Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
by
Wisconsin assessed property taxes on lands within four Ojibwe Indian reservations. The tribal landowners have tax immunity under an 1854 Treaty, still in effect, that created the reservations on which they live. Supreme Court cases recognize a categorical presumption against Wisconsin’s ability to levy its taxes absent Congressional approval. The parcels in question are fully alienable; their current owners can sell them at will because the parcels were sold by past tribal owners to non-Indians before coming back into tribal ownership. Wisconsin argued that the act of alienating reservation property to a non-Indian surrendered the parcel’s tax immunity. No circuit court has considered whether the sale of tax-exempt tribal land to a non-Indian ends the land’s tax immunity as against all subsequent tribal owners, nor does Supreme Court precedent supply an answer.The district court ruled in favor of the state. The Seventh Circuit reversed. Once Congress has demonstrated a clear intent to subject land to taxation by making it alienable, Congress must make an unmistakably clear statement to render it nontaxable again but these Ojibwe lands have never become alienable at Congress’s behest. Congress never extinguished their tax immunity. The relevant inquiry is: who bears the legal incidence of the tax today--all the relevant parcels are presently held by Ojibwe tribal members. View "Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin v. Evers" on Justia Law

by
Finite owns 90.9% of Orient #1, an abandoned Illinois coal mine; the other 9.1% belongs to Royal. In 2004, Keyrock's predecessor acquired an interest in Orient #1 to extract coal mine methane from its section of the property, drilled wells, and, in 2007, obtained a vacuum permit from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Finite discovered the pump’s use in 2018 after a test revealed that coal mine methane had been drained extensively from Orient #1. Finite unsuccessfully petitioned the Department for compulsory unitization of the parties’ properties, to require Keyrock to share its methane production with Finite.Finite sued, alleging conversion, trespass, accounting, and common law unitization, and sought to enjoin the use of a vacuum pump. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, finding that, under the rule of capture (gas that migrates is subject to recovery and possession by the holder of the gas estate on the property to which the gas migrates), the methane could not be owned until extracted regardless of whether extraction occurred by means of a vacuum pump. Finite’s claims hinged on ownership, so the rule of capture foreclosed Finite’s claims.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Absent illegality, the Department’s issuance of the permit suggests that the use of the vacuum pump to extract methane did not violate Finite’s correlative rights (imposing a duty on owners not to waste natural resources intentionally or negligently as to injure their neighbor).. View "Finite Resources, Ltd. v. DTE Methane Resources, LLC" on Justia Law

by
The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court denying the motion filed by the Word Seed Church after the district court dismissed this suit for lack of standing, holding that Word Seed failed to show exceptional circumstances warranting relief from the denial of that motion.Word Seed and an organization to which it belonged (collectively, Word Seed) brought this action against the Village of Homewood, Illinois alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of standing after concluding that Word Seed did not suffer an injury and denied Word Seed's ensuing motions to reconsider. In the second motion, which the district court considered under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), Word Seed raised for the first an argument that could have been raised before the district court entered judgment dismissing the case. The district court denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that the court did not abuse its discretion in denying Word Seed's Rule 60(b) motion. View "Word Seed Church v. Village of Homewood" on Justia Law

by
Westfield amended its ordinance governing signs within city limits. Out of a stated concern for public safety and aesthetics, the ordinance requires those wishing to install a sign or billboard to apply for a permit. The ordinance exempts directional signs, scoreboards, particular flags, and notices on gas pumps and vending machines. It prohibits signs on poles and those advertising ideas, products, or services not offered on the same premises (off-premises signs). Those seeking to install a non-compliant sign may appeal the denial of a permit or, if necessary, request a variance. GEFT applied for a permit to build a large digital billboard on private property along U.S. Highway 31 in Westfield. Because of the proposed sign’s off-premises location and use of a pole, Westfield denied GEFT’s application and subsequent variance request.GEFT sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Seventh Circuit previously upheld a restraining order compelling GEFT to cease all actions to install its proposed billboard pending the outcome of the litigation. The district court later granted GEFT summary judgment and permanently enjoined Westfield from enforcing many aspects of its ordinance. The Seventh Circuit remanded for consideration in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision in “City of Austin v. Reagan National;” the fact that the city must read a sign to evaluate its conformity with regulations is not alone determinative of whether the regulation is content-based. View "GEFT Outdoors, LLC v. City of Westfield" on Justia Law

by
In 2018, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the state holds exclusive title to Lake Michigan and its shores up to the lake’s ordinary high-water mark. The plaintiffs, who own beachfront property on Lake Michigan’s Indiana shores, believed that their property extended to the low-water mark, and filed suit, alleging that the ruling amounted to a taking of their property in violation of the Fifth Amendment–a “judicial taking.” The defendants were Indiana officeholders in their official capacities: the Governor, the Attorney General, the Department of Natural Resources Director, and the State Land Office Director.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. None of the named officials caused the plaintiffs’ asserted injury or is capable of redressing it, so the plaintiffs lack Article III standing. View "Pavlock v. Holcomb" on Justia Law

