Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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The Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division One, addressed an appeal from Hilltop Group, Inc., and ADJ Holdings, LLC (Hilltop Group), regarding a dispute with the County of San Diego (County), over the proposed North County Environmental Resources Project (NCER Project), a recycling facility. The Hilltop Group applied to develop the NCER Project on a parcel of land that was designated for industrial use by the County as part of its General Plan Update (GPU) in 2011. However, the project faced significant opposition from community members, homeowners associations, and the nearby City of Escondido due to concerns over potential environmental impacts.The County staff initially required Hilltop Group to conduct environmental studies. Based on these studies, the County concluded that the NCER Project qualified for a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) exemption under section 21083.3, meaning that no further environmental review would be needed. However, this decision was appealed to the Board of Supervisors, who voted to grant the appeals and require further environmental review. The Hilltop Group challenged this decision in court, arguing that the NCER Project did not have any significant and peculiar environmental effects that were not already evaluated by the program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the GPU.The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hilltop Group, finding that the Board of Supervisors did not proceed in a manner required by law when they denied the exemption and failed to limit further environmental review to those effects enumerated in Guidelines section 15183, subdivision (b)(1) through (4). The court concluded that the Board of Supervisors' findings of peculiar environmental effects in the areas of aesthetics, noise, traffic, air quality, and GHG emissions were not supported by substantial evidence in the record. Therefore, the court held that the Board of Supervisors' decision denying the CEQA exemption and requiring the preparation of an EIR constituted a prejudicial abuse of discretion. The court reversed the trial court's judgment and directed it to enter a new judgment granting the petition and issuing a peremptory writ of mandate directing the County to set aside its decision granting the administrative appeals and requiring the preparation of an EIR. View "Hilltop Group, Inc. v. County of San Diego" on Justia Law

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In October 2018, Warren G. Treme, a member of AJSJS Development, LLC, leased minerals on a tract of land in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana, from Dr. Christy Montegut and his siblings. AJSJS intended to join a joint venture formed in 2010 between Treme, AIMS Group, Inc., and Fred Kinsley. The joint venture aimed to extract and process clay material from the tract for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project. However, to conduct mining and excavation activities, the plaintiffs needed to change the zoning classification of the tract. Despite multiple applications for rezoning, the Parish Council denied the applications after hearing complaints from affected residents. The plaintiffs then sued the Parish and the Council, alleging that the denial of the rezoning application constituted a regulatory taking without compensation in violation of the United States and Louisiana Constitutions. The plaintiffs also alleged violations of procedural and substantive due process and equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiffs lacked standing to bring a takings claim because their mineral lease was not yet in effect, meaning they had no vested property interest in the tract. The court interpreted the lease to have a suspensive condition that required the plaintiffs to obtain governmental approvals for the lease to become effective. As the plaintiffs had not obtained these approvals, the lease had not yet come into effect. Consequently, the court affirmed the district court’s decision but modified the judgment to be a dismissal without prejudice. View "Treme v. St. John the Baptist" on Justia Law

