Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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Third Laguna Hills Mutual (a homeowner’s association, “the HOA”) filed a complaint alleging homeowner Jeff Joslin violated its covenants. Joslin filed a cross-complaint alleging the HOA unlawfully prevented him from renting out his home. The HOA filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the cross-complaint: “It is clear that Joslin is suing the [HOA] for suing him.” The court denied the motion. The HOA appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of the HOA's anti0SLAPP motion. "The filing of a complaint is a protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute (the right to petition). But to some degree, every party that files a cross-complaint is suing because it is being sued. Here, Joslin’s cross-complaint arises from the HOA’s alleged tortious acts, but not from the HOA’s protected act of filing a complaint." View "Third Laguna Hills Mutual v. Joslin" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the judgment of the circuit court in a conversion case granting motions to dismiss on the ground that all pleadings filed on behalf of the Estate of A. Rafael Gomez by a non-attorney executor and all arguments made by him in court proceedings constituted the unlawful practice of law, and (2) found that the appeal in a companion case, a will contest, was improvidently granted. The Estate sought reversal of a circuit court dismissing its lawsuit on the ground that Mark Gomez, as a non-attorney executor, was not authorized to file pleadings or otherwise represent the Estate in judicial proceedings. Mark, together with his brothers, also filed a will contest in which Mark filed pleadings and argued on both his own behalf and on behalf of the Estate. The Supreme Court held (1) as to the conversion case, Mark, a non-attorney executor, was engaged in the unlawful practice of law, and therefore, the circuit court properly dismissed the case; and (2) as to the will contest, the court did not make any rulings that conclusively determined any issue in the case, and therefore, the appeal was improvidently granted. View "Gomez v. Smith" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals held that where a waiver of subrogation precludes liability to an injured party, a third-party defendant does not fall within the definition of a "joint tortfeasor" under the Maryland Uniform Contribution Among Joint TortFeasors Act (UCATA), Md. Code Cts. & Jud. Proc. 3-1401, and there is no statutory right of contribution. After a fire damaged a building, the owner, Upper Rock II, LLC, sued Red Coats, Inc. Red Coats filed a third-party claim against Gables Construction, Inc. (GCI) seeking contribution under the UCATA. Prior to construction, Upper Rock and GCI entered into a contract, which included a waiver of subrogation, requiring Upper Rock to transfer all risk of loss for fire-related claims to the insurer rather than holding GCI liable. Upper Rock and Red Coats settled. GCI moved for summary judgment, arguing that because it was not liable to Upper Rock, it was not a joint tortfeasor under the UCATA. The motion was denied. A jury concluded that Red Coats was entitled to contribution from GCI. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that GCI could not be liable to Upper Rock because the waiver of subrogation prevented liability, and without liability to the injured party, the UCATA does not provide for a right to contribution. View "Gables Construction v. Red CoatsGables Construction, Inc. v. Red Coats, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-appellants James and Maria Mosley rented out a home they owned that defendant-respondent Pacific Specialty Insurance Company (PSIC) insured under a homeowners’ policy (the Property). The Mosleys’ tenant started growing marijuana in the Property. To support his marijuana-growing operation, the tenant re-routed the Property’s electrical system to steal power from a main utility line. The tenant’s re-routed electrical system caused a fuse to blow, which started a fire that damaged the Property. PSIC denied coverage, citing a provision in the Mosleys’ policy that excluded any loss associated with “[t]he growing of plants” or the “manufacture, production, operation or processing of . . . plant materials.” The Mosleys sued, but the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, finding that the Mosleys had control over their tenant's conduct. A divided Court of Appeals reversed, finding no evidence the Mosleys were aware of their tenant's marijuana growing operation, and because the record was silent as to what the Moseleys could or should have done to discover it. "[T]he Mosleys did not use the Property in a prescribed way that would have allowed PSIC to suspend their insurance and deny all coverage. More importantly, contrary to PSIC’s assertion and the trial court’s finding, there was no evidence Mosleys knowingly increased a risk of fire hazard. In addition, a fact issue remains as to whether [the Tenant's] hazard-increasing conduct was within their control. If it was, then PSIC properly denied coverage. But by denying the Mosleys coverage for Lopez’s conduct, regardless of the Mosleys’ control over or knowledge of it, the Policy did not provide 'substantially equivalent' coverage to that required under [Insurance Code] section 2071." View "Mosley v. Pacific Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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In two civil enforcement actions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgments against the trustee and the trust (collectively, "defendants") and the imposition of civil fines in excess of $6 million. The court held that the trial court's judgments did not violate the double jeopardy clause, because the allegations and evidence before the trial court were insufficient to show that the earlier criminal complaint was based on the same offenses as the civil actions. The court also held that the $5,967,500 in civil penalties were not unconstitutionally excessive under the four-part Bajakajian test. The court rejected defendants' contention that neither the trial court nor the city had the authority to require the trustee to evict the dispensaries. Finally, the court held that the medical-marijuana regulations were not void for vagueness, and the trial court did not err in holding the trustee personally liable for the civil penalties and other relief imposed against him in each of the judgments. View "People v. Braum" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs SLPR, L.L.C. (SLPR), Ann Goodfellow, trustee of the survivor's trust of the Goodfellow Family Trust (Goodfellow), and Jerry Cannon and Michael Morris, trustees of the Sewall Family Trust (Sewall) (together Plaintiffs) appealed a judgment entered in favor of defendant State of California (State) in their action against State and the San Diego Unified Port District (Port) (together Defendants) arising out of damage to their bayside properties in