Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Plaintiff-Appellant, Ocean Bay Mart, Inc. (“Ocean Bay”), owned a 7.71- acre parcel of real property in the City of Rehoboth Beach (“the City”). In June 2015, Ocean Bay submitted a Site Plan to the City proposing to develop the property into 63 residential condominium units. Under the plan, the 7.71 acres would remain a single, undivided parcel. The development would be known as “Beach Walk.” The submission of the Site Plan set into motion a chain of events over whether Beach Walk could be approved as a single, undivided parcel or whether the project had to be subdivided into individual lots corresponding to the residential units. The events included a decision by the City’s Building Inspector that the project could not be approved as a single, undivided parcel; a decision by the City’s Board of Adjustment overruling the Building Inspector’s decision; a decision by the City’s Planning Commission, rendered after the Board of Adjustment’s decision, that the Site Plan could not be considered unless it was resubmitted as a major subdivision application; a decision by the City Commissioners upholding the Planning Commission; an appeal of the Commissioners’ decision to the Superior Court, which reversed the Commissioners; and the City’s adoption of three amendments to its zoning code. Ocean Bay filed this action with the Delaware Court of Chancery, alleging that it had a vested right to have its Site Plan approved substantially in the form submitted without going through major subdivision approval, and that the City was equitably estopped from enforcing the zoning code amendments against Beach Walk. After a trial, the Court of Chancery ruled that Ocean Bay did not have a vested right to develop Beach Walk as laid out on the Site Plan and the City was not equitably estopped from enforcing its new zoning amendments. Ocean Bay appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. View "Ocean Bay Mart, Inc. v. The City of Rehoboth Beach Delaware" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was a breach-of-contract dispute involving a stock purchase agreement for the sale of all the shares of stock of International Specialty Products Inc. (“International Specialty”). The selling shareholders were nine trusts and RFH Investment Holdings LLC (the “Heyman Parties”). The purchaser was Appellee Ashland Inc., a leading global specialty chemical company. International Specialty had two wholly owned subsidiaries that went with the sale, Appellee ISP Environmental Services Inc. and Appellee Chemco LLC (“Chemco”). ISP Environmental owned a property known as the Linden property, which for years had been home to chemical manufacturing operations and had an extensive environmental history. As part of the transaction, the parties agreed that the Heyman Parties would keep the Linden property. At the time of closing on the Stock Purchase Agreement, ISP Environmental caused the Linden property to be transferred to Appellant Linden Property Holdings LLC, the Heyman Parties’ designated entity for that purpose. A dispute arose between the parties as to who was responsible for the Linden property’s pre-closing, environmental liabilities. The parties agreed the Heyman Parties assumed responsibility in the agreement for the environmental contamination on the property itself. They disagreed as to who was responsible for environmental contamination to areas that were not part of the Linden property but were contaminated because of the activities on the Linden property. Ashland claimed that under the agreement, the Heyman Parties were responsible for all of the liabilities. The Heyman Parties claimed they never assumed any liability in the agreement for the off-site liabilities. The Superior Court agreed with Ashland and found that the Heyman Parties assumed responsibility in the agreement for the Linden property’s off-site environmental liabilities. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded, however, that under the unambiguous language of the agreement, the Heyman Parties assumed liability only for the Linden property’s on-site environmental liabilities, and assumed no liability for the property’s off-site liabilities. View "The Samuel J. Heyman 1981 Continuing Trust for Lazarus S. Heyman v. Ashland LLC" on Justia Law

