Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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The district court held defendant in contempt after finding him in violation of a consent order limiting his participation in the mortgage industry. The district court ordered the disgorgement of over half-a-million dollars of defendant's contemptuous earnings. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's contempt decision, holding that the district court cited several proper reasons for holding defendant in contempt. However, the district court based its disgorgement sanction on an erroneous legal interpretation of the terms of the underlying consent order. Accordingly, the court vacated the disgorgement order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Klopp" on Justia Law

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A bank office that conducts no mortgage-related business does not qualify as a "branch office" of a "mortgagee" under 24 C.F.R. 203.604(c)(2). Section 203.604(c)(2) excuses a face-to-face meeting between the bank and the mortgage borrower before a foreclosure when the "mortgaged property is not within 200 miles of the mortgagee, its servicer, or a branch office of either." The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of U.S. Bank's motions to dismiss. The court agreed with the district court that U.S. Bank's Richmond office – the only one within 200 miles of plaintiff's home – conducted no mortgage-related business and was not open to the public, and thus did not qualify as a "branch office" of a "mortgagee." View "Stepp v. U.S. Bank Trust N.A." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, as representatives of a putative class of plaintiffs, specified in their operative single-count complaint that the kickback scheme, in which the Lakeview Defendants paid the Northrop Defendants for marketing services that were actually illegal business referrals, deprived them and the other class members of impartial and fair competition between settlement services providers, in violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). The Fourth Circuit held that plaintiffs lack Article III standing to sue, because plaintiffs did not suffer any real-world harm, much less a concrete injury, from the deprivation of impartial and fair competition between settlement providers. The court also rejected plaintiffs three novel theories of standing. Therefore, the court vacated the summary judgment award and remanded for dismissal. View "Baehr v. The Creig Northrop Team, P.C." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a putative class action alleging that between 2009 and 2014 certain lenders participated in "kickback schemes" prohibited by the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). The district court dismissed the claims because the first of the five class actions was filed after the expiration of the one year statute of limitations. The Fourth Circuit reversed and held that, under the allegations set forth in their complaints, plaintiffs were entitled to relief from the limitations period under the fraudulent concealment tolling doctrine. In this case, plaintiffs sufficiently pleaded that the lenders engaged in affirmative acts of concealment and the court could not conclude as a matter of law that these plaintiffs unreasonably failed to discover or investigate the basis of their claims within the limitations period. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Edmondson v. Eagle National Bank" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of disputes between the parties involving a twelve year commercial lease of office space in Baltimore, Maryland. The Fourth Circuit held that the district court misconstrued the lease agreement and misapplied Maryland law in concluding that Montgomery Park had a duty to endeavor to relet the premises and minimize its damages as a condition precedent to recovering against NCO. The panel held that the lease agreement's language incorporated the common law mitigation-of-damages doctrine, which holds that a plaintiff cannot recover damages which it could have reasonably avoided. Therefore, Montgomery Park's recovery should only have been reduced by the amount of rent that NCO could demonstrate would have been recovered by reasonable efforts to re-let the space. The court also held that the district court, in evaluating the commercial reasonableness of Montgomery Park's mitigation efforts, applied the wrong standard. The court held that reasonable commercial efforts to mitigate damages did not require Montgomery Park to favor NCO’s space over other vacant space in the building, but rather, commercial reasonableness only required Montgomery Park to reasonably market NCO's space on an equal footing with the other spaces that it was seeking to rent. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's judgment and remanded for further proceedings. View "NCO Financial Systems, Inc. v. Montgomery Park, LLC" on Justia Law

