Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
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The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment affirming the IRS's disallowance of a charitable deduction that plaintiffs claimed on their 2011 joint income tax return. After plaintiffs purchased real property, they donated the existing house on the underlying land so that they could build a new one in its place. However, the charity ended up disassembling some of the house, salvaging useful components, and leaving the remainder for demolition by plaintiffs' contractor. Plaintiffs took a charitable deduction of $675,000 on their income tax return, representing the appraised value of the house as if it were moved intact to another lot. The IRS disallowed the deduction under 26 U.S.C. 170(f)(3). Plaintiffs paid the additional taxes assessed by the IRS and filed suit against the United States, seeking a refund of approximately $213,000.The court concluded that defendants donated their entire interest in the house and that they supported their donation with a "qualified appraisal" of the contributed property. In this case, the house was never recorded in the public land records, Plaintiff Linda Mann always retained record ownership of the house. Furthermore, even if the court were to accept that the donation agreement both "constructively severed" the house from the land and conveyed contractual ownership of the house to the charity, Linda still remained the record owner of the house responsible for real-estate taxes. The court also concluded that, even setting aside the consequence of Linda's continuing as the house's record owner, both the donation agreement considered as a whole and the substance of the transaction demonstrate that Linda failed to transfer her entire interest in the house to the charity. The court explained that Linda maintained the benefits and burdens of ownership of the remaining components which she ultimately paid her contractor to demolish. Therefore, she did not donate, as personal property, her entire interest in the house to the charity, making plaintiffs' attempt to claim the value of the entire house as a charitable deduction improper. Finally, the court concluded that the $313,353 appraisal used to claim the deduction was not a qualified appraisal of the contributed property under 26 U.S.C. 170(f)(11)(C). View "Mann v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, neighbors of Murphy-Brown's hog production facilities, filed suit against the company, seeking relief under state nuisance law from odors, pests, and noises they attribute to farming practices Murphy-Brown implemented at an industrial-scale hog feeding farm. On appeal, Murphy-Brown challenges a jury verdict against it awarding compensatory and punitive damages to plaintiffs.As a preliminary matter, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment rejecting Murphy-Brown's argument that Kinlaw Farms was a necessary and indispensable party under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19. Furthermore, the district court's decision as to the applicable statute of limitations was not legal error, and refusing to give the inapplicable jury instruction on continuing nuisances was not an abuse of discretion.The court affirmed the jury's verdict as to liability for compensatory and punitive damages. The court rejected Murphy-Brown's contention that North Carolina private nuisance law bars recovery of compensatory damages of any kind pursuant to the 2017 Right to Farm Act amendment. Rather, the court concluded that the amendment represents a substantive, forward-looking change in the law, and affirmed the district court's conclusion that the issue of annoyance and discomfort damages should go to the jury based on longstanding North Carolina case law allowing such recovery in nuisance suits. The court also affirmed the district court's decisions as to the admission and exclusion of expert testimony, and the district court's jury instruction as to vicarious liability because the contested jury instruction did not prejudice Murphy-Brown. However, the court vacated the jury's judgment as to the amount of punitive damages and remanded for rehearing on the punitive damages issue without the parent company financial evidence, including executive compensation. View "McKiver v. Murphy-Brown, LLC" on Justia Law

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After his taxes were paid late from his mortgage escrow account, causing him to incur $895 in penalties, the homeowner-borrower filed a putative class action against the company that serviced his mortgage. Under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act of 1974 (RESPA), 12 U.S.C. 2601, if a mortgage contract requires the borrower to place property tax payments in escrow, “the servicer” must make those tax payments on time. The right to service a mortgage is subject to purchase and sale. The rights to service the plaintiff’s mortgage had been transferred between the time of the plaintiff’s payment into the escrow account and the tax’s due date.Reversing the district court, the Fourth Circuit concluded that when servicing rights are transferred in the window between the borrower’s payment to escrow and the tax’s due date, RESPA requires taxes to be paid by the entity responsible for servicing the mortgage at the time the tax payment is due. By requiring “the servicer” to make tax payments “as [they] become due,” RESPA connects the servicer’s obligation to a payment’s due date, not the date of payment into escrow by the borrower. View "Harrell v. Freedom Mortgage Corp." on Justia Law

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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