Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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In 2002, NCO leased roughly 100,000 square feet of commercial space from Montgomery in its Baltimore building, which has over 1.2 million leasable square feet. NCO vacated the property in 2011. Montgomery was left with roughly 500,000 vacant square feet to lease. The lease and common law required Montgomery to mitigate damages after NCO breached the lease by using commercially reasonable efforts to re-lease NCO’s space.In 2016, the Fourth Circuit held that NCO failed to satisfy the conditions for exercising the lease’s early termination option and that its vacation of the leased premises left it potentially liable for the payment of rent for the full term. In 2019, that court held that Montgomery’s obligation to mitigate damages was not a condition precedent to an award of damages and did not require Montgomery to “develop a unique, preferred plan for leasing the NCO space . . . at the expense of its other vacant spaces” in the building. Montgomery was required only “to reasonably market NCO’s space on an equal footing with the other spaces that it was seeking to rent” in the building. The district court, on remand, found that Montgomery’s efforts to mitigate damages were commercially reasonable. The Fourth Circuit affirmed. Montgomery did not sit on its hands to benefit from NCO’s ongoing rent obligation; it made substantial efforts to mitigate damages. View "NCO Financial Systems, Inc. v. Montgomery Park, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a citizen and resident of Vietnam, initiated arbitration proceedings in Singapore against Defendant, then a citizen and resident of North Carolina regarding a dispute related to a sale of property in the Philippines. Plaintiff obtained a $1.55 million award against Defendant, and then brought this case asking the court to enforce the award. The district court rejected Defendant's jurisdictional challenges and granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff. Defendant appealed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to Plaintiff. In so holding, the court rejected Defendant's claim that the district court lacked subject matter and personal jurisdiction, and that the court erred in finding no disputed issues of material fact. View "Rachan Reddy v. Rashid Buttar" on Justia Law

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Five adjacent Burtonsville, Maryland parcels are restricted from receiving sewer service. Several previous attempts to obtain approval of water and sewer category change requests were unsuccessful. The owners' alternative plan was to sell to a religious organization. They believed that land-use regulations must submit to “[c]hurch use [which] cannot be denied.” They entered into a contract with Canaan, contingent on the approval of the extension of a public sewer line for a new church. Such an extension required amendment of the Comprehensive Ten-Year Water Supply and Sewerage Systems Plan, which involves the Montgomery County Planning Board, the County Executive, the County Council, public hearings, and the Maryland Department of the Environment.Following denial of their requests, the owners sued under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the claims. The land has been bound by decades of regulations restricting development for both religious and non-religious purposes. The parties were aware of the difficulties in developing the property when they entered into the contract; they could not have a reasonable expectation of religious land use. The restrictions are rationally related to the government’s interest in protecting the region’s watershed. View "Canaan Christian Church v. Montgomery County" on Justia Law

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This appeal involves a motion to enforce the final judgment and final order in a class action settlement made in the district court by the defendant in the class action, EQT, and class members, the Huey Plaintiffs. The Huey Plaintiffs subsequently filed suit in the Circuit Court of Wetzel County, West Virginia (the Wetzel County litigation) against EQT three years after the entry of the final judgment and final order, alleging that EQT trespassed on their mineral estate in violation of West Virginia statutory and common law. After the district court denied the final judgment and final order and declined to enjoin the Wetzel County litigation, EQT appealed.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of EQT's motion to enforce the final judgment order and final order, concluding that the district court did not err in declining to enjoin the Wetzel County litigation. The court found no error in the district court's assumption that the Huey Plaintiffs were class members bound by the Settlement Agreement. The court agreed with the district court's holding that the trespass claim in the Wetzel County litigation is not a royalty claim and not released by the Agreement. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in not issuing an injunction and by finding that two exceptions to the Anti-Injunction Act, the "in aid of jurisdiction" and the relitigation exceptions, did not apply in this case. View "Huey v. Equitable Production Co." on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Moores sued, claiming that Equitrans breached the parties’ right-of-way agreement and trespassed on the Moores’ land by laying two pipeline segments outside of the area specified in their agreement. A jury found that Equitrans either trespassed on the Moores’ West Virginia property or violated the right-of-way agreement but made no findings as to the proper remedy. While the Moores initially sought equitable relief (ejectment), a subsequent condemnation judgment in favor of Equitrans ultimately precluded such relief. Following several appeals, the district court allowed the Moores to pursue damages for breach-of-contract and trespass but denied leave to add a claim for intentional trespass. Later, the district court barred any claim for breach-of-contract damages. After excluding much of the Moores’ evidence of trespass damages, the court sua sponte entered judgment in favor of Equitrans.The Fourth Circuit vacated in part. The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying leave to amend, in making its motion in limine rulings, or in entering judgment in favor of Equitrans on contract damages. The court rejected a contention that the proper measure of trespass damages includes a portion of Equitrans’s profits. Because the Moores lacked sufficient notice that they needed to come forward with all evidence of trespass damages, the court vacated the portion of the judgment concerning trespass damages for procedural error and remanded. View "Moore v. Equitrans, L.P." on Justia Law

