Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Louisiana Supreme Court
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Taxpayers Kraig and Kelly Strenge appealed directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court a declaration by a district court that La. R.S. 47:1990 was unconstitutional, as applied. The district court’s ruling on partial summary judgment also held that the Louisiana Tax Commission (the “Commission”) exceeded its authority in promulgating Section 3103(Z) of Title 61, Part V of the Louisiana Administrative Code (the “Rules and Regulations”) and declared Section 3103(Z) unconstitutional. The underlying issue centered on the Taxpayers challenge to the correctness of the appraisal of their residential property in Lafayette Parish in 2016. After the Lafayette City-Parish Council (Board of Review) ruled in favor of the Assessor, Taxpayers appealed to the Commission. The Commission ruled that the fair market value of the property for tax year 2016 was $231,500, not $288,270 as determined by the Assessor, and ordered the Assessor to reduce Taxpayers’ 2016 assessment accordingly. Two days after the Commission’s oral ruling, the Assessor assessed the fair market value of Taxpayers’ property for the 2017 tax year again at $288,270. Taxpayers again appealed, and after a hearing, the Commission issued a “Rule to Show Cause” to the Assessor. That dispute went before the district court, and the court’s decision served as the grounds for this appeal. The Supreme Court found the district court erred in ruling the Commission exceeded its authority in promulgating Section 3103(Z) and declaring Section 3103(Z) unconstitutional but correctly declared La. R.S. 47:1990 unconstitutional, as applied. Accordingly, judgment was reversed in part and affirmed in part. View "Comeaux v. Louisiana Tax Commission" on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court’s review in this case centered on whether an award of attorney fees and other litigation costs to defendant landowners in an expropriation proceeding could be upheld under current law. The underlying matter arose from the construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline. As part of the project, Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC (“BBP”), sought to acquire servitudes on the property of various landowners. The specific piece of property at the center of this litigation is approximately 38 acres of land (“the property”). Prior to reaching servitude agreements with all individuals with an ownership interest in this particular parcel of land, BBP began pipeline construction. Peter Aaslestad, one of the property owners, filed suit against BBP in order to enjoin BBP from further construction. BBP later stipulated that it would remain off the property as of September 10, 2018. However, the pipeline construction was more than 90% complete at that time. Meanwhile, in late July 2018, after it had begun construction on the property, BBP filed expropriation litigation against hundreds of property owners with whom servitude agreements could not be reached, including Mr. Aaslestad, Katherine Aaslestad, and Theda Larson Wright (collectively referred to as “defendants”). In response, defendants filed a reconventional demand against BBP, alleging BPP trespassed on their property and violated due process by proceeding with construction of the pipeline prior to a judgment of expropriation. The matter proceeded to a trial wherein the trial court granted BBP’s petition for expropriation, finding the expropriation served a public and necessary purpose. The trial court also granted defendants’ reconventional demand, finding that BBP trespassed on defendants’ property prior to obtaining permission or legal authority. The trial court ultimately awarded each defendant $75.00 for the expropriation and another $75.00 in trespass damages. The court of appeal reversed in part: upholding the constitutionality of the expropriation process, but finding that BBP violated defendants’ due process rights and awarded $10,000.00 to each defendant for trespass, and granted attorney fees. The Supreme Court determined the award of fees was constitutional, and upheld the Court of Appeal. View "Bayou Bridge Pipeline, LLC v. 38.00 Acres, More or Less, Located in St. Martin Parish et al." on Justia Law

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The issue presented for the Louisiana Supreme Court's review stemmed from a class action suit relating to plaintiffs' inverse condemnation claims against the State, and whether those claims were prescribed under La. R.S. 13:5111 and/or 28 U.S.C. 2501. In 2006, plaintiffs Steve Crooks and Era Lea Crooks filed a “Class Action Petition to Fix Boundary, For Damages and For Declaration [sic] Judgment.” The Crookses alleged that they represented a class of landowners in the Catahoula Basin whose property is affected by the increased water levels from a congressionally-approved navigation project authorized under the River and Harbor Act of 1960 to promote navigation on the Ouachita and Black Rivers. In conjunction with that project, the State of Louisiana signed an “Act of Assurances,” which obligated the State to provide the federal government with all lands and property interests necessary to the project free of charge, and to indemnify the federal government from any damages resulting from the project. Ultimately, the trial court certified the plaintiffs as one class, but subdivided that class into two groups – the “Lake Plaintiffs” and the “Swamp Plaintiffs” – depending on the location of the properties affected. The lower courts relied on the decision in Cooper v. Louisiana Department of Public Works, 870 So. 2d 315 (2004) to conclude the one-year prescriptive period for damage to immovable property found in La. C.C. art. 3493 governed and the continuing tort doctrine applied to prevent the running of prescription on the plaintiffs’ claims. The Supreme Court determined the lower courts erred in relying on Cooper and held that the three-year prescriptive period for actions for compensation for property taken by the state set forth in La. R. S. 13:5111 governed, and plaintiffs’ inverse condemnation claims were prescribed. View "Crooks v. Louisiana Dept. of Nat. Resources" on Justia Law

