Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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In this case, tenants Matthew Raines and Melissa Clayton complained to their landlord, Tuyen Dinh, about the habitability of their rented unit, particularly due to issues with their utilities and the presence of unauthorized tenants in the building. The tenants withheld rent and requested reimbursement for additional utilities costs. When Dinh refused and subsequently evicted the tenants for nonpayment of rent, a dispute ensued. The Superior Court of the State of Alaska held a damages trial, finding largely in favor of the tenants.The Supreme Court of the State of Alaska affirmed the lower court's findings that Dinh failed to maintain the premises in a habitable condition and willfully diminished the tenants' essential services under the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (URLTA). However, the Supreme Court reversed the lower court's conclusion that the tenants could recover for the landlord's failure to deliver possession of the property. The Supreme Court also affirmed some aspects of the lower court's award of damages, but reversed those awards that were not supported by the record.The court found that Dinh's violation of housing codes and his conditional use permit diminished the value of the tenants' leasehold by the $8,800 owed in past rent. The court also found that Dinh was responsible for additional costs incurred by the tenants due to the unauthorized use of their utilities by unauthorized tenants in the building. However, the court ruled that the tenants could not recover for Dinh's failure to deliver possession of the property, despite finding that Dinh did not deliver habitable premises at the commencement of the lease. View "Dinh v. Raines" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of Texas examined whether a lender could rescind a loan acceleration and reaccelerate the loan simultaneously, thereby resetting the foreclosure statute of limitations under the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Section 16.038. The plaintiffs, Linda and Thomas Moore, defaulted on their home loan, leading to an acceleration of the loan by the lenders, Wells Fargo Bank and PHH Mortgage Corporation. The lenders subsequently issued notices rescinding the acceleration and then reaccelerating the loan. The Moores sued, arguing that the foreclosure statute of limitations had run out because the lenders' rescission notices also included notices of reacceleration. The federal district court ruled against the Moores, leading