Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Tennessee Supreme Court
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The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants committed fraud related to property rights. The defendants, through their business, REO Holdings, LLC, bought properties at tax sales and used redemption rights to obtain titles, some of which were later found to be fraudulent. The case involved four specific properties where the defendants allegedly used misrepresentation and forged documents to redeem and sell the properties at a profit.The Chancery Court for Davidson County initially dismissed the plaintiffs' claims for unjust enrichment and misappropriation of redemption rights, finding that unjust enrichment required a voluntary conferral of a benefit and that Tennessee law did not recognize conversion of intangible property rights. The court also denied class certification. After a jury trial, the plaintiffs moved for a new trial, arguing that the evidence preponderated against the jury’s verdict. The trial court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the trial court misconceived its role as thirteenth juror.The Supreme Court of Tennessee reviewed the case and held that remand for the trial court to fulfill its role as thirteenth juror is an appropriate remedy when a civil trial court misconceives that role or applies an incorrect standard. The court also held that a claim for unjust enrichment does not require a voluntary conferral of a benefit, overruling previous case law to the extent it held otherwise. Finally, the court affirmed that Tennessee law does not recognize a claim for misappropriation or conversion of a right of redemption. The decision of the Court of Appeals was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded for further proceedings consistent with the opinion. View "Family Trust Services LLC v. Green Wise Homes LLC" on Justia Law

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The case involves a defamation claim brought by Bill Charles, a real estate professional and president of the homeowners' association of the Durham Farms community in Hendersonville, Tennessee, against Donna McQueen, a resident of the same community. McQueen had posted a critical review of Charles on Google, accusing him of using misleading tactics to deceive home buyers. Charles filed a defamation and false light claim against McQueen, who sought dismissal of the claims under the Tennessee Public Participation Act, arguing that Charles could not establish a prima facie case for his claims because he could not prove actual malice.The trial court agreed with McQueen and dismissed the claims. The Court of Appeals reversed in part, agreeing that Charles had to prove actual malice for his false light claim but holding that Charles was not a public figure and therefore did not need to prove actual malice for his defamation claim.The Supreme Court of Tennessee disagreed with the Court of Appeals, holding that Charles is a limited-purpose public figure given his voluntary and prominent role in a controversy concerning changes to the Durham Farms development plan. The court further held that Charles failed to establish a prima facie case of actual malice. The court also rejected Charles’s argument that McQueen waived her request for appellate attorney’s fees by failing to list it as an issue in her Court of Appeals brief. The court reversed the Court of Appeals in part and affirmed in part, remanding the case for further proceedings. View "Charles v. McQueen" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the decision of the court of appeals affirming the order of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of a homeowners' association (HOA) in this dispute between the HOA and a property owner, holding that the property owner was prohibited from using his property as a short-term rental.Plaintiff purchased a home in a vacation community with the intention to use it as a short-term rental. While at the time of purchase the property was subject to covenants requiring that the home be used for "residential and no other purposes," several years later the covenants were amended to allow leases with minimum lease terms of thirty days. Because Plaintiff continued to lease his property for terms of fewer than thirty days the HOA notified him that he was in violation of the amendments. Plaintiff responded by bringing this lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that he was not prohibited from using his property as a short-term rental. The HOA counterclaimed for declaratory and injunctive relief. The trial court granted summary judgment for Defendant. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed in part, holding (1) the HOA's covenants did not prohibit his short-term rentals; but (2) the amendments prohibited Plaintiff's short-term rentals. View "Pandharipande v. FSD Corp." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court vacated the judgments of the lower courts in this appeal addressing mootness when a law challenged in the trial court is altered or amended after the trial court issued its final judgment and while the appeal is pending, holding that remand was required in this case.Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Metro) challenging an ordinance prohibiting them from having clients in their home-based businesses. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Metro. While Plaintiffs' appeal was pending, Metro repealed the ordinance at issue and enacted a new ordinance allowing limited client visits to home-based businesses. The court of appeals determined that Plaintiffs' case was moot. The Supreme Court vacated the judgments below and remanded the case to give the parties an opportunity to amend their pleadings to address any claims asserted under the new ordinance, holding that, based on the current record, it could not be determined whether Plaintiffs would suffer ongoing harm from the new ordinance, how the change could affect their claims, and whether they retained a residual claim under the new ordinance. View "Shaw v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the court of appeals affirming the decision of the trial court enjoining Defendant's proposal to build a structure for the operation of a retail business, holding that restrictive covenants executed and recorded by the developers of a subdivision after they had sold the parties' lots did not apply to Defendant's property.The developers in this case platted a subdivision and sold the majority of lots with time-limited restrictions against non-residential use stated in the deeds that conveyed the lots. The developers then recorded a declaration of non-time-limited restrictive covenants, including a restriction against non-residential use, purporting to apply to all lots in the subdivision. Years later, Defendant purchased lots and proposed a commercial use of the property. Plaintiffs brought a declaratory judgment action seeking to enforce the restriction against non-residential use. The trial court enjoined Defendant from constructing any retail business or commercial enterprise on his property. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the developers lacked the authority to impose the declaration's restrictions as a servitude upon Defendant's property because they did not own the property when they executed and recorded those restrictive covenants; and (2) the developers' re-acquisition and re-sale of some of Defendant's lots after the recording of the declaration did not retroactively restrict Defendant's property through the declaration. View "Phillips v. Hatfield" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgments of the trial court and the court of appeals denying reformation of a quitclaim deed, holding that equitable reformation was not available when reformation would benefit parties with constructive notice of a title defect but harm the rights of creditors with recorded judgment liens.A husband and wife quitclaimed parcels of real property. The wife, who owned the property with her husband as tenants by the entirety, was omitted as grantor on one of the quitclaim deeds. Later, two banks obtained judgments against the husband and wife. When the property was sold, the purchasers discovered that the property was subject to the wife's retained ownership interest and the banks' recorded judgment liens. The wife signed a quitclaim deed of correction. The purchasers then filed a declaratory judgment action asking to the trial court to hold, based on mutual mistake, that the corrected quitclaim deed reformed the original quitclaim deed. The court denied reformation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because reforming the quitclaim deed would deprive the banks of their recorded judgment liens and benefit the purchasers and their lender, who acquired the property with constructive notice of the banks' recorded judgment liens and the wife's remaining interest in the property, the purchasers were not entitled to reformation. View "Trent v. Mountain Commerce Bank" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the trial court that documents containing communications between a corporation’s legal counsel and a property management property were protected under the attorney-client privilege, holding that the attorney-client privilege applied to the documents in this case.After acquiring commercial properties, the corporation filed unlawful detainer actions against the properties’ tenants. The tenants sought documents from the property management company that managed the corporation’s properties, but the corporation and property management company objected to producing the documents. The trial court concluded that the property management was an agent of the corporation, and therefore, the attorney-client privilege applied. The Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds, holding (1) the attorney-client privilege extends to communications between an entity’s legal counsel and a third-party non employee of the entity if the non employee is the functional equivalent of the entity’s employee; (2) the property management company in this case was the functional equivalent of the corporation’s employee; and (3) the communications related to the subject matter of counsel’s representation of the corporation and were made with the intention that they would be kept confidential. View "Dialysis Clinic, Inc. v. Medley" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court answered a question certified to it by a federal court regarding whether a repairman’s lien arising under Tenn. Code Ann. 66-19-101 may be enforced by a method other than attachment of the lien-subject property itself. Here, the lien-subject property was sold to a purchaser and was no longer available for attachment during the pendency of the federal court action, so the lien holder sought to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property. The Supreme Court answered by holding that Tenn. Code Ann. 66-21-101, which addresses enforcement of a statutory lien by original attachment where the lien statute does not specify a method to enforce the lien, is not a statutory vehicle for the lien holder to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property and neither provides for nor excludes other remedies that may be available to the lien holder to reach the proceeds from the sale of the lien-subject property. View "Embraer Aircraft Maintenance Services, Inc. v. Aerocentury Corp." on Justia Law

