Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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Plaintiff-appellant Amber Machowski was an individual with a disability who used a wheelchair for mobility. Defendant 333 N. Placentia Property, LLC, was the owner of a property in Fullerton, California, on which a business establishment known as City Market Liquor II was located. When Machowski attempted to patronize the store, she encountered architectural barriers that prevented her from making full use and enjoyment of the premises. Machowski sued Defendant, asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. The complaint sought injunctive relief, statutory damages under the Unruh Act, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. After Defendant failed to respond to the complaint, Machowski applied for the entry of default judgment, seeking injunctive relief and statutory damages. Machowski’s application for default judgment did not seek an award of attorney’s fees. Instead, it advised the district court that “plaintiff will separately file a motion for her attorney fees and costs once this application is granted and judgment has been entered.” The district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Machowski’s Unruh Act claim, granted default judgment on her ADA claim, ordered injunctive relief, and sua sponte awarded Machowski $1000 in attorney’s fees under Central District of California Local Rule 55-3. Machowski timely appealed the fee award. The Ninth Circuit held that where, as here, a prevailing party advises the district court that it is opting out of the fee schedule and will seek by motion, an award of reasonable attorney's fees, the district court abuses its discretion by disregarding the plaintiff's choice and sua sponte awarding fees under the fee schedule. Accordingly, the fee award was vacated and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Machowski v. 333 N. Placentia Property, LLC" on Justia Law

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The California Department of Transportation (“Caltrans”) coordinates and works with other government services before clearing homeless encampments. When Caltrans planned to clear high-risk encampments along the freeway, Plaintiff campers sought an injunction. The district court required Caltrans to give Plaintiffs six months to relocate and find housing before clearing the encampments.   The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s order finding "there is no serious question" that the ADA requires such a lengthy delay. The court also held that the district court abused its discretion when evaluating the harm the injunction caused to Caltrans and the attendant public safety concerns, and thus erred in balancing the equities.   Caltrans argued that clearing the encampments involves no ADA obligation because its properties are not open to the public. The ADA requires “only ‘reasonable modifications' that would not fundamentally alter the nature of the service provided.” Here, the court found that a six-month delay is a fundamental alteration of Caltrans’s programs, which provide for expedient clearing of level 1 encampments and include, when possible, 72 hours’ notice and coordination with local partners.   The court also held that the district court erred by incorrectly mitigating the hardships caused by the injunction. When evaluating the balance of equities, the district court noted that Plaintiffs’ potential injury was “exacerbated by the public health concerns of disbanding homeless encampments during the COVID-19 pandemic.” View "WHERE DO WE GO BERKELEY V. CALTRANS" on Justia Law

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New Harvest challenged a Salinas ordinance prohibiting religious and other assemblies from operating on the ground floor of buildings facing Main Street within the downtown area. The ordinance prohibited it from hosting worship services on the ground floor of its newly-purchased building. New Harvest claimed the ordinance substantially burdened its religious exercise and treated New Harvest on less than equal terms with nonreligious assemblies, in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc. The district court granted the city summary judgment. New Harvest sold the building; the Ninth Circuit treated claims for declaratory and injunctive relief as moot.Addressing claims for damages, the court reversed in part. The ordinance facially violated RLUIPA's equal terms provision. Other nonreligious assemblies, such as theatres, are permitted to operate on the first floor of the Restricted Area and are similarly situated to religious assemblies with respect to the provision’s stated purpose and criterion. New Harvest failed to demonstrate a substantial burden on its religious exercise; it could have conducted services on the second floor or by reconfiguring the first floor and was not precluded from using other available sites within Salinas. When it purchased the building, New Harvest was on notice that the ordinance prohibited services on the first floor. View "New Harvest Christian Fellowship v. City of Salinas" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit certified to the Supreme Court of Nevada the following question: Under Nevada law, must a series LLC created pursuant to Nev. Rev. Stat. 86.296 be sued in its own name for a court to obtain jurisdiction over it, or may the master LLC under which the series is created be sued instead? View "Federal Housing Finance Agency v. Saticoy Bay, LLC" on Justia Law

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Canyon Mine is located within the Kaibab National Forest, which has been withdrawn from new mining claims; the withdrawal did not extinguish “valid existing rights.” The Trust challenged the Forest Service’s determination that Energy Fuels holds a valid existing right to operate the uranium mine, alleging that in determining that there were “valuable mineral deposits,” 30 U.S.C. 22, the Service ignored sunk costs. The Ninth Circuit previously held that the Trust had Article III standing.The Ninth Circuit subsequently affirmed the summary judgment rejection of the claim. It was not arbitrary for the Service to ignore costs that have already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Applying Chevron analysis, the court held that the critical term in the Mining Act, “valuable mineral deposits,” was ambiguous. The Department of the Interior’s interpretation of the Act, in which sunk costs are not considered when determining whether a mine is profitable, was permissible and not manifestly contrary to the Act; it was consistent with the prudent person and marketability tests. It is a basic principle of economics that sunk costs should be ignored when making a rational decision about whether to make further expenditures. It was not arbitrary for the Forest Service to rely on the Department's interpretation. View "Grand Canyon Trust v. Provencio" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged, under 42 U.S.C. 1983, Oakland’s Uniform Residential Tenant Relocation Ordinance, which requires landlords re-taking occupancy of their homes upon the expiration of a lease to pay tenants a relocation payment. Plaintiffs alleged that the relocation fee is an unconstitutional physical taking of their money for a private rather than public purpose, without just compensation. Alternatively, they claimed that the fee constitutes an unconstitutional exaction of their Oakland home and an unconstitutional seizure of their money under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Although in certain circumstances money can be the subject of a physical (per se) taking, the relocation fee required by the Ordinance was a regulation of the landlord-tenant relationship, not an unconstitutional taking of a specific and identifiable property interest. Because there was no taking, the court did not address whether the relocation fee was required for a public purpose or what just compensation would be. The court rejected an assertion that Oakland placed an unconstitutional condition (an exaction), on their preferred use of their Oakland home. The plaintiffs did not establish a cognizable theory of state action; Oakland did not participate in the monetary exchange between plaintiffs and their tenants. View "Ballinger v. City of Oakland" on Justia Law