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Delmarsh, LLC, a real-estate company, owned six lots in Bowers, Delaware. The lots had long been designated as wetlands on the State Wetlands Map. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (“DNREC”) removed a portion of the lots from the Wetlands Map in 2013 at Delmarsh’s request. In June 2019, Delmarsh requested that DNREC designate the remaining portion of the lots as non-wetlands. DNREC denied the request, and Delmarsh appealed to the Environmental Appeals Board (“the Board”). The Board affirmed DNREC’s denial. Delmarsh appealed to the Superior Court, arguing that refusal to reclassify the lands as non-wetlands, constituted a taking. The Superior Court affirmed the Board’s decision. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed: At the time DNREC turned down Delmarsh’s request to de-designate the remainder of the lots as wetlands, the lots were zoned C/A: Conservation–Agriculture. Instead of focusing on the economic impact of the de-designation on the lots as zoned at the time of DNREC’s decision, Delmarsh relied exclusively on the economic impact on the lots as later rezoned to R-1—single-family residential housing. “By its own admission, the rezoning to residential occurred after the denial of its DNREC application. Delmarsh did not offer any argument or evidence that DNREC’s refusal to redesignate the lots caused them to lose any value while they were zoned as C/A. In the absence of such evidence, the Superior Court held correctly that no taking occurred.” View "Delmarsh, LLC v. Environmental Appeals Board of the State of Delaware" on Justia Law

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MAPS Hotel and Resorts One LLC (the “Buyer”) agreed to purchase fifteen hotel properties from AB Stable VIII LLC (the “Seller”) for $5.8 billion. In response to the pandemic and without securing the Buyer’s consent, the Seller made drastic changes to its hotel operations, due in part to the damage the pandemic inflicted on the hospitality industry. The transaction was also plagued by problems with fraudulent deeds covering some of the hotel properties. The Buyer eventually called off the deal, relying on the Seller’s failure to comply with the sale agreement. The Seller sued in the Delaware Court of Chancery to require the Buyer to complete the transaction. The Court of Chancery concluded that the Buyer could terminate the sale agreement because the Seller breached a covenant and a condition in the sale agreement. According to the court, the Seller violated the ordinary course covenant by failing to operate in the ordinary course of its business - closing hotels, laying off or furloughing thousands of employees, and implementing other drastic changes to its business - without the Buyer’s consent. Additionally, a condition requiring title insurance for the hotel properties failed because the title insurers’ commitment letters had a broad exception covering the fraudulent deeds, and the Buyer did not cause the failure. On appeal, the Seller argued it satisfied the Ordinary Course Covenant because the covenant did not preclude it from taking reasonable, industry-standard steps in response to the pandemic; the court’s ruling negated the parties’ allocation of pandemic risk to the Buyer through the Material Adverse Effect provision; and its breach of the notice requirement in the covenant was immaterial. The Seller also claimed the Court of Chancery gave too expansive a reading to the exception in the title insurance condition, or, alternatively, that the court incorrectly found that the Buyer did not contribute materially to its breach. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery’s judgment, finding the court concluded correctly that the Seller’s drastic changes to its hotel operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic without first obtaining the Buyer’s consent breached the ordinary course covenant and excused the Buyer from closing. Because the Seller’s failure to comply with the ordinary course covenant was dispositive of the appeal, the Supreme Court did not reach whether the Seller also breached the title insurance condition. View "AB Stable VIII LLC v. Maps Hotels and Resorts One LLC" on Justia Law

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In 2005, Sweetwater Point, LLC (“Sweetwater”) paid more than $8 million for two parcels of land. Lehman Brothers Holdings, Inc. (“Lehman”) provided a $6 million loan to fund the purchase. Shortly before closing, Sweetwater learned that the State had a claim to a de minimis portion of one of the parcels. Although the State’s claim did not appear in the sellers’ chain of title, Sweetwater decided to go forward with the sale. In 2009, the State filed a lawsuit claiming it had superior title to the entire parcel of land. In May 2017, the Court of Chancery held that the State had superior title to the parcel. Approximately one year later, Sweetwater and Lehman filed separate lawsuits against the sellers. The Superior Court dismissed both actions, holding that the claims were time-barred. Sweetwater and Lehman appealed, arguing that their claims were timely because the statute of limitations did not begin to run until the Court of Chancery held that the State had superior title to the parcel. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court: the three-year statute of limitations established under 10 Del. C. 8106 applied to each claim. "Each claim accrued at closing, and any tolling of the claims ceased, at the latest, when the State asserted ownership over the land, placing Sweetwater and Lehman on inquiry notice of the injury. That occurred more than three years before Sweetwater and Lehman filed their complaints in the Superior Court. Accordingly, each of the claims filed below is time-barred." View "Lehman Brothers Holdings v. Kee, et al." on Justia Law

