Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
In re: Town Center Flats, LLC
Debtor-landlord did not retain sufficient rights in rents assigned to lender for those rents to be included in landlord's bankruptcy estate. Town Center owns a 53-unit Shelby Township residential complex; its construction was financed by a $5.3 million loan owned by ECP. The mortgage included an assignment of rents to the creditor in the event of default. Rents from the complex are Town Center’s only income. Town Center defaulted. ECP sent notice to tenants in compliance with the agreement and with Mich. Comp. Laws 554.231, which allows creditors to collect rents directly from tenants of certain mortgaged properties. ECP recorded the notice documents as required by the statute. ECP filed a foreclosure complaint. A week later, Town Center filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy relief, then owing ECP $5,329,329 plus fees and costs. The parties reached an agreement to allow Town Center to collect rents, with $15,000 per month to pay down the debt to ECP and the remainder for authorized expenses. Town Center’s bankruptcy petition resulted in an automatic stay on the state-court case, 11 U.S.C. 362(a). ECP unsuccessfully moved to prohibit Town Center from using rents collected after the petition was filed. The district vacated. The Sixth Circuit reversed; Town Center did not retain sufficient rights in the assigned rents under Michigan law for those rents to be included in the bankruptcy estate. View "In re: Town Center Flats, LLC" on Justia Law
Brown v. Ellmann
In 2014, Brown filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, disclosing her ownership of a residence in Ypsilanti, Michigan, valued at $170,000 and subject to $219,000 in secured mortgage claims held by two separate creditors. Brown’s initial petition stated her intent to surrender her residence to the estate and did not claim any exemptions for the value of her redemption rights under Michigan law. The Trustee sought the court’s permission to sell the house for $160,000 and to distribute the proceeds among Brown’s creditors and professionals involved in selling the home. Brown objected and sought to amend her initial disclosures to claim exemptions for the value of her redemption rights (about $23,000) under Mich. Comp. Laws 600.3240, citing 11 U.S.C. 522(d). The bankruptcy court granted the Trustee permission to sell the property and denied Brown’s requested exemptions. The district court and Sixth Circuit affirmed, reasoning that Brown lacked any equity in the property after it sold for substantially less than the value of the secured claims. View "Brown v. Ellmann" on Justia Law
Wayside Church v. Van Buren County
Plaintiffs each owned real property in Van Buren County, Michigan in but failed to pay property taxes for 2011. In 2012, the properties became subject to forfeiture and foreclosure. In 2014, the circuit court issued a foreclosure judgment; title to the properties passed in fee simple absolute to the county. Months later, the county sold the properties at an auction. The minimum bid for each of the properties was calculated by totaling “[a]ll delinquent taxes, interest, penalties, and fees due on the property” plus the “expenses of administering the sale, including all preparations for the sale.” Wayside Church’s former property had a minimum bid of $16,750, but sold for $206,000. The minimum bid for the Stahl property was $25,000; the property sold for $68,750. The Hodgens property required a minimum bid of $5,900, but sold for $47,750. Plaintiffs sought return of the surplus funds, citing 42 U.S.C. 1983, and alleging that they had a cognizable property interest in their foreclosed properties and in the surplus proceeds generated by the sales, so that Defendants were required to pay just compensation under the Fifth Amendment. The Sixth Circuit vacated dismissal for failure to state a claim and remanded for dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. the district court erred in finding that the claims were not barred by the Tax Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. 1341, and the doctrine of comity. View "Wayside Church v. Van Buren County" on Justia Law
Harper v. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District
In 1949, the federal government deeded a large parcel to the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD), the entity responsible for controlling flooding in eastern Ohio. The deed provided that the land would revert to the United States if MWCD alienated or attempted to alienate it, or if MWCD stopped using the land for recreation, conservation, or reservoir-development purposes. MWCD sold rights to conduct hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations on the land. Fracking opponents discovered the deed restrictions and, arguing that MWCD’s sale of fracking rights triggered the reversion, filed a “qui tam” suit under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729. alleging that MWCD was knowingly withholding United States property from the government. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal of the claim. The court noted recent legislative amendments that replace a fraudulent-intent requirement in two FCA provisions with a requirement that the defendant acted “knowingly,” but concluded that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim even under the more lenient scienter requirement; they did not specify whether or how MWCD knew or should have known that it was in violation of the deed restrictions, such that it knew or should have known that title to the property reverted to the United States. View "Harper v. Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District" on Justia Law
Allied Erecting & Dismantling Co., Inc. v. Surface Transp. Bd.
