Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Alabama
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Defendant Merlyn Clay appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of plaintiff Charles Chavis, Clay's grandfather. The dispute concerned Clay's purchase of real property from Chavis and Clay's alleged failure to fulfill certain requirements of a sale contract for the real property executed by the parties. The Alabama Supreme Court found there were several discrepancies between the stated terms of the sale contract and the terms the parties agreed were part of the transaction, as well as discrepancies between the stated terms of the sale contract and the performance of the parties. "Those discrepancies are crucial to the outcome of this dispute because Chavis's claims are premised on the contention that Clay breached the sale contract by failing to provide a promissory note and a mortgage and by ceasing to make monthly loan payments to Chavis. Yet, under the terms of the sale contract, Chavis likewise did not provide the deed to the river property in a timely manner, and the sale contract does not expressly state that Clay had to make monthly loan payments. Those discrepancies are also crucial to the relief granted to Chavis by the circuit court." Judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further findings and proceedings. View "Clay v. Chavis." on Justia Law

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Consolidated appeals stemmed from an action filed by The Citizens Bank ("Citizens Bank") against Steve Matherly ("Steve"); Sue E. Matherly a/k/a Sue Ellen Stratten, Steve's former spouse ("Sue"); and Penn Waters, LLC ("Penn Waters"). The initial complaint sought: (1) to quiet title to certain real property in Steve; (2) an accounting from Penn Waters as to the balance allegedly owed on a mortgage securing a home-equity line of credit on the same real property; (3) damages from Steve for breach of contract and fraud based on his failure to pay on his personal guaranty of a corporate debt; and (4) a judicial foreclosure of the mortgage securing the indebtedness owed Citizens Bank by Steve. In the course of the proceedings, Steve's current spouse, Jenny Matherly ("Jenny"), intervened as a defendant, claiming a homestead interest in the real property at issue. Eventually, the circuit court entered two orders granting summary judgment in favor of Citizens Bank. The first order awarded the real property in question to Citizens Bank and granted it immediate possession thereof, requiring Steve and Jenny to vacate the property, awarded Jenny $5,000 based on a homestead claim, and required Steve to pay the deficiency balance owed by him to Citizens Bank following foreclosure on the subject real property. The second order concluded that the mortgage held by Penn Waters was void because it had been previously satisfied. Both Jenny and Penn Waters appealed the circuit court's judgments, and Citizens Bank cross-appealed the circuit court's judgment awarding $5,000 to Jenny. Steve did not appeal the judgment against him, and Sue was not a party to the appeals. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's judgments. View "Penn Waters, LLC v. The Citizens Bank" on Justia Law