by
In 2007, Olsen granted Country Visions a 10-year right of first refusal on Wisconsin land. The right was recorded in local property records. Olsen subsequently dissolved and, in 2010, its former partners filed for bankruptcy. Country Visions was not notified and was not listed in the bankruptcy proceedings. Under an agreed plan, ADM became the owner of the Wisconsin land. Country Visions was not given an opportunity to exercise its right of first refusal. In 2015, ADM arranged to resell the property. Country Vision sought compensation in state court.ADM asked the bankruptcy court to enforce the “free and clear” sale and prohibit the state court litigation, citing 11 U.S.C. 363(m). The bankruptcy court and district court denied ADM’s request. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Good-faith purchasers are protected by section 363(m) but ADM was not a good-faith purchaser and must defend the state court litigation. ADM had actual notice of the right, in a title report, but did not notify the bankruptcy court; as a non-party, Country Visions could not be expected to appeal the order approving the sale. View "Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. v. Country Visions Cooperative" on Justia Law

by
In 2010, Leszanczuk executed a mortgage contract, securing a loan on her Illinois residence. The mortgage was insured by the FHA. After Carrington acquired the mortgage, Leszanczuk contacted Carrington by phone in December 2016 to make her December payment. Leszanczuk asserts that Carrington told her that her account was not yet set up in their system and that her account was in a “grace period.” In early 2017 Carrington found Leszanczuk to be in default and conducted a visual drive-by inspection of Leszanczuk’s property. Carrington charged Leszanczuk $20.00 for the inspection and disclosed the fee in her March 2017 statement. Leszanczuk claims Carrington knew or should have known that she occupied her property because of the phone conversation and Carrington mailed monthly mortgage statements to the property’s address.Leszanczuk sued Carrington for breach of the mortgage contract and for violations of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act, on behalf of putative nationwide and Illinois classes. She alleged that a HUD regulation limits the fees Carrington may charge under the contract and that the inspection fee was an unfair practice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the complaint. The mortgage contract expressly permits the disputed fee. Leszanczuk has failed to adequately allege that the inspection fee offended public policy, was oppressive, or caused substantial injury. View "Leszanczuk v. Carrington Mortgage Services, LLC" on Justia Law

by
BGC secured a $3.1 million mortgage loan from Romspen for the Arlington commercial property. Following a Foreclosure Judgment but before the sale of the property, the parties negotiated an agreement. Romspen agreed to forbear from exercising remedies for 60 days and to reinstate the loan and extend the maturity date for two years. BGC agreed to make a $1.6 million payment on the loan. Meanwhile, BGC learned that Romspen had filed a lien against BGC’s 1907 property. BGC had planned to refinance the 1907 Property to make the payment on the Arlington property required by the Forbearance Agreement. Romspen agreed to make “commercially reasonable efforts” to remove the lien. When BGC failed to provide proof of a refinancing plan for the Arlington Property, Romspen refused to remove the lien on the 1907 Property.After the foreclosure sale of the Arlington Property, BGC sought to file a counterclaim alleging that Romspen had breached the Forbearance Agreement. Romspen sought an order confirming the sale of the property. The Seventh Circuit confirmed the denial of BGC’s motion and the sale of the Arlington Property. Romspen did not breach the Forbearance Agreement because it made “commercially reasonable efforts” to remove the lien on the 1907 Property. Romspen was on solid ground in requesting some concrete proof of BGC's refinancing efforts before agreeing to remove the lien. View "Romspen Mortgage L.P. v. BGC Holdings LLC - Arlington Place One" on Justia Law

by
Joliet condemned a housing complex managed by New West and paid $15 million. HUD rent subsidies for low-income tenants provided almost all of the money for operating the development. A $2.7 million fund had been established by New West and HUD, to cover necessary maintenance and repairs in the event of a default by New West. HUD refused to release that account to New West, contending that it now holds the account to cover Joliet’s obligations.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment rejection of New West’s suit to recover the account. New West cannot establish conversion of the fund without first establishing ownership. HUD’s lien on the fund does not establish ownership of the fund and New West has not established its ownership by showing that it treated deposits into the fund as taxable income. View "New West, L.P. v. Fudge" on Justia Law

by
In 2016, Chicago and the Barack Obama Foundation selected Jackson Park as the location for the Obama Presidential Center, to consist of a museum, public library, and other spaces for cultural enrichment and education related to the life and presidency of Barack Obama. The Center will occupy about 20 acres of the park and require that Chicago close several nearby roadways. The National Park Service approved the plan on the condition that Chicago expand nearby spaces for public recreation. The Federal Highway Administration approved the construction of new roadways to make up for the roadways to be closed. Those agencies together performed an environmental assessment and concluded that their decisions would have an insignificant effect on the environment and were the least damaging alternatives available; they did not consider whether Chicago could have further reduced environmental harms by building the Center elsewhere.Objectors sought to enjoin the construction of the Center. The district court denied their request for a preliminary injunction. The Seventh Circuit declined to enjoin construction pending appeal, having previously affirmed summary judgment for the defendants on the constitutional claims. The opponents are unlikely to show that the agencies made a clear error in judgment when weighing the benefits of change against history; the agencies considered the full environmental impact of the Center’s construction. View "Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Buttigieg" on Justia Law