Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Straser built a carport in 2009, about 17 feet from the road. The zoning ordinance requires carports to be 30 feet from the road. The city notified Straser four times that his carport violated the rule. In 2016, the city cited Straser’s neighbor for violating the setback rule. The neighbor accused the city of targeting him for enforcement based on his race and Muslim religion. In 2017, the city cited Straser for his carport. City Attorney Trew stated that the city would enforce the rule, having “had trouble with a Muslim” who complained about a similar violation. Straser claimed he was fined because he is a Christian and the city did not want to favor him over his Muslim neighbor. The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. A government that enforces its laws equally against those of different faiths honors the neutrality imperative of the Fourteenth Amendment. Straser did not identify any cases in which the city refused to enforce the 30-foot rule against non-Christians nor did he show discriminatory purpose and effect. Straser’s own account of the conversation showed that Trew was committed to even-handed enforcement. Straser has no evidence that Trew knew of Straser’s religious beliefs. View "Straser v. City of Athens" on Justia Law

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Since 1997, the Social Security Administration has found Madej completely disabled and entitled to benefits. In addition to her other ailments, her doctors say she has “multiple chemical sensitivity,” which is not a disease recognized by the World Health Organization or the American Medical Association. She goes to great lengths to avoid everyday materials that she believes will trigger harmful reactions like burning eyes and throat, dizziness, or nausea. Madej fears that the use of asphalt on a road near her home will cause more harm. She sued to stop the roadwork, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Amendments Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Applying the “Daubert” standard, the district court excluded the opinions of Madej’s experts that the asphalt would injure her. Without expert causation evidence, the claims could not withstand summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that “as far as we are aware, no district court has ever found a diagnosis of multiple chemical sensitivity to be sufficiently reliable to pass muster under Daubert.” The court also questioned whether Madej had cognizable claims under the cited federal statutes. It is not obvious that the roadwork amounts to a “provision of services” “in connection with” the Madej home under 42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(2) View "Madej v. Maiden" on Justia Law

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Davis suffers from asthma but lives in a complex that allows residents to smoke in their condominiums. Davis asserts that the smell of smoke regularly emanating from a neighbor’s condo aggravated her asthma. Unsatisfied with her condo association’s efforts to address the situation, she sued the association, alleging discrimination under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604(f), violations of condo bylaws, and allowing a tortious nuisance to persist. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the rejection of Davis’s claims on summary judgment. The court noted that Davis was apparently able to use her condo for “several years” despite the smoking and that her request does not qualify as a “reasonable accommodation” to the policy of allowing smoking. Reasonable accommodation means a moderate adjustment to a challenged policy, not a fundamental change in the policy. There was no violation of the bylaws, which must be narrowly construed and do not specifically prohibit (or even regulate) smoking. The prohibitions on “offensive activities” and “nuisance” in the bylaws cannot be read subjectively. Davis chose to live in a condo complex whose bylaws do not restrict smoking. Even a small amount of smoke might be a nuisance in a complex that bans smoking, the same cannot be said for a complex that allows it. View "Davis v. Echo Valley Condominium Association" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Mosley visited the Kohl’s stores in Northville and Novi, Michigan and encountered architectural barriers to access by wheelchair users in their restrooms. He sought declaratory and injunctive relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provisions governing public accommodations, claiming that Kohl’s denied him “full and equal access and enjoyment of the services, goods and amenities due to barriers ... and a failure . . . to make reasonable accommodations,” 42 U.S.C. 12182. According to the district court, Mosley has filed similar lawsuits throughout the country. A resident of Arizona, Mosley “has family and friends that reside in the Detroit area whom he tries to visit at least annually.” Mosley, a musician, had scheduled visits to “southeast Michigan” in September and October 2018. He is planning to visit his family in Detroit in November 2018. He stated that he would return to the stores if they were modified to be ADA-compliant. The district court dismissed the suit for lack of standing. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded. Mosley has sufficiently alleged a concrete and particularized past injury and has sufficiently alleged a real and immediate threat of future injury. Plaintiffs are not required to provide a definitive plan for returning to the accommodation itself to establish a threat of future injury, nor need they have visited the accommodation more than once. View "Mosley v. Kohl's Department Stores, Inc." on Justia Law