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Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., and Cracker Barrel Associates, LLC, (collectively “Plaintiffs”) owned certain real property on Sidco Drive in Davidson County. Richard Epperson and Timothy Causey (collectively “Defendants”) owned adjoining property. Both parcels were subject to a Declaration of Reciprocal Rights and Easements and Restrictive Covenants (“Declaration”), created by the original developer of these two parcels and several others in the same development. In April 2005, Defendants submitted to the Nashville/Davidson County Metropolitan Council a proposal to expand the building on their property. Upon learning of the plan, Plaintiffs notified Defendants that they believed the new construction would violate covenants 1(a), 2, and 3 of the Declaration, granting mutual vehicular easements to the adjoining owners and prohibiting obstruction to traffic flow. Defendants disagreed and persisted in seeking approval for their plan. In August, Plaintiffs filed suit to try and stop Defendants' building plans. The trial court ultimately granted Plaintiffs’ motion for temporary injunctive relief. On October 21, 2005, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Costs and Expenses, seeking almost $62,000 in attorney fees to that point. The ultimately resolved the substantive issues of the lawsuit and on January 30, 2006, the trial court entered an Agreed Judgment and Permanent Injunction, which permanently enjoined Defendants from expanding the building on their property. With regard to fees, the parties agreed that they would submit the fee matter to non-binding mediation. After the parties failed to reach an agreement, Plaintiffs renewed their motion for costs and expenses, requesting $3,913.75 in costs and expenses and a total of $117,334.50 in attorney fees. In their response to Plaintiffs’ motion, Defendants again asserted that Plaintiffs were not entitled to recover attorney fees because the Declaration did not expressly provide for their recovery. The trial court ultimately denied Plaintiffs’ request for attorney fees, explaining that no authority presented supported a finding that the contractual language of Paragraph 9 of the Declaration created a right to recover attorney fees. On appeal, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of attorney fees. The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Plaintiffs’ application for review to clarify the application of the American rule regarding attorney fees to the language in the Declaration, and affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc., et al. v. Epperson, et al." on Justia Law

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Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) brought this action to set aside a tax sale of real property, arguing that the county’s failure to provide it with notice of the sale violated his right to due process. The purchaser of the real property (Defendant) moved for judgment on the pleadings, asserting that MERS did not tender payment of the sale price plus the accrued taxes before bringing suit, as is statutorily required in a suit challenging the validity of a tax sale, and that MERS did not have a protected interest in the subject property. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion, concluding that MERS did not have an interest in the property. The Court of Appeals on the grounds that MERS lacked standing to file suit. The Supreme Court affirmed on different grounds, holding (1) MERS was not required to tender payment before filing this lawsuit; and (2) MERS acquired no protected interest in the subject property, and therefore, its due process rights were not violated by the county’s failure to notify it of the tax foreclosure proceedings or the tax sale. View "Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys., Inc. v. Ditto" on Justia Law