Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

by
In this case, tenants Matthew Raines and Melissa Clayton complained to their landlord, Tuyen Dinh, about the habitability of their rented unit, particularly due to issues with their utilities and the presence of unauthorized tenants in the building. The tenants withheld rent and requested reimbursement for additional utilities costs. When Dinh refused and subsequently evicted the tenants for nonpayment of rent, a dispute ensued. The Superior Court of the State of Alaska held a damages trial, finding largely in favor of the tenants.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the lower court's findings that Dinh failed to maintain the premises in a habitable condition and willfully diminished the tenants' essential services under the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA). However, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's conclusion that the tenants could recover for the landlord's failure to deliver possession of the property. The Supreme Court also affirmed some aspects of the lower court's award of damages, but reversed those awards that were not supported by the record.The court found that Dinh's violation of housing codes and his conditional use permit diminished the value of the tenants' leasehold by the $8,800 owed in past rent. The court also found that Dinh was responsible for additional costs incurred by the tenants due to the unauthorized use of their utilities by unauthorized tenants in the building. However, the court ruled that the tenants could not recover for Dinh's failure to deliver possession of the property, despite finding that Dinh did not deliver habitable premises at the commencement of the lease. View "Dinh v. Raines" on Justia Law

by
In this case, Steven and Mary Drummond, who resided in their 2017 Tiffin Allegro motor home, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and claimed that their motor home was subject to the homestead exemption as a "mobile home" under Arizona law. The trustee objected, arguing that the Drummonds' motor home was not a mobile home under Arizona law. The United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Arizona certified the question to the Supreme Court of the State of Arizona: “Whether a motor home in which a person over 18 years of age resides qualifies as a mobile home for the purpose of claiming an Arizona homestead exemption pursuant to A.R.S. § 33-1101(A)(3).” The Supreme Court of the State of Arizona held that a motor home does not qualify for an exemption under A.R.S. § 33-1101(A)(3). The court reasoned that the statutory context of A.R.S. § 33-1101(A)(3) suggests that a "mobile home" under the statute describes a dwelling that is not intended to be moved once placed and physically attached to property. Thus, a "motor home" is not a "mobile home" under the homestead statute because it is readily movable and not anchored to land. View "In re: DRUMMOND" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court of Texas examined whether a lender could rescind a loan acceleration and reaccelerate the loan simultaneously, thereby resetting the foreclosure statute of limitations under the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 16.038. The plaintiffs, Linda and Thomas Moore, defaulted on their home loan, leading to an acceleration of the loan by the lenders, Wells Fargo Bank and PHH Mortgage Corporation. The lenders subsequently issued notices rescinding the acceleration and then reaccelerating the loan. The Moores sued, arguing that the foreclosure statute of limitations had run out because the lenders' rescission notices also included notices of reacceleration. The federal district court ruled against the Moores, leading to their appeal and the subsequent certification of questions to the Supreme Court of Texas by the Fifth Circuit. The key question was whether simultaneous rescission and reacceleration could reset the limitations period under Section 16.038.The Supreme Court of Texas held that a rescission that complies with the statute resets the limitations period, even if it is combined with a notice of reacceleration. The court reasoned that the statute doesn't require the rescission notice to be separate from other notices, nor does it impose a waiting period between rescission and reacceleration. The court's ruling means that lenders can rescind and reaccelerate a loan simultaneously, thereby resetting the foreclosure statute of limitations. View "MOORE v. WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A." on Justia Law

