Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Indiana
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In this case concerning the State's civil complaint for forfeiture of Defendant's Land Rover the Supreme Court vacated the judgment of the trial court deciding that forfeiture of the vehicle would be grossly disproportional to the gravity of Defendant's dealing offense and established an analytical framework for courts to determine whether a punitive in rem forfeiture is an excessive fine. Specifically, the Court held (1) a use-based in rem fine is excessive if (a) the property was not an instrumentality of the underlying crimes, or (b) the property was an instrumentality but the harshness of the punishment would be grossly disproportional to the gravity of the underlying offenses and the owner's culpability for the property's misuse; (2) Defendant's Land Rover was an instrumentality of the underlying offense of drug dealing; and (3) the case requires a remand for the trial court to answer the question of gross disproportionality based on the framework set forth in this opinion. View "State v. Timbs" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the superior court ruling that Indiana's Civil Forfeiture Statute was constitutional, holding that the General Assembly may decide how and when forfeiture proceeds accrue to the "Common School Fund," which consists of, among other sources of revenue, "all forfeitures which may accrue." Indiana's Civil Forfeiture Statute, Ind. Code 34-24-1-4(d), directs the transfer of proceeds from seized property "to the treasurer of state for deposit in the common school fund." At issue in this case is whether the portion of the statute permitting the allocation of forfeiture revenue to reimburse law enforcement costs before these proceeds accrue to the Fund is constitutional under article 8, section 2 of the Indiana Constitution. The trial court concluded that the statute is constitutional. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that article 8, section 2 permits the legislature to determine how and when forfeiture proceeds accrue to the Common School Fund. View "Horner v. Curry" on Justia Law

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In this municipal-annexation case, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the trial court against the Town of Brownsburg, holding that a trial court hearing a remonstrance proceeding on judicial review must consider the evidence submitted by both the municipality and the remonstrators. In 2013, the Town adopted an ordinance to annex 4,462 acres of property adjacent to the Town. A group of affected landowners acting through a political action committee remonstrated, seeking a declaration that the Town did not meet the statutory annexation requirements. The trial court entered judgment for the Remonstrators and against the Town, determining that the Town had not met all statutory requirements for annexing the proposed territory. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) on appellate review, the reviewing court asks not whether the record supports the municipality's decision to enact the annexation ordinance but whether it supports the trial court's decision to uphold or reject the annexation; (2) a trial court assessing the legality of a disputed annexation must equally weigh and balance the evidence submitted by both sides; and (3) the trial court did not satisfy its threshold burden to prove it met the requirements of either Ind. Code 36-4-3-13(b) or (c). View "Town of Brownsburg, Indiana v. Fight Against Brownsburg Annexation" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court held that the Fee Exemption, a provision in Ind. Code 36-1-20-5 that allows the cities of Bloomington and West Lafayette to charge local landlords any amount to register rental properties, is unconstitutional special legislation that must be struck down but that the remainder of section 36-1-20-5 remains in force. While the Fee Exemption singles out the cities of Bloomington and West Lafayette for preferential treatment, all other Indiana localities are restricted to charging only $5 under another provision - the Fee Restriction - in section 36-1-20-5. The City of Hammond challenged the Fee Exemption as unconstitutional under Ind. Const. art. IV, 23. The Supreme Court agreed with the City and held that the Fee Exemption is unconstitutional but that the remainder of the statute, including the Fee Restriction, remained in effect and now operates statewide. View "City of Hammond v. Herman & Kittle Properties, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the trial court affirming the order of the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) finding that the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) use of a dam on Appellants’ property was proper, holding that the trial court properly enforced the order but that Appellants could, in the course of complying with the trial court’s order, modify their dam to remove it from the DNR’s jurisdiction under the Dam Safety Act, Ind. Code 14-27-7.5. Appellants had a large pond and related dam on their property. Since the early 2000s, the DNR attempted to exercise jurisdiction over the dam on the grounds that the dam was located in, on, or along a stream. Appellants contested DNR’s findings, largely without success, in administrative tribunals and the courts below. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the DNR’s definition of the word “stream” was reasonable, and Appellants had adequate notice of what constitutes a stream for purposes of the Dam Safety Act; (2) the DNR presented substantial evidence supporting its classification of Appellants’ dam as a high-hazard dam; and (3) Appellants could modify their dam to remove it from DNR’s future jurisdiction. View "Moriarity v. Indiana Department of Natural Resources" on Justia Law