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Appellant, Concerned Citizens of the Estates of Fairway Village, was an unincorporated association composed of people who own property in Fairway Village (the “Community”), a planned residential community located in Ocean View, Delaware. Appellants Julius and Peggy Solomon, Edward Leary, Kenneth and Denise Smith, and Terry and Carmela Thornes (collectively, the “Homeowners”) owned properties in the Community and were members of Concerned Citizens of the Estates of Fairway Village. Appellee Fairway Cap, LLC was the Community's developer. Demand for vacant townhomes in the Community was weaker than the developers expected. In the winter of 2016, Fairway Cap, LLC hired a real estate consultant who recommended converting unsold townhome lots into a rental community. Fairway Cap, LLC accepted the advice, secured funding, and began working on the rental properties. Appellee Fairway Village Construction, Inc. was an entity involved in the construction. The Homeowners discovered the plan after seeing an advertisement for “The Reserve at Fairway Village,” a forthcoming rental community. The Homeowners raised various objections to the rental community, including that the proposed units did not conform with existing dwellings and would lower property values. The Town of Ocean View and Fairway Cap, LLC rejected all the objections, concluding that the planned construction complied with the housing code and was allowed under the Community’s governing documents. This appeal presented two questions for the Delaware Supreme Court's review: (1) whether the Court of Chancery erred by holding that the Community’s governing documents allowed the developer to build rental properties; and (2) whether the Court of Chancery erred by awarding damages for a wrongful injunction after releasing the bond posted with the court. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Chancery's judgment. View "Concerned Citizens of the Estates of Fairway Village v. Fairway Cap" on Justia Law

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Appeals consolidated for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review centered on the Rent Increase Justification Act, which governed rent increases in manufactured home communities. The Rehoboth Bay Manufactured Home Community (the “Community”) was owned/managed by Hometown Rehoboth Bay, LLC (“Hometown”). The Appellant in Case No. 139, 2020 was Rehoboth Bay Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”), the homeowners’ association. The Appellants in Case No. 296, 2020 were two individual tenants, John Iacona and Robert Weymouth. Hometown sought to raise the rents in both cases: in case No. 296, 2020, rents would be raised an amount in excess of the Consumer Price Index for this area (the “CPI-U”), for the calendar year 2017; in case No. 139, 2020, for the calendar year 2018. Under the Act, proposed rent increases that exceed the CPI-U must be justified by certain factors. Separate arbitrators in both cases found that a Bulkhead Stabilization project performed by Hometown in phases over more than one year was a capital improvement or rehabilitation work, which, along with other capital improvements and other expenses, justified rent increases in excess of the CPI-U in both years. The Appellants claimed the Superior Court erred by affirming the arbitrators’ decisions that the Bulkhead Stabilization project was a “capital improvement or rehabilitation work” and not “ordinary repair, replacement, and maintenance.” They also claimed the Superior Court should have ruled that the Act did not permit Hometown to incorporate the capital improvement component of the rent increases into each lot’s base rent so as to carry those increases forward into ensuing years. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court’s rulings on the Bulkhead Stabilization project as a capital improvement or rehabilitation work was correct, however, the Act did not permit Hometown to incorporate the capital improvement component of the 2017 and 2018 rent increases into a lot’s base rent for succeeding years after recovering that lot’s full, proportionate share of those costs in those years. Therefore, the Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the cases remanded for further proceedings. View "Rehoboth Bay Homeowners' Assoc, et al. v. Hometown Rehoboth Bay" on Justia Law

