Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit
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The Klamath River Basin Reclamation Project straddles the Oregon-California border and provides water to hundreds of farms. The Project is managed by the Bureau of Reclamation. In 2001, the Bureau temporarily halted water delivery to farms and water districts in order to comply with its tribal trust obligations under the Endangered Species Act, 16 U.S.C. 1531. Plaintiffs alleged that action amounted to a taking without compensation, impaired their rights under the Klamath River Basin Compact, and caused the breach of water delivery contracts. The Claims Court rejected the suit on summary judgment. On remand, the Claims Court dismissed the breach of contract claims, determined that the takings claims should be analyzed as “physical takings,” and held a trial. The districts had been voluntarily dismissed as plaintiffs. As to the individual farmers, the Claims Court held that the Bureau’s actions did not amount to a taking and did not violate the Compact because the rights reserved for tribal fishing were superior. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding the plaintiffs’ state water rights subordinate to the federal tribal rights, which were recognized in an 1864 treaty. The Bureau acted reasonably to preserve water levels necessary to avoid endangering fish. View "Baley v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 1983-1984, the Farmers Home Administration issued apartment owners (Appellants) 50-year loans to provide low-income housing under 42 U.S.C. 1485. A promissory note provided that prepayments “may be made at any time at the option of the Borrower.” The mortgage stated that the loan must be used in compliance with the statute and that Appellants must use the property for low-income housing for 20 years before they could prepay and exit the program. The documents were contemporaneously executed and cited each other. The Emergency Low Income Housing Preservation Act of 1987 and Housing and Community Development Act of 1992 provided that borrowers could no longer prepay after the 20-year period but must notify FmHA’s successor, which was to make “reasonable efforts" to extend the low-income use,” 42 U.S.C. 1472(c)(4)(A). If the agreement is not extended, the borrower must attempt to sell the property at fair market value to a nonprofit organization or a public agency. Appellants rejected incentive offers and, in 2009-2010, unsuccessfully marketed their properties for the required period. Facing foreclosure and low occupancy due to high unemployment, Appellants submitted deeds in lieu of foreclosure, then filed suit. The Federal Circuit reinstated certain claims. In transferring deeds to the government, Appellants did not assign away their accrued claims for breach of the prepayment right. The Claims Court properly dismissed a contract-based Fifth Amendment “takings” claim. In entering contracts, the government acts in its commercial capacity and remedies arise from the contracts themselves, rather than from constitutional protections. Appellants can succeed under a theory premised on their property interests in the land and buildings before entering the contracts. View "Callaway Manor Apartments v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Moodys leased Pine Ridge Indian Reservation parcels for agriculture. The government has a trust responsibility for Indian agricultural lands, 25 U.S.C. 3701(2). The Secretary of the Interior is authorized to participate in the management of such lands, with the participation of the beneficial owners and has delegated some responsibilities to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). BIA regulations generally allow Indian landowners to enter into agricultural leases with BIA approval. Each Moody lease defined “the Indian or Indians” as the “LESSOR.” The Claims Court concluded that the Oglala Sioux Tribe signed the leases. Other lease provisions distinguished between the lease parties and the Secretary of the Interior/United States. Issues arose in 2012. The BIA sent letters canceling the leases, noting that the Moodys could appeal the decision to the Regional Director. Within the 30-day appeal period, the Moodys returned with a cashier’s check in the proper amount, which the BIA accepted. The BIA informed the Moodys that they need not appeal, could continue farming, and did not require written confirmation. Subsequently, the Moodys received trespass notices and were instructed to vacate, which they did. The Moodys did not appeal within the BIA but sued the government. