Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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In these appeals arising from adverse jury verdicts rendered in separate trials following an automobile accident involving Joseph Jenkins and Tessa Jordan, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the circuit court erred in part.The first trial resulted in the jury's calculation of damages sustained by Jenkins and his wife as a result of the accident, which the parties stipulated was caused through the fault of Jordan. The Jenkins also sued Safeco Insurance Company of America and liberty Mutual Insurance Company (collectively, Safeco) for conversion. After a second trial on the Jenkins' claims for compensatory and punitive damages Safeco appealed the jury's determination that the Jenkins were entitled to punitive damages. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the circuit court's order denying the Jordans' motion to set aside the verdict and for a new trial and remanded that case for a new trial, holding that the jury should have been instructed on Jenkins' duty to mitigate the loss of his vehicle; and (2) reversed the court's order denying Safeco's motion to reduce the punitive damages award, holding that remand was necessary to review the punitive damages award for excessiveness. View "Jordan v. Jenkins" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court declining to award Arrowhead Lake Estates Homeowners Association, Inc. attorney's fees after awarding Arrowhead Lake injunctive relief, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion.Arrowhead Lake filed a petition for injunctive relief seeking to have an unapproved building removed and to be awarded attorney's fees. The circuit court ordered Homeowner to remove the unapproved building but did not award Arrowhead Lake attorney's fees. Arrowhead Lake appealed, arguing that it was entitled to attorney's fees based upon the language of the "Declaration of Covenants, Easements, and Restrictions of Arrowhead Lake Estates Subdivision." The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that where the Declaration's clear intent to provide recovery to a prevailing "lot owner" who brings suit to enforce the Declaration's terms and where Arrowhead Lake never claimed it was a "lot owner," the circuit court properly declined to award attorney's fees. View "Arrowhead Lake Estates Homeowners Ass'n, Inc. v. Aggarwal" on Justia Law

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Skidmore’s West Virginia home sits 70-80 feet west of Norfolk’s railroad track, across Loop Creek. In 2001, Norfolk installed a culvert to drain surface water from its tracks into Loop Creek near Skidmore’s home. According to Skidmore, the water streaming from the culvert caused soil erosion and threatened the foundation of her home. Skidmore sued Norfolk in state court, alleging negligence, private nuisance, and trespass.Norfolk obtained a survey and deeds revealing that, in 1903, Norfolk obtained a right of way extending across Loop Creek, over part of the land on the other side. Part of Skidmore’s house sits atop the land over which the right of way runs. Norfolk asserted an affirmative defense that Skidmore lacked standing because she had no right to exclude Norfolk from the land. Skidmore amended her complaint to add claims for adverse possession and prescriptive easement (quiet title claims). Norfolk removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act completely preempts the quiet title claims. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit vacated. While 49 U.S.C. 10501(b) “entirely displaces” Skidmore’s quiet title claims, a conclusion that complete preemption applies means that the court has jurisdiction over ostensibly state-law claims. On remand, the court must convert Skidmore’s quiet title claims into claims under the Termination Act and may permit Skidmore to amend her complaint to clarify the scope of her Termination Act claims. View "Skidmore v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co" on Justia Law

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Appellants filed suit against Dorchester County, seeking compensation pursuant to the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment for the death of their bees. Appellants contend that the bees died after the County sprayed pesticide in an effort to kill mosquitos, and the bees' death amounted to a taking of appellants' private property.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the County's motion for summary judgment, holding that there was no taking because the loss of appellants' bees was only an incidental consequence of the County's action. The court noted that the death of appellants' bees is undoubtedly a tragedy, but the court cannot conclude that it was the foreseeable or probable result of the County's action when it is a clear outlier in terms of collateral damage arising out of the County's mosquito abatement effort. Therefore, because the death of the bees was neither intended nor foreseeable, the Takings Clause does not require compensation. View "Yawn v. Dorchester County" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Cameron Crogan was seriously injured when he rode his motorbike into a cable strung across a beach access road at the lakeside residential development where he lived with his family. As a result, his mother filed a negligence action against several entities related to the development, including the homeowners’ association and a separately formed beach association, as well as certain individuals in both their individual and representative capacities. The civil division granted defendants’ motions for summary judgment primarily on the grounds that, given the undisputed facts of this case, Vermont’s Recreational Use Statute protected them from liability, and the individual defendants did not owe plaintiff a duty of care in connection with the accident that led to this lawsuit. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the individual defendants were entitled to summary judgment, but reversed the trial court’s determination that the Recreational Use Statute was applicable in this case. Accordingly, the case was remanded for further proceedings concerning plaintiff’s claims against the non-individual defendants. View "Crogan v. Pine Bluff Estates et al." on Justia Law