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Appellant Wild Meadows MHC, LLC challenged the Superior Court’s dismissal of its petition for a writ of prohibition. The Wild Meadows manufactured home community (the “Community”) owned by Appellant, was located in Dover, Delaware. The Community was governed by the Manufactured Home Owners and Community Owners Act and its subsection commonly known as the Rent Justification Act (the “Act”). Appellee Intervenor/Respondent Wild Meadows Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”) represented these homeowners. Multiple homeowners rejected Wild Meadows’ rent increase and, through the HOA, filed a petition with the Delaware Manufactured Home Relocation Authority (the “Authority”). The Authority appointed Appellee David J. Weidman, Esquire as the arbitrator under the Act. Before the scheduled arbitration, the HOA requested financial information from Wild Meadows relating to the Community’s recent revenue and costs. Wild Meadows refused to provide this information. The HOA moved to compel discovery and a motion for summary judgment with Weidman. In his initial decision, Weidman granted discovery of any financial documents that Wild Meadows intended to rely upon at arbitration, but he denied the HOA’s motion to compel the production of additional financial documents from Wild Meadows. Determining he could compel discover, Weidman ordered Wild Meadows to submit a proposed confidentiality agreement, and ordered the HOA to submit any comments on the draft. After taking both parties' comments into consideration, Weidman issued a final confidentiality agreement, rejecting many of the changes the HOA proposed. Wild Meadows refused to sign the confidentiality agreement and filed the underlying application for a writ of prohibition in the Superior Court. Wild Meadows argued to the Delaware Supreme Court that the Superior Court erroneously held that the arbitrator appointed under Delaware’s Rent Justification Act had authority to compel discovery and impose a confidentiality agreement upon parties concerning discovery material. Finding no reversible error in the Superior Court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wild Meadows MHC, LLC v. Weidman" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Appellants Eric Monzo and Dana Spring Monzo purchased a homeowners insurance policy issued by Appellee Nationwide Property & Casualty Co. (“Nationwide”). The policy contained standard exclusions for water damage and earth movement, along with optional water backup coverage. In July 2017, a heavy thunderstorm destroyed a pedestrian bridge and retaining wall located at the Monzos’ residence. A pair of engineering reports prepared after the storm indicated that a combination of water backups from drainage systems, scouring of supporting earth embankments, heavy rain, and tree debris caused the damage. The Monzos filed a claim with Nationwide, seeking coverage under the homeowners insurance policy. Nationwide denied coverage, and the Monzos sued. The court granted summary judgment for Nationwide, holding that the policy’s earth movement and water damage exclusions applied. The Monzos appealed, arguing the Superior Court erred by granting summary judgment too early in the discovery process, misinterpreting the policy, and denying a motion for post-judgment relief. Having reviewed the briefs and record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court: (1) affirmed the Superior Court’s holding that Nationwide was entitled to summary judgment regarding the collapsed bridge; (2) reversed the Superior Court’s holding that Nationwide was entitled to summary judgment regarding the retaining wall; and (3) affirmed the Superior Court’s denial of the Monzos’ post-judgment motion. View "Monzo v. Nationwide Property & Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Windsor I, LLC appealed a superior court's decision to grant defendants' CWCapital Asset Management LLC (“CWCAM”) and U.S. Bank National Association (“U.S. Bank”) motion to dismiss. Windsor owned a 48,000 square foot commercial property and building encumbered by debt eventually held by U.S. Bank. In 2015, after learning that the Property’s sole tenant intended to vacate, Windsor sought special servicing to refinance the debt. After nearly two years of negotiation and litigation, CWCAM, the special servicer, offered to sell the loan to Windsor in a proposed transaction for $5,288,000, subject to credit committee approval. The credit committee, however, rejected the transaction, and Defendants filed a foreclosure action against Windsor in 2017. Defendants thereafter held an online auction to sell the loan. A Windsor representative participated in the auction. After the auction, Defendants sold the loan to a third party, WM Capital Partners 66 LLC (“WM Capital”), and Windsor ultimately paid $7.4 million to WM Capital in full satisfaction of the loan. In its action seeking relief based upon quasi-contractual theories of promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment, Windsor alleged that but for the credit committee’s arbitrary rejection of the proposed transaction, Windsor would have purchased the note and loan nearly a year earlier for over $2,112,000 less than it paid to WM Capital. The Superior Court ultimately held that Windsor failed to state claims for promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment, and that the claims were barred because Windsor’s representative had agreed to a general release as part of an auction bidding process. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Windsor I, LLC v. CWCapital Asset Mgmt, LLC" on Justia Law