by
The case involves a fatal accident that occurred at a private railroad crossing owned by Ezra Alderman Ranches, Inc. and operated by Union Pacific Railroad Company. Rolando Prado, Jr. died when his vehicle was struck by a Union Pacific train at the crossing. His family members (the Prados) sued both Union Pacific and Ezra Alderman Ranches, Inc. for negligence. The central issue before the Supreme Court of Texas was whether the evidence was sufficient to create a fact issue on whether the railroad crossing, which was protected by both a stop sign and a crossbuck sign, was "extra-hazardous" and whether the landowner knew it was "unreasonably dangerous."The court held that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding that the crossing was extra-hazardous. The court reasoned that the crossing had a stop sign in addition to the usual crossbuck sign, and anyone who actually stopped at the sign could clearly see a train coming from either direction. The expert testimony that suggested drivers would not stop at a particular stop sign because it "lacks credibility" did not establish that all reasonably prudent drivers would not, much less could not, stop at the sign.The court also held that there was no evidence to support a finding that the landowner, Ezra Alderman Ranches, Inc., had actual knowledge that the crossing was unreasonably dangerous. The court determined that the evidence indicated that the landowner knew of the high volume of traffic at the crossing, but it did not establish that the landowner had actual knowledge that the crossing was unreasonably dangerous.The court reversed the decision of the court of appeals and reinstated the judgment of the trial court in favor of Union Pacific and Ezra Alderman Ranches, Inc. View "UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD COMPANY v. PRADO" on Justia Law

by
In a dispute between plaintiffs Jason Riddick, Elizabeth Riddick, and Renee Sperling, and the City of Malibu in the Court of Appeal of the State of California Second Appellate District, the court affirmed the lower court's decision. The plaintiffs sought to construct an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) attached to their existing single-family residence and applied for a permit. However, the City of Malibu denied the application, asserting that a coastal development permit (CDP) was required. The plaintiffs argued that their project was exempt from the CDP requirement under a local ordinance. The Superior Court agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered the City to process the proposed ADU as exempt from the CDP requirements. The City appealed this decision.The appellate court affirmed the lower court's decision, finding that the local ordinance did indeed exempt improvements directly attached to existing single-family residences, including ADUs, from the CDP requirement. Moreover, the court decided that the City's interpretation of the ordinance was not entitled to deference and rejected the City's contention that the ordinance language was internally inconsistent or at odds with other provisions of the statutory scheme. In a cross-appeal, the plaintiffs contended that they were entitled to a permit within 60 days of their completed application, but the court held that this issue was not properly before it on the cross-appeal because it arose from matters occurring after the final ruling. Their cross-appeal was therefore limited to the judgment, which the court affirmed in its entirety. View "Riddick v. City of Malibu" on Justia Law

by
This case involves a dispute among neighbors over the use and ownership of a private road in Rhode Island. The plaintiffs, Merlyn P. O’Keefe and Mary Ellen O’Keefe, who own the residential lot farthest from the main road, sought injunction relief and claimed adverse possession over the private road. The private road was part of a residential compound, known as White Horn Acres, and each party owned an undivided one-sixth interest in the private road and the six residential lots in the compound. The plaintiffs observed multiple obstructions in the private road over the years, some of which were removed during the course of the lawsuit.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, denying the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief and their claims for adverse possession. The court found no evidence that the defendants' obstructions excluded the plaintiffs from enjoying their equal privileges in the private road. Therefore, the plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, or that the balance of the equities favored injunctive relief. Regarding the adverse possession claims, the court found that the plaintiffs did not provide clear and convincing evidence of acts of possession that excluded the rights of the other cotenants. The defendants regularly used the cul-de-sac and believed it was their right to do so. Therefore, the plaintiffs' claims for adverse possession related to the cul-de-sac were denied. View "Merlyn O'Keefe v. Myrth York" on Justia Law

