Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Oregon Supreme Court
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At Tax Court, the parties disagreed about what types of equipment fall within the definition of "logging equipment" exempt from ad valorem property taxation under ORS 307.27. Specifically, they disagreed about what types of equipment used for logging road work - logging road construction, maintenance, reconstruction, improvement, closure, or obliteration - fell within the definition. Plaintiff Bert Brundige, LLC argued that all types of equipment used for logging road work fell within the definition. Defendant, the Oregon Department of Revenue, argued that excavators were the only type of equipment used for logging road work that fell within the definition. The Tax Court agreed with defendant and entered a judgment in its favor. Plaintiff appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed. View "Bert Brundige, LLC v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company (bank) held a deed of trust to the a condominium unit, while defendant Tanglewood Hills Condominium Association (Tanglewood) had a lien for condominium assessments that had not been paid by the owner. Although the bank’s lien would ordinarily take priority, Tanglewood contended that its lien gained priority under ORS 100.450(7), because the bank “ha[d] not initiated” a foreclosure action during a 90-day notice period prescribed by that statute. The trial court rejected Tanglewood’s argument and granted summary judgment for the bank. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Oregon Supreme Court agreed with Tanglewood that a condominium association’s notice under ORS 100.450(7)(a) triggered an obligation on a first lienholder to act within 90 days, or the condominium association’s lien will take priority. In this case, the bank did not act before the 90 days expired. Nor could the bank rely on its previously filed foreclosure action, as that action had been dismissed by general judgment prior to the notice, and it remained dismissed throughout the entire 90-day period. Once the 90 days elapsed without the case being reopened or a new foreclosure action being filed, Tanglewood was granted priority over the bank’s interest by operation of ORS 100.450(7). The decision of the Court of Appeals was reversed. The judgment of the circuit court was reversed, and the case was remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings. View "Bank of New York Mellon Trust Co. v. Sulejmanagic" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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