Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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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

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the bank in an action alleging violation of the Homeowners Protection Act. Plaintiffs alleged that the bank failed to make certain required disclosures in connection with their residential mortgage loans. The court held that the statute was clear that these mortgage insurance disclosures were mandated only if lender-paid mortgage insurance was a condition of obtaining a loan. In this case, because no such conditions applied to plaintiffs' loans, nondisclosure was not a violation of the Act. View "Dwoskin v. Bank of America, N.A." on Justia Law

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The federal criminal forfeiture statute, 21 U.S.C. 853, does not authorize the pretrial restraint of a defendant's innocently-obtained property. Section 853(e) permits the government to obtain a pretrial restraining order over only those assets that are directly subject to forfeiture as property traceable to a charged offense. Consequently, the Fourth Circuit overruled its precedents to the contrary, United States v. McKinney (In re Billman), 915 F.2d 916 (4th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 500 U.S. 952 (1991), and United States v. Bollin, 264 F.3d 391, 421–22 (4th Cir. 2001), and vacated the district court's order relying on those authorities. View "United States v. Chamberlain" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Wells Fargo, alleging that the foreclosure sale of his house was invalid under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), 50 U.S.C. 3953(a), 3953(c), which requires a lender to obtain a court order before foreclosing on or selling property owned by a current or recent servicemember where the mortgage obligation "originated before the period of the servicemember's military service." The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Wells Fargo, holding that plaintiff's mortgage obligation originated when he was in the Navy, it was not a protected obligation under section 3953(a), and his later enlistment in the Army did not change that status to afford protection retroactively. View "Sibert v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law