East of Youngstown’s Center Street Bridge, Allied owns land containing the “LTV tracks.” Mahoning Railroad Company has an easement to use those tracks. Mahoning began parking rail cars on the tracks, which Allied considered a violation of the easement. A state court referred the matter to the Surface Transportation Board. Allied challenged the Board’s jurisdiction, arguing that the tracks were “spur, side, or industrial tracks,” excepted tracks under 49 U.S.C. 10906. The Board concluded (erroneously) that it had previously authorized Mahoning to provide common-carrier service using the LTV tracks; that Mahoning, therefore, was a “railroad carrier”; and that the easement did not forbid the use. Allied introduced an affidavit from a former Mahoning employee, asserting that the LTV tracks had been built as part of a strictly in-plant system and were never subject to Board control, then argued that the LTV tracks were private tracks outside the Board’s jurisdiction, rather than excepted tracks. The Board agreed that it had not authorized Mahoning to use the tracks, but concluded that the LTV tracks were mainline tracks, over which it had jurisdiction. Because Allied waited five years to clarify its position, the Board did not consider the “new evidence” and reaffirmed. Mahoning alleges that it owns lot 62188, west of the bridge; Allied alleges that it bought the lot and sought to evict Mahoning. The Board concluded that the 62188 tracks are either excepted or mainline tracks, within its jurisdiction, and remanded to state court for determination of land title. The Sixth Circuit denied an appeal. Mahoning’s use of the tracks fits the statutory definition of “transportation by rail carrier . . . by railroad” and is within the Board’s jurisdiction View "Allied Erecting & Dismantling Co., Inc. v. Surface Transp. Bd." on Justia Law
Harris v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins.
In 2006, plaintiffs procured a mortgage from Regions to purchase a home near the Cumberland River. The National Flood Insurance Act (NFIA) requires mortgagors to obtain flood insurance for properties in flood zones, 42 U.S.C. 4012a(b)(1). CoreLogic provided Regions with flood-zone certification. The National Flood Insurance Program Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) showed that the property was in a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA), but CoreLogic informed plaintiffs that their property was in a non-SFHA zone. FEMA issued a revised FIRM for the area months later. Regions informed plaintiffs that their home was in a flood zone and that they must procure flood insurance within 45 days. Plaintiffs hired Vandenbergh, who procured for them a Nationwide Standard Flood Insurance Policy for a home constructed before the effective FIRM. Plaintiffs’ home, built in 1984, after the 1981 FIRM, required a post-FIRM policy, under which they could receive full coverage only after obtaining an elevation certificate showing sufficient elevation above the base flood zone. A 2010 flood submerged plaintiffs’ home in 16” of water. Nationwide informed plaintiffs of pre-/post-FIRM discrepancy and required an elevation certificate, which showed that the home’s lower level was below the base flood-zone elevation. Because plaintiffs’ home was post-FIRM and situated below the base flood-zone elevation, their SFIP did not cover all losses “below the lowest elevated floor.” FEMA upheld Nationwide’s coverage determination. The Sixth Circuit affirmed partial summary judgment for Vandenbergh, but vacated dismissal of claims against Regions, CoreLogic, and Nationwide. The NFIA did not preempt state-law claims arising from procurement of the SFIP: that plaintiffs would not have purchased their home absent defendants’ negligence and breach of fiduciary duty. View "Harris v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins." on Justia Law
In re: Jackson
In 2014, Jackson filed a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy petition. His mortgagee (BOA), sought relief from the stay; abandonment of his residence, a condominium; and in rem relief for two years under 11 U.S.C. 362(d)(4)(B), alleging a substantial arrearage and prior bankruptcy filings that included the Condominium as scheduled property. The court granted the motion. BOA and Jackson entered into a loan modification agreement. The owners’ association (Carlton House) sought a permanent in rem order. The court stated that post-petition amounts were current “and the issue seems to be the desire to move forward with the foreclosure for the outstanding [pre-petition] approximately $5,900.” The court entered a two-year in rem sanction. Jackson received his discharge; the case was closed. Carlton House immediately went to state court to schedule a sheriff’s sale--the final step in a foreclosure action commenced in 2008 by BOA’s predecessor. Carlton House and the lender had obtained a foreclosure decree in 2009. The bankruptcy court reopened the case, concluded that Carlton House violated discharge order by scheduling the sale, awarded monetary sanctions, and enjoined re-scheduling of the sale. The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel reversed, noting that Carlton House has statutory obligations to other unit owners. The bankruptcy court effectively imposed an “equity requirement” that is not part of the Ohio foreclosure sale process. View "In re: Jackson" on Justia Law
Robertson v. U.S. Bank, N.A.