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of the written contract claims for lack of jurisdiction because the government was not a party to the leases, for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the Moodys did not have implied-in-fact contracts with the government, and for failure to raise a cognizable takings claim because their claim was based on the government’s alleged violation of applicable regulations. View "Moody v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Landowners inherited Welty Farm in Cape Girardeau County, Missouri, bordered by the Whitewater River. Givens purchased a farm bordering and downstream from the Welty Farm in 1998. Givens maintains a drainage ditch and levee system near the River and is enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), 16 U.S.C. 3831. Under the CRP, landowners can enter into contracts to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and to manage it in accordance with an approved conservation plan in exchange for monetary compensation from the USDA. Conservation plans for land adjacent to streams or rivers commonly require the maintenance of a “filter strip,” an area of vegetation adjacent to water to remove nutrients, sediment, organic matter, pesticides, and other pollutants from surface runoff and subsurface flow. In 2014, the Landowners sued Givens, alleging that his levee and ditch system resulted in the drainage of wetlands on Welty Farm and “caused unnatural flooding,” which rendered Welty Farm “unfit for cultivation.” The suit was dismissed. The Landowners sued the United States, claiming that the government had taken their property without just compensation by “requiring and/or approving the construction and maintenance” of the Givens levee. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Landowners pled no facts suggesting that the flooding was a direct and intended result of the government’s actions nor have they pled facts sufficient to show that Givens was “coerced” into constructing and maintaining his levee. View "Welty v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2005, the Ginsburgs, through their corporation (Hawthorne), acquired Brooklyn property and applied to participate in the Brownfield Cleanup Program. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) approved their application and the parties entered into an Agreement. The development was completed in 2011, converting an old shoe factory into a residential rental building. In 2011, the Ginsburgs granted the state an environmental easement; DEC issued a certificate of completion. Hawthorne applied for a brownfield redevelopment tax credit of $6,583,835.10 for tax year 2011, with the Ginsburgs’ share equaling $4,975,595.00, In 2013, the state paid the Ginsburgs a refund of $1,903,951.00 attributable to the brownfield redevelopment tax credit. They did not report the payment as income on their 2013 federal income tax return, claiming that this payment constituted a nontaxable refund. The IRS determined the Ginsburgs owed an additional $690,628.46 in federal income tax, which they paid. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court, holding that the excess payment of the tax credit they had received from the state is federally taxable income and “does not qualify for any exclusion or exception from the federal definition of income.” The Ginsburgs freely chose to participate and take advantage of New York’s state tax credit program and have complete dominion and control over the payment because there is a legally adequate guarantee that they will be allowed to excess amount of the tax credit, barring actionable misconduct on their part. View "Ginsburg v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Court of Federal Claims held that the government effected a physical taking of a 10-acre peninsula on the island of Culebra in Puerto Rico, when the Fish and Wildlife Service faxed its claim of ownership to a gun mount located on the peninsula to a potential purchaser. The location of the government’s claim had been disputed for many years. After the fax was sent, a potential buyer of the land around the claimed area backed out. The Federal Circuit reversed, first holding that the claim was not untimely under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491. Even if Plaintiffs “knew or had reason to know of the government’s claims" before 2006, a mere government assertion of ownership does not constitute a taking. The scope and location of the government’s alleged taking was not previously fixed as it was in the 2006 fax. The government’s mere sharing of information about its claim of ownership with a third party does not constitute a physical taking (or a per se regulatory taking) of that property; the government did not physically occupy part of Plaintiffs’ property, require Plaintiffs to suffer a permanent physical invasion, directly appropriate Plaintiffs’ property, constitute the functional equivalent of an ouster of Plaintiffs’ possession, or deprive Plaintiffs of all economically beneficial use of Plaintiffs’ property. View "Katzin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Inholders own patented mining and homestead claims within the Santa Fe National Forest. The 2011 Las Conchas Fire caused widespread destruction of vegetation within the forest. Forest Roads 89 and 268, which the Inholders had used to access their properties, were severely damaged by subsequent flooding. The Forest Service notified them that the roads were “impassible” and that it would provide them with limited access: “a combination of driving and hiking over specific routes and under specific weather conditions.” Later, the Service sent a letter stating that “public safety would be highly threatened by use of” the roads; that it would close the roads to public access for the foreseeable future; that because of continuing terrain instability, any reconstruction would likely be destroyed by future flooding; and, even if reconstruction were possible, the Service could not justify expending public funds when there is no general public need. The Service suggested that the Inholders work “collectively” to reconstruct the roads. The Inholders claimed that they held statutorily-granted easements. The USDA disagreed, citing 90 Stat. 2743, but acknowledged that the Inholders had a right to access their properties, “subject to reasonable regulations.” The Inholders claimed a compensable taking. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal, finding that the Inholders had not adequately pled a physical taking and that any regulatory taking claim was not ripe because the Inholders had not applied for a permit to reconstruct the roads. View "Martin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Surface and Transportation Board (STB) has regulatory authority over rail carriers, 49 U.S.C. 10501(b). A "discontinuance" allows a rail carrier to preserve a rail corridor for possible reactivation of service; "abandonment" removes the line from the system and terminates the railroad’s common carrier obligation. The 1983 Amendments to the National Trails System Act created an alternative process, “railbanking,” 16 U.S.C. 1241, which maintains STB jurisdiction over the dormant corridor, but allows a third party to assume responsibilities for the right-of-way, preserve the right-of-way for future rail use, and, in the interim, convert the corridor into a recreational trail. The railroad first initiates abandonment proceedings; a party interested in acquiring the corridor then requests an STB Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU). If an agreement is reached, the STB suspends abandonment proceedings, preventing state law reversionary interests in the corridor from vesting. Property owners who believed they had a reversionary interest began claiming that railbanking constituted a taking: the threshold question is whether the claimant has a compensable property interest, which is often answered by analyzing the original deeds that conveyed the property to the railroad. In 2012, BNSF initiated proceedings to abandon a corridor. The Chicago Department of Transportation indicated interest in railbanking. The STB issued an NITU, giving BNSF until April 2014, to negotiate an agreement, after which the corridor would be abandoned. After numerous extensions, BNSF has neither reached an agreement nor abandoned the corridor. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court: the deeds between the predecessors-in-interest to the claimants and the original railroad conveyed the property to the railroad in fee simple rather than only an easement. There was no taking of any reversionary interest. View "Chicago Coating Co., LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs leased part of Love Field airport from the City of Dallas and constructed a six-gate airline terminal. Plaintiffs claim that the Wright Amendment Reform Act of 2006 (WARA), 120 Stat. 2011, effected a regulatory taking of their leases and a physical taking of the terminal because the statute codified a private agreement in which Dallas agreed to bar the use of plaintiffs’ gates for commercial air transit and to acquire and demolish plaintiffs’ terminal. The Claims Court found that WARA's enactment constituted a per se regulatory taking of plaintiffs’ leaseholds under Supreme Court precedent, Lucas, and a regulatory taking of the leaseholds under Penn Central, and a physical taking of the terminal. The Federal Circuit reversed. Noting the history of regulation of Love Field and limitations in place before WARA, the court stated there can be no regulatory taking because plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that their ability to use their property for commercial air passenger service pre-WARA had any value. Plaintiffs’ reasonable, investment-backed expectations are limited by the regulatory regime in place when they acquired the leases. Rejecting a claim of physical taking the court reasoned that a requirement that federal funds not be used for removal of plaintiffs’ gates explicitly distances the federal government from Dallas’ intended action. View "Love Terminal Partners, L.P. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Saint Bernard Parish Government and other owners of real property in St. Bernard Parish or in the Lower Ninth Ward of the City of New Orleans sued under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), alleging a taking. They claimed that the government was liable for flood damage to their properties caused by Hurricane Katrina and other hurricanes. Plaintiffs’ theory was that the government incurred liability because of government inaction, including the failure to properly maintain or to modify the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) channel, and government action (the construction and operation of the MRGO channel). The Claims Court found a taking occurred and awarded compensation. The Federal Circuit reversed. The government cannot be liable on a takings theory for inaction and the government action in constructing and operating MRGO was not shown to have been the cause of the flooding. The Claims Court failed to apply the correct legal standard, which required that the causation analysis account for government flood control projects that reduced the risk of flooding. View "St. Bernard Parish Government v. United States" on Justia Law