Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
City of Lewes & The Board of Adjustment v. Nepa
The City of Lewes and its Historic Preservation Commission approved Ernest and Deborah Nepa’s plans to renovate a house in the historic district. The Nepas violated the conditions of the approvals by building a two story addition on the back of the house and increasing its already nonconforming setbacks from neighboring properties. After the City discovered the violations and issued a stop work order, the Nepas applied to the City’s board of adjustment for three area variances to complete the unauthorized addition; the board turned them down. The Nepas appealed the variance denials to the Superior Court, arguing that the City Code provision used by the board to evaluate their variance applications conflicted with a more lenient state law addressing municipal variances. The Superior Court agreed and reversed the board’s decision. On appeal, the City argued the Superior Court erred because the state statute relied on, 22 Del. C. 327(a)(3), only prohibited the City from loosening the state law requirements for granting a variance. The City was thus free to require stricter standards. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the City and reversed the Superior Court’s decision. “As long as the variance standards applied by the City of Lewes’ board of adjustment meet the minimum state statutory standards, nothing in the state statute prohibits the City, through its board of adjustment, from applying variance standards stricter than those set by the State.” View "City of Lewes & The Board of Adjustment v. Nepa" on Justia Law
Bathla v. 913 Market, LLC
This appeal concerned a dispute over which party to a failed commercial real estate sale is entitled to the buyer’s deposit. The seller, 913 Market, LLC, claims that it was entitled to the deposit because the buyer failed to close the deal on the agreed date, and brought this action against the buyer claiming breach of contract and seeking a declaratory judgment regarding its rights under the purchase agreement. The buyer, Kamal Bathla, made two reasons why the deposit is rightfully his: (1) 913 Market could not convey title free and clear of all liens and encumbrances, as required by the purchase agreement, due to potential claims by a previous potential buyer of the building that had also failed to close; and (2) one of the conditions precedent was not satisfied because the title insurance commitment he received contained an exception, relating to litigation risk from the previous potential buyer, that did not exist in 913 Market’s existing title insurance policy. In either case, Bathla maintained, he was relieved of any obligation to close, and therefore had a right to get his money back. The Superior Court granted summary judgment for 913 Market. In rejecting Bathla’s first argument, the court reasoned that potential claims by the previous failed buyer did not cloud title because the previous buyer “had not perfected (nor did it seek to perfect) a lis pendens claim.” In rejecting Bathla’s second argument, the court read the purchase agreement as establishing a test based not on “what exceptions the Purchaser’s title insurance carrier might insist upon,” but rather on “whether Seller was able to convey satisfactory title, which it did.” The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision. "Contrary to Bathla’s exhortations, the mere possibility that a previous potential buyer who failed to close might later claim an interest in the building does not constitute a lien or encumbrance under the purchase agreement, and the condition precedent identified by Bathla does not require that he obtain a title commitment with exceptions that mirror those of 913 Market’s existing policy. And ultimately, the basic premise of Bathla’s case - that there was a genuine risk that the previous potential buyer would sue Bathla over the property - is implausible and does not provide a basis under the contract to avoid the obligation to close." View "Bathla v. 913 Market, LLC" on Justia Law
Shrewsbury v. The Bank of New York Mellon
Appellee The Bank of New York Mellon, f/k/a The Bank of New York brought a foreclosure proceeding against Appellants J.M. and and Kathy Shrewsbury. The Bank was not the original mortgagee; it received the Shrewsbury mortgage by an assignment from the original mortgagee. The Shrewsburys answered the complaint asserting that the note representing the debt secured by the mortgage had not been assigned to The Bank. They further asserted that since the note had not been assigned to The Bank, it did not have the right to enforce the underlying debt and, therefore, did not have the right to foreclose on the mortgage. The Superior Court rejected the Shrewsburys' argument and granted summary judgment to The Bank. The narrow question presented on appeal was whether a party holding a mortgage must have the right to enforce the obligation secured by the mortgage in order to conduct a foreclosure proceeding. After review, the Supreme Court held that a mortgage assignee must be entitled to enforce the underlying obligation which the mortgage secures in order to foreclose on the mortgage. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Shrewsbury v. The Bank of New York Mellon" on Justia Law
Commerce Associates, LP, et al. v. New Castle County Office of Assessment, et al.
