proceeding arising out of the grounding and constructive total loss of a newly purchased yacht, the First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing certain third-party complaints pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), holding that the district court did not err.Afunday Charters, Inc., which purchased the yacht from its builder, Spencer Yachts, Inc., sued Spencer Yachts and its employee, Joseph Daniel Spencer, alleging that Spencer negligently ran the yacht aground and that Spencer and Spencer Yachts were jointly and severally liable for the loss of the yacht. Spencer and Spencer Yachts raised an affirmative defense of negligence by Afunday's agents Sean Alonzo and Anthony Norman Sabga and filed a third-party complaint against Alonzo and Sabga. The district court dismissed the third-party complaints. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court properly dismissed the complaints seeking to assert that the third-party defendants were directly liable to Afunday. View "Spencer v. Alonzo" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on whether an award of attorney fees and other litigation costs to defendant landowners in an expropriation proceeding could be upheld under current law. The underlying matter arose from the construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. As part of the project, Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC (“BBP”), sought to acquire servitudes on the property of various landowners. The specific piece of property at the center of this litigation is approximately 38 acres of land (“the property”). Prior to reaching servitude agreements with all individuals with an ownership interest in this particular parcel of land, BBP began pipeline construction. Peter Aaslestad, one of the property owners, filed suit against BBP in order to enjoin BBP from further construction. BBP later stipulated that it would remain off the property as of September 10, 2018. However, the pipeline construction was more than 90% complete at that time. Meanwhile, in late July 2018, after it had begun construction on the property, BBP filed expropriation litigation against hundreds of property owners with whom servitude agreements could not be reached, including Mr. Aaslestad, Katherine Aaslestad, and Theda Larson Wright (collectively referred to as “defendants”). In response, defendants filed a reconventional demand against BBP, alleging BPP trespassed on their property and violated due process by proceeding with construction of the pipeline prior to a judgment of expropriation. The matter proceeded to a trial wherein the trial court granted BBP’s petition for expropriation, finding the expropriation served a public and necessary purpose. The trial court also granted defendants’ reconventional demand, finding that BBP trespassed on defendants’ property prior to obtaining permission or legal authority. The trial court ultimately awarded each defendant $75.00 for the expropriation and another $75.00 in trespass damages. The court of appeal reversed in part: upholding the constitutionality of the expropriation process, but finding that BBP violated defendants’ due process rights and awarded $10,000.00 to each defendant for trespass, and granted attorney fees. The Supreme Court determined the award of fees was constitutional, and upheld the Court of Appeal. View "Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC v. 38.00 Acres, More or Less, Located in St. Martin Parish et al." on Justia Law

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GSA leased a building from NOAA’s predecessor; the annual rent includes agreed “[b]ase year taxes.” GSA must compensate NOAA for “any increase in real estate taxes during the lease term over the amount established as the base year taxes” and defines “real estate taxes” as “only those taxes, which are assessed against the building and/or the land upon which the building is located, without regard to benefit to the property, for the purpose of funding general Government services. Real estate taxes shall not include, without limitation, general and/or special assessments, business improvement district assessments, or any other present or future taxes or governmental charges that are imposed upon the Lessor or assessed against the building and/or the land upon which the building is located.In 2016, NOAA asked GSA to reimburse it for the Stormwater/Chesapeake Bay Water Quality tax, the Washington Suburban Transit Commission tax, the Clean Water Act Fee, and a Supplemental Education Tax. All four appear on the consolidated tax bill. The clean water tax, effective in 2013, is collected for the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund, “in the same manner as County real property taxes and [has] the same priority, rights, and bear[s] the same interest and penalties, and [is] enforced in the same manner as County real property taxes.”GSA denied the claim. The Civilian Board of Contract Appeals held that the lease provision excludes all taxes enacted after the date of the lease, even if those taxes meet expressly stated criteria for being a real estate tax. The Federal Circuit reversed. Under ordinary interpretive principles, a real estate tax qualifies under the Lease provision whenever it satisfies the three criteria of the first sentence. View "NOAA Maryland, LLC v. General Services Administration" on Justia Law

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Appeals consolidated for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review centered on the Rent Increase Justification Act, which governed rent increases in manufactured home communities. The Rehoboth Bay Manufactured Home Community (the “Community”) was owned/managed by Hometown Rehoboth Bay, LLC (“Hometown”). The Appellant in Case No. 139, 2020 was Rehoboth Bay Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”), the homeowners’ association. The Appellants in Case No. 296, 2020 were two individual tenants, John Iacona and Robert Weymouth. Hometown sought to raise the rents in both cases: in case No. 296, 2020, rents would be raised an amount in excess of the Consumer Price Index for this area (the “CPI-U”), for the calendar year 2017; in case No. 139, 2020, for the calendar year 2018. Under the Act, proposed rent increases that exceed the CPI-U must be justified by certain factors. Separate arbitrators in both cases found that a Bulkhead Stabilization project performed by Hometown in phases over more than one year was a capital improvement or rehabilitation work, which, along with other capital improvements and other expenses, justified rent increases in excess of the CPI-U in both years. The Appellants claimed the Superior Court erred by affirming the arbitrators’ decisions that the Bulkhead Stabilization project was a “capital improvement or rehabilitation work” and not “ordinary repair, replacement, and maintenance.” They also claimed the Superior Court should have ruled that the Act did not permit Hometown to incorporate the capital improvement component of the rent increases into each lot’s base rent so as to carry those increases forward into ensuing years. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court’s rulings on the Bulkhead Stabilization project as a capital improvement or rehabilitation work was correct, however, the Act did not permit Hometown to incorporate the capital improvement component of the 2017 and 2018 rent increases into a lot’s base rent for succeeding years after recovering that lot’s full, proportionate share of those costs in those years. Therefore, the Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the cases remanded for further proceedings. View "Rehoboth Bay Homeowners' Assoc, et al. v. Hometown Rehoboth Bay" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the district court that Whitefish City did not engage in illegal spot zoning and reversed the district court's ruling that Whitefish City Ordinance 18-23, which specified additional conditional uses, violated the uniformity requirement found in Mont. Code Ann. 76-2-302(2), holding that the City acted within its discretion in enacting the ordinance.This case involved an undeveloped parcel in The Lakes neighborhood known as Area 2(c). IO2.5, a series member of IO-3, LLC, filed a request with the City to amend Ordinance 99-9 to allow use of a conditional use permit (CUP) instead of a planned unit development (PUD) to develop Area 2(c). The City Council approved the request and approved Ordinance 18-23, directing amendment of the official zoning map and permitting development of Area 2(c) through a CUP instead of a PUD. Plaintiffs brought this complaint alleging that Ordinance 18-23 violates the statutory uniformity requirement. The district court struck the portion of Ordinance 18-23 that specified additional conditional uses. The Supreme Court held that the district court (1) did not err in ruling that Ordinance 18-23 did not constitute spot zoning; and (2) erred in ruling that Ordinance 18-23 violated section 76-2-302(2)'s uniformity requirement. View "Hartshorne v. Whitefish" on Justia Law