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This appeal and cross-appeal involved a residential lease agreement with an option to purchase executed by Tony Hiett, Sr., and his wife Kelly Hiett ("the tenants") and Beverlye Brady ("the landlord"). According to the tenants, they accepted the first option to purchase the property presented in the landlord's email and began making monthly holdover rental payments of $2,500. And, in April 2017, they informed the landlord that they had obtained financing and were ready to close on the property by April 30, 2017. The landlord, however, refused to convey title to the property because, she claimed, the tenants had never responded to her email; thus, according to the landlord, the option to purchase had expired. The tenants thereafter stopped paying rent under the lease agreement, but continued to occupy the property, and sued the landlord, seeking specific performance of the option to purchase. The landlord counterclaimed, asserting a claim for ejectment and a claim of breach of contract, based on unpaid rent and late fees owed under the lease agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgment entered on the jury's verdict in favor of the tenants on their specific-performance claim and against the landlord on her ejectment claim. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment entered on the jury's verdict in favor of the landlord on her breach-of-contract claim based on the inadequacy of damages awarded, and the Court remanded the case with directions to the trial court to grant a new trial as to only that claim, unless the tenants consented to an additur. View "Hiett v. Brady" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc., and Lee Riggins appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing their complaint against Donald Moulton, Sr., and Broken Vessel United Church ("the Broken Vessel defendants") pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Ala. R. Civ. P., on the basis that the claims asserted in the complaint against the Broken Vessel defendants are barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the allegations of the complaint, when construed in plaintiffs' favor, were sufficient to sate a claim for a declaratory judgment. Further, the Court found the trial court erred in dismissing count one of the complaint against the Broken Vessel defendants on the basis that it was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Watkins v. Matrix, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Martha and Kevin Smith purchased and lived in a house that had a plumbing system composed of polyethylene ("PEX") tubing manufactured by NIBCO, Inc. The PEX tubing failed, which allowed water to leak into the house, allegedly causing damage. The Smiths subsequently commenced a lawsuit in against NIBCO, among others, asserting various theories of liability. Ultimately, the circuit court entered a summary judgment in favor of NIBCO and certified the judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b), Ala. R. App. P. The Smiths appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the Smiths' claims against NIBCO, the judgment on which was certified as final under Rule 54(b), and the Smiths' claims against D.R. Horton and Dupree Plumbing that remained pending in the circuit court were so closely intertwined that separate adjudication of those claims would pose an unreasonable risk of inconsistent results. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded that the circuit court exceeded its discretion in certifying the September 20, 2021, order granting NIBCO's summary-judgment motion as final. The Supreme Court therefore dismissed the appeal. View "Smith v. NIBCO, Inc." on Justia Law

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This appeal and cross-appeal involved a residential lease agreement with an option to purchase executed by Tony Hiett, Sr., and his wife Kelly ("the tenants") and Beverlye Brady ("the landlord"). The landlord leased to the tenants a house ("the property") located in Auburn for a term of five years, beginning September 1, 2011, and ending August 31, 2016, for $2,000 per month. By letter dated August 29, 2016, the tenants informed the landlord that they were exercising their option to purchase the property. According to the tenants, they accepted the first option to purchase the property presented in an email from the landlord and began making monthly holdover rental payments of $2,500. In April 2017, they informed the landlord that they had obtained financing and were ready to close on the property by April 30, 2017. The landlord, however, refused to convey title to the property because, she claimed, the tenants had never responded to her email; thus, according to the landlord, the option to purchase had expired. The tenants thereafter stopped paying rent under the lease agreement, but continued to occupy the property, and sued the landlord, seeking specific performance of the option to purchase. The landlord counterclaimed, asserting a claim for ejectment and a claim of breach of contract, based on unpaid rent and late fees owed under the lease agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment on a jury’s verdict in favor of the tenants on their specific performance claim, and against the landlord on her ejectment claim. The Supreme Court reversed judgment entered on the jury’s verdict in favor of the landlord on her breach-of-contract claim based on the inadequacy of damages awarded, and the Court remanded the case with directions to the trial court to grant a new trial only as to that claim unless the tenants consented to an additur. View "Brady v. Hiett" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Terri Anderson appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the defendants. At issue was an agreement to purchase certain residential property located on Ono Island in Baldwin County, Alabama ("the property") for $1.4 million. In 2012, Robert Bowling III acquired the property and executed a promissory note in favor of Merchants Bank. Merchants Bank subsequently assigned the promissory note and its mortgage interest in the property to Wells Fargo Bank ("Wells Fargo"). In 2018, Bowling conveyed his interest in the property to Robin and Michael Coleman via a vendor's lien deed. The Colemans executed a promissory note evidencing a debt to Bowling. In 2020, the Colemans conveyed a partial interest in the property to their friends, France Frederick and Thomas Sparks. In March 2021, the Colemans, Frederick, and Sparks entered into a purchase agreement regarding the property with Anderson. In April 2021, the sellers decided they had made a mistake by agreeing to sell the property. Robin Coleman eventually sent a communication to Anderson's realtor explaining, in relevant part: "We have voided the contract you sent us and have decided to keep our property." Anderson then initiated this action seeking an injunction prohibiting the sellers from violating the terms of the purchase agreement and a judgment requiring specific performance under the terms of the purchase agreement or, as an alternative to specific performance if the court were to determine that such relief was unavailable, damages for breach of contract. The sellers moved to dismiss Anderson's complaint, arguing that title to the property was unmarketable due to Bowling's and Wells Fargo's respective unsatisfied interests in the property. Accordingly, they contended, the language of the purchase agreement required a refund to Anderson of her earnest-money deposit and an automatic termination of the purchase agreement. The Alabama Supreme Court held only that the sellers could not invoke the marketability requirement of the termination provision set out in the purchase agreement to unilaterally rescind the purchase agreement under the circumstances presented by the record because it appeared that Anderson was willing to waive marketability of the sellers' title to the property to purchase whatever interest they were able to convey and because the sellers have expressly agreed to sell their interest in the property to Anderson, provided that the other pertinent contingencies of the purchase agreement were met. Judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Anderson v. Coleman, et al." on Justia Law