The New Castle County Office of Assessment (“New Castle County”) valued office condominium units for real property tax purposes but failed to take into account depreciation. The Superior Court affirmed the decision of the New Castle County Board of Assessment Review (the “Board”) upholding New Castle County’s valuation. The property owner appealed, arguing that its office condominium units were over-assessed because New Castle County and the Board did not factor in the age and resulting depreciation of the units. Because Delaware law required that all relevant factors bearing on the value of a property (in its current condition) be considered, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and required that New Castle County reassess the value of the units, taking into account the influence depreciation has on their taxable value. View "Commerce Associates, LP, et al. v. New Castle County Office of Assessment, et al." on Justia Law
Bon Ayre Land, LLC v. Bon Ayre Community Association
This was a case between the owner of a manufactured homes community, Bon Ayre Land, LLC (Landowner), and an association that represented the affected homeowners, Bon Ayre Community Association (HOA) about what Delaware law required the Landowner to show to increase rent above inflation. Their dispute arose under Chapter 70 of Title 25 of the Delaware Code, commonly known as the "Rent Justification Act." To raise rent by more than inflation, the Act set out three conditions a landowner had to satisfy. One condition required the owner show that the proposed increase was directly related to operating, maintaining or improving the manufactured home community, and justified by one or more factors listed under subsection (c). The one factor at issue here was market rent: that rent which would result from market forces absent an unequal bargaining position between the community owner and the home owners. Among its many arguments, the Landowner argued that the Superior Court erred in giving effect to the word "and," and that the Landowner ought to have been allowed to justify a rent increase based on market rent alone. The Landowner admitted that it failed to present any evidence of its proposed rent increases being directly related to operating, maintaining or improving the community. But, the Landowner argued that the Act could not be read sensibly as it was plainly written and that the term "and" in section 7042(a)(2) should have been read as "or." Contrary to the Landowner's argument, the Delaware Supreme Court found nothing "absurd" about the use of "and" in joining section 7042's three conditions. "Consistent with proper principles of interpretation, the Superior Court gave effect to the clear language of the Act and gave it an interpretation that is consistent with the Act's stated purpose." Because the Landowner concededly made no showing that its proposed rental increase was directly related to operating, maintaining or improving the community, the Superior Court properly reversed the arbitrator's ruling that the Landowner could raise rents in excess of CPI-U. View "Bon Ayre Land, LLC v. Bon Ayre Community Association" on Justia Law
Lawson v. Delaware
In 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed without prejudice a condemnation proceeding by plaintiff-appellee, the State of Delaware Department of Transportation (“DelDOT”), against the defendants-appellants, Jack and Mary Ann Lawson. Thereafter, the Lawsons moved for an award of litigation expenses and costs, which the Superior Court denied. The Lawsons appealed that order, claiming they were entitled to reimbursement for the litigation expenses they incurred by virtue of the condemnation proceeding, under both the Real Property Acquisition Act, and the common law bad faith exception to the so-called “American Rule.” They also claimed they were statutorily entitled to an award of costs. As a matter of first impression, the Supreme Court construed certain language in 29 Del. C. 9503, and held that that provision required reimbursement for litigation expenses related to a condemnation proceeding where a court determines that the subject property cannot be acquired by the governmental entity’s particular exercise of its underlying eminent domain power in that specific proceeding. Accordingly, the Court determined that the Superior Court erred by denying the Lawsons' motion for litigation expenses under 29 Del. C. 9503. The Court also concluded, however, that the Superior Court correctly determined that the Lawsons were not entitled to litigation expenses under the bad faith exception to the American Rule. Finally, the Court held that the Superior Court erred by not addressing the Lawsons' application for costs. View "Lawson v. Delaware" on Justia Law
Barley Mill, LLC v. Save Our County, Inc.
