Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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The case revolves around a dispute over attorney fees awarded under Minnesota Statutes section 117.031(a) in an eminent domain proceeding. The State of Minnesota, through the Department of Transportation (MnDOT), seized a portion of Joseph Hamlin's property under the "quick take" provision of Minnesota eminent domain law. Hamlin was awarded attorney fees after the compensation he received was more than 40% greater than MnDOT's final offer. The attorney fees awarded exceeded the amount Hamlin owed his attorney under a contingent fee agreement.MnDOT appealed the district court's decision, arguing that the term "reasonable" in section 117.031(a) should limit the attorney fee award to the amount owed in the contingent fee agreement. The district court had applied the lodestar method (a method for calculating attorney fees based on the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate) and awarded Hamlin $63,228 in attorney fees. The court of appeals affirmed the district court's decision, holding that "reasonable attorney fees" in section 117.031(a) are calculated under the lodestar method and are not limited by any existing agreement between the landowner and his attorney.The Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals. The court reiterated its previous holding in County of Dakota v. Cameron that "reasonable attorney fees" in section 117.031(a) refers to attorney fees calculated by the lodestar method. Therefore, an award of reasonable attorney fees is not capped by a contingent fee agreement. The court concluded that a landowner's fee agreement with their attorney does not limit an award of attorney fees because "reasonable attorney fees" under section 117.031(a) means attorney fees calculated using the lodestar method. View "State v. Schaffer" on Justia Law

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The case involves a dispute over the allocation of water from the Rio Grande River among the states of Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. The Rio Grande Compact, an interstate agreement, governs the equitable distribution of the river's waters among these states. In 2013, Texas sued New Mexico and Colorado, alleging that excessive groundwater pumping in New Mexico was depleting the river's water supply intended for Texas, in violation of the Compact. The United States sought to intervene, asserting its own interests in the Compact's enforcement due to its operation of the Rio Grande Project, an irrigation system in southern New Mexico.In previous proceedings, the Supreme Court allowed the United States to intervene, recognizing its distinct federal interests in the Compact. The Court noted that the Compact was intertwined with the United States' operation of the Rio Grande Project and that the federal government had an interest in ensuring New Mexico complied with its obligations under the Compact.Texas and New Mexico proposed a consent decree to resolve the case, which would establish a methodology for determining each state's allocation of the river's waters. However, the United States opposed the proposed consent decree, arguing that it would dispose of its claims that New Mexico's groundwater pumping was violating the Compact.The Supreme Court of the United States agreed with the United States, holding that parties who choose to resolve litigation through settlement may not dispose of the claims of a third party without that party's agreement. The Court found that the United States still had the same claims it did in 2018, backed by the same unique federal interests. The Court concluded that the proposed consent decree would settle all parties' Compact claims and, in the process, cut off the United States' requested relief as to New Mexican groundwater pumping. As such, the Court denied the motion to enter the consent decree. View "Texas v. New Mexico" on Justia Law

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Adams Outdoor Advertising Limited Partnership, a company that constructs, manages, designs, and repairs billboards, clashed with Beaufort County over the county's billboard policy. The county sought to phase out billboards within its borders by prohibiting the construction of new billboards and restricting structural repairs of old ones. Adams was issued a criminal citation for performing structural repairs on two old billboards without seeking authorization. Additionally, Adams filed eleven applications requesting permits to construct new commercial billboards with digital displays, each of which was denied. Adams sought to challenge Beaufort County’s local ordinance regulating billboards, along with several other local sign regulations.The district court dismissed all of Adams’s claims with prejudice. The claims related to the criminal citation were dismissed under the Younger abstention doctrine, and those related to the permit denials were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Adams appealed the decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit agreed with each of the district court’s dismissal determinations. However, it noted that the claims dismissed for lack of jurisdiction should have been dismissed without prejudice. The court remanded those claims with the instruction that their dismissal be amended to dismissal without prejudice. The court also found that Adams did not have standing to challenge certain provisions of the county's sign ordinance, as it had not demonstrated that it had been adversely affected by those provisions. The court concluded that the case belongs in state court due to the state's interest in land-use planning and development, the ongoing state court proceedings, and the jurisdictional hurdles faced by Adams. View "Adams Outdoor Advertising Limited Partnership v. Beaufort County" on Justia Law