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In this property dispute, the Supreme Court retained Indiana’s common-law rule prohibiting the unilateral relocation of fixed easements and affirmed the trial court’s entry of judgment for Joseph DeSpirito on his petition for judicial review and against Richland Convenience Store Partners, LLC (Richland) and the Town of Ellettsville, Indiana Plan Commission (Commission). Despite the opposition of DeSpirito, who owned an adjacent lot, the Commission approved Richland’s request to relocate a utility easement on its lot. On judicial review, the trial court granted summary judgment against Richland and the Commission, finding that DeSpirito had a fixed utility easement through Richland’s lot and that the easement’s fixed location meant it could not be changed by either party without consent of the other. At issue on appeal was whether the Court should adhere to Indiana’s longstanding common-law rule requiring all affected estate-holders to consent to the relocation of a fixed easement or to adopt the position of the Third Restatement of Property (Servitudes), which permits the unilateral relocation of easements if a court finds the proposed relocation is reasonable, consistent with the normal use and development of the servant estate, and does not adversely affect the dominant estate. The Supreme Court rejected the minority approach reflected in the Third Restatement and affirmed. View "Town of Ellettsville, Indiana Plan Commission v. DeSpirito" on Justia Law

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In this property dispute between stepsiblings Brenda Sue Gittings and William Deal, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part the judgment of the trial court, holding that William was not entitled to court approval of property transfers that led to his receipt of profitable land. Under the original terms of mirrored trusts that Brenda’s father and William’s mother created, the two stepsiblings were to share land and mineral interests placed in the trusts once both parents died. After Brenda’s father died, however, property transfers and amended trust terms resulted in William receiving all the land and mineral interests upon his mother’s death. When the land began generating income, William sought court approval of the property transfers. Brenda and her son responded with allegations challenging the property transfers and seeking affirmative relief. The Supreme Court held (1) the Gittingses’ assertions were subject to statutes of limitations to the extent they sought affirmative relief but not to the extent they diminished William’s request for declaratory relief; and (2) because the property transfers were improper, William was not entitled to court approval of the transfers. View "Gittings v. Deal" on Justia Law

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The boundary separating public trust land from privately-owned riparian land along the shores of Lake Michigan is the common-law ordinary high water mark (OHWM). Absent an authorized legislative conveyance, the State retains exclusive title up to that boundary. In this case, the trial court determined that the State holds title to the Lake Michigan shores in trust for the public and concluded that the private property interests at issue here overlap with those of the State. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Indiana, at statehood, acquired exclusive title to the bed of Lake Michigan up to the natural OHWM; (2) Indiana retains exclusive title up to the natural OHWM of Lake Michigan; and (3) at a minimum, walking along the Lake Michigan shore is a protected activity inherent in the exercise of traditional public trust rights. View "Gunderson v. State" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice under Trial Rule 12(B)(6). Plaintiff brought an inverse-condemnation action against Defendant. The trial court found the statute of limitations had expired and dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice under Rule 12(B)(6). The court of appeals reversed, concluding that Indiana’s discovery rule tolled the running of the statute of limitations. The Supreme Court granted transfer, thereby vacating the court of appeals’ opinion, and reversed the trial court’s dismissal, albeit on different grounds, holding that the dismissal was premature because the face of the complaint did not establish that the asserted claim was time-barred. View "Bellwether Properties, LLC v. Duke Energy Indiana, Inc." on Justia Law

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Because this appeal was not from a final judgment, the Supreme Court, for judicial economy under this case’s particular circumstances, elected to stay this appeal’s consideration and remanded the case to the trial court. After the Town of Ellettsville’s Plan Commission approved the request of Richland Convenience Store Partners, LLC to amend a subdivision plat so Richland could move a utility easement on its property, Joseph DeSpirito, Richland’s neighbor whose property the easement benefitted, sued for judicial review, declaratory relief and associated damages and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. An order on judicial review granted DeSpirito’s motion for summary judgment, but the order was silent on DeSpirito’s request for damages and a permanent injunction. Richland and the Commission (collectively, Appellants) filed notices of appeal. The court of appeals reversed the trial court and remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment for Appellants. The Supreme Court granted transfer. The court held that the record on appeal showed no final judgment and remanded the case to the trial court to decide whether to expressly direct entry of judgment under Trial Rule 54(B) or Under Trial Rule 56(C). View "Town of Ellettsville v. DeSpirito" on Justia Law