Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Landlord - Tenant
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Seneathia K. Porter initiated an unlawful-detainer action against Tracy Murray, doing business as Tracy's Treasure Company, LLC ("Murray"), seeking possession of commercial property and the recovery of, among other things, unpaid rent, late fees, insurance costs, taxes, and attorney's fees. Porter claimed she owned the property, she had leased the property to Murray on a month-to-month basis for the sum of $1,500 per month, Murray defaulted under the lease by failing to pay rent in accordance with the lease, and that she had provided Murray with written notice that her right of possession of the property had been terminated. Murray, on the other hand, denied that she had leased the property. Rather, she claimed she had executed a contract to purchase the property and had made improvements to the property. Following a bench trial, the circuit court purported to enter a judgment in favor of Porter and against Murray. Murray appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, finding no evidence that the district court had adjudicated the unlawful-detainer action. Thus, the circuit court lacked jurisdiction over the action and the judgment it entered was void and, therefore, would not support an appeal. View "Murray v. Porter" on Justia Law

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In 1994, Duncan moved into a rent-controlled unit in San Francisco. He was living there with his family when, in 2014, the landlords purchased the building and took away property-related benefits, ignored or delayed maintenance, were uncommunicative and uncooperative, and became increasingly hostile. While living in their unit, the tenants sued the landlords, alleging nuisance, breach of contract, negligence, harassment under San Francisco’s Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance, and unfair business practices (Bus. & Prof. Code 17200). Unlawful detainer actions were then filed against the tenants, who asserted affirmative defenses of retaliation and violation of the Rent Ordinance but later vacated the premises The landlords then unsuccessfully argued that because the tenants did not file a cross-complaint in the unlawful detainer actions, they were barred from pursuing their already-pending separate action. In 2016, the tenants added an allegation of unlawful owner move-in eviction. The jurors found the landlords liable under the Rent Ordinance and awarded $2.7 million. The court of appeal affirmed in 2021.The landlords nonetheless filed motions to vacate, claiming that the trial court had lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the tenants’ claims after they surrendered possession of their unit. The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of that claim. The only legal claim the tenants abandoned by moving out was current possession. The tenants’ other claims were not waived and were not required to be litigated in the unlawful detainer actions. View "Duncan v. Kihagi" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs sued Defendant for breach of contract in connection with their rental of Defendant’s home. Defendant failed to file an answer, and the trial court entered a default judgment for $59,191. The judgment included $1,000 in attorneys’ fees pursuant to a provision in the parties’ lease agreement authorizing attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party not to exceed $1,000. Defendant appealed, and the Second Appellate District affirmed. While the appeal was pending, the trial court granted in part Plaintiffs’ motion under Code of Civil Procedure section 685.080, subdivision (a), for an order allowing their costs of enforcing the judgment. The trial court awarded $27,721 in attorneys’ fees under section 685.040, which allows as an award of costs attorneys’ fees incurred in enforcing a judgment “if the underlying judgment includes an award of attorney’s fees to the judgment creditor pursuant to subparagraph (A) of paragraph (10) of subdivision (a) of Section 1033.5.” Section 1033.5, subdivision (a)(10)(A), in turn, provides that attorneys’ fees may be awarded as costs where authorized by contract. In this appeal, Defendant contends the trial court erred in awarding over $1,000 in attorneys’ fees for enforcing the judgment because the lease authorized attorneys’ fees “not to exceed $1,000.”   The Second Appellate District affirmed. The court explained that once the judgment was entered, the terms of the lease, including the $1,000 limitation on fees, were merged into and extinguished by the judgment. Because the judgment included an award of attorneys’ fees authorized by contract, section 685.040 allowed an award of reasonable attorneys’ fees incurred in enforcing the judgment. View "Nash v. Aprea" on Justia Law

