Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Tenant-Defendant Bhole, Inc. terminated its commercial lease before the lease expired. Before the end of the lease, Plaintiff-landlord Shore Investments, Inc. filed suit to recover the entire unpaid rent for the balance of the term. The lease agreement did not contain an acceleration clause. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court found that though defendants breached the lease, the trial court erred by not considering the lease did not have an acceleration clause. The trial court's award of damages and attorney's fees was inappropriate, and its decision regarding the landlord's claim for tortious interference with the lease (with a punitive damages award) was also made in error. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Bhole, Inc., at al. v. Shore Investments, Inc." on Justia Law

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New Cingular Wireless PCS (now known as "AT&T") filed an application with the Sussex County Board of Adjustment ("the Board") for a special use exception to construct a 100-foot telecommunications cell tower on a commercially zoned property located just outside of Bethany Beach. A special use exception was required before a cell tower may be erected within 500 feet of a residential zone. The Sea Pines Village Condominium Association of Owners, along with individual residents who lived near the proposed location opposed the application. The Board ultimately denied AT&T's application. On appeal to the Superior Court, the court acknowledged in its opinion that while this appeal was pending "Bethany voted unanimously to reject AT&T's request to use [Bethany's] water tower as an antenna location" and that "Bethany was in fact unwilling to negotiate with AT&T." The trial court did not explain its reasoning for refusing to allow a collocation on the Bethany water tower. The Superior Court affirmed based on the record presented. In its written decision denying AT&T's application, the Board concluded that AT&T "had not met its burden [under the Sussex County Code] of proving that the proposed use would not affect adversely the uses of adjacent and neighboring properties." The Superior Court explained AT&T's burden with similar language. But the Sussex County Code required a lesser burden, "special use exceptions shall be granted unless the Board finds such exceptions will not substantially affect adversely the uses of adjacent and neighboring property." AT&T argued that the Board's decision should have been reversed because the Board failed to apply the correct legal standard. Upon review, the Supreme Court agreed, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "New Cingular Wireless PCS v. Sussex County Board of Adjustment" on Justia Law

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Riverbend Community, LLC and Parkway Gravel, Inc. jointly owned a parcel of land (the Property), which they intended to develop into residential real estate. Before purchasing the Property, Riverbend and Green Stone Engineering, LLC signed a August 2005 Contract, which required Green Stone to perform four tasks: (1) Site Evaluation and Regulatory Review, (2) Wetlands Restoration Conceptual Design, (3) Wetland Enhancement Conceptual Layout, and (4) Regulatory Meetings and Presentation. In March 2006, the parties signed a second contract which required Green Stone to provide design services for the site and roadways, the stormwater collection and conveyance systems, the sanitary sewer system, the water supply piping system, the stormwater management plans, the sediment and erosion control plans, and the landscape plans. Green Stone left the project in late 2007. Riverbend hired a new engineering firm to complete the work, but the new firm needed Green Stone's work product. Green Stone would not release its work product unless Riverbend executed a release. In 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued two Cease and Desist Letters against Riverbend because of the work in the wetlands. Meanwhile, the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control filed a complaint against Riverbend too. As a result of the federal and state issues, Riverbend could not sell houses, and its lender foreclosed on and purchased the Property at a sheriff's sale in April 2012. Riverbend sued Green Stone for breach of contract, professional negligence, and simple negligence. Green Stone moved for summary judgment on the grounds that the economic loss doctrine barred the tort claims and the general release barred all claims. The trial judge granted the motion, and Riverbend appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court interpreted the release as a general release, and did not address the application of the economic loss doctrine. Because the Court found the release was a general release that unambiguously waived all claims, the Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment below on both the tort and contract claims. View "Riverbend Community, LLC, et al. v. Green Stone Engineering, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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The New Castle County Sheriff sold real property encumbered with a judgment lien and a mortgage lien, in that order of priority, at a mandated sheriff’s sale. The Sheriff disbursed the proceeds to Eastern Savings Bank, the mortgage lien holder. CACH, LLC, the judgment lien holder, filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas alleging misappropriation and unjust enrichment. The Court of Common Pleas judge denied CACH’s Motion for Summary Judgment and granted Eastern’s Motion to Dismiss for failure to state a claim. The Superior Court judge reversed. On appeal, Eastern argued that the sheriff’s sale did not discharge the judgment lien, and therefore CACH is not entitled to the sale proceeds. Upon review, the Supreme Court found no merit to Eastern’s argument and held that: (1) all nonmortgage liens are discharged at a sheriff’s sale and (2) sheriff’s sale proceeds are disbursed according to a first in time, first in line priority. Therefore, the Court affirmed. View "Eastern Savings Bank, FSB v. Cach, LLC" on Justia Law