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Victory Temple, affiliated with a Nigerian evangelical church, was founded in 1996. Victory’s membership grew from about 500 to more than 2,000 members. In 2018, Victory purchased the Property, intending to build a church with a seating capacity of up to 2,000. The zoning permits a church facility as a by-right use. An engineering firm concluded that building a church on the Property was entirely feasible. The Property was in the County’s water and sewer Category 5, an area planned for a future community water and sewer system, and required an upgrade to Category 4 to be developed. Victory submitted an application for a category change; the city manager recommended approval, emphasizing that many nearby parcels were already in Category 3. The Bowie City Council recommended denial. Residents expressed concerns about traffic safety, declining property values, and “light pollution.” The Transportation Committee voted to deny the Application. The County Council denied the Application.The Fourth Circuit upheld an award of declaratory and injunctive relief in favor of Victory under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000cc, The legislative amendment to the Water and Sewer Plan sought by Victory constitutes a land-use regulation subject to RLUIPA and the denial violated RLUIPA’s substantial burden provision. The County made “individualized assessments of the proposed uses for the property involved.” Assuming traffic safety constitutes a compelling governmental interest, the County failed to show how that its denial of the Application was the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. View "Redeemed Christian Church of God v. Prince George's County" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Zito purchased a beachfront house and lot on Nags Head (a barrier island). In 2016, the house burned down. The lot is governed by North Carolina’s Coastal Area Management Act (CAMA): buildings with less than 5,000 square feet must be set back at least 60 feet or 30 times the local rate of erosion, whichever is farther, from the vegetation line. Buildings of less than 2,000 square feet built before June 1979 fall under a grandfather provision, requiring a setback of only 60 feet from the vegetation line. The Zito property qualifies for the grandfather provision but is set back only 12 feet from the vegetation line. In 2018, the coastline by the property eroded at an average rate of six feet per year. Experts indicate that coastal erosion and rising sea levels could cause the property to be underwater by 2024. The permit officer denied Zito’s application to rebuild The Coastal Resources Commission denied a variance, informing Zito of the right to appeal in state superior court.Zito filed suit in federal court, arguing that CAMA’s restrictions amounted to an unconstitutional taking. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The Commission qualifies as an arm of the state subject to the protection of sovereign immunity; the Eleventh Amendment bars Fifth Amendment taking claims against states in federal court where the state’s courts remain open to adjudicate such claims. View "Zito v. North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission" on Justia Law

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Skidmore’s West Virginia home sits 70-80 feet west of Norfolk’s railroad track, across Loop Creek. In 2001, Norfolk installed a culvert to drain surface water from its tracks into Loop Creek near Skidmore’s home. According to Skidmore, the water streaming from the culvert caused soil erosion and threatened the foundation of her home. Skidmore sued Norfolk in state court, alleging negligence, private nuisance, and trespass.Norfolk obtained a survey and deeds revealing that, in 1903, Norfolk obtained a right of way extending across Loop Creek, over part of the land on the other side. Part of Skidmore’s house sits atop the land over which the right of way runs. Norfolk asserted an affirmative defense that Skidmore lacked standing because she had no right to exclude Norfolk from the land. Skidmore amended her complaint to add claims for adverse possession and prescriptive easement (quiet title claims). Norfolk removed the case to federal court, arguing that the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act completely preempts the quiet title claims. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.The Fourth Circuit vacated. While 49 U.S.C. 10501(b) “entirely displaces” Skidmore’s quiet title claims, a conclusion that complete preemption applies means that the court has jurisdiction over ostensibly state-law claims. On remand, the court must convert Skidmore’s quiet title claims into claims under the Termination Act and may permit Skidmore to amend her complaint to clarify the scope of her Termination Act claims. View "Skidmore v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co" on Justia Law

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Appellants filed suit against Dorchester County, seeking compensation pursuant to the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment for the death of their bees. Appellants contend that the bees died after the County sprayed pesticide in an effort to kill mosquitos, and the bees' death amounted to a taking of appellants' private property.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of the County's motion for summary judgment, holding that there was no taking because the loss of appellants' bees was only an incidental consequence of the County's action. The court noted that the death of appellants' bees is undoubtedly a tragedy, but the court cannot conclude that it was the foreseeable or probable result of the County's action when it is a clear outlier in terms of collateral damage arising out of the County's mosquito abatement effort. Therefore, because the death of the bees was neither intended nor foreseeable, the Takings Clause does not require compensation. View "Yawn v. Dorchester County" on Justia Law

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After a trial before a three-member land commission, the district court awarded compensation to Landowners after the government took an easement on their land. The district court awarded Landowners $4.4 million, apportioned attorney's fees and litigation costs, and split the cost of the commission.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of just compensation and the splitting of the commission costs. The court concluded that the district court was within its discretion to weigh the evidence and to determine that the Landowners had shown a non-speculative demand for industrial and residential development in the reasonably near future. Therefore, the court could not say that the district court clearly erred in calculating its award of just compensation. The court also concluded that the district court has broad discretion in apportioning commission costs, and upheld its decision to do so. However, the court concluded that identifying the "prevailing party" for purposes of the attorney's fee award is a legal question that the court reviewed de novo. The court found that the district court erred in making that determination, concluding that because the government's $937,800 value is closer to the district court's final award of $4.4 million, the government, not the Landowners, is the "prevailing party" in this litigation. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part and reversed in part. View "United States v. 269 Acres Located in Beaufort County" on Justia Law