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The City of Oakland sued under the Fair Housing Act, claiming that Wells Fargo’s discriminatory lending practices caused higher default rates, which triggered higher foreclosure rates that drove down the assessed value of properties, ultimately resulting in lost property tax revenue and increased municipal expenditures. In 2020, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of Wells Fargo's motion to dismiss claims for lost property-tax revenues and affirmed the dismissal of Oakland's claims for increased municipal expenses.On rehearing, en banc, the Ninth Circuit concluded that all of the claims should be dismissed. Under the Supreme Court’s 2017 holding, Bank of America Corp. v. City of Miami, foreseeability alone is not sufficient to establish proximate cause under the Act; there must be “some direct relation between the injury asserted and the injurious conduct alleged.” The downstream “ripples of harm” from the alleged lending practices were too attenuated and traveled too far beyond the alleged misconduct to establish proximate cause. The Fair Housing Act is not a statute that supports proximate cause for injuries further downstream from the injured borrowers; the extension of proximate cause beyond that first step was not administratively possible and convenient. Oakland also failed sufficiently to plead proximate cause for its increased municipal expenses claim. View "City of Oakland v. Wells Fargo & Co." on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction of an action brought under the Quiet Title Act (QTA) against the United States, seeking to confirm that an easement granted to plaintiffs' predecessors-in-interest did not permit public use of the Robbins Gulch Road, and to enforce the government's obligations to patrol and maintain the road against unrestricted public use.The panel reaffirmed that the QTA's statute of limitations is jurisdictional and dispositive in this case. The panel explained that prior Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit precedent are still controlling, even though for other statutes the Supreme Court has more recently set forth a seemingly different framework for assessing whether a statute of limitations is jurisdictional. Furthermore, the jurisdictional question and the merits question are not so intertwined that dismissal was improper because the determination of jurisdiction is not dependent on the merits of plaintiffs' claims. Finally, the panel rejected plaintiffs' remaining contentions, which are addressed in a separate memorandum disposition filed simultaneously with this opinion. View "Wilkins v. United States" on Justia Law

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Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12182(a), the Department of Justice (DOJ) promulgated 1991Accessibility Guidelines requiring that in sports stadiums, “[w]heelchair areas shall be an integral part of any fixed seating plan and shall be provided so as to provide people with physical disabilities a choice of admission prices and lines of sight comparable to those for members of the general public.” A 1996 DOJ guidance document (Accessible Stadiums) provides: Wheelchair seating locations must provide lines of sight comparable to those provided to other spectators. In stadiums where spectators can be expected to stand during the show or event (for example, football, baseball, basketball games, or rock concerts), all or substantially all of the wheelchair seating locations must provide a line of sight over standing spectators."Plaintiffs, baseball fans with ADA-qualifying disabilities, use wheelchairs for mobility. The Stadium, designed in 1996 and constructed in 1997-1999, has vertically stacked seating levels sloped toward the field. There is wheelchair-accessible seating on each level. The district court rejected Plaintiffs’ sightline claim and, regarding the Accessible Stadiums standard, concluded: [W]hen the Court reviews the illustrations considering what can be seen over the line representing the standing spectator’s shoulders, i.e., “over the shoulders and between the heads,” more of the field is visible from the accessible seat, making the views comparable." The Ninth Circuit vacated. The district court failed to explain how the Stadium satisfies all the Accessible Stadiums requirements. View "Landis v. WashingtonvState Major League Baseball Stadium Public Facilities District" on Justia Law

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Following the outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, Los Angeles imposed an eviction moratorium during a “Local Emergency Period” with the stated purposes of ensuring housing security and promoting public health during the pandemic. Related provisions delay applicable tenants’ rent payment obligations and prohibit landlords from charging late fees and interest. A trade association of Los Angeles landlords, sued, alleging violations of the Constitution’s Contracts Clause.The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of the plaintiff’s request for preliminary injunctive relief, noting that other courts, including the Supreme Court, have recently considered various constitutional and statutory challenges to COVID-19 eviction moratoria. Under modern Contracts Clause doctrine, even if the eviction moratorium was a substantial impairment of contractual relations, the moratorium’s provisions were likely “reasonable” and “appropriate” given the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city fairly tied the moratorium to its stated goals. The court noted that contemporary Supreme Court case law has severely limited the Contracts Clause’s potency. View "Apartment Association of Los Angeles County, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles." on Justia Law