Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Virginia
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The Supreme Court vacated the order of the circuit court holding that no justiciable dispute existed between the parties following the court's holding that the plaintiff qualified as a third-party beneficiary of a 1973 ground lease, holding that the circuit court abused its discretion in sua sponte dismissing this declaratory-judgment action as nonjusticiable.A developer filed a declaratory judgment action against the lessee of an adjoining property seeking to resolve conflicting interpretations of a lease provision. The circuit court concluded that the developer was a third-party beneficiary of the long-term ground lease in this case and dismissed the case on the grounds that there were no further justiciable controversies to resolve. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that dismissal was premature because the parties continued categorically to disagree on what specific rights, if any, the developer had under the lease and when those rights could be asserted. View "Ames Center, L.C. v. Soho Arlington, LLC" on Justia Law

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Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke (SVWC) provides medical and rehabilitative care to 2,000 animals each year. SVWC is located at the end of a shared private easement that is approximately 476 feet long; the other properties that can only be accessed by the easement’s unpaved, single-lane dirt driveway, across their lawns. The easement is not maintained by any governmental entity. SVWC sought a special use permit to build a large “raptor building.” The Zoning Administrator determined that existing “accessory structures” on SVWC's property were either improperly granted zoning permits or had not been granted permits. The Board of Supervisors granted the special use permit, which retroactively authorized the accessory structures and the construction of the raptor building, subject to conditions requiring buffering and materials. Neighboring owners challenged the approval, arguing that traffic on the easement has increased “20- to 50-fold” since, SVWC began operating in 2014, causing “congestion, noise, dust, and light pollution” and posing a danger to their children.The trial court dismissed their complaint, citing lack of standing. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed. The dust, noise, and light pollution allegedly caused by the traffic on the easement constitute particularized harm to the plaintiffs. The complaint sufficiently alleged that the construction of the raptor building and the corresponding expansion of SVWC’s services would cause more traffic and supports a reasonable inference that the decision to retroactively approve the accessory structures would lead to traffic on the easement. View "Seymour v. Roanoke County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court finding in favor of the owner of rezoned property who claimed that the triggering of a conditional proffer operated as an unconstitutional condition, holding that the trial court did not err in ultimately reversing the zoning violation.The Board of Supervisors of Albemarle County approved a rezoning for property subject to voluntary proffers. A conditional proffer called the transit proffer continuously applied since the original rezoning. The county approved the establishment of a commuter route to run from Albemarle County to downtown Charlottesville and concluded that a substantial portion of the funding for the route could come from the transit proffer funds. The county approved the appropriation of funds to establish the commuter route. When the property owner failed to make payments required by the transit proffer the county concluded that the owner was in violation of the county's zoning ordinance. The circuit court granted judgment in favor of the owner. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the trial court did not err in denying the county's demurrer and motion to strike and did not err in reversing the zoning violation. View "Board of Supervisors v. Route 29, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court that Neighbors lacked standing to challenge the judgment of Fairfax County's Zoning Administrator and Board of Zoning Appeals concluding that NewPort Academy, which sought to open a residential treatment center for teenage girls, was a "by right" use, holding that Neighbors had standing.Neighbors, who either owned houses or lived in houses next to the proposed treatment center, argued that the proposed facility was not a "by right" use in the zoning district, thus requiring a special exception permit to operate in a residential zone. The circuit court concluded that Neighbors lacked standing to challenge the Board's decision and dismissed the case on that basis. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the allegations made by Neighbors were sufficient to establish that they had standing. View "Anders Larsen Trust v. Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing an action brought by a condominium association against the owner of two condominium units for unpaid special assessments, holding that the circuit court erred by granting the condominium owner's plea in bar.The association brought suit seeking a nonjudicial foreclosure on liens recorded against the owner's condominium units and damages for breach of a declaration. The owner filed a plea in bar asserting that the claim could not survive either of two potential statutes of limitation. The circuit court granted the plea in bar, concluding that the action was barred by the thirty-six-month statute of limitations in former Va. Code 55-79.84(D). The Supreme Court vacated the circuit court's order, holding that the circuit court erred in ruling that the association's failure to introduce the declaration into evidence at an ore tenus hearing precluded the court from deciding whether to grant or deny the plea in bar. View "California Condominium Ass'n v. Peterson" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted Daniel Rothstein's motion to dismiss the appeal brought by Robert Godlove and Theresa Wolfe (together, Appellants) and vacated the judgment of the trial court in favor of Rothstein, holding that this case was moot.The trial court interpreted a deed of dedication as permitting Rothstein to extend a paved driveway within an easement running across Appellants' property to Rothstein's property. After Appellants filed a notice of appeal, Rothstein filed a motion to dismiss the appeal as moot. The Supreme Court granted the motion and vacated the judgment, holding that there was no longer any live controversy. View "Godlove v. Rothstein" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court dismissing a bill of review after determining that the underlying matter was an action at law and that a bill of review was inappropriate, holding that the circuit court erred.The City of Petersburg brought an action against the Emmanuel Worship Center and its trustees (collectively, EWC) for delinquent taxes. The circuit court found that EWC owed the City for delinquent real estate taxes and then issued a decree of sale. EWC paid to redeem its property and then filed a bill of review seeking reversal or modification of the decree of sale and an award of the amounts it had paid to the City, arguing that it was constitutionally exempt from paying real estate taxes because the property was owned and used exclusively for religious purposes. The circuit court denied the bill of review. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that the circuit court (1) erred in determining that the underlying action was an action at law, and (2) erred in holding that because more than three years had passed since the taxes were assessed they were beyond review. View "Emmanuel Worship Center v. City of Petersburg" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the circuit court holding that the owners of an easement were not indispensable parties to a boundary adjustment suit filed by their neighbors, holding that, under the facts and circumstances, the holders of the easement were necessary parties.The neighbors in this case were Thomas and Christine Garner, Ellen Edwards, and Vincent and Theresa Joseph. In 2015, a court concluded that the Garners had the riparian right to construct a pier on the easement that they held. Thereafter, the Josephs filed a complaint against Edwards seeking to establish the riparian boundaries between their respective properties. Following an apportionment proceeding, the Josephs demanded that the Garners cease using their illegal pier construction and applicable riparian waters. The Garners asserted that because they hadn't been joined as necessary parties in the apportionment proceeding, depriving them of their opportunity to defend their interests. The Josephs responded that the Garners lacked standing to challenge the riparian lines and had not, therefore, been necessary parties. The circuit court concluded that the Garners were not necessary parties and therefore lacked standing. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the Garners were necessary parties to the boundary adjustment suit. View "Garner v. Joseph" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court ruling that Plaintiff had not articulated a legally viable cause of action and denied any requests made for injunctive relief, holding that there was no reversible error in the judgment.Plaintiff brought this complaint seeking declaratory and injunctive relief concerning Governor Ralph S. Northam's order to the Department of General Services to remove the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia from Commonwealth property. The circuit court dismissed the claims, holding that Plaintiff failed to state a claim that he possessed the legal right to prohibit the Commonwealth from moving the monument. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not err in dismissing Plaintiff's claim with prejudice. View "Gregory v. Northam" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the circuit court concluding that Governor Ralph S. Northam's order to remove the Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond, Virginia from property owned by the Commonwealth was not improper or unlawful, holding that Plaintiffs' claims were without merit.At issue in this case was whether language in an 1890 deed, signed by the then Governor of Virginia, and an 1889 joint resolution of the General Assembly requesting and authorizing the Governor to sign the deed, prohibited Governor Northam from ordering the removal of the state-owned Lee Monument from state-owned property. The circuit court found that the language in the deed created restrictive covenants but that those restrictive covenants were unenforceable and that the Governor's actions seeking to remove the Lee Monument did not contradict public policy or violate the Virginia Constitution. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding the the circuit court did not err. View "Taylor v. Northam" on Justia Law