Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

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Appellants William "Billy" King, and Melanie (Frantz) King ("the Kings"), hired appellee Terra Firma Builders, LLC ("TF") to perform construction work in the backyard of their home. In December 2012, TF was removed from the project before completion due to a dispute about the work performed up to that point. In 2013, TF filed two lawsuits for breach of contract and unjust enrichment, a mechanics’ lien claim for alleged unpaid labor and materials. TF effectuated service of the mechanics’ lien on the Kings by sheriff, however a month later, TF withdrew the lien and filed a new one for the same amount of the discontinued lien; this lien was assigned a new docket number. TF did not file the required affidavit of service for this lien claim. The Kings answered the suit with their own counterclaim alleging breach of contract; they did not challenge TF’s failure to file an affidavit of service at this time. In 2015, TF sought to enforce and obtain judgment on its lien. The Kings did not file preliminary objections or otherwise raise TF’s failure to file an affidavit of service at this time. In 2017, the trial court consolidated TF’s mechanics’ lien and breach of contract actions and proceeded to a bench trial. The parties agreed that TF failed to complete the project but disputed the amount of work remaining unfinished and the quality of the work completed. The court ultimately found in favor of the Kings on all claims, including the Kings’ counterclaim, and awarded the Kings monetary damages. TF moved for a new trial, which was ultimately granted. At the conclusion of the second trial, the court again found in favor of the Kings on the merits, but did not award damages. In 2018, while the post-trial motions were pending, the Kings moved to strike the mechanics’ lien because TF’ failed to file an affidavit of service to perfect the lien. TF argued the Kings had waived their right to object to the lien when they accepted service of the complaint to enforce, never filed preliminary objections, and appeared in court to defend the action. The trial court granted the petition to strike. On appeal, a divided three-judge panel of the Superior Court reversed. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed, finding the lien remained unperfected and invalid, "and the applicable statutes quite logically do not specify a time limit for objection to such a thing." View "Terra Firma Builders, LLC v. King, et al.." on Justia Law

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Eleanor McLaughlin acquired all oil, gas, and mineral rights underlying two parcels in Watson Township, Warren County, Pennsylvania. In 1985, she leased the oil and gas rights for each parcel to United Land Services. United Land Services in turn assigned the leases to Appellant Mitch-Well Energy, Inc. In 2008, Jack and Zureya McLaughlin sold their interest in the Warrant 3010 to Sheffield Land and Timber Company, which merged into Appellee SLT Holdings, LLC in 2012. During the initial term of the leases, Mitch-Well drilled one well on each lease parcel and produced oil in paying quantities until 1996. Mitch-Well did not drill any additional wells. After 1996, no oil was produced or royalty payments, or delay rental payments made or tendered until 2013. Nor did Mitch-Well tender any minimum payments during that period under either lease. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted review to consider the propriety of the Superior Court’s affirmance of the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Appellees in their complaint in equity against Appellant on the grounds of abandonment. Because Appellees had available to them a full and adequate remedy at law, through contract principles generally applicable to oil and gas leases, and through the specific provisions of the subject leases, the Supreme Court concluded it was error to provide recourse through application of the equitable doctrine of abandonment. View "SLT Holdings v. Mitch-Well Energy" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Chicago Title and others for damages and to rescind the sale of his two-unit residence in San Francisco. After plaintiff resolved the case with other defendants and rescinded the sale, he sought to recover as damages against defendants the attorney fees he spent in securing and quieting his title due to the rescinded sale, attorney fees he incurred defending against his possible eviction from the property, the rent he paid to live in the property before the sale was rescinded, and rental income he lost for the time he was off title.The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's judgment on the pleadings, concluding that the trial court erred by deciding that it was legally unforeseeable to defendants that plaintiff would suffer loss of damages following the close of escrow by defendants. The court explained that this is not one of those "occasional" cases where foreseeability may be decided by the trial court as a question of law. Rather, as with most issues related to foreseeability, it is a question of fact for a jury. The court also concluded that the trial court erred in denying plaintiff's motion to amend where the evidence did not support a finding that defendants were surprised or would be prejudiced by allowing plaintiff to amend his second amended complaint as requested. Finally, the court noted the continued viability of nonstatutory motions for judgment on the pleadings, like motion in limine No. 10, is unclear. The court merely flagged the issue for future reference and to highlight potential pitfalls these motions often create for trial judges, as happened in this case. View "Tung v. Chicago Title Co." on Justia Law