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Robert Robinson sued several timber companies for cutting timber on land, located between two creek beds, that Robinson alleged was his. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the timber companies. Because Robinson failed to submit substantial evidence that he owned the land, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the judgment. View "Robinson v. Harrigan Timberlands Limited Partnership, et al." on Justia Law

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Equivest Financial, LLC, bought property owned by Mark Stiff and Jim Stiff at a tax sale. The Alabama Supreme Court later declared that sale void. After the case was remanded for further proceedings, including consideration of Equivest's alternative claim for relief, the trial court entered judgment in Equivest's favor. Mark appealed that judgment, arguing that the trial court erred: (1) by awarding Equivest interest on the amount it bid in excess of the delinquent taxes; and (2) by awarding Equivest interest that accrued, and by failing to award him costs that he incurred, after he tendered an offer of judgment. The Supreme Court rejected these arguments and affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Stiff v. Equivest Financial, LLC" on Justia Law

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Howard Moore and Charles Lloyd were judgment creditors in the aggregate amount of $185,000. In 2012, Moore and Lloyd obtained a writ of execution and the property, in which Mikul had an ownership interest, was sold at an execution sale, at which Moore and Lloyd were the highest bidders at $130,000. There was a question regarding whether Moore and Lloyd were required to pay any cash to obtain a sheriff's execution deed concerning the property, given that the amount of their judgment exceeded the amount of the execution sale price. Moore and Lloyd petitioned for a writ of mandamus to resolve the issue, and Mikul intervened. Moore and Lloyd ultimately prevailed, and the circuit court directed the sheriff to sign and deliver a deed to the property to Moore and Lloyd. Mikul appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals, which transferred the appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's judgment, without an opinion. Days later, Moore and Lloyd initiated an ejectment action against Mikul. Ultimately, the circuit court entered an order in October 2018 concluding that Moore and Lloyd were entitled to possession of the property and that Mikul was not liable to Moore and Lloyd for mesne profits or rents. However, in the same order, the circuit court immediately stayed execution of the order after considering the parties' arguments regarding whether Mikul should be required to post a supersedeas bond to stay execution of the judgment, insofar as it awarded Moore and Lloyd possession of the property, should Mikul choose to appeal. Moore and Lloyd again petitioned for mandamus relief, challenging the October 2018 order. The circuit court in April 2019 concluded it lacked jurisdiction to modify the October 2018 order because Moore and Lloyd had not filed a timely postjudgment motion with respect to the October 2018 order. Mikul moved to quash a writ of execution, referencing the October 2018 court order staying such proceedings. Moore and Lloyd petitioned the Court of Civil Appeals, which again transferred the case to the Supreme Court, who in turn again denied review. Moore and Lloyd filed the ejectment action at issue here. Mikul moved for summary judgment, asserting that the relief sought by Moore and Lloyd should be denied based on the defenses of equitable estoppel, laches and res judicata. A majority of the Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's last order, finding Moore and Lloyd failed to demonstrate the circuit court's judgment should have been reversed. View "Moore v. Mikul" on Justia Law