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This case concerned a disagreement over a claim for flood damage submitted by Plaintiff-Respondent Creekstone/Juban I, LLC (“Creekstone”), a Delaware limited liability company, under a commercial property and casualty insurance policy issued by Defendant-Appellant XL Insurance America, Inc. (“XL Insurance”), a Delaware corporation. The Policy was issued to named insured MRMG Commercial and delivered to MRMG Commercial in Lufkin, Texas. According to the parties, though not evident from the record, Creekstone was one of 20 unrelated additional insureds who obtained coverage under the Policy, which covered over 100 properties in more than 20 states. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted certiorari review to resolve the question of whether La. R.S. 22:868(A)(2) prohibited the enforcement of the forum selection clause in dispute. The Court determined the statute did not prohibit enforcement of the forum selection clause to which these parties contractually agreed. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the trial court and remanded the matter to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Creekstone Juban I, LLC v. XL Insurance America, Inc." on Justia Law

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A landowner brought suit against several mineral lessees for breach of the obligations of the mineral lease. The mortgagee of one of the lessees was also named as a defendant. The lower courts held all lessees and the mortgagee jointly liable for damages resulting from the failure to furnish a recordable act evidencing the expiration of the lease (i.e., failure to release the lease). The Louisiana Supreme Court granted consolidated writ applications to determine: (1) whether the mortgagee was properly held jointly liable as an “owner” of the lease under La. Mineral Code art. 207 and a “lessee” under La. Mineral Code art. 140; (2) whether the imposition of joint liability was correct with regard to the owner of a portion of the shallow rights; (3) whether La. Mineral Code art. 140’s calculation of damages contemplated the inclusion of unpaid royalties (the amount due) in addition to double the amount of unpaid royalties (as a penalty) or whether the maximum damage award allowed is twice the amount of unpaid royalties; and (4) whether $125,000 in attorney fees for work done on appeal was excessive. The Court found: (1) the mortgagee was not an “owner” for purposes of La. Mineral Code art. 207 and was, therefore, not liable for failure to release the lease. For the same reasons, the Court found the mortgagee was not a “lessee” for purposes of La. Mineral Code art. 140 and, was, therefore, not liable for failure to pay royalties that were due. (2) The Court found Tauren is jointly liable for the damages because the failure to release the lease was an indivisible obligation under the particular facts of this case. (3) The Court held La. Mineral Code art. 140 authorized as damages a maximum of double the amount of unpaid royalties. (4) Last, the Court amended the award of attorney fees. View "Gloria's Ranch, LLC. v. Tauren Exploration, Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in consolidated cases was the correctness of administrative decisions issued by the Louisiana Tax Commission (“Commission”) on review of the valuations, for the 2014 and 2015 tax years, by the Orleans Parish Tax Assessor (“Assessor”) of a low-income housing development, owned by Opportunity Homes Limited Partnership (“Opportunity Homes”), for purposes of assessment of ad valorem taxes. The Commission ruled in favor of Opportunity Homes for both tax years. The administrative decisions were upheld by the district court but reversed by the appellate court. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the appellate court and reinstated the assessment values as determined by the Commission. The Court found no conflict between La. R.S. 47:2323, providing parish assessors a choice of three generally recognized appraisal methods to utilize to determine fair market value (the market approach, the cost approach, and/or the income approach), and La. Admin. Code, Title 61, Part V, sec. 303(C), which recommended the use of the income approach for assessing affordable rental housing, such as the Opportunity Homes LIHTC development. The Supreme Court found this case turned purely on the facts established before the Commission, proving that the income approach was the more appropriate method for determining fair market value in this case. Consequently, the appellate court erred in holding that the Commission’s decisions were in violation of statutory provisions, in excess of its authority, based upon unlawful procedures, and legally incorrect. View "Williams v. Opportunity Homes Limited Partnership" on Justia Law

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At issue in consolidated cases was the correctness of administrative decisions issued by the Louisiana Tax Commission (“Commission”) on review of the valuations, for the 2014 and 2015 tax years, by the Orleans Parish Tax Assessor (“Assessor”) of a low-income housing development, owned by Opportunity Homes Limited Partnership (“Opportunity Homes”), for purposes of assessment of ad valorem taxes. The Commission ruled in favor of Opportunity Homes for both tax years. The administrative decisions were upheld by the district court but reversed by the appellate court. The Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the appellate court and reinstated the assessment values as determined by the Commission. The Court found no conflict between La. R.S. 47:2323, providing parish assessors a choice of three generally recognized appraisal methods to utilize to determine fair market value (the market approach, the cost approach, and/or the income approach), and La. Admin. Code, Title 61, Part V, sec. 303(C), which recommended the use of the income approach for assessing affordable rental housing, such as the Opportunity Homes LIHTC development. The Supreme Court found this case turned purely on the facts established before the Commission, proving that the income approach was the more appropriate method for determining fair market value in this case. Consequently, the appellate court erred in holding that the Commission’s decisions were in violation of statutory provisions, in excess of its authority, based upon unlawful procedures, and legally incorrect. View "Williams v. Opportunity Homes Limited Partnership" on Justia Law

