Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

by
In 1994, SGV bought 547 acres in Alabaster for $1.65 million. The master development plan, approved in 1995, zoned the land as R-2 (90-foot wide single-family residences), R-4 (60-foot wide garden homes), and R-7 (townhomes). Most of the development was completed by 2008, except the 142-acre Sector 16, zoned predominantly for R-4 and R-7 with a small part as R-2. In 2011, the city rezoned Sector 16 for R-2 lots only. SGV filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, 1985(3), and 1988, alleging that the rezoning “constitute[d] an unlawful taking” without just compensation and denials of procedural and substantive due process. The court rejected the due process claims. The city objected to evidence of the city’s motive and the “lot method” valuation and argued that the case was not ripe for adjudication, since SGV had not sought variances. The court found that a zoning ordinance was a final matter that could be adjudicated. A jury found that there was a regulatory taking without just compensation; that before the taking, the value of the property was $3,532,849.19; and after the taking, the value of the property was $500,000. The court added prejudgment interest and entered a final judgment of $3,505,030.65. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the just compensation claim was not ripe, that the district court improperly allowed evidence regarding the city’s motivation for enacting th ordinance, and concerning the admission and exclusion of certain other evidence. View "South Grand View Development Co., Inc. v. City of Alabaster" on Justia Law

by
In this case concerning the admissibility and evidentiary weight of documents and declarations in a foreclosure proceeding the Supreme Court affirmed the amended judgment and order of the circuit court granting Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and for interlocutory decree of foreclosure, holding that promissory notes are not hearsay.Plaintiff, U.S. Bank, brought this foreclosure action. The circuit court granted Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, but the intermediate court of appeals (ICA) remanded the case. At issue on remand was whether U.S. Bank possessed the promissory note when it filed its complaint. The circuit court concluded that U.S. Bank possessed the promissory note at the time it brought suit. The ICA vacated the circuit court's judgment, concluding that U.S. Bank lacked standing because it had not established it possessed the promissory note at the time it filed the foreclosure action. The Supreme Court vacated the ICA's judgment and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court, holding (1) promissory notes are not hearsay; (2) copies of promissory notes are not self-authenticating under Haw. R. Evid. 902(9); (3) under the incorporated records doctrine, business records may be admissible even absent testimony concerning the business practices or records of their creator; and (4) U.S. Bank was entitled to summary judgment. View "U.S. Bank Trust, N.A. v. Verhagen" on Justia Law

by
In 1958, the Northern Pacific Railroad physically abandoned the 20-mile segment outside of Noxon, Montana. Part of that segment runs through the Finnigan property, which is entirely within the boundaries of the Kanisku National Forest. Several landowners along the right of way sought a judicial decree of abandonment and ultimately gained title to their respective segments of the abandoned railway. The Finnigan property’s then-owner did not seek a judicial decree of abandonment. In 2018, the Finnigan Estate brought suit to quiet its title to the right of way across its property. The district court rejected the action on summary judgment.The Ninth Circuit affirmed. Northern Pacific stopped using the segment in 1958, but the railway was not formally declared abandoned before the 1988 enactment of the Rails-to-Trails Act, 6 U.S.C. 1248(c), so the United States retained its reversionary interest in the land. The Act provides that title “shall remain” with the U.S. for railroad rights-of-way abandoned after October 4, 1988, except to the extent that the right of way was converted to a public highway. To transfer rights-of-way to neighboring landowners, abandonment requires both physical abandonment and a judicial decree of abandonment. The judicial-decree requirement was not met when another parcel in the segment obtained a judicial decree of abandonment that did not cover the Finnigan property. View "Estate of Finnigan v. United States" on Justia Law

by
Manuel Hernandez was shot and seriously injured by unknown assailants as he approached the doorway to his apartment. Hernandez filed suit against the owner of the apartment complex, Terraces at Brookhaven, and the operator of the complex, Star Residential, LLC (collectively “Star Residential”), asserting, among other things, a nuisance claim under the Georgia Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act (the “Gang Act”). Hernandez claimed that he was entitled to treble damages (i.e., three times the actual damages he sustained in the shooting) and punitive damages under OCGA 16-15-7(c) because his injuries occurred as a result of a criminal street gang creating a public nuisance on Star Residential’s property. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Star Residential's motion to dismiss, holding, in relevant part, that whether to hold a property owner liable under OCGA 16-15-7(c) of the Gang Act for maintaining a public nuisance was always a question for the factfinder to decide, and not for the court. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Star Residential’s petition for a writ of certiorari to determine whether the Court of Appeals properly construed the civil liability provision of OCGA 16-15-7(c). After review, the Supreme Court concluded the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of the statute was incorrect: "there is nothing in the language of subsection (c) to indicate that the General Assembly intended for a jury to usurp the judiciary’s role of determining the meaning of the statute at issue. ... This means only that, once a legally appropriate cause of action is submitted to the factfinder for decision, that factfinder must be instructed on the legislative intent codified in OCGA 16-15-2 in order to determine if the circumstances of the case warrant the imposition of liability under OCGA 16-15-7(c). The statute simply does not say that a factfinder must determine the meaning of subsection (c) in the first instance, which is a role reserved for the courts." View "Star Residential, LLC et al. v. Hernandez" on Justia Law