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In this quiet title action, the Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment in favor of Defendant, holding that Defendant did not conclusively negate unsound-mind tolling pleaded as an exception to limitations.Plaintiff, a person who alleged a mental incapacity, sought to prevent Defendant, his aunt, from evicting him from property he had inherited, arguing that a deed to Defendant that he had signed years earlier was void due to his lack of capacity. Defendant moved for traditional summary judgment based on the statute of limitations. In response, Plaintiff invoked the unsound-mind tolling statute. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) because Defendant moved for traditional summary judgment on limitations and Plaintiff raised the unsound-mind tolling statute, Defendant had the burden to conclusively negate Plaintiff's assertion of mental capacity; (2) because Defendant offered no evidence regarding Plaintiff's soundness of mind, she failed to carry her burden; and (3) therefore, the court of appeals erred in affirming the trial court's order granting Defendant summary judgment. View "Draughon v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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In this tax exemption case concerning privately owned real property in Galveston County the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals affirming the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Galveston Central Appraisal District, holding that Odyssey 2020 Academy was not entitled to an exemption from the ad valorem tax.The property at issue was subleased by Odyssey, which used the property to operate a public charter school. Odyssey contractually agreed to pay the property owners' ad valorem taxes and requested that the Galveston Central Appraisal District exempt the property from taxation as "property owned by this state" under section 11.11(a) of the Tax Code. The District denied the exemption request. On review, the district court granted summary judgment for the District. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that, on these facts, the Constitution does not merit an exemption for Odyssey. View "Odyssey 2020 Academy, Inc. v. Galveston Central Appraisal District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the order of the circuit court that reversed the Department of Administration's approval of a cooperative plan (Plan) between the Village of Kekoskee and the Town of Williamstown and remanded the matter back to the Department, holding that the Department erroneously interpreted Wis. Stat. 66.0307(2) in approving the Plan.The circuit court concluded that section 66.0307(2), the cooperative plan statute, did not permit municipalities to use cooperative plans to absorb and entire town into a village. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the Plan changed the City of Mayville's boundary line such that Mayville was required to be a party to the Plan. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Mayville had standing to seek judicial review of the Plan; (2) the Plan changed Mayville's boundary line, and therefore, section 66.0307(2) required that Mayville be a party to the Plan; and (3) because Mayville was not a party to the Plan, the Department erred in approving the Plan. View "City of Mayville v. State of Wisconsin Department of Administration" on Justia Law

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The Benalcazars purchased 43 acres in Genoa Township in 2001. The property sits at the northern end of the Township’s more developed areas and abuts the Hoover Reservoir. The parcel was zoned as Rural Residential; development would have required separate septic systems, clear-cutting, and multiple driveways. In 2018, the Benalcazars obtained rezoning of the property to a Planned Residential District, which permits higher density development. Township residents approved a referendum that prevented the amendment from taking effect, O.R.C. 519.12(H).The Benalcazars sued. In a settlement, the Township agreed to change the zoning designation; the Benalcazars agreed to reduce the proposed development from 64 homes to 56 homes, to provide more open space, and to increase the width of some lots. O.R.C. 505.07 provides “Notwithstanding . . . any vote of the electors on a petition for zoning referendum … a township may settle any court action by a consent decree or court-approved settlement agreement which may include an agreement to rezone.” The district court permitted objectors to intervene, dismissed the Benalcazars’ due process claims, but ruled that the Benalcazars stated a plausible equal protection claim, and approved the consent decree. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The Benalcazars’ due process and equal protection claims are not “frivolous” but “arguable.” The district court had subject-matter jurisdiction and had the authority to approve a settlement. No other merits inquiry was required. View "Benalcazar v. Genoa Township" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court ruled that the forfeiture of Tyson Timbs's his white Land Rover was unconstitutional, holding that Timbs met his high burden to show that the harshness of his Land Rover's forfeiture was grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the underlying offense and his culpability for the vehicle's misuse.The State filed a civil forfeiture complaint alleging that Timbs had used his Land Rover to illegally purchase, possess, and deal narcotics. The trial court entered judgment for Timbs. The case made its way up to the Supreme Court of the United States. On remand, the Supreme Court held that the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment includes both instrumentality and proportionality limitations for use-based in rem fines like the forfeiture of Timbs's vehicle and that such fines are constitutional if two requirements are met. The Supreme Court held that the forfeiture fell within the Excessive Fines Clauses's instrumentality limit but remanded for the trial court to determine whether the harshness of the forfeiture penalty was grossly disproportional to the gravity of the offense. The trial court determined that Timbs had shown gross disproportionality. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Timbs met his burden to show gross disproportionality and that the Land Rover's forfeiture was unconstitutional. View "State v. Timbs" on Justia Law