Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
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Appellant Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance, argued that lower courts erred when they found that the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act (MZEA) denied it standing to appeal the decisions of the Saugatuck Township Planning Commission (Commission). Prior Court of Appeals decisions relied on by the Saugatuck Township Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and lower courts repeatedly and erroneously read the term “party aggrieved” too narrowly. The Michigan Supreme Court held that the MZEA did not require an appealing party to own real property and to demonstrate special damages only by comparison to other real-property owners similarly situated. The Supreme Court overruled several Court of Appeals decisions to the limited extent that they required: (1) real-property ownership as a prerequisite to being “aggrieved” by a zoning decision under the MZEA; and (2) special damages to be shown only by comparison to other real-property owners similarly situated. The Supreme Court explained, to be a “party aggrieved” under MCL 125.3605 and MCL 125.3606, the appellant must meet three criteria: (1) the appellant must have participated in the challenged proceedings by taking a position on the contested proposal or decision; (2) the appellant must claim some protected interest or protected personal, pecuniary, or property right that will be or is likely to be affected by the challenged decision; and (3) the appellant must provide some evidence of special damages arising from the challenged decision in the form of an actual or likely injury to or burden on their asserted interest or right that is different in kind or more significant in degree than the effects on others in the local community. A portion of the Court of Appeals' judgment was vacated, and the case was remanded back to the circuit court for reconsideration in light of the Supreme Court's holding here. View "Saugatuck Dunes Coastal Alliance v. Saugatuck Twp." on Justia Law

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James Township, Michigan filed a nuisance action against Daniel Rice , alleging Rice violated the township’s blight ordinance as well as the Michigan Residential Code by having junk cars, unpermitted construction, and fences of an improper height on his property. Rice moved to dismiss the portions of the citation related to the improper height of his fence and the unpermitted construction, arguing that, under the Right to Farm Act (RTFA), the township was prohibited from enforcing against farms or farm operations local ordinances governing those structures. The township opposed the motion, arguing that the property was not protected by the RTFA because it had not previously been used for farming. Following a hearing, the district court, found that Rice’s use of the property constituted a “farm” or “farm operation” for purposes of the RTFA and that the RTFA was an affirmative defense to those portions of the civil citation. The district court dismissed the specified portions of the citation and denied the parties’ individual requests for costs and fees. Rice moved for reconsideration, arguing that, under MCL 286.473b, he was entitled to costs and expenses, as well as reasonable and actual attorney fees; the district court denied the motion. The district court later dismissed the remaining portions of the citation and dismissed the action with prejudice. Rice appealed and the circuit court affirmed the district court’s order. The Court of Appeals denied Rice’s application for leave to appeal the circuit court’s order. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration as on leave granted. On remand, in an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s legal conclusions, holding that an award of costs , expenses, and fees was not mandatory under MCL 286.473b, but the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court for articulation of the district court’s reasons for the discretionary denial. The Michigan Supreme Court found no such discretion under the RTFA, and Rice was entitled to his fees. The appellate court’s judgment was reversed. View "Township of James v. Rice" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Andrew Campbell was a lifelong Michigan resident. For many years, petitioner claimed and enjoyed a principal residence exemption (PRE) on his Michigan residence. In late 2016, petitioner purchased a second home in Surprise, Arizona. Respondent Michigan Department of Treasury (Treasury), reviewed and denied petitioner’s PRE claim for his Michigan property for the 2017 tax year. In the ensuing dispute, the issue this case presented for the Michigan Supreme Court's review was whether a property owner was entitled to claim a PRE under Michigan tax law when the owner received a similar tax benefit for a home in another state. To this the Supreme Court concluded that petitioner was not entitled to the PRE. Specifically, under MCL 211.7cc(3)(a), a property owner “is not entitled to [the PRE] in any calendar year in which . . . [t]hat person has claimed a substantially similar exemption, deduction, or credit, regardless of amount, on property in another state.” Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstated the Department of Treasury’s October 2, 2018 decision and order of determination denying petitioner’s PRE for the 2017 tax year. View "Campbell v. Department Of Treasury" on Justia Law