In 2005, the Robertsons borrowed $192,000, secured by a mortgage on their Memphis home. The note was bundled into a mortgage-backed trust with U.S. Bank as designated supervisor; Wilson as trustee, responsible for conducting any foreclosure sale; and MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems) as the beneficiary. MERS acts as an agent for the owners as mortgage notes are transferred on the secondary market.The Robertsons stopped making payments in 2011. MERS assigned the deed to U.S. Bank. In 2014, Wilson sent the Robertsons a Notice of Trustee’s Sale. The Robertsons responded with a “notice of rescission,” alleging that U.S. Bank had violated the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) and lacked standing to foreclose, then sued U.S. Bank and Wilson in state court. U.S. Bank removed the case to federal court, where the Robertsons agreed to dismiss Wilson. The district court granted U.S. Bank summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Wilson waived its right to remove the case; U.S. Bank failed to comply with a TILA notice requirement, giving the Robertsons the right to rescind the loan; U.S. Bank lacked standing to enforce the note because it never showed it had a stake in the loan; and U.S. Bank forfeited its right to foreclose when it failed to raise the claim in its answer to the Robertsons’ complaint. View "Robertson v. U.S. Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
Journey Acquisition-II, L.P. v. EQT Prod.Co.
In 2001, EQT sold or leased to Journey several oil- and natural-gas-producing properties in Kentucky. Both parties continued to conduct oil and natural-gas operations in the state, but Journey later concluded that EQT was operating on some of the lands that had been conveyed to Journey. Journey sought a declaration that it owned or controlled those properties and that EQT was liable for the oil and natural gas that EQT had removed from those properties. The district court concluded on summary judgment that the parties’ 2001 contract had unambiguously conveyed the disputed properties to Journey. A jury found that EQT’s trespasses on Journey’s lands were not in good faith. The court subsequently required EQT to pay $14,288,432 in damages and transfer certain oil and natural-gas wells to Journey. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court erred in construing the parties’ contract, in excluding portions of EQT’s proffered evidence, and in crafting the remedy for EQT’s trespasses. EQT carried out its drilling despite obvious indicators that its ownership of the underlying property was doubtful, establishing an ample basis to conclude that EQT’s trespasses were not in good faith. View "Journey Acquisition-II, L.P. v. EQT Prod.Co." on Justia Law
United States v. Sawyer
Sawyer, with co-defendants, formed A&E to recover salvageable materials (copper, steel, aluminum) from the 300-acre Hamblen County site of the former Liberty Fibers rayon plant, which contained buildings, a water treatment facility, and extensive above-ground piping. The defendants knew that many of the buildings contained regulated asbestos-containing material (RACM), such as pipe-wrap, insulation, roofing, and floor tiles, much of which was marked. Demolition did not comply with National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) governing the handling and disposal of asbestos. Workers were not provided with proper respirators or protective suits; some were asked to remove or handle friable asbestos without adequately wetting it. In a 2008 consent agreement, A&E agreed to correct the violations and comply with NESHAP during future removal and demolition. In 2009, the EPA terminated the agreement and issued an immediate compliance order. Federal agents searched the site, seized documents, and took samples of RACM. EPA, acting under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), cleaned up the site, at a cost of $16,265,418. In 2011, Sawyer and his co-defendants were charged. Sawyer pled guilty to conspiring to violate the Clean Air Act, 18 U.S.C. 371. His PSR calculated a guideline sentencing range of 87-108 months. The statutory maximum under 18 U.S.C. 371 is 60 months, so his effective range was 60 months. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Sawyer’s 60-month sentence and an order holding the co-defendants jointly and severally liable for $10,388,576.71 in restitution to the EPA. View "United States v. Sawyer" on Justia Law