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The case involves Hahnenkamm, LLC and the United States Forest Service. Hahnenkamm sold a parcel of land to the Forest Service. The purchase price was based on an appraisal that was supposed to comply with the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions, also known as the Yellow Book. Hahnenkamm later sued the Forest Service, claiming that the appraisal did not comply with the Yellow Book and was not independent, thus breaching the purchase agreement.The United States Court of Federal Claims found in favor of Hahnenkamm, ruling that the Forest Service had breached the agreement by not supporting the purchase price with an independent, Yellow Book-compliant appraisal. The court rejected the government's defenses of waiver and equitable estoppel and awarded damages to Hahnenkamm.The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit partially reversed the lower court's decision. The appellate court found that Hahnenkamm could not have reasonably relied on the contractual representation that the appraisal was independent. However, the court remanded the case back to the lower court for further proceedings to determine whether Hahnenkamm reasonably relied on the representation that the appraisal was Yellow Book-compliant. The court also remanded the lower court's rejection of the equitable estoppel defense.On cross-appeal, Hahnenkamm argued that the lower court erred in its damages determination. The appellate court affirmed the lower court's damages determination, finding no abuse of discretion in its analysis. View "HAHNENKAMM, LLC v. US " on Justia Law

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A real estate developer, 3534 East Cap Venture, LLC, and a construction company, McCullough Construction, LLC, were involved in a dispute with their insurers, Westchester Fire Insurance Company and Endurance American Insurance Company. The dispute centered around the coverage of two identical builders’ risk insurance policies for a residential and retail complex under construction in the District of Columbia. During construction, the absence of a vapor barrier in the architect's plans led to the condensation of vapor into water during cold weather, causing nearly $1.5 million in damages. The insurers denied the claims, arguing that the policies excluded losses caused by atmospheric dampness or temperature changes.The case was initially brought to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, but was moved to federal district court due to diversity of citizenship. The district court ruled in favor of the insurers, holding that the exclusions for losses caused by "dampness of atmosphere" or "changes in temperature" applied. The court also held that the ensuing-loss exception to the exclusions did not apply because losses from "water damage" to the building were "inextricably intertwined" with—and indeed were "one and the same" as—losses covered by the dampness and temperature exclusions.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the district court's decision. The appellate court held that the ensuing-loss clause in the insurance policies applied to losses from water damage caused by the excluded perils of dampness and temperature changes. Therefore, the policies covered the losses at issue. The court remanded the case with instructions to enter summary judgment for the insureds on the question of liability. View "3534 East Cap Venture, LLC v. Westchester Fire Insurance Company" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over a parcel of land between two neighboring property owners in Park County, Wyoming. The appellants, Michael and Michelle Sellers, purchased a 12-acre property that was adjacent to a 4-acre parcel owned by the appellees, Phyllis Claudson, William Pond, Pamela Pond, and Peggy Lou Pond Paul. During the purchase, the Sellers discovered that a portion of their property was located on the Ponds' side of a boundary fence. The Ponds filed a lawsuit to claim ownership of this portion of land based on adverse possession.The District Court of Park County initially heard the case. The Ponds and the Sellers filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court ruled in favor of the Ponds, finding that they had adversely possessed the disputed property. The Sellers appealed this decision.The Supreme Court of Wyoming reviewed the case and affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the Ponds had established a prima facie case for adverse possession. They had shown actual, open, notorious, exclusive, and continuous possession of the disputed property, which was hostile and under claim of right or color of title. The Sellers failed to rebut this claim by showing permissive use of the property through neighborly accommodation. The court also rejected the Sellers' argument that the Ponds could only have adversely possessed the areas of the property containing buildings, as the Sellers had not raised this issue in the lower court. View "Sellers v. Claudson" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a tax appraisal dispute involving Texas Disposal Systems Landfill, Inc. (the Landfill) and Travis Central Appraisal District (the District). The Landfill owns 344 acres of land in Travis County, which it operates as a landfill. In 2019, the District appraised the market value of the landfill at $21,714,939. The Landfill protested this amount under the Tax Code provision requiring equal and uniform taxation but did not claim that the District’s appraised value was higher than the market value of the property. The appraisal review board reduced the appraised value of the subject property by nearly ninety percent. The District appealed to the trial court, claiming that the board erred in concluding that the District’s appraised value was not equal and uniform when compared with similarly situated properties. The District also claimed that the board’s appraised value was lower than the subject property’s true market value.The trial court granted the Landfill’s plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that the challenge it made before the appraisal review board was an equal-and-uniform challenge, not one based on market value. Thus, the trial court lacked jurisdiction to consider market value. However, the court of appeals reversed this decision, holding that a trial court’s review of an appraisal review board’s decision is not confined to the grounds the taxpayer asserted before the board.The Supreme Court of Texas affirmed the court of appeals' judgment. The court concluded that the Tax Code limits judicial review to conducting a de novo trial of the taxpayer’s protest. In deciding the taxpayer’s protest in this case, the trial court is to determine the equal and uniform appraised value for the property subject to taxation. This limit, though mandatory, is not jurisdictional. The case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "TEXAS DISPOSAL SYSTEMS LANDFILL, INC. v. TRAVIS CENTRAL APPRAISAL DISTRICT" on Justia Law