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When an Ohio county forecloses on a tax-delinquent, occupied property, it ordinarily sells the property at an auction, keeps proceeds to cover the outstanding taxes, and returns leftover funds to the owner. Ohio municipalities may surrender their tax interest in tax-delinquent vacant properties and transfer clear title to land banks, which may revitalize the property, sell it, or demolish the home to prepare for new neighborhoods. When counties choose the land bank route the owner's surplus equity vanishes.Harrison inherited a partial interest in her mother’s Dayton home, which had a $20,000 property tax delinquency. Montgomery County started foreclosure proceedings. The County Board of Revision transferred the home (estimated fair market value, $22,600) to the county’s land bank. Harrison never received the surplus equity; the statute offers no way to pay it.Harrison filed a purported class action under the Takings Clause. The district court dismissed, citing claim preclusion because Harrison could have raised federal takings claims at several points during the foreclosure process. The Sixth Circuit reversed, noting that federal takings law changed during the operative period. A property owner now may bring section 1983 federal takings claims in federal court “as soon as their property has been taken” without first exhausting state remedies. The Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341, does not bar the suit; Harrison does not challenge Ohio’s “collection” of delinquent taxes nor seek to halt foreclosures. The court remanded for consideration of the merits. View "Harrison v. Montgomery County" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying the Bank's motion for judgment on the pleadings. The court held that state legislatures may create legally protected interests whose violation supports Article III standing, subject to certain federal limitations. The court also decided that the New York law violations alleged here constitute a concrete and particularized harm to plaintiffs in the form of both reputational injury and limitations in borrowing capacity over the nearly ten-month period during which their mortgage discharge was unlawfully not recorded and in which the Bank allowed the public record to reflect, falsely, that plaintiffs had an outstanding debt of over $50,000.The court further concluded that the Bank's failure to record plaintiffs' mortgage discharge created a material risk of concrete and particularized harm to plaintiffs by providing a basis for an unfavorable credit rating and reduced borrowing capacity. The court explained that these risks and interests, in addition to that of clouded title, which an ordinary mortgagor would have suffered (but plaintiffs did not), are similar to those protected by traditional actions at law. Therefore, plaintiffs have Article III standing and they may pursue their claims for the statutory penalties imposed by the New York Legislature, as well as other relief. Accordingly, the court affirmed and remanded. View "Maddox v. Bank of New York Mellon Trust Co." on Justia Law

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In this construction defect case brought by homeowners against several contractors, the Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the district court that the limitations period against each contractor began to run upon the substantial completion of each contractor's project.The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the contractors in this case, generally agreeing that the limitations period for the homeowners' claims against the contractors began to run on the dates that each contractor substantially completed its work. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in finding that Homeowners' claims against the contractors were time barred as matter of law under Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-223 and by denying their oral motion seeking leave to amend their complaint to add a new claim. View "McCaulley v. C L Enterprises, Inc." on Justia Law

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Will Hughes and Chad Penn were commercial farmers who leased farmland in Madison County, Mississippi. They began using propane cannons in the summer months to deter deer from eating their crops. Because of the intentionally loud noise these devices created, neighboring property owners sought to enjoin Hughes and Penn from using the cannons. But citing the Mississippi Right to Farm Act, the chancellor found the neighbors’ nuisance claim was barred. Undisputedly, Hughes’s and Penn’s farms had been in operation for many years before the nuisance action was filed. So the chancery court ruled Miss. Code Ann. Section 95-3-29(1) was an absolute defense and dismissed the neighbors’ nuisance action. On appeal, the neighboring property owners argued the chancery court misinterpreted the statute. In their view, the chancery court erred by looking to how long the farms had been in operation instead of how long the practice of propane cannons had been in place. But the Mississippi Supreme Court found their proposed view contradicted the statute’s plain language. "The one-year time limitation in Section 95-3-29(1) does not hinge on the existence of any specific agricultural practice. Instead, it is expressly based on the existence of the agricultural operation, which 'includes, without limitation, any facility or production site for the production and processing of crops . . . .'" Applying the plain language in Section 95-3-29(2)(a), the Supreme Court found the properties being farmed were without question agricultural operations. And the propane cannons were part of those operations, because they were part of the farms’ best agricultural-management practices. Since the farms had been in operation for more than one year, the chancellor was correct to apply Section 95-3-29(1)’s bar. View "Briggs v. Hughes" on Justia Law