the City of Coronado (City) allegedly caused by dredging of the San Diego Bay (Bay). The United States Navy dredged an area of the Bay within the Naval Air Station North Island Turning Basin in 1998 and 2002 and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Army) dredged the central navigation channel of the Bay from 2004 to 2005. In a previous decision relating to this matter, the Court of Appeal concluded, inter alia, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on Plaintiffs' quiet title action because there were triable issues of material fact on the meaning of a facially ambiguous 1931 judgment in favor of City and against J.D. and A.B. Spreckels Investment Company (Spreckels), owner of real property along the Bay's shoreline and Plaintiffs' predecessor-in-interest, and other defendants regarding whether that judgment fixed the bayside boundaries of Plaintiffs' properties or whether it located only the current position of the mean high tide line (MHTL) at that time and retained the ambulatory MHTL as the legal boundaries of their properties. On remand, Plaintiffs filed a third amended complaint, alleging causes of action for quiet title, inverse condemnation related to the quiet title cause of action (by SLPR and Arendsee), inverse condemnation (by Plaintiffs), nuisance, and removal of lateral support. The trial court sustained State's demurrer to the third, fourth, and fifth causes of action. The court subsequently conducted a bench trial on the first and second causes of action and, after admitting and considering extrinsic evidence regarding the meaning of the Spreckels judgment, found that the judgment had fixed the boundaries between Plaintiffs' properties and the public tidelands. The court then entered judgment in favor of State and against Plaintiffs. Finding no reversible error in that judgment, the Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court. View "SLPR, L.L.C. v. San Diego Unified Port District" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that open-enrollment charter schools and their charter-holders have governmental immunity from suit and liability to the same extent as public schools and that, in this case, the open-enrollment charter school district had immunity from suit. The Burnham Wood Charter School District, which operates open-enrollment charter schools in El Paso, repudiated a lease with Amex Properties, LLC to lease certain property. Amex sued the district for anticipatory breach of the lease. The district filed a plea to the jurisdiction contending that it was immune from suit to the same extent as public school districts and that no waiver of immunity existed for Amex's claim. The trial court denied the district's jurisdictional plea, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the suit for want of jurisdiction, holding (1) open-enrollment charter schools have governmental immunity to the same extent as public schools; (2) Tex. Local Gov't Code 271 waives governmental immunity for breach of contract claims brought under the chapter; and (3) the lease in this case was not properly executed under section 271.151, and therefore, Amex's breach of contract claim was not waived under section 271.152. View "El Paso Education Initiative, Inc. v. Amex Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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In this dispute over which faction of a splintered Episcopal diocese is the "Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth" the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the withdrawing faction, holding that resolution this property dispute does not require consideration of an ecclesiastical question and that, under the diocese's governing documents, the withdrawing faction is the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth. After a disagreement about religious doctrine the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and a majority of its congregations withdrew from The Episcopal Church. The church replaced the diocese's leaders. Subsequently, both the disaffiliating and replacement factions claimed ownership of property held in trust for the diocese and local congregations. The withdrawing faction argued that under the organizational documents, the unincorporated association's identity is determined by the majority. The church and its loyalists argued that the entity's identity is an ecclesiastic determination. The Supreme Court agreed with the withdrawing faction by applying neutral principles to the disputed facts, holding that the trial court property granted summary judgment in the withdrawing faction's favor. View "Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth v. Episcopal Church" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Edward Favart appealed a superior court order ruling that land owned by defendants Steven and Kevin Ouellette, benefitted from an implied easement over plaintiff’s land along a fifteen-foot wide access road to the “beach area” of Sip Pond depicted on a 1992 subdivision plan. The court further ruled that installation and use of a dock was a reasonable use of the easement. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand.The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that the superior court erred in relying upon “the evidence of the existence and use of prior docks in the area.” Plaintiff argued there was no evidence that a dock had ever been installed on the beach area of Lot 8, and thus defendants' dock was not within the scope of the implied easement. To this, the Supreme Court agreed, and reversed that part of the trial court judgment. The Supreme Court affirmed in all other respects. View "Favart v. Ouellette" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court directing a verdict in favor of Defendant, an insurance agent, on Plaintiff's claim that Defendant was negligent because he procured an insurance policy that did not conform to Plaintiff's requirements, holding that Plaintiff must prove that it would have qualified for an insurance policy with better terms than the policy it actually obtained. Plaintiff sold new and used camper trailers. Plaintiff asked Defendant, an insurance agent, to acquire a policy to cover its camper inventory. Plaintiff thought Defendant had acquired a policy with a deductible for $1,000 per camper in the event of hail damage with a $5,000 aggregate deductible limit, but the policy actually required a $5,000 deductible per camper, with no aggregate limit. After a hailstorm damaged many of the campers on its lot, Plaintiff sued Defendant. The circuit court directed a verdict due to Plaintiff's failure to introduce evidence that an insurer would have insured Plaintiff with the deductible limits it thought it had. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff must not only prove that an insurance policy with the requested deductibles was commercially available but that Plaintiff would actually have qualified for that policy. View "Emer's Camper Corral, LLC v. Western Heritage Insurance Co." on Justia Law