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The case revolves around a dispute over a property deed. Earnest Coprich and Bessie Elizabeth Jones, who have known each other for about 50 years, disagreed over the terms of a property sale. Coprich claimed that he sold his residence to Jones for $15,000, while Jones contended that the sale price was $10,000. After Jones moved into the property and made several improvements, Coprich filed a complaint seeking to set aside the deed. He alleged that he was mentally incompetent at the time of signing the deed and that he was coerced and defrauded by Jones. Jones denied these allegations and asserted that she had purchased the property and occupied it since the transaction.The Montgomery Circuit Court, after a bench trial, ruled in favor of Jones. The court found that Coprich failed to present sufficient evidence to prove his incompetence or that Jones had committed fraud or misrepresentation. Coprich's postjudgment motion to vacate the order was summarily denied by the court. Coprich then appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals, which transferred the appeal to the Supreme Court of Alabama due to lack of appellate jurisdiction.The Supreme Court of Alabama, however, determined that the Court of Civil Appeals should have jurisdiction over the case. The court noted that the case is a "civil case" as defined by § 12-3-10 and that the "amount involved" does not exceed the jurisdictional threshold of $50,000. Therefore, the Supreme Court transferred the appeal back to the Court of Civil Appeals. View "Coprich v. Jones" on Justia Law

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The case involves plaintiffs Ronnie and Sharon Llanes and Michael and Lauren Codie (collectively, Borrowers) who purchased homes with mortgages from Bank of America, N.A. (Lender). After the Borrowers defaulted on their mortgages, the properties were foreclosed upon and sold in nonjudicial foreclosure sales. The Borrowers then sued the Lender for wrongful foreclosure, alleging that the Lender's foreclosures did not comply with Hawai‘i Revised Statutes (HRS) § 667-5 (2008) (since repealed).The case was initially heard in the Circuit Court of the Third Circuit, where the Lender moved for summary judgment, arguing that the Borrowers did not prove damages. The circuit court denied the motion due to factual disputes and lack of clarity in existing law. However, after the Supreme Court of Hawai‘i issued its decision in Lima v. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Tr. Co., the Lender renewed its summary judgment motion, arguing that under Lima, the Borrowers’ claims failed as a matter of law because they did not provide evidence of damages that accounted for their pre-foreclosure mortgage debts. The circuit court granted the Lender's renewed motion for summary judgment, concluding that the Borrowers had not proven their damages after accounting for their debts under Lima.On appeal to the Supreme Court of the State of Hawai‘i, the Borrowers argued that the circuit court erred by concluding that they bore the burden of proving their damages and did not meet that burden. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's decision, holding that outstanding debt may not be counted as damages in wrongful foreclosure cases. The court concluded that the Borrowers did not prove the damages element of their wrongful foreclosure claims, and therefore, the circuit court properly granted summary judgment to the Lender. View "Llanes v. Bank of America, N.A." on Justia Law

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The case involves eight landowners who sued Midland and Gladwin Counties in Michigan, alleging a taking under the federal and state constitutions following the failure of the Edenville Dam, which resulted in flooding of several cities downstream. The dam, built in 1924, had a history of flood control issues. In 2018, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission revoked the existing owner's license and transferred regulatory authority over the dam to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. In compliance with Michigan law, the counties assembled a task force to manage the lake above the dam and filed a petition in 2019 to maintain the lake levels. In May 2020, several days of historic rainfall raised the water level three feet above its previous maximum, triggering the dam's failure and causing extensive damage to properties downstream.The district court granted summary judgment to the counties, concluding that their efforts to maintain the water levels did not show that they intended to flood the downstream properties and "take" their land. The landowners appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the counties' petition to maintain the lake depth at the same level that had existed for roughly a century did not show that they intended to flood the downstream properties. The court also noted that the counties played no part in regulating or controlling the dam's infrastructure. Furthermore, the court pointed out that the dam's failure was caused by soil vulnerabilities, not inadequate spillways, as determined by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's independent forensic team. Therefore, the court concluded that no taking occurred as a matter of federal or state law. View "Bruneau v. Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy" on Justia Law