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Although the Louisiana Constitution generally restricts the government from expropriating private property, it provides broad exceptions for public port authorities. The Constitution provides that the government can expropriate property for “[p]ublic ports . . . to facilitate the transport of goods or persons in domestic or international commerce.” The Louisiana Supreme Court granted review in this matter to determine whether St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal District’s (the “Port”) expropriation of property owned by Violet Dock Port, Inc., L.L.C. (“Violet”) on the Mississippi River satisfied the “public purpose” requirement of art. I, section 4(B)(1) of the Louisiana Constitution and, further, whether it violated the business enterprise clause of art. I, section 4(B)(6). The Court found the record demonstrated that the Port’s expropriation was for the public purpose “to facilitate the transport of goods or persons in domestic or international commerce” and not for the constitutionally prohibited purpose of operating Violet’s enterprise or halting competition with a government enterprise. Therefore, the Court affirmed the court of appeal’s judgment that the expropriation was constitutional. However, the Supreme Court also found the trial court made a legal error in setting the just compensation due to Violet under art. I, section 4(B)(1), and further found the court of appeal failed to correct that error. This case was remanded to the court of appeal solely for the purpose of fixing the amount of just compensation based on the evidence in the record and in accordance with the principles discussed by the Supreme Court in this opinion. View "St. Bernard Port, Harbor & Terminal Dist. v. Violet Dock Port, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2009, plaintiff Nikola Vekic sought to buy three oyster leases which were jointly owned by Dragutin Popich and his daughters Mary Popich and Helen Popich Harris (collectively “the Popich family”). Although the parties disputed the content of the discussions which took place between them regarding the sale of the three oyster leases, it was undisputed that the Popichs’ lawyer, Roger Harris (husband of Helen), transmitted a letter stating that Popich was “unwilling to do a credit sale.” Instead, Harris drafted and submitted an agreement entitled “Sublease Agreement With Option to Purchase” along with a proposed act of sale to Vekic, who reviewed the documents along with his attorney. Vekic executed the sublease agreement on April 14, 2009, without raising any issues regarding its contents. The terms of the artfully-crafted agreement differed significantly from a typical lease or sublease in that the Popich family transferred all of the rights and responsibilities of ownership to Vekic without the benefit of a formal transfer of title between the parties. Vekic was bound to pay the full $90,000 in “rent” regardless of whether the leases were damaged or were even subject to a complete taking. Vekic could not under any condition terminate the lease and was responsible for fulfilling all of the legal requirements to maintain the leases, including paying the $2 per-acre lease fee to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. After paying $60,000 of the "rent" owed, the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon well exploded, closing the area where the leases at issue here were located for a considerable amount of time. Vekic paid the Popich family the remaining $30,000 he owed under the agreement in May, 2011. On June 19, 2011, Mr. Vekic exercised his option to purchase, and the parties executed the act of sale, which had been prepared in 2009 along with the original agreement, without any modifications. In the wake of the spill, a class action lawsuit was filed against BP. Vekic filed a claim with the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claim Center (“DHECC”) which included the leases at issue. Helen Harris, also an attorney, prepared and filed claims for the Popich family, informing the DHECC of the 2009 agreement with Vekic and post-spill Act of Sale. A dispute arose regarding which party was entitled to the proceeds from the oil spill settlement for damages to certain oyster leases. The Louisiana Supreme Court disagreed with the Court of Appeal and found that the trial court did not err in accepting evidence beyond the four corners of the contract at issue and did not manifestly err in its factual findings and ultimate interpretation that the agreement at issue entitled the plaintiff to the settlement proceeds for property damage to the leases at issue. View "Vekic v. Popich" on Justia Law

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Tax sale purchasers of three condominium units brought actions to quiet title following the tax debtor’s failure to pay ad valorem taxes on the units. The district court found the tax sale purchasers had provided insufficient notice of the right to redeem to the mortgagee for the units, denied the petitions to quiet title, and afforded the defendant mortgagee thirty days to redeem the properties. The issue presented through this appeal was whether the post-sale notice required by La. Rev. Stat. 47:2122(4) could be effectuated either by the tax collector under La. Rev. Stat. 47:2156(B) or by the tax sale purchaser under La. Rev. Stat. 47:2156(A). After review of the applicable statutes, the Louisiana Supreme Court found the court of appeal erred in finding the failure of the tax collector, though mandated to do so by La. Rev. Stat. 47:2156(B), to mail or attempt to mail post-sale written notice of the tax sales to the mortgagee required the tax sales to be set aside. Instead, the Court found the plain language of the governing statutes allowed post-sale notice to the interested tax party to be provided by a tax sale purchaser in accordance with La. Rev. Stat. 47:2156(A), and thus the requirement that the interested party must be duly notified of the tax sale under La. Rev. Stat. 47:2122(4) could be satisfied by the tax sale purchaser. Accordingly, the Court reversed the court of appeal, and remanded the case to that court for consideration of the issues pretermitted by the court of appeal’s reasoning. View "Central Properties v. Fairway Gardenhomes, LLC" on Justia Law