by
The County of Sacramento (County) filed an action to abate building and housing code violations at two properties owned or managed by Raj Singh and Kiran Rawat, individually and as trustee of the SitaRam Living Trust dated 2007 and the Sita Ram Trust. The trial court appointed a receiver under Health and Safety Code section 17980.7 to take control of and rehabilitate the properties upon the County’s motion. Singh appealed pro se the trial court’s order approving the receiver’s final account and report and discharging the receiver. The Court of Appeal addressed Singh's claims "as best as [the Court could] discern them." After careful consideration of Singh's claims, the Court found no reversible error and affirmed the trial court. View "County of Sacramento v. Rawat" on Justia Law

by
A man’s condominium unit had the only access to a crawl space containing water pipes that served several other units. The condominium association’s president and a maintenance man entered the unit twice, with the owner’s permission, to address water-related maintenance issues in the crawl space, where they identified what they thought were serious problems of leaking and mold. But the unit owner denied their further requests for access to deal with these problems. The association brought suit against the unit owner, alleging that he had caused damage by concealing the leaking in the crawl space and making his own negligent repairs; it also asked for a declaratory judgment concerning its right of entry. The superior court, after an evidentiary hearing, granted a preliminary injunction allowing further inspections. After those inspections revealed that repairs were not needed after all, the association dropped its negligence claim. But it moved for summary judgment on its request for declaratory relief, which the superior court granted, deciding that the association’s declaration allowed reasonable entry for purposes of inspection and repair. The unit owner appealed. The Alaska Supreme Court concluded the superior court did not abuse its discretion in issuing the preliminary injunction or err in granting summary judgment on the claim for declaratory relief. Nor did the Court find any abuse of discretion in the superior court’s procedural rulings or its award of attorney’s fees to the association. View "Randle v. Bay Watch Condominium Association" on Justia Law

by
A mining company appealed the borough assessor’s valuation of its mine to the borough board of equalization. At a hearing the company presented a detailed report arguing the borough had improperly included the value of “capitalized waste stripping”when calculating the tax-assessed value of the mine. The assessor maintained its position that waste stripping was taxable, but reduced its valuation of the mine to better reflect the remaining life of the mine. The board approved the assessor’s reduced valuation of the mine and the superior court affirmed the board’s decision. The mine owners argued that waste stripping fell within a statutory exemption from taxation. The Alaska Supreme Court construed municipal taxing power broadly, and read exceptions to that power narrowly. The Court found waste stripping was not a “natural resource,” but an improvement that made it easier for miners to access natural resources. The Court concluded that the value of this improvement, like that of other improvements at the mine site, was subject to tax by the borough. The Court therefore affirmed the superior court’s decision affirming the board’s valuation. View "Fairbanks Gold Mining, Inc. vs. Fairbanks North Star Borough Assessor" on Justia Law

by
Defendants own a building on a lot at 17 Main Street in Bristol, Vermont. They have fenced in a small parcel behind their building, which they use to store materials in service of their building. Plaintiff claims to own a driveway that runs to the rear of defendants’ building, which defendants use for deliveries, as well as a parking lot behind defendants’ building where the small fenced-in parcel is located. Plaintiff initially sued defendants in 2014, claiming title to the “driveway along the side of defendants’ commercial building” and the small parcel. Defendants counterclaimed, arguing that they had “a right to use the driveway and land behind their building for parking, access, delivery, storage, and other related commercial purposes” by virtue of a prescriptive easement for the driveway and through adverse possession with respect to the small parcel. In May 2018, plaintiff filed the complaint at issue here. He claimed to own the property south of defendants’ property line, and he argued that defendants were trespassing by storing items on his land. Plaintiff asserted that defendants knew that he wanted the items removed and, by refusing to do so, they were depriving him of the possession and use of his property. Plaintiff also asserted that defendants benefited from his ownership and maintenance of the driveway and they were required by 19 V.S.A. 2702 to contribute rateably to his maintenance costs. Finally, plaintiff sought punitive damages based on his allegation that defendants were acting in bad faith. When the trial court entered judgment in favor of defendants, plaintiff appealed, raising numerous arguments. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed and remanded the dismissal of plaintiff's claim for contribution under 19 V.S.A. 2702, and affirmed the remainder of the trial court's decision. View "Moyers v. Poon" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the trial court concluding that service on WWLC Investment, LP by Sorab Miraki was not defective, holding that WWLC met its burden to prove lack of proper service.After WWLC had Miraki evicted, Miraki sued for breach of lease, fraud, and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, Tex. Bus. & Com. Code ch. 17. Miraki accomplished substituted service by attaching a copy of the petition and citation to the front door of the home of an WWLC employee. When WWLC did not answer, Miraki took a default judgment against it. The court of appeals concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that service on WWLC was not defective. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that WWLC demonstrated that it was not properly served. View "WWLC Investment, LP v. Miraki" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals concluding that "a governmental unit's copyright infringement is not a taking" and that, therefore, the trial court erred in denying a plea to the jurisdiction, holding that the violation of a copyright, without more, is not a taking of the copyright.Plaintiff, a professional photographer, sued the University of Houston, alleging that the University's publication of his photograph was an unlawful taking. The University filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting immunity under the doctrine of sovereign immunity. After the trial court denied the plea, the University brought this interlocutory appeal. The court of appeals vacated the trial court's order denying the plea and dismissed the cause for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, holding that a governmental unit's copyright infringement is not a taking. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) factual allegations of an infringement do not alone allege a taking; and (2) the court of appeals did not err in sustaining the jurisdictional plea and dismissing the case because the State retained its immunity in the absence of a properly pled takings claim. View "Jim Olive Photography v. University of Houston System" on Justia Law