Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Michigan Supreme Court
2 Crooked Creek, LLC v. Cass Cty. Treas.
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 In an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed. 2CC moved to set aside the foreclosure judgment, filing a separate action in the Court of Claims for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
Rafaeli, LLC v. Oakland County
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
Maniaci v. Diroff
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
Marlette Auto Wash, LLC v. Van Dyke SC Properties, LLC
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
Clam Lake Township v. Dept. of Licensing & Reg. Affairs
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
Lowrey v. LMPS & LMPJ, Inc.
On a snowy night, plaintiff Krystal Lowrey went with friends to defendant Woody’s Diner for drinks to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. While exiting the diner, she fell on the stairs and injured herself. She brought this premises liability action, and the trial court granted summary disposition in defendant’s favor. The Court of Appeals subsequently reversed, concluding that defendant had failed to establish that it lacked notice of the hazardous condition alleged in the complaint, reasoning that defendant had not presented evidence of what a reasonable inspection would have entailed under the circumstances. After its review, the Michigan Supreme Court concluded that in order to obtain summary judgment under MCR 2.116(C)(10), defendant was not required to present proof that it lacked notice of the hazardous condition, but needed only to show that plaintiff presented insufficient proof to establish the notice element of her claim. The Court concluded defendant met its burden because plaintiff failed to establish a question of fact as to whether defendant had notice of the hazardous condition. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals regarding defendant’s notice, reinstated the trial court’s order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant on that issue, and vacated the remainder of the Court of Appeals’ opinion. View "Lowrey v. LMPS & LMPJ, Inc." on Justia Law
Bank of America, NA v. First American Title Ins. Co.
Plaintiff Bank of America brought an action against First American Title Insurance Company, Westminster Abstract Company, and others, alleging breach of contract and negligent misrepresentation in connection with mortgages that plaintiff had partially financed on four properties whose value had been fraudulently inflated and whose purchasers were straw buyers who had been paid for their participation. Shortly after closing, all four borrowers defaulted. After discovering the underlying fraud in the four loans during the foreclosure proceedings, plaintiff sued, among others, First American, which had issued closing protection letters that promised to reimburse plaintiff for actual losses incurred in connection with the closings if the losses arose from fraud or dishonesty, and Westminster, alleging that it had violated the terms of the closing instructions. The other defendants either defaulted or were dismissed. The Court of Appeals held that plaintiff’s claim against First American relating to the properties on which it had made full credit bids was barred by "New Freedom Mtg Corp v Globe Mtg Corp," (281 Mich App 63 (2008)). With respect to First American’s liability on the other two closings, the Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court properly granted summary disposition to First American and Westminster because plaintiff had failed to produce evidence that created a question of fact regarding whether Westminster knew of or participated in the underlying fraud in those closings. Finally, the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiff had not established a link between Westminster’s alleged violations of the closing instructions and the claimed damages and, even if a link had been established, there were no damages because of plaintiff’s full credit bid at the foreclosure sale. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the Court of Appeals erred by concluding that plaintiff’s full credit bids barred its contract claims against the nonborrower third-party defendants. To the extent that New Freedom held that the full credit bid rule barred contract claims brought by a mortgagee against nonborrower third parties, it was overruled. Further, the closing instructions agreed to by plaintiff and Westminster constituted a contract upon which a breach of contract claim could be brought. Finally, the lower courts erred by relying on New Freedom to interpret the credit protection letters given that the terms of the letters in New Freedom differed materially from the ones at issue here. View "Bank of America, NA v. First American Title Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Estate of Sholberg v. Truman
Terri Sholberg died when the car she was driving hit a horse standing in the road. Diane Sholberg, as personal representative of her estate, sued Daniel Truman (the owner of the horse, which had escaped from its stall) and Robert and Marilyn Truman (the title owners of the farm that Daniel Truman operated). Other than being the title owners, defendants Robert and Marilyn Truman had nothing to do with the farm or the animals on it. The circuit court entered a default judgment against Daniel Truman, but granted summary judgment in defendants’ favor, concluding that they could not be held liable for a public nuisance because they were not in possession of the property. The Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed with regard to the public nuisance claim, holding that defendants’ ownership of the property from which the alleged nuisance arose was sufficient to allow a nuisance action against them. Plaintiff applied for leave to appeal with respect to an issue concerning violations of the Equine Activity Liability Act, and defendants filed a separate application for leave to appeal on the nuisance claim. The Supreme Court denied plaintiff’s application, and granted defendant's application, reversing reversed in part the Court of Appeals' judgment with respect to the public nuisance claim: defendants merely owned the property. Defendants never possessed or exercised any control over the property and had not even visited it in more than a decade. There was no evidence that defendants knew or had reason to know that Daniel Truman’s animals had been escaping the property when the accident happened. Because defendants did not control or possess the property or the horse, there was no basis for imposing tort liability on them for a public nuisance. "Daniel Truman was the person best able to prevent any harm to others, and given that defendants had resigned all charge and control over the property to him, he was the person exclusively responsible for the alleged public nuisance he created on the property."View "Estate of Sholberg v. Truman" on Justia Law
Leon v. City of Brighton
The issue in this case involved two landowners’ facial challenge to the constitutionality of 18-59 of the Brighton Code of Ordinances (BCO), which created a rebuttable presumption that an unsafe structure could be demolished as a public nuisance if it was determined that the cost to repair the structure would exceed 100 percent of the structure’s true cash value as reflected in assessment tax rolls before the structure became unsafe. Specifically, the issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether this unreasonable-to-repair presumption violated substantive and procedural due process protections by permitting demolition without affording the owner of the structure an option to repair as a matter of right. As a preliminary matter, the Court clarified that the landowners’ substantive due process and procedural due process claims implicated two separate constitutional rights, and that each claim must be analyzed under separate constitutional tests. The Court of Appeals erred by improperly conflating these analyses and subsequently determining that BCO 18-59 facially violated plaintiffs’ general due process rights. When each due process protection was separately examined pursuant to the proper test, the Supreme Court found that the ordinance did not violate either protection on its face. View "Leon v. City of Brighton" on Justia Law
NACG Leasing v. Dept. of Treasury
The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether the execution of a lease of tangible personal property constitutes "use" for purposes of the Use Tax Act (UTA). Petitioner purchased an aircraft from one company and immediately executed a five-year lease to another company that already had possession of the aircraft. The Department of Treasury assessed a use tax against petitioner based on the lease transaction, and the Michigan Tax Tribunal ultimately upheld the assessment. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that petitioner did not “use” the aircraft because it ceded total control of the aircraft to the lessee by virtue of the lease and the lessee had uninterrupted possession of the aircraft before and during the lease. The Supreme Court concluded that because the right to allow others to use one’s personal property is a right incident to ownership, and a lease is an instrument by which an owner exercises that right, it follows that the execution of a lease is an exercise of a right or power over tangible personal property incident to the ownership of the property. Therefore, that constitutes "use" for purposes of the UTA. Accordingly, petitioner "used" the aircraft in question for purposes of the UTA when it executed a lease of the aircraft in Michigan, regardless of whether it ever had actual possession of the aircraft. View "NACG Leasing v. Dept. of Treasury" on Justia Law