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Between 2015 and 2019, BitterSweet Ranch and its managers (“BitterSweet”) leased three parcels of farmland from Frank Sullivan and two of his business entities, The Green Desert, LLC, and The Sullivan Limited Partnership (collectively, “Sullivan”). The parties signed three identical five-year leases (“the Leases”) involving three separate parcels of real property, each owned by one of the three Sullivan parties. The Leases specified that Sullivan was to be responsible for payment of the property taxes, but that those parties were to be reimbursed by BitterSweet, and that BitterSweet was to be responsible for bi-annual rent payments, utilities, and water assessments. For a variety of reasons, the parties purportedly orally agreed to modify the Leases to offset amounts owed to each other throughout the terms of the Leases. Shortly before the Leases were set to expire at the end of their five-year terms, Sullivan claimed that BitterSweet was in breach of the Leases for its alleged failure to make timely rent payments, to pay all property taxes, and to pay the water assessments pursuant to the terms of the Leases. Sullivan then filed three lawsuits (one for each of the Leases and in the names of each of the three parties) in district court. The district court ordered the cases consolidated and then granted summary judgment in favor of BitterSweet, concluding that a genuine issue of material fact had not been created as to whether BitterSweet had breached the Leases. Sullivan appealed the adverse order. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Sullivan v. BitterSweet Ranch, LLC" on Justia Law

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In early 2020, following the outbreak of COVID-19, Los Angeles County passed the “Resolution of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Los Angeles Further Amending and Restating the Executive Order for an Eviction Moratorium During Existence of a Local Health Emergency Regarding Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)” (the “Moratorium”). The Moratorium imposed temporary restrictions on certain residential and commercial tenant evictions. It provided tenants with new affirmative defenses to eviction based on nonpayment of rent, prohibited landlords from charging late fees and interest, and imposed civil and criminal penalties to landlords who violate the Moratorium. Id. Section V (July 14, 2021). Plaintiff, a commercial landlord, sued the County, arguing that the Moratorium impaired his lease, in violation of the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The district court found that Plaintiff had not alleged an injury in fact and dismissed his complaint for lack of standing.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that Plaintiff had standing to bring his Contracts Clause claim. Plaintiff’s injury for Article III purposes did not depend on whether Plaintiff’s tenant provided notice or was otherwise excused from doing so. Those questions went to the merits of the claim rather than Plaintiff’s standing to bring suit. Plaintiff alleged that the moratorium impaired his contract with his tenant because it altered the remedies the parties had agreed to at the time they entered into the lease. The panel held that these allegations were sufficient to plead an injury in fact and to state a claim under the Contracts Clause, and remanded to the district court. View "HOWARD ITEN V. COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES" on Justia Law

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This consolidated appeal arose from a dispute regarding a purchase option within a lease agreement. Bronco Elite Arts & Athletics, LLC, and its manager and registered agent, Brandon Paine (collectively “Bronco Elite”), operated a gymnastics facility in Garden City, Idaho. The gymnastics facility was located on property that Bronco Elite leased from 106 Garden City, LLC (“106 Garden City”), and Tricon Properties, LLC (“Tricon”). The lease agreement provided Bronco Elite the option to purchase the Property five years into the initial ten-year lease term. However, when Bronco Elite attempted to exercise its option, 106 Garden City and Tricon refused to honor the option. Bronco Elite sued 106 Garden City and Tricon, seeking specific performance. 106 Garden City and Tricon argued that Bronco Elite was precluded from exercising its purchase option because Bronco Elite had breached the lease agreement by consistently failing to pay rent on time and the lease terms only permitted Bronco Elite to exercise the purchase option if it was not in breach. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Bronco Elite and ordered 106 Garden City and Tricon to convey the Property to Bronco Elite. The specific performance ordered by the district court was stayed pending appeal. After review, the Idaho Supreme Court concluded the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to Bronco Elite, however, the Court found the trial court erred in setting the purchase price of the Property in the way that it did. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bronco Elite Arts & Athletics, LLC v. 106 Garden City, LLC" on Justia Law

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In a forceable entry and detainer (FED) action, the Oregon Supreme Court was asked to determine the proper calculation of damages that could be awarded to a tenant, following multiple instances of landlord noncompliance with certain utility billing requirements that repeated each month, over a series of months. After plaintiff (landlord) brought an FED action against defendant (tenant) to recover possession of the landlord’s premises, tenant alleged a counterclaim that landlord had failed to comply with certain utility billing requirements found in ORS 90.315(4)(b). The trial court agreed with tenant, concluding that landlord had committed 12 separate violations—one per month over the 12 months within the one-year statute of limitations that governed Oregon Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (ORLTA) actions, and awarded tenant statutory damages in an amount equal to 12 months of rent. On landlord’s appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the plain text of ORS 90.315(4)(f) showed that the legislature had not intended for each landlord billing violation to be subject to a separate sanction. The Oregon Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court and affirmed. View "Shepard Investment Group LLC v. Ormandy" on Justia Law