by
This case involves a dispute between Melissa Sanchez, a tenant, and Chris and Jennifer Pickering, her landlords, over the terms of a lease agreement for a mobile home owned by the Pickerings. Sanchez believed the agreement was a lease-to-own contract, while the Pickerings asserted it was a lease with a purchase option contract. After the Pickerings initiated an eviction action due to Sanchez's alleged violations of the agreement, Sanchez caused extensive damage to the home.The Pickerings sued Sanchez for waste, claiming she caused $40,000 in damages and sought treble damages. Sanchez counterclaimed, alleging violation of the Idaho Consumer Protection Act (ICPA), breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and retaliatory eviction. The district court found Sanchez liable for damages to the residence and awarded treble damages. It also determined that there was no deception on the Pickerings' part to sustain Sanchez's ICPA claim, the agreement was unenforceable due to a lack of mutual understanding, and that the Pickerings were unjustly enriched by the $10,000 down payment and offset the Pickerings' damages award by this amount. The remaining claims were dismissed.On appeal, the Supreme Court of Idaho affirmed the district court's decision. The court found substantial and competent evidence supporting the district court's decision that the Pickerings did not engage in a deceptive act under the ICPA. The court also rejected Sanchez's contention that the district court's damages award should have been reduced to reflect an insurance payment received by the Pickerings as Sanchez failed to provide an adequate record for review. Finally, the court upheld the district court's unjust enrichment award, finding that Sanchez had not demonstrated an abuse of discretion. The Pickerings were awarded attorney fees for having to respond to the collateral source issue. View "Pickering v. Sanchez" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the Supreme Court of North Dakota affirmed the lower court's ruling in favor of the North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC), acting through the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency (NDHFA), in a dispute over a lien on a property. The property in question was part of a housing development built by the Fendee Group, and was purchased by Carinne Gould, who obtained a mortgage through Guaranteed Rate, Inc., which was later assigned to the NDIC. After Gould defaulted on her payments, both the NDIC and Fendee filed liens on the property. Fendee argued that its liens were superior to the NDHFA's mortgage, but the court ruled that since the NDHFA's lien was perfected (or legally finalized) before Fendee's liens, the NDHFA held the superior lien. The court also rejected Fendee's claim of a "super lien," which would have given it priority over all other liens, and denied Fendee's request for attorney's fees. The court found that the dispute over the super lien was a question of first impression, meaning it was the first time such a question had come before the court, and therefore the appeal was not frivolous and did not warrant attorney’s fees. View "NDIC v. Gould" on Justia Law

by
In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit addressed a dispute involving the owners of two parcels of real estate in Chicago who contended that banks tried to collect notes and mortgages that belonged to different financial institutions. The state judiciary had ruled that the banks were entitled to foreclose on both parcels, but the properties had not yet been sold and no final judgments defining the debt were in place. The plaintiffs attempted to initiate federal litigation under the holding of Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., arguing that their case was still pending. However, the district court dismissed the case, citing the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which states that only the Supreme Court of the United States can review the judgments of state courts in civil suits.The Appeals court held that the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine was incorrect in this case because the foreclosure litigation in Illinois was not yet "final". According to the court, the foreclosure process in Illinois continues until the property is sold, the sale is confirmed, and the court either enters a deficiency judgment or distributes the surplus. Since these steps had not occurred, the plaintiffs had not yet "lost the war", and thus parallel state and federal litigation could be pursued as per Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp.However, by the time the district court dismissed this suit, the state litigation about one parcel was over because a sale had occurred and been confirmed, and by the time the Appeals court heard oral argument that was true for the second parcel as well. The Appeals court stated that Illinois law forbids sequential litigation about the same claim even when the plaintiff in the second case offers novel arguments. The court found that the plaintiffs could have presented their constitutional arguments in the state court system and were not free to shift what is effectively an appellate argument to a different judicial system.The court also noted that Joel Chupack, the lead defendant, was the trial judge in the state case and was not a party to either state case. He did not claim the benefit of preclusion. Judge Chupack was found to be entitled to absolute immunity from damages, as he acted in a judicial capacity.The judgment of the district court was modified to reflect a dismissal with prejudice rather than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, and as so modified it was affirmed. View "Bryant v. Chupack" on Justia Law

by
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld a township ordinance that regulated the discharging of firearms within the township, except at indoor and outdoor shooting ranges. The plaintiff, a resident of the township, challenged the ordinance, claiming it violated his Second Amendment rights by limiting his ability to practice and maintain proficiency in firearm use. The court determined that the ordinance does not violate the Second Amendment. Applying the historical tradition test outlined by the United States Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc., Inc. v. Bruen, the court found the ordinance to be consistent with the nation's historical tradition of firearm regulation, which includes restrictions on when and where firearms can be discharged. The court also found that the ordinance does not interfere with the plaintiff's right to bear arms as it does not prevent him from owning or possessing firearms, but simply regulates where they can be discharged. The court also noted that the ordinance allows for shooting ranges in certain areas of the township, providing opportunities for individuals to gain proficiency in firearm use. View "Barris v. Stroud Township" on Justia Law