Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
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Leonard and Kay Nettles purchased property and built a home in a remote subdivision in Rio Arriba County known as Ticonderoga. At the time of the Nettles purchase, the lots in Ticonderoga were subject to various covenants, and the subdivision was governed by a Homeowners’ Association. The Homeowners’ Association amended some of the covenants and its articles of incorporation. One of the amendments changed the definition of “common easements.” The new definition no longer included all roads in Ticonderoga, but specific roads that led to common recreation areas. The new definition now excluded the road that served specifically Nettles’ home as well as some other roads, but still included those roads that led to the majority of homesites in Ticonderoga. As a result of the changed definition, Nettles was still required to pay common assessments to fund the maintenance costs of these other roads, but was now required to maintain the their road privately, along with a few other owners of undeveloped lots on that road, at Nettles’ own expense. A second amendment allegedly diluted Nettles’ voting rights in the Homeowners’ Association. Nettles filed suit against the Homeowners’ Association. The Association filed for summary judgment, claiming that all the actions taken were explicitly authorized by the governing documents of the Association. Nettles countered, claiming that the amendments violated New Mexico law because the amendments were not uniform. The district court granted summary judgment for the Association. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that while Nettles failed to create a triable question on uniformity, the reasonableness of the amendment in this case should have been tried and not disposed of through summary judgment. View "Nettles v. Ticonderoga Owners' Assn., Inc." on Justia Law

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The Public Regulation Commission (PRC) issued Moongate Water Company (Moongate) a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CCN) authorizing Moongate, as a public utility, to provide water to an area located outside the city limits of Las Cruces (the "certificated area.") Las Cruces later annexed three undeveloped tracts of land within Moongate's certificated area, and Las Cruces committed itself to provide water to this area despite Moongate's CCN. The Supreme Court addressed two questions in this appeal: (1) did Moongate have a right to provide water within the certificated area to the exclusion of Las Cruces?; and (2) did Las Cruces engage in an unlawful taking of Moongate's property entitling Moongate to just compensation when Las Cruces chose to provide water within the certificated area? The Court answered both questions in the negative: (1) because Las Cruces was not subject to the Public Utilities Act (the PUA); and (2) because on the record before the Court, Moongate did not prove that it had established infrastructure and was already serving customers in the annexed area. "Absent such proof of a tangible loss, a public utility is not entitled to just compensation when a municipality lawfully exercises its right to serve in the public utility's certificated area." The Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals and reversed the district court. View "Moongate Water Co., Inc. v. City of Las Cruces" on Justia Law

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The underlying case in this matter concerned a property dispute between BNSF Railway (BNSF) and Roy D. Mercer, LLC (Mercer) and the interpretation of an easement. BNSF claimed a right to construct large berms on Mercer's property (to divert water from railroad tracks) pursuant to a 1936 easement granted to BNSF's predecessor in interest by Mercer's predecessor in interest. BNSF hired Gandy Dancer, LLC to construct the new berms. Mercer objected and threatened to remove them. Relying upon its easement claim, BNSF filed suit in state court against Mercer seeking to enjoin Mercer from removing the berms and requesting damages. Mercer filed a counterclaim against BNSF for tort damages and inverse condemnation, and joined Gandy Dancer as a party defendant for trespass, negligence, and prima facie tort. Once joined as a party, Gandy Dancer, through its attorneys Riley, Shane & Keller, P.C. (Riley Law Firm), removed the matter to federal court. Upon removal, Mercer hired the Wagner Ford Law Firm. At that time, the firm consisted of attorneys Kenneth Wagner and Lisa Ford. Although the firm was named "Wagner Ford," Ford was only an associate. In January 2010, Mercer added another law firm, Law & Resource Planning Associates, P.C. (the LRPA Law Firm) to represent it in the state court proceeding because of water law issues involved in that case. The Wagner Ford Law Firm ceased representing Mercer in late 2010. In late June 2012, while the state court proceeding was ongoing, the LRPA law firm learned via the Riley firm's website that the Riley firm had hired Ford as a new associate. LRPA promptly sent a letter to the Riley firm raising Ford's conflict of interest and stating that the Riley firm could no longer represent Gandy Dancer in the litigation with Mercer, Ford's former client. The Riley firm filed a motion in the state case seeking judicial approval of a Rule 16-110(C) screening process for Ford that Riley believed would allow its continued representation of Gandy Dancer. The court found that Ford had previously represented Mercer in the same or a substantially similar matter, her role was substantial, and she had a conflict of interest. Nevertheless, the district court found that the equities favored Gandy Dancer and declined to disqualify the Riley firm. Mercer appealed the district court's decision not to disqualify the Riley Firm. In interpreting and applying the rule to this case, the Supreme Court held that when an attorney has played a substantial role on one side of a lawsuit and subsequently joins a law firm on the opposing side of that lawsuit, both the lawyer and the new firm are disqualified from any further representation, absent informed consent of the former client. "We also specifically conclude under the same rule that screening the new attorney from any involvement in the lawsuit is not an adequate response to the conflict." View "Mercer v. Reynolds" on Justia Law

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This case began as a quiet title action filed by Respondents Edwin Smith, LLC and Jerry Walmsley, in his capacity as trustee of the June Walmsley Bypass Trust, against Synergy Operating, LLC and numerous individuals. While ownership of the land was the ultimate question, the issue on appeal was narrower: whether, as a matter of law, a joint tenancy in realty may be terminated and converted into a tenancy in common by a mutual course of conduct between the owners that demonstrates their intent to hold the property as tenants in common. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that such a course of conduct may effectively terminate a joint tenancy. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Edwin Smith LLC v. Synergy Operating, LLC" on Justia Law