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Sathiyaselvam Thangavel and Sasikala Muthusamy were tenants who leased an apartment from Seaford Apartment Ventures, LLC. The complaint filed by Seaford Apartment’s insurer, Donegal Mutual Insurance Company, alleged that the tenants hit a sprinkler head while they flew a drone inside the apartment. Water sprayed from the damaged sprinkler head and caused damage to the apartment building. Seaford Apartment filed an insurance claim with Donegal, who paid $77,704.06 to repair the water damage. Donegal then brought this action against the tenants through subrogation and alleged that the tenants were negligent and breached the property’s rules and regulations. Donegal sought to recover the repair costs from the tenants. Under the "Sutton" rule, landlords and tenants are co-insureds under the landlord’s fire insurance policy unless a tenant’s lease clearly expresses an intent to the contrary. If the Sutton rule applies, the landlord’s insurer cannot pursue the tenant for the landlord’s damages by way of subrogation. In this case, a Delaware superior court ruled in the tenants’ favor at summary judgment that the Sutton rule applied because the lease did not clearly express an intent to hold the tenants liable for the landlord’s damages. To this the Delaware Supreme Court agreed and affirmed. View "Donegal Mutual Insurance Company v. Thangavel" on Justia Law

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William Borlay appealed his eviction from an apartment for debts accrued under two leases, and an order for him to pay damages to Hegenes Apartment Management. In December 2021, Hegenes and Borlay executed a six-month lease for an apartment in Fargo. The lease term was from January 1 to June 30, 2022. Borlay owed $730 in rent each month under the lease. Due to a software error, Hegenes charged Borlay $670 instead of $730 during the first five months of the lease. Hegenes became aware of the error in May 2022 and notified Borlay of the error. Hegenes’ tenant ledger showed Borlay failed to pay $300 in rent from January 2022 through May 2022. In June 2022, Hegenes and Borlay executed another six-month lease, again for $730 in rent each month, plus $40 each month for garage rent. If Borlay failed to pay rent by the third day of each month, the lease authorized Hegenes to charge a $50 late fee. On September 9, 2022, Hegenes posted a three-day notice on Borlay’s apartment door. On September 30, 2022, Hegenes sued Borlay to evict him from the apartment, alleging he owed $1,220.50 in unpaid rent and late fees. After hearings on October 14 and October 21, 2022, the district court found Borlay failed to pay $1,220.50 in rent and late fees under both leases. After review of the tenant ledger and payments made subsequent to the notice of eviction, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in concluding Hegenes was entitled to a judgment of eviction on the basis of a failure to pay rent under the expired January lease. The Court reversed the judgment and remanded for a determination of whether Hegenes was entitled to evict Borlay for his late payment of rent in September 2022 and, if so, for consideration of an award of attorney’s fees limited to that proceeding. View "Hegenes Apartment Management v. Borlay, et al." on Justia Law

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Divine Food and Catering, LLC (Divine) appeals from the dismissal of its malicious prosecution complaint against defendants and respondents the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America (the Diocese), St. John Armenian Church (St. John), Archpriest Manoug Markarian (Archpriest Manoug), and Harout Markarian (collectively, defendants). The trial court dismissed the complaint after granting Defendants’ special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute. Divine was a commercial tenant of St. John’s banquet hall. St. John and the Diocese (the church entities) filed an unlawful detainer action seeking to evict Divine based on a purported oral month-to-month lease. Following trial, the unlawful detainer court found the written lease was valid and granted judgment for Divine. Divine then filed its malicious prosecution complaint, alleging Defendants brought the unlawful detainer action in order to extort money from Petros Taglyan, the father of Divine’s owner. Divine alleged Defendants had no probable cause to bring the unlawful detainer action.   The Second Appellate District reversed. The court held that the triggers for the interim adverse judgment rule are limited to actual judgments and rulings on dispositive motions. The trial court, therefore, erred by applying the rule based on the unlawful detainer court’s sua sponte comments during trial. Alternatively, Divine has made an adequate showing for anti-SLAPP purposes that the unlawful detainer court’s comments were the product of fraud or perjury, which precludes application of the interim adverse judgment rule. Defendants have shown no other valid basis to support their anti-SLAPP motion. View "Divine Food and Catering v. Western Diocese of the Armenian etc." on Justia Law