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In an action arising from a condemnation proceeding, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's partial grant of summary judgment to MVP based on its right to condemn certain temporary and permanent easements on the properties of several landowners, including WPPLP. In this case, MVP was authorized by FERC to exercise its rights of eminent domain to construct a natural gas pipeline. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of MVP's motion for a preliminary injunction allowing MVP immediate access to the easements described in MVP's complaint. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding evidence regarding potential damage to WPPLP and WPPLLC's coal as a result of the pipeline; the district court did not err by declining to join WPPLLC as an indispensable party; there was no genuine dispute of material fact as to MVP's claim to invoke eminent domain powers; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the Winter factors favored a grant of a preliminary injunction to MVP. View "Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC v. Western Pocahontas Properties" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from FERC's approval of Mountain Valley's application to construct a natural gas pipeline through West Virginia and Virginia. Mountain Valley successfully negotiated easements allowing access onto the land of most of the affected landowners, but in order to obtain the rest of the easements it needed, it initiated condemnation proceedings. Three district courts granted partial summary judgment to Mountain Valley and issued preliminary injunctions granting immediate possession of the easements. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's orders and held that East Tennessee Natural Gas Co. v. Sage, 361 F.3d 808 (4th Cir. 2004), squarely foreclosed the Landowners' argument that the district courts lacked the authority to grant immediate possession in a Natural Gas Act condemnation. The court also held that the district courts did not abuse their discretion in granting preliminary injunctive relief to Mountain Valley under the test in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 20 (2008). View "Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC v. 6.56 Acres of Land" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's pretrial order denying his motion to release seized assets. The court held that there was probable cause to find that defendant used fraudulently obtained and laundered funds to make mortgage payments and property tax payments associated with his Virginia property, and that defendant used funds to pay for improvements to both of his properties. Therefore, the court held that there was probable cause to find that the properties were involved in and traceable to defendant's wire fraud and money laundering charges and were thus forfeitable. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

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In 2004-2006, Pulte purchased 540 acres of Clarksburg land, then governed by the 1994 Master Plan, which divided development into four stages. In the fourth stage, the area containing Pulte’s land was to be developed into residential communities. Pulte’s land was designated as a receiving property for Transferable Development Rights (TDRs) and was zoned for one-acre lots. Pulte could increase the allowable density to two units per acre by purchasing TDRs from agricultural properties in other Montgomery County areas, which would restrict future development of the agricultural property. Pulte invested 12 million dollars in TDRs. Under the Plan, there were prerequisites to Stage 4 development. All had occurred by 2009. The Plan stated that Stage 4 developments can proceed once public agencies and the developer have complied with all “implementing mechanisms,” which included Water and Sewer Plan amendments. Pulte submitted its Water and Sewer Request to the County and the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in 2009, with a $10,000 filing fee. The County never acted on Pulte’s application. In 2012, Pulte submitted a Pre-Application Concept Plan to the Commission, which rejected the plan. The agencies refused to meet and stopped responding to Pulte’s communications but reopened the Plan to study the watershed in which Pulte’s land is located and ultimately imposed regulatory changes that severely reduced the number of dwellings Pulte could build and imposed additional costly burdens. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Pulte’s due process, equal protection, and regulatory taking claims, stating that federal courts are not the appropriate forum to challenge local land use determinations. Pulte had no constitutional property interest in developing its land as it had contemplated, and local authorities had a plausible, rational basis for their actions. View "Pulte Home Corp. v. Montgomery County" on Justia Law

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The Guild appealed the district court's order of forfeiture to the United States of seven ancient Cypriot coins and eight ancient Chinese coins, which were imported into this country by the Guild. The Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that the district court properly determined that the government had satisfied its burden under 19 U.S.C. 2610 with respect to the coins at issue in these forfeiture proceedings. Therefore, the burden shifted to the Guild to prove that the coins were somehow not subject to being forfeited to the United States. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by requiring the Guild to present expert evidence that was particularized to the fifteen defendant ancient coins; the district court did not improperly discount expert testimony regarding the circulation patterns of ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins; and the district court did not improperly reject and discount another expert's particularized evidence about the ancient Cypriot coins. The court rejected the Guild's contention that the Customs regulation promulgated and codified at 19 C.F.R. 12.104 irreconcilably conflicted with 19 U.S.C. 2601(2), and the Guild's claims of discovery errors. Finally, the district court's conclusion in the Strike Opinion and Order did not violate the Guild's due process rights. View "United States v. Ancient Coin Collectors Guild" on Justia Law