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In this case, Lee Baker and Kenneth Duffus were partners in a real estate development company, Harvest Properties, LLC. Baker was accused of defrauding the company, leading to a lawsuit from the company's members for defaulting on a loan. Duffus cross-claimed against Baker, alleging Baker had violated the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). Baker argued that the UTPA did not apply since his conduct was part of a real estate transaction and was within the company's internal operations. The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska rejected Baker's arguments and affirmed the superior court's ruling. The court held that Baker's fraudulent actions were not part of a real estate transaction because they did not involve the actual transfer of an interest in real property. Instead, they interfered with the company's ability to realize larger, future real estate transactions. The court also held that the UTPA applies even when a party has a fiduciary relationship with a business entity if the parties also engage in arms-length commercial transactions. Baker's provision of services through his separate corporation was considered such an arms-length transaction. View "Baker v. Duffus" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the right to use a gravel crossing over a railroad track in Johnson County, Texas. The landowners, Nathan Albert and Chisholm Trail Redi-Mix, LLC, were granted an easement by necessity, an easement by estoppel, and a prescriptive easement by a jury, allowing them to cross the railroad tracks owned by the Fort Worth & Western Railroad Company (Western). The jury also found that the landowners did not trespass on the railroad’s property. The Court of Appeals reversed these findings, stating that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury’s easement findings and factually insufficient to support the trespass finding. The Supreme Court of Texas partially reversed the Court of Appeals' judgment. It held that while the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury's findings of an easement by necessity and an easement by estoppel, it was legally sufficient to support the prescriptive easement. The Supreme Court of Texas remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals to consider unresolved issues involving the boundaries and permitted uses of the easement. The dispute started when the railroad company began sending notices to the landowners that they were trespassing on the railroad’s property by using the gravel crossing. Despite this, the gravel crossing had been used without issue for many years and had been referenced as a "private road" on local maps since the 1940s. View "ALBERT v. FORT WORTH & WESTERN RAILROAD COMPANY" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York's dismissal of a lawsuit brought by BMG Monroe I, LLC. BMG, a developer, had sued the Village of Monroe, New York, alleging that the Village's denial of its applications for building permits on five lots violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Protection Clause due to a discriminatory animus towards the Hasidic Jewish community. The Village denied the applications due to non-compliance with the architectural criteria established in the Smith Farm Project's approval conditions. The Court of Appeals agreed with the district court that the claims were unripe because BMG had not exhausted its administrative remedies. In order to satisfy the finality requirement under ripeness doctrine, BMG needed to appeal the adverse planning-board decision to a zoning board of appeals and submit at least one meaningful application for a variance. BMG could not claim that further actions were futile based on the Village's indication that it would likely not be receptive to a variance request that had yet to be made. View "BMG Monroe I, LLC v. Village of Monroe" on Justia Law

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This case involves two consolidated appeals related to Sanitary and Improvement District No. 596 of Douglas County, Nebraska (SID 596) and THG Development, L.L.C. (THG), a real estate owner whose property adjoins but is outside of SID 596's boundaries. The first appeal is from a condemnation action in which SID 596 sought to condemn part of THG's property for public use and the second appeal is from a separate action in which SID 596 sought to levy a special assessment on THG's property, which is outside of SID 596's boundaries, alleging that the property received special benefits from improvements made by SID 596.On the first appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's judgment, finding no merit in THG's claims that the lower court erred in allowing the mention of "special benefits" and in permitting certain expert testimony. The Supreme Court also found no merit in the claim that the trial court erred in denying THG's motion for a new trial based on alleged improper conduct by SID 596's counsel during closing argument.In the second appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's judgment granting THG's motion for summary judgment and dismissing SID 596's complaint. The court interpreted the relevant statute, § 31-752, as not authorizing an SID to levy a special assessment on property located outside of the SID's boundaries. As such, the court concluded that SID 596's complaint seeking to levy a special assessment on THG's property was without merit. The court also found no merit in THG's cross-appeal arguing that the lower court erred in denying its motion for attorney fees. View "SID No. 596 v. THG Development" on Justia Law

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A plaintiff, Robert Trebelhorn, suffered a serious knee injury at his apartment complex when a section of an elevated walkway collapsed due to deterioration. The defendants, Prime Wimbledon SPE, LLC, and Prime Administration, LLC, who owned and managed the apartment complex, were aware of the deteriorated condition of the walkway but chose not to repair it. Trebelhorn sued the defendants for negligence and violation of Oregon's Residential Landlord-Tenant Act and won. The jury awarded him just under $300,000 in damages and also imposed punitive damages of $10 million against each defendant. On post-verdict review, the trial court concluded that although the evidence supported some amount of punitive damages, the amount of $10 million would violate the defendants' due process rights. The trial court reduced the punitive damages to just under $2.7 million against each defendant. On cross-appeals, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court and affirmed. The Supreme Court of the State of Oregon also agreed with the trial court that $10 million in punitive damages would violate the defendants' due process rights and affirmed the judgment of the trial court and the decision of the Court of Appeals. View "Trebelhorn v. Prime Wimbledon SPE, LLC" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, One Love Housing, LLC, a company that operates a residential sober living home in Anoka, Minnesota, sued the City of Anoka for refusing to grant a waiver from the city's zoning regulations. The regulations permit only a single family or a group of not more than four unrelated persons to reside together in the area where the sober home is located. One Love wanted to accommodate seven unrelated recovering addicts in the home. One Love and two residents of the home alleged that the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act by refusing to grant this waiver.The district court granted One Love summary judgment on its claim that the city failed to reasonably accommodate the sober home's request. The court ordered the city to grant the waiver for One Love to house seven unrelated individuals recovering from substance abuse. The city appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appellate court held that the district court erred by considering evidence that was not presented to the city council when it denied One Love's request for a waiver. The appellate court also found that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to One Love because there was a genuine dispute over whether the requested accommodation was reasonable and necessary. The court stated that the financial viability of One Love's sober home is relevant only if One Love can prove that the service it offers provides a therapeutic benefit that is necessary for people recovering from alcohol or drug abuse to successfully live in a residential neighborhood without relapsing. The court concluded that there are genuine issues of disputed fact on these issues. The court also declined to rule on One Love's disparate treatment and disparate impact claims, leaving those for the district court to address on remand. View "One Love Housing, LLC v. City of Anoka, MN" on Justia Law

