Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
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Freed owed $735.43 in taxes ($1,109.06 with penalties) on his property valued at about $97,000. Freed claims he did not know about the debt because he cannot read well. Gratiot County’s treasurer filed an in-rem action under Michigan's General Property Tax Act (GPTA), In a court-ordered foreclosure, the treasurer sold the property to a third party for $42,000. Freed lost his home and all its equity. Freed sued, 42 U.S.C. 1983, citing the Takings Clause and the Eighth Amendment.The district court first held that Michigan’s inverse condemnation process did not provide “reasonable, certain, and adequate” remedies and declined to dismiss the suit under the Tax Injunction Act, which tells district courts not to “enjoin, suspend or restrain the assessment, levy or collection of any tax under State law where a plain, speedy and efficient remedy may be had" in state court, 28 U.S.C. 1341. The court reasoned that the TIA did not apply to claims seeking to enjoin defendants from keeping the surplus equity and that Freed was not challenging his tax liability nor trying to stop the state from collecting. The TIA applied to claims seeking to enjoin enforcement of the GPTA and declare it unconstitutional but no adequate state court remedy existed. The court used the same reasoning to reject arguments that comity principles compelled dismissal. After discovery, the district court sua sponte dismissed Freed’s case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, despite recognizing that it was “doubtful” Freed could win in state court. The Supreme Court subsequently overturned the "exhaustion of state remedies" requirement for takings claims.The Sixth Circuit reversed without addressing the merits of Freed’s claims. Neither the TIA nor comity principles forestall Freed’s suit from proceeding in federal court. View "Freed v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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International, an outdoor advertising company, sought to erect digital billboards in two separate locations within the City of Troy. International's permit and variance applications were denied. International filed suit (42 U.S.C. 1983), alleging that the ordinance granted unfettered discretion and contained unconstitutional content-based restrictions as it exempted from permit requirements certain categories of signs, such as flags and “temporary signs.” During the litigation, Troy amended the Ordinance.The Sixth Circuit remanded. The original Ordinance imposed a prior restraint because the right to display a sign that did not come within an exception as a flag or as a “temporary sign” depended on obtaining either a permit or a variance. The standards for granting a variance contained multiple vague, undefined criteria, such as “public interest,” “general purpose and intent,” “adversely affect[ing],” and “hardship.” Even meeting these criteria did not guarantee a variance; the Board retained discretion to deny it. The amendment, however, rendered the action for declaratory and injunctive relief moot. The severability of the variance provisions rendered moot its claim for damages. The court reinstated a claim that the ordinance imposed content-based restrictions without a compelling government interest for reconsideration under the correct standard. A regulation of commercial speech that is not content-neutral is still subject to strict scrutiny. View "International Outdoor, Inc. v. City of Troy" on Justia Law

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In 2016, the Ohio Department of Transportation began a construction project on a portion of Interstate Highway 75 near the Plaintiffs’ Hancock County properties. As a result of this construction, storm and groundwater flooded those properties three times and caused significant damage. The Plaintiffs filed suit, including a claim brought directly under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 19 of the Ohio Constitution, seeking a declaratory judgment that the flooding caused a “change in topography [that] constitutes a taking of private property without just compensation,” and compensation for the same, and a claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983 seeking damages for the alleged taking. The district court dismissed, finding that Ohio’s Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity deprived it of subject matter jurisdiction. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. States’ sovereign immunity predates the Constitution; unless the Constitution itself, or Congress acting under a constitutional grant of authority, abrogates that immunity, it remains in place. The Sixth Circuit has previously held that the states’ sovereign immunity protects them from takings claims for damages in federal court and that Ohio’s statutory mechanism for obtaining compensation to remedy a Takings Clause violation does provide reasonable, certain, and adequate procedures. View "Ladd v. Marchbanks" on Justia Law

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The Bateses lost their condominium through a nonjudicial foreclosure. They claim the condo complex’s management company and its law firm violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which generally defines “debt collectors” to cover parties who operate a “business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts” or who “regularly collect[] or attempt[] to collect” debts owed another, 15 U.S.C. 1692a(6). The Act contains a separate debt-collector definition for subsection 1692f(6), regulating parties who operate a “business the principal purpose of which is the enforcement of security interests.” General debt collectors must comply with all of the Act’s protections; security-interest enforcers need only comply with section 1692f(6). In 2019, the Supreme Court held (Obduskey) that parties who assist creditors with the nonjudicial foreclosure of a home fall within the separate definition, not the general one. Obduskey left open the possibility that these parties might engage in “other conduct” that would transform them from security interest enforcers into general debt collectors, subject to all of the Act’s regulations. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a judgment on the pleadings for the defendants. The Bateses’ complaint did not plead enough facts to take the defendants outside the separate definition for security-interest enforcers and bring them within the general debt-collector definition; there were almost no well-pleaded allegations about the principal business or regular activities of either. View "Bates v. Green Farms Condominium Association" on Justia Law

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Hoffman owns the historic Tremaine Building in Cleveland, Ohio. Over a decade ago, Hoffman donated an easement in the façade of the building and certain airspace restrictions associated with the building to the American Association of Historic Preservation (AAHP). Hoffman agreed not to alter the historic character of the façade or to build in the airspace above or next to the building—subject to certain conditions. Hoffman then sought a $15 million tax deduction for its donation of a “qualified conservation contribution,” I.R.C. 170(f)(3)(B)(iii). The IRS and Tax Court concluded that Hoffman was not entitled to a deduction because the donation was not “exclusively for conservation purposes.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed. To be deductible, the donation must protect the conservation purposes “in perpetuity,” I.R.C. 170(h)(5)(A) and include “legally enforceable restrictions” that will prevent the donor from using its retained interest in the property in a way “inconsistent with the [donation’s] conservation purposes.” The donation agreement gives Hoffman the right to propose changes to the facade or airspace, after which AAHP has a 45-day window in which to prevent those changes. If the organization misses that window—for whatever reason—it loses the ability to stop the change. The provision violates the “perpetuity” requirement. View "Hoffman Properties II, L.P. v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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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