Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
Albany & Eastern Railroad Co. v. Martell
Plaintiff Albany & Eastern Railroad Company (AERC) petitioned the Oregon Supreme Court for reconsideration of its decision in Albany & Eastern Railroad Co. v. Martell, 469 P3d 748 (2020). In the previous case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of defendants, holding that the trial court correctly concluded that defendants established a prescriptive easement over plaintiff AERC’s land. By that decision, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. In its petition for reconsideration, plaintiff did not challenge the resolution of the prescriptive easement issue. Instead, plaintiff argued the Supreme Court erred in affirming the judgment of the trial court, rather than remanding the case to the Court of Appeals to consider a separate issue: the trial court’s award of attorney fees to defendants under ORS 20.080(2). Plaintiff had argued to the Court of Appeals that, even if defendants successfully asserted a prescriptive easement counterclaim, the trial court had no authority to award attorney fees to defendants. According to plaintiff, a prescriptive easement was an equitable remedy that fell outside of ORS 20.080. Defendants filed a response, arguing that the trial court was correct in its award of attorney fees. They also filed petitions for attorney fees and costs and disbursements. Plaintiff objected to the request for attorney fees, arguing that the issue of defendants’ entitlement to fees had not yet been resolved and, alternatively, that defendants’ claimed fees were unreasonable. The Supreme Court agreed with plaintiff that the matter of attorney fees should have been remanded to the Court of Appeals following its disposition on the merits. Accordingly, plaintiff’s petition for reconsideration was granted, and the disposition in the earlier case modified. Defendants' petition for fees was denied. View "Albany & Eastern Railroad Co. v. Martell" on Justia Law
Albany & Eastern Railroad Co. v. Martell
Following a bench trial, the trial court determined that the residents of a small neighborhood (or their predecessors) who since 1942, used a railroad crossing on a private roadway to access their homes, had established a prescriptive easement over the crossing. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the residents could not take advantage of the “presumption of adversity” long recognized by the Oregon Supreme Court because their use of the crossing was not likely to put the landowner on notice of the adverse nature of the use. The Supreme Court concluded that the presumption of adversity applied to the residents’ claims and that no evidence rebutted that presumption. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Albany & Eastern Railroad Co. v. Martell" on Justia Law
Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun.
In Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun., 365 Or 371, 446 P3d 53 (2019), the Oregon Supreme Court held that the Energy Facility Siting Council had failed to substantially comply with a procedural requirement when it amended rules governing how it processes requests for amendment (RFAs) to site certificates that the council issued. The Court therefore held that the rules were invalid. In response to that decision, the council adopted temporary rules governing the RFA process. Petitioners contended that those temporary rules were also invalid. According to petitioners, the rules were invalid because the council failed to prepare a statement of its findings justifying the use of temporary rules. Petitioners also maintained that the council’s rules exceed the 180-day limit on temporary rules or otherwise improperly operated retroactively. After review, the Supreme Court disagreed with petitioners’ arguments and concluded the temporary rules were valid. View "Friends of Columbia Gorge v. Energy Fac. Siting Coun." on Justia Law
Wadsworth v. Talmage
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of law to the Oregon Supreme Court on whether a constructive trust arises at the moment of purchase of a property using fraudulently- obtained funds, or if it arises when a court orders that a constructive trust be imposed as a remedy. Ronald Talmage ran a Ponzi scheme. Plaintiffs were victims of that scheme. Much of the money Plaintiffs invested with Talmage went to pay for a property he and his wife acquired, “RiverCliff.” When the Talmages divorced, a portion of moneys Plaintiffs invested with Ronald. Talmage failed to pay his taxes one year, and the IRS recorded tax liens on the property, leading to the underlying suit involving the constructive trust. The Oregon Supreme Court answered the first part of the Ninth Circuit’s question by clarifying that a constructive trust arises when a court imposes it as a remedy, but that the party for whose benefit the constructive trust is imposed has an equitable ownership interest in specific property that predates the imposition of the constructive trust. The Court answered the second part of the question by explaining that, in the circumstances of this case, plaintiffs had a viable subrogation theory that allowed them to seek a constructive trust based on equitable interests that predate all tax liens on the property. View "Wadsworth v. Talmage" on Justia Law
Seneca Sustainable Energy, LLC v. Dept. of Rev.