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In Virginia, Bryant McCants arranged for his 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1 to be repaired at a shop operated by CD & PB Enterprises, LLC, doing business as Maaco Collision Repair & Auto Painting. The repair shop was managed by Hanson Butler, a part owner and employee of CD & PB Maaco. After the work was completed, McCants inspected the vehicle and was unsatisfied with the work, prompting Butler to agree to repaint it. However, due to various personal circumstances, McCants was unable to pick up the vehicle for several months. In the meantime, Butler initiated the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles' abandoned-vehicle process, which resulted in him acquiring title to the vehicle, which he later sold.McCants sued Butler for conversion, fraud, unjust enrichment, breach of contract, and violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. The jury found in favor of McCants on the conversion claim only and awarded him $78,500. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's decision, finding that Butler had properly followed the abandoned-vehicle process and had obtained legal title to the vehicle.The Supreme Court of Virginia disagreed with the Court of Appeals, holding that a rational jury could have found that Butler wrongfully used the DMV's abandoned-vehicle process as a pretext for severing McCants's ownership rights in the vehicle and thereafter claiming it for himself. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals, reinstated the jury’s verdict, and affirmed the trial court’s confirmation order. View "McCants v. CD & PB Enterprises, LLC" on Justia Law

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Thomas Rhone, a property owner in Texas City, Texas, had his apartments declared a nuisance by a Municipal Court of Record. Rhone disputed this decision in state court, but the City moved the case to federal district court. There, Rhone's claims were dismissed on summary judgment. Rhone appealed the district court's decision, challenging the standard of review and its conclusions regarding his constitutional claims. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the role of the City Attorney in finalizing the Municipal Court’s order of abatement.Rhone's property, three apartment buildings, passed a city inspection in 2013 without any issues regarding a lack of a certificate of occupancy being raised. However, following an inspection in 2020, Texas City informed Rhone that his buildings were substandard and that he would need a certificate of occupancy to operate them. Rhone argued that city officials interfered with his efforts to remedy the violations claimed by the City and imposed conditions that made it impossible for him to preserve the value of his property by repairing the apartment buildings to bring them into compliance with the Texas City Code instead of demolishing the structures.After the city filed an administrative action in its Municipal Court of Record, the court ordered the demolition of the apartment buildings, finding them to be "dilapidated, substandard, unfit for human habitation, a hazard to the public health, safety, and welfare," and a nuisance. Rhone appealed this order in the 122nd Judicial District Court of Galveston County, but the City removed the action to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Galveston under federal-question jurisdiction. The federal district court ultimately granted partial summary judgment in favor of Texas City.The Court of Appeals held that any of Rhone's claims that would only interfere with the demolition of the buildings on his property were moot due to the demolition of the buildings. However, the court also held that the demolition did not eliminate a potential takings claim. The court ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the role of the City Attorney in finalizing the Municipal Court’s order of abatement. The court also held that Rhone has not shown that an initial inspection by a city fire marshal and an issuance of a citation that has consequences on his use of the property violate federal law. View "Rhone v. City of Texas City" on Justia Law