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A private company applied to build a wastewater treatment facility that would occupy many acres within the area protected by the Coastal Zone Act (CZA). The application proceeded through multiple layers of review, and came before the Supreme Court to decide where this facility fit within the CZA’s classification scheme, how to enforce the regulations governing “offsets” when the facility constitutes its own offset and the permit contains conditions, and the legal status of an order from the Coastal Zone Industrial Control Board that a majority of members agreed to, but less than a majority signed. The Court remanded the case to the Board, with instructions that the facility at issue is neither a “heavy industry” use nor a “manufacturing” use, and that the Board should take care to follow the statutory requirement that all members of a quorum of a Board sign any order on which they voted. View "Sierra Club Citizens Coalition Inc. v. Tidewater Environmental Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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A woman fell off a curb and injured herself while walking from Dover Downs Casino to a smoking area. The woman sued Dover Downs, claiming in various ways that a problem with the curb led to her fall. Dover Downs moved for summary judgment, and the trial judge granted the motion. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court judge's decision to grant summary judgment to Dover Downs on all claims. View "Polaski v. Dover Downs, Inc." on Justia Law

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Acting as settlors, Wilbert and Genevieve Gore signed two separate trust instruments in 1972 - the May Instrument and the October Instrument - both purporting to transfer the same property into the Pokeberry Trust. Susan Gore, one of their daughters, claimed that the earlier May Instrument controlled while the other four siblings contended that the settlors never intended the May Instrument to be final and enforceable. The Vice Chancellor rejected Susan's claims and she, along with her children, appealed. The court found none of Susan's claims had merit and affirmed the judgment.

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A monition action was brought by the City against defendant for the collection of taxes and charges. The real property was sold at a sheriff's sale to the successful third-party bidder, One-Pie. After confirmation, One-Pie filed a petition for tax deed. The Superior Court confirmed a Commissioner's order denying the petition, because defendant had successfully redeemed the property. One-Pie raised three claims on appeal, contending that the Superior Court erred by: (i) determining that the property had been redeemed properly; (ii) determining that One-Pie lacked standing; and (iii) allowing defendant to use One-Pie's funds for redemption. The court found no merit in the appeal and affirmed the judgment.

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This case arose from a dispute over certain property subject to a foreclosure. At issue was whether the parol evidence rule required that a person who claimed to hold a "purchase money mortgage" must prove his purchase money mortgage holder status solely by reference to the mortgage instrument itself. The court concluded that, in this case, the recorded deed and purchase money mortgage established that the sellers' mortgage satisfied, at least prima facie, all three requirements of 25 Del. C. 2108. Moreover, the mortgage contained no subordination language that would relinquish priority to the third party lenders. Therefore, the presumption that the sellers' mortgage was a purchase money mortgage entitled to statutory priority standards stood unrebutted. By applying the parol evidence rule to reach a contrary conclusion, the Superior Court erred as a matter of law.

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Plaintiff sued defendant for personal injuries he sustained in a bicycle accident when he used defendant's parking lot as a short cut while riding his bicycle. Plaintiff claimed that defendant failed to maintain a safe premises, thereby breaching a duty defendant owed to plaintiff as a licensee. On appeal from summary judgment in favor of defendant, plaintiff claimed that the Superior Court erred by holding that he was a trespasser, and not a licensee. Because commercial property owners/occupiers were held to the same common law standard whether or not the claimant was a licensee or a trespasser - namely to refrain from willful and wanton conduct - the court affirmed the judgment.