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The defendants, exploration and production companies, contracted with landowners (plaintiffs) to drill for oil and gas on leased properties in Ohio’s Utica Shale Formation between 2010-2012. The agreements provide for royalty payments to the plaintiffs based on the gross proceeds received by the defendants from the sale of each well’s oil and gas production. The defendants sell the oil and gas extracted from the leased properties to “midstream” companies affiliated with the defendants. To calculate the price that an unaffiliated entity would have presumptively paid for the oil and gas, the defendants use the “netback method.” The plaintiffs claim the defendants underpaid their royalties because the netback method does not accurately approximate an arm’s-length transaction price, and improperly deducts post-production costs from the price. The district court granted class certification under FRCP 23(b)(3). The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While the plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing that common issues predominate with respect to a theory that the defendants sold oil and gas to midstream affiliates at below-market prices, the plaintiffs no longer pursued that theory at the class-certification stage. The plaintiffs satisfy the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) with their liability theory based on the defendants’ deductions of post-production costs. View "Zehentbauer Family Land, LP v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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American Islamic Community Center (AICC) unsuccessfully sought zoning permission to build a mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan. AICC sued, alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the First Amendment. The Department of Justice also investigated. The city negotiated a consent judgment that allowed AICC to build the mosque. At the City Council meeting at which the consent judgment was approved, people voiced concerns about issues such as traffic and noise; others disparaged Islam and AICC. Comments and deliberation were punctuated by audience outbursts. Eventually, Mayor Taylor cleared the chamber of all spectators, except the press. The Council voted to settle the case. A consent judgment was entered. Plaintiffs sought a judgment declaring the consent judgment invalid. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The defendants fulfilled their procedural obligations; they considered and made findings on the relevant criteria, such as “parking, traffic and overall size,” before voting. The court upheld limitations on speech imposed during the meeting: the relevance rule and a rule forbidding attacks on people and institutions. The city did not “grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views.” View "Youkhanna v. City of Sterling Heights" on Justia Law

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Virginia Run Cove is a privately owned Memphis street that offers access to the parking lots of several businesses, including a Planned Parenthood clinic. It is described on county records as “common area” in a commercial development. Brindley sought a preliminary injunction requiring the city to let him stand near the entrance to this clinic and spread his pro-life message. He argued that Virginia Run Cove was a traditional public forum and that his exclusion from the street violated the First Amendment. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of his motion for a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court has long held that public streets are traditional public fora. Even when a street is privately owned, it remains a traditional public forum if it looks and functions like a public street. Virginia Run Cove, which connects directly to a busy public thoroughfare, displays no sign of private ownership, and is used by the general public to access many nearby buildings, including the clinic, a gas station, a church, and a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, has all the trappings of a public street. View "Brindley v. City of Memphis" on Justia Law

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The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) creates a cause of action for “borrower[s],” 12 U.S.C. 2605(f). Tara and Nathan Keen got a loan and took out a mortgage when they bought their house. Both of them signed the mortgage; only Nathan signed the loan. The pair later divorced. Nathan gave Keen full title to the house. He died shortly afterward. Although Tara was not legally obligated to make payments on the loan after Nathan died, she made payments anyway so she could keep the house. She later ran into financial trouble, fell behind on those payments, and contacted the loan servicer, Ocwen. After unsuccessful negotiations, Ocwen proceeded with foreclosure. The house was sold to a third-party buyer, Helson. Soon after foreclosure, Tara sued both Ocwen and Helson, alleging that Ocwen violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), 12 U.S.C. 2601, which requires that loan servicers take certain steps when a borrower asks for options to avoid foreclosure. Tara alleged that Ocwen failed to properly review her requests before it foreclosed on her house. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Keen’s RESPA claims. RESPA’s cause of action extends only to “borrower[s].” Keen was not a “borrower” because she was never personally obligated under the loan agreement. View "Keen v. Helson" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Columbia Gas on Landowners' state-law trespass and unjust enrichment claims involving underground storage of natural gas. In regard to the trespass claims, the court held that Landowners failed to show that Columbia Gas interfered with the possessory interest in their subsurface where each Landowner had admitted that they have not used and do not intend to use their subsurface. In regard to the unjust enrichment claims, the court held that Columbia Gas need not file a cross-appeal in order to preserve its argument to affirm the damages judgment on the ground that Columbia Gas has no underlying liability. Furthermore, Landowners' unjust enrichment claims failed because Landowners could not show, as they must, that they conferred a benefit upon the defendant. View "Baatz v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC" on Justia Law

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The surface and mineral estates of “Tract 46” in Pike County, Kentucky have been severed for a century. Pike and Johnson own the surface estate as tenants in common. Pike also owns the entirety of the coal below and wants to mine. In 2013, Pike granted its affiliate a right to enter the land and commence surface mining. Despite Johnson’s protestations, Kentucky granted a surface mining permit. Mining commenced in April 2014. In 2014, as the result of a federal lawsuit, the Secretary of the Interior determined that the permit violated the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), 30 U.S.C. 1250. The deficiencies in the original permit were remedied; Kentucky issued an amended permit the same year. The Secretary then confirmed that the permit complied with federal law. Johnson sued again. An ALJ, the district court, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, first finding that Johnson exhausted its administrative remedies to the extent required by SMCRA. The ALJ’s application of Kentucky co-tenancy law, instead of the state’s rules of construction for vague severance deeds, to uphold the issuance of Elkhorn’s permit and the Secretary’s termination of the cessation order was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. View "M.L. Johnson Family Properties, LLC v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law