In 2009, Seneca Sustainable Energy LLC (Seneca) began construction of a biomass cogeneration facility on property that it owned outside of Eugene, Oregon. In this direct appeal of the Regular Division of the Tax Court, the Department of Revenue argued the Tax Court erred in concluding that it had jurisdiction to consider a challenge brought by Seneca to the department’s determination of the real market value of Seneca’s electric cogeneration facility and the notation of the real market value on the assessment roll for two tax years, 2012-13 and 2013-14. The department also argued that the Tax Court erred in concluding that the department’s determinations of the property’s real market values for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 tax years were incorrect and in setting the values at significantly lower amounts. Finding no reversible error, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the Tax Court’s rulings. View "Seneca Sustainable Energy, LLC v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law
Ellison v. Dept. of Rev.
In the underlying property tax appeal, the Tax Court rejected a request by the Department of Revenue and the county assessor to increase the real market value of taxpayer’s property, and the court later awarded taxpayer attorney fees against the department under ORS 305.490(4)(a). The department appealed the attorney fee award only. The Oregon Supreme Court determined that even though the Tax Court also rejected the taxpayer’s request for a reduction in real market value, the legal prerequisite for a discretionary attorney fee award under that statute was met. The Supreme Court also concluded that the Tax Court did not err in applying most of the factors on which it relied in making the fee award. However, the Court concluded that the lower court’s use of one factor was erroneous, thus bringing into question the court’s overall exercise of discretion. Accordingly, the fee award was vacated and the matter remanded for the court to exercise its discretion without considering that factor. View "Ellison v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law
TriMet v. Aizawa
The question this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review centered on fees, and whether the legislature intended to depart from the accepted practice of awarding a party entitled to recover attorney fees incurred in litigating the merits of a fee-generating claim additional fees incurred in determining the amount of the resulting fee award in condemnation actions. The trial court ruled that there was no departure, and awarded the property owner in this case the fees that she had incurred both in litigating the merits of the underlying condemnation action and in determining the amount of the fee award. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Finding no reversible error in the Court of Appeals’ decision, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed. View "TriMet v. Aizawa" on Justia Law
Boardman Acquisition LLC v. Dept. of Rev.
This case involved ad valorem property taxes: the land at issue had been exempted from some property taxes because it was specially assessed as nonexclusive farm use zone farmland. When that special assessment ends, the property ordinarily has an additional tax levied against it. The question here was whether an exception created by ORS 308A.709(5) applied to excuse the payment of that additional tax. The Tax Court agreed with the Department of Revenue and concluded that the exception was not available. The Port of Morrow appealed. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the statutory text on which this case turned, “the date the disqualification [from special assessment] is taken into account on the assessment and tax roll,” meant the date the disqualification became effective on the assessment and tax roll. As a result of that holding, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Boardman Acquisition LLC v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law
Village at Main Street Phase II, LLC II v. Dept. of Rev.
Four consolidated property tax appeals returned to the Oregon Supreme Court following remand to the Oregon Tax Court. In "Village I," the Supreme Court addressed whether the Tax Court had erred by denying defendant-intervenor Clackamas County Assessor's (assessor) motion for leave to file amended answers on the ground that the answers contained impermissible counterclaims challenging the value of taxpayers' land. The Supreme Court determined that the assessor should have been allowed to challenge the land valuations, and it reversed and remanded the cases to the Tax Court. Before the assessor filed amended answers, taxpayers served notices of voluntary dismissal of their cases pursuant to Tax Court Rule (TCR) 54 A(1). The Tax Court then entered a judgment of dismissal, over the assessor's objection. The court denied the subsequent motions for relief from the judgment by defendant Department of Revenue (department) and the assessor. On appeal, the Supreme Court addressed whether, as defendants argued, the Tax Court erred by giving effect to taxpayers' notices of voluntary dismissal rather than to the decision in "Village I" concerning the assessor's counterclaims pending in the motions for leave to file amended answers. The Court concluded that the Tax Court erred in dismissing the appeals given the decision and remand in Village I. Accordingly, it vacated the Tax Court's order denying defendants relief from the judgment, reversed the general judgment of dismissal, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Village at Main Street Phase II, LLC II v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law
Wels v. Hippe
Plaintiff sought a prescriptive easement over an existing road that crossed defendants’ property. The dispute in this case was whether plaintiff satisfied the requirement to prove “adverse use.” The trial court found that plaintiff did establish adverse use of the road in either of two ways: (1) plaintiff’s use of the road interfered with defendants’ rights, in that defendants could see vehicles passing in close proximity to their house; or (2) in the alternative, plaintiff established adversity through testimony that he believed (although without communicating that belief to defendants) that he had the right to use the road without defendants’ permission. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review of this matter, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred: in this case, there is a complete absence of evidence in the record that plaintiff’s use of the road either interfered with the owners’ use or that plaintiff’s use was undertaken under a claim of right of which the owners were aware. The trial and appellate courts’ decisions were reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wels v. Hippe" on Justia Law