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Consumers Energy Company filed an action against Brian and Erin Storm, and Lake Michigan Credit Union, seeking to condemn a portion of the Storms’ property for a power-line easement. The Storms challenged the necessity of the easement under the Uniform Condemnation Procedures Act (UCPA). The trial court concluded that Consumers had failed to establish the public necessity of the easement on the Storms’ property and entered an order dismissing Consumers’ action and awarding attorney fees to the Storms. Consumers appealed that order as of right to the Court of Appeals. The Storms moved to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that under MCL 213.56(6), Consumers could only appeal the trial court’s public-necessity determination by leave granted. The Court of Appeals initially denied the motion by order, but the order was entered without prejudice to further consideration of the jurisdictional issue by the case -call panel. The Court of Appeals case-call panel issued an opinion in which it agreed with the Storms that the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction; the Court of Appeals therefore dismissed the portion of Consumers’ appeal challenging the trial court’s determination of public necessity. Despite dismissing the public-necessity portion of Consumers’ appeal, the Court of Appeals addressed Consumers’ challenge to the trial court’s award of attorney fees and vacated the attorney-fee award. The Michigan Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals should have considered the condemning agency’s appeal as of right and reached the ultimate question of whether the trial court erred by holding that there was no public necessity for the proposed acquisition. “Therefore, it is not yet apparent that the proposed acquisition was improper such that the property owners would be entitled to reimbursement so as to avoid being ‘forced to suffer because of an action that they did not initiate and that endangered, through condemnation proceedings, their right to private property.’” Accordingly, the Supreme Court vacated the analysis construing MCL 213.66(2) in Part III of the Court of Appeals’ opinion, and remanded to that court for further proceedings. View "Consumers Energy Company v. Storm" on Justia Law

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Fraser Township filed a complaint against Harvey and Ruth Ann Haney, seeking a permanent injunction to enforce its zoning ordinance and to prevent defendants from raising on their commercially zoned property, hogs or other animals that would violate the zoning ordinance, to remove an allegedly nonconforming fence, and to plow and coat the ground with nontoxic material. Defendants brought a hog onto their property as early as 2006, and defendants maintained hogs on their property through the time this lawsuit was filed in 2016. Defendants moved for summary disposition, arguing that plaintiff’s claim was time-barred by the six-year statutory period of limitations in MCL 600.5813. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that because the case was an action in rem, the statute of limitations did not apply. The Court of Appeal reversed, finding that the statute of limitations applied. Finding that the appellate court erred in concluding the statute of limitations applied, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed and reinstated the trial court's order denying defendants' motion for summary judgment. View "Township of Fraser v. Haney" on Justia Law

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2 Crooked Creek, LLC (2CC) and Russian Ferro Alloys, Inc. (RFA) filed an action against the Cass County Treasurer, seeking to recover monetary damages under the Michigan General Property Tax Act (the GPTA) in connection with defendant’s foreclosure of certain property. In 2010, 2CC purchased property for development, but failed to pay the 2011 real-property taxes and, in 2013, forfeited the property to defendant. From January through May 2013, defendant’s agent, Title Check, LLC, mailed via first-class and certified mail a series of notices to the address listed in the deed. The certified mail was returned as “Unclaimed—Unable to Forward,” but the first-class mail was not returned. Meanwhile, 2CC constructed a home on the property, obtaining a mortgage for the construction from RFA. A land examiner working for Title Check visited the property; determined it to be occupied; and being unable to personally meet with any occupant, posted notice of the show-cause hearing and judicial-foreclosure hearing on a window next to the front door of the newly constructed home. Title Check continued its notice efforts through the rest of 2013 and into 2014, mailing various notices as well as publishing notice in a local newspaper for three consecutive weeks. After no one appeared on 2CC’s behalf at the show-cause hearing or the 2014 judicial-foreclosure hearing, the Cass Circuit Court entered the judgment of foreclosure. The property was not redeemed by the March 31, 2014 deadline, and fee simple title vested with defendant. 