Barley Mill, LLC appealed a Court of Chancery judgment invalidating a vote of the New Castle County Council on a rezoning ordinance. Barley Mill planned to develop a piece of property to house office space and a regional shopping mall. The increase in traffic associated with the development was of considerable concern to both the public and members of the Council itself. But the Council was advised that: (1) it could not obtain the traffic information and analysis that Barley Mill was required to provide to the Delaware Department of Transportation as part of the overall rezoning process before the Council exercised its discretionary authority to vote on the rezoning ordinance; and (2) that the traffic information was not legally relevant to the Council's analysis. That advice was incorrect and there were no legal barriers that prevented the Council from obtaining the information or considering it before casting its discretionary vote on the rezoning ordinance. After the rezoning ordinance was approved, nearby resident homeowners and Save Our County, Inc. challenged the zoning ordinance, arguing that not only was the Council allowed to consider the traffic information, but the New Castle County Unified Development Code required it to consider that information before its vote. They also argued that, even if the Council was not required to consider the information before the vote, the vote on the rezoning ordinance was arbitrary and capricious because the Council had received erroneous legal advice that the information was both unavailable and irrelevant at the time the Council cast its vote. The Court of Chancery held that the mistake of law caused the Council to vote without first obtaining the information, rendering the vote arbitrary and capricious. On appeal, Barley Mill argued that the Court of Chancery erred when it invalidated the Council's vote. Save Our County and New Castle County cross-appealed, arguing that the Court of Chancery erred in holding that neither 9 Del C. Sec. 2662 nor the UDC required the Council to consider a traffic analysis before casting its discretionary vote on the rezoning ordinance. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery's decision. View "Barley Mill, LLC v. Save Our County, Inc." on Justia Law
Pellicone v. New Castle County
Defendant-appellant Donald Pellicone appealed a Superior Court judgment confirming that New Castle County had certain easements on Pellicone's property. The County sought the easements' validation to carry out a flood control project targeting Little Mill Creek in New Castle County. The issues on appeal to the Supreme Court were: (1) whether the Flood Control Project legally constituted a County project; (2) whether the County's condemnation of Pellicone's property fell within the County's statutory eminent domain authority; (3) whether the County's action was a taking of Pellicone's property for a public use as defined by law; and (4) whether the procedures set forth in Chapter 12, Article 7 adhered to. Answering all questions raised on appeal as "yes," the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's judgment. View "Pellicone v. New Castle County" on Justia Law
The Reserves Management Corporation, et al. v. R.T. Properties, LLC, et al.
This case involved a dispute between two developers over the payment of property assessments allegedly due under certain restrictive covenants. The plaintiff-below, The Reserves Management, LLC appealed two Superior Court rulings that granted summary judgment to defendants R.T. Properties, LLC, Mountain Range, LLC, Fountain, LLC, Waterscape, LLC, and Wind Chop, LLC. In April 2005, Reserves Development LLC, together with The Reserves Development Corporation, entered into a contract to sell seventeen lots to R.T. Properties, LLC. The Sale Agreement recited that R.T. Properties was “acquiring the Property in order to construct homes thereon for sale to the general public.” In November 2005, R.T. Properties transferred all seventeen lots to four affiliated entities—Mountain Range, LLC, Fountain, LLC, Waterscape, LLC, and Wind Chop, LLC. Three years later, the declaration of the sales contract was amended that obligated each lot owner to pay approximately $4,000 to Reserves. In September 2010, Reserves filed an action in the Superior Court against R.T. Properties to enforce the payment of the assessments allegedly due. R.T. Properties moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming that under the Sale Agreement, the payment of assessments for each lot was to be deferred until the lot was transferred to a third party homebuyer and a certificate of occupancy was issued. The Superior Court denied the motion to dismiss, but ultimately granted summary judgment in favor of R.T. Properties with respect to all claimed assessments, except for a sewer connection assessments. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor of R.T. Properties on a forbearance agreement defense, because material facts were in dispute. The Court affirmed the trial court in all other respects. View "The Reserves Management Corporation, et al. v. R.T. Properties, LLC, et al." on Justia Law
Lawson v. Department of Transportation
The Supreme Court held that a trial court judge erred in finding that a state agency complied with the state's Real Property Acquisition Act before it moved to condemn petitioners' property. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was reversed, the orders vacated and the case remanded with instructions to dismiss the condemnation action without prejudice. View "Lawson v. Department of Transportation" on Justia Law