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This appeal involved two lawsuits, three parties, and one contract. In the first lawsuit, three neighboring property owners incurred varying damages due to a mudslide. The three parties sued and countersued each other for negligence and other claims related to water drainage. The parties eventually settled. The owners agreed to perform mitigation and repair work on their own properties according to their own separate plans. The agreement was memorialized in a contract (the Settlement Agreement). In the second lawsuit, two owners sued the third owner (a married couple). Plaintiffs alleged defendants breached the Settlement Agreement because their work was not in substantial compliance with their plan. But in a bench trial, the court found defendants complied with the contract by providing a copy of an engineer’s report stating their work was “‘substantially completed in accordance with the approved plans.’” The court also found no evidence of bad faith, fraud, or gross negligence. On appeal, plaintiffs contended the trial court misinterpreted the Settlement Agreement. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's interpretation of the Settlement Agreement, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Coral Farms, L.P. v. Mahony" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the district court dismissing this action for breach of contract and declaratory judgment and declining to award attorney fees to either party, holding that the district court did not err.The owners of certain condominium units brought this action against the condominium owner after the developer unilaterally amended the condominium declaration to create a new homeowners' association to which new unit owners would belong, thus leaving existing unit owners in the original homeowners' association. The developer subsequently revoked the amendment to the declaration. The district court dismissed the case as moot. The court then refused to award attorney fees, ruling that neither party was a prevailing party. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in dismissing the case as moot and did not err in refusing to award attorney fees and costs. View "Heringer v. Barnegat Development Group, LLC" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of Defendants and dismissing Blackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc.'s complaint alleging that Defendants had violated the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1251 et seq., holding that the district court erred by granting summary judgment on Count I of the complaint.Plaintiff, a non-profit environmental organization, sued two companies and two individuals involved in the development of a residential construction site in Massachusetts. In Count I of the complaint, Plaintiff alleged that three defendants had violated the Federal CWA by failing to obtain from the EPA a construction general permit. Count II alleged that all four defendants had violated the Federal CWA by failing to prevent sediment-laden stormwater discharges from flowing from that construction site into waters leading to the Blackstone River. The district court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The First Circuit reversed in part, holding that nothing supported Defendants' argument that a citizen suit under the Federal CWA cannot be brought against an entity that is alleged to be an operator of a construction site that is unlawfully discharging pollutants into federal waters long as another entity controlled by the same individuals has such permit coverage. View "BBlackstone Headwaters Coalition, Inc. v. Gallo Builders, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court held that the broad eminent domain powers granted to redevelopment authorities by Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 12B, 11(d) include demonstration projects under Mass. Gen. Laws. ch. 121B, 46(f).The Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA) took by eminent domain approximately four acres of land from Cobble Hill Center LLC as a demonstration project pursuant to section 46(f). Following the taking, Cobble Hill brought this action asserting that section 46(f) does not authorize takings by eminent domain. The trial judge entered judgment in favor of SRA. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the demonstration project plan at issue satisfied the definition of "demonstration" for purposes of section 46(f); and (2) the SRA's taking was a lawful demonstration under section 46(f) and was constitutional. View "Cobble Hill Center LLC v. Somerville Redevelopment Authority" on Justia Law

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In this property dispute leading to a bankruptcy filing, the First Circuit held that a probate court's contempt proceedings and resultant penalties were excepted from an automatic stay and that the bankruptcy court did not abuse its discretion in partially lifting the stay.Donald Kupperstein rented certain property that he did not own to various tenants. The property belonged to the Estate of Fred Kuhn, now managed by Irene Stall. The Estate owed money to Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services (MassHealth). When Kupperstein would not relinquish his claim to the property, the parties ended up in several Massachusetts courts. The probate court voided the property's transfer and ordered Kupperstein to pay to rents collected from the property to MassHealth. Kupperstein subsequently filed for bankruptcy, and the court held him in contempt. Schall and MassHealth filed motions in the bankruptcy court to lift the automatic stay as it applied to state court actions so the cases could proceed. The court lifted the stay and denied Kupperstein's motion to hold MassHealth in contempt and to impose sanctions. The district court affirmed. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in denying relief. View "Kupperstein v. Schall" on Justia Law

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At Tax Court, the parties disagreed about what types of equipment fall within the definition of "logging equipment" exempt from ad valorem property taxation under ORS 307.27. Specifically, they disagreed about what types of equipment used for logging road work - logging road construction, maintenance, reconstruction, improvement, closure, or obliteration - fell within the definition. Plaintiff Bert Brundige, LLC argued that all types of equipment used for logging road work fell within the definition. Defendant, the Oregon Department of Revenue, argued that excavators were the only type of equipment used for logging road work that fell within the definition. The Tax Court agreed with defendant and entered a judgment in its favor. Plaintiff appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed. View "Bert Brundige, LLC v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part the decision of the circuit court granting partial summary judgment to Plaintiff on his complaint seeking an injunction and restraining order against Plowboy, LLC requiring Plowboy to remove two gates placed across a section-line highway, holding that the circuit court did not err in granting partial summary judgment but erred in directing removal of the gates within twenty days.In his complaint, Plaintiff argued that the gates were unlawful obstructions across a section-line highway. The circuit court concluded that Defendant failed to establish that the road was unimproved, and therefore, the gates must be removed. The court then ordered Defendant to remove the gates within twenty days. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and vacated in part, holding (1) the circuit court did not err in granting partial summary judgment; but (2) the circuit court did not certify its ruling as a final judgment, and therefore, the circuit court was unable to order the removal of the gates within twenty days. View "Patterson v. Plowboy" on Justia Law