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The property at the center of this dispute was located in San Juan County with productive oil and gas wells thereon. While ownership of the land was the ultimate question the parties sought to resolve in the underlying lawsuit, the issue on appeal was narrower: whether, as a matter of law, a joint tenancy in realty may be terminated and converted into a tenancy in common by a mutual course of conduct between the owners that demonstrates their intent to hold the property as tenants in common. Upon review of the matter, the Supreme Court held that such a course of conduct may effectively terminate a joint tenancy. Accordingly, the Court reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Edwin Smith, LLC v. Synergy Operating, LLC" on Justia Law

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Santa Fe Pacific Trust, Inc. (SFPT) and Bigbyte are Florida corporations doing business in New Mexico. SFPT owns land and an office building on Central Avenue in Albuquerque and leases most of its commercial space to Bigbyte. In 2006, SFPT filed a four-count complaint against the City of Albuquerque (the City) alleging that the City periodically stated its intention to condemn the Central Avenue property owned by SFPT and claiming damages for inverse condemnation and taking, deprivation of due process, and tortious interference with contract. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal as to Bigbyte because all of Bigbyte's claims had been disposed of by summary judgment one year earlier, making a November 2010 notice of appeal untimely. The Supreme Court addressed whether the interlocutory appeal language in the year-old summary judgment, which Bigbyte requested, should have been interpreted to mean that the summary judgment was not a final order. If the year-old summary judgment was not a final order, the Court of Appeals should not have dismissed the appeal. Based on the summary judgment language and Rules 1-054(B)(1)-(2) and 12-203 NMRA, the Supreme Court concluded that the summary judgment was a final order because all of Bigbyte's claims had been disposed of and the summary judgment did not contain express language stating that the summary judgment was not a final order as to Bigbyte. Therefore, the Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' dismissal of the appeal. View "Santa Fe Pacific Trust, Inc. v. City of Albuquerque" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted certiorari to review a Memorandum Opinion of the Court of Appeals and to address four issues stemming from a lawsuit by LensCrafters to enforce a noncompete provision against optometrist Dennis Kehoe after a sublease contract between the two parties ended. After review of the "complex, convoluted, and contentious eleven-year dispute," the Supreme Court held that (1) the district court properly dismissed LensCrafters' breach of contract claim on summary judgment because LensCrafters terminated the parties' contract as a matter of law and, with it, the contract's noncompete provision; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Kehoe's request to supplement his pleadings shortly before trial; and (3) summary judgment dismissing Kehoe's malicious abuse of process and tortious interference with contract counterclaims was proper because Kehoe did not demonstrate genuine issues of material fact. Because we hold that the noncompete provision was not in effect during any relevant time, the Court did not address Kehoe's fourth issue, whether the provision would have been contrary to public policy. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the Memorandum Opinion of the Court of Appeals in part and reversed in part.

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Defendant-Appellee the Village of Angel Fire (the Village) held an election to determine whether a public improvement district (PID) should be formed within its boundaries, after supporters of the PID petitioned the Village to do so. The requisite majority of eligible voters approved formation of the PID. Plaintiffs-Appellants Ron Glaser and his wife, Theresa Cull, Cheryl Host and several others, owners of real property located in Angel Fire, filed suit in district court, seeking a declaration that the PID formation election was procedurally defective and therefore void, that the PID lacked legal existence, and that a special levy approved and assessed by the PID was invalid. The district court dismissed Appellants' complaint as untimely, and Appellants sought review by the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals determined that Appellants’ complaint presented an election contest, which was subject to a thirty-day statute of limitations under the Election Code. The Court further determined that because Appellants waited more than one year to file suit, their complaint was time-barred. After thoroughly analyzing these issues, however, the Court of Appeals ultimately concluded that it lacked jurisdiction and transferred the appeal to the Supreme Court, pursuant to the Election Code’s directive that appeals in election contest proceedings should be made directly to the Supreme Court. Upon review, the Supreme Court adopted the appellate court's reasoning for dismissing Appellants' case.

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In 1985, at the behest of the City of Rio Rancho, Amrep Southwest Inc. recorded a plat for the Vista Hills West Unit 1 (VHWU1) subdivision, granting the City a drainage easement over ten acres identified as 'Parcel F.' In 2004, Amrep sold Parcel F to the Mares Group in fee simple, subject to the drainage easement. Mares in turn sold it to Cloudview Estates in fee simple, subject to the same recorded drainage easement. Cloudview asked the City to vacate the drainage easement and subdivide the parcel into thirty lots. The City declined because it found that the City and Amrep had originally intended to perpetually dedicate Parcel F as open space, and as such, had a claim to the property's title. The issue before the Supreme Court was: even if the City and Amrep intended Parcel F to be open space, what effect did the recorded plat designating Parcel F as a drainage easement have on Cloudview's subsequent purchase of Parcel F? Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that Cloudview was a good faith purchaser and the plat did not specifically designate Parcel F for public use. The recorded plat unambiguously granted the City an easement for the specific purpose of drainage, thereby extinguishing any unrecorded interests and relieving Cloudview from its duty to diligently investigate whether the City had other adverse claims to the property title. The Court ruled in favor of Cloudview.