2CC learned of the foreclosure a few weeks later. In July 2014, 2CC moved to set aside the foreclosure judgment on due-process grounds. These efforts failed because the circuit court concluded defendant’s combined efforts of mailing, posting, and publishing notice under the GPTA provided 2CC with notice sufficient to satisfy due process. In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed. 2CC moved to set aside the foreclosure judgment, filing a separate action in the Court of Claims for monetary damages under MCL 211.78l(1), alleging it had not received any notice required under the GPTA. After a bench trial at the Court of Claims and at the close of 2CC’s proofs, the court granted an involuntary dismissal in favor of defendant, holding, in relevant part, that 2CC had received at least constructive notice of the foreclosure proceedings when the land examiner posted notice on the home. 2CC appealed as of right, and the Court of Appeals also affirmed. Finding no reversible error, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed too. View "2 Crooked Creek, LLC v. Cass Cty. Treas." on Justia Law

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Rafaeli, LLC, and Andre Ohanessian brought an action against Oakland County, Michigan, and its treasurer, Andrew Meisner, alleging due-process and equal-protection violations as well as an unconstitutional taking of their properties. Rafaeli owed $8.41 in unpaid property taxes from 2011, which grew to $285.81 after interest, penalties, and fees. Defendants foreclosed on Rafaeli’s property for the delinquency, sold the property at public auction for $24,500, and retained all the sale proceeds in excess of the taxes, interest, penalties, and fees. Ohanessian owed approximately $6,000 in unpaid taxes, interest, penalties, and fees from 2011. Like Rafaeli’s property, defendants foreclosed on Ohanessian’s property for the delinquency, sold his property at auction for $82,000, and retained all the proceeds in excess of Ohanessian’s tax debt. Plaintiffs specifically alleged that defendants, by selling plaintiffs’ real properties in satisfaction of their tax debts and retaining the surplus proceeds from the tax-foreclosure sale of their properties, had taken their properties without just compensation in violation of the Takings Clauses of the federal and Michigan Constitutions. The circuit court granted summary disposition to defendants, finding that defendants did not “take” plaintiffs’ properties because plaintiffs forfeited all interests they held in their properties when they failed to pay the taxes due on the properties. The court determined that property properly forfeited under the General Property Tax Act (GPTA), MCL 211.1 et seq., and in accordance with due process is not a “taking” barred by either the United States or Michigan Constitution. In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, finding that defendants’ retention of those surplus proceeds was an unconstitutional taking without just compensation under Article 10, section 2 of the Michigan 1963 Constitution. View "Rafaeli, LLC v. Oakland County" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to a June 18, 2015 consent judgment, the defendants conveyed an easement across Parcel B for ingress and egress access to and from the Tittabawassee River to plaintiff Jeffrey Maniaci, and others. The consent judgment specified that the easement “may also be used for the temporary mooring and launching of watercraft, including by boat trailer, but may not be used for non-temporary mooring, docks, and/or wharfs.” The two issues the Michigan Supreme Court was asked to resolve involved he scope of that easement: (1) whether the easement include backing a boat trailer all the way to the water's edge; and (2) was in necessary to regrade the shoreline to allow such access by boat trailer? The Court answered both affirmatively: "we have little trouble concluding that the unambiguous terms of the easement provide an express right to back a boat trailer to the water’s edge. The consent judgment defines the easement as extending from the end of Vonda Road to the water’s edge and states that the easement may be used for the 'launching of watercraft, including by boat trailer . . . .'" Similarly, the Court had "little difficulty" concluding plaintiff's request to regrade the shoreline of Parcel B was "necessary to the reasonable and proper enjoyment of the easement." The Court reversed the Court of Appeals, vacated that portion of the circuit court's order denying plaintiff's request to adjust the grade of Parcel B, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Maniaci v. Diroff" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Marlette Auto Wash, LLC claimed it had an easement through a parking lot owned by defendant Van Dyke SC Properties, LLC, for customers to access a car wash that plaintiff had purchased in 2007. Defendant counterclaimed, seeking to quiet title and obtain monetary damages for expenses relating to maintenance of the lot. The parties’ parcels were originally owned as a single unimproved tract of land; in 1988, land was to B & J Investment Company, which was owned in part by James Zyrowski, and split into two parcels. B & J opened a car wash on the corner parcel in 1989. Although the car wash was initially accessible from both the highway and the street, car wash customers generally used the parking lot of the adjoining parcel to get to and from the car wash. This adjoining parcel was sold to Marlette Development Corporation in 1988, which opened a shopping center in 1990. When Marlette Development’s deed was recorded, no easement was reserved for the benefit of the car wash property, and car wash customers continued to use the parking lot for access. In 2000, the village of Marlette closed the street entrance to the car wash. Car wash customers continued to use the parking lot for access without incident until Marlette Development sold its property to defendant in 2013. At this point, defendant’s sole owner, James Zyrowski informed plaintiff that unless it contributed money to maintain the parking lot, Zyrowski would close off access to the car wash through the parking lot. Plaintiff claimed a prescriptive easement for ingress and egress over defendant’s property on the basis of plaintiff’s open, notorious, adverse, and continuous use of that property for at least 15 years. The question presented for the Michigan Supreme Court was whether such use created a prescriptive easement that was appurtenant, without regard to whether the previous owner of the dominant estate took legal action to claim the easement. The answer to that inquiry is yes; the Supreme Court determined the Court of Appeals erred by requiring plaintiff to establish privity of estate with the previous owner, regardless of whether plaintiff could establish that the elements of a prescriptive easement were satisfactorily met by that prior owner. Moreover, the Court of Appeals erred by holding that the previous owner of the dominant estate must have taken legal action to claim the prescriptive easement in order for plaintiff to prove that a prescriptive easement had vested during the preceding property owner’s tenure. “Title by adverse possession is gained when the period of limitations expires, not when legal action quieting title to the property is brought.” View "Marlette Auto Wash, LLC v. Van Dyke SC Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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In Docket No. 151800, Clam Lake Township and Haring Charter Township (the Townships) appealed the determination of the State Boundary Commission (the Commission) that an agreement entered into under the Intergovernmental Conditional Transfer of Property by Contract Act (Act 425 agreement) between the Townships was invalid. In Docket No. 153008, as the Commission proceedings in Docket No. 151800 were ongoing, TeriDee, LLC brought an action against the Townships, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Act 425 agreement was void as against public policy because it contracted away Haring’s zoning authority by obligating Haring’s zoning board to rezone pursuant to the agreement. The Act 425 agreement at issue here sought to transfer to Haring Charter Township an undeveloped parcel of roughly 241 acres of land in Clam Lake Township that was zoned for forest-recreational use. The agreement provided a description of the Townships’ desired economic development project, including numerous minimum requirements for rezoning the property. Approximately 141 acres of the land were owned by TeriDee LLC, the John F. Koetje Trust, and the Delia Koetje Trust (collectively, TeriDee), who wished to develop the land for commercial use. To achieve this goal, TeriDee petitioned the Commission to have the land annexed by the city of Cadillac. The Commission found TeriDee’s petition legally sufficient and concluded that the Townships’ Act 425 agreement was invalid because it was created solely as a means to bar the annexation and not as a means of promoting economic development. The Townships appealed the decision in the circuit court, and the court upheld the Commission’s determination, concluding that the Commission had the power to determine the validity of an Act 425 agreement. The Townships sought leave to appeal in the Court of Appeals, which the Court of Appeals denied in an unpublished order. The Michigan Supreme Court held: (1) the State Boundary Commission did not have the authority to determine the validity of the Act 425 agreement and could only find whether an agreement was "in effect"; and (2) an Act 425 agreement can include requirements that a party enact particular zoning ordinances, and the Court of Appeals erred by concluding to the contrary. TeriDee's annexation petition was preempted. Both cases were remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Clam Lake Township v. Dept. of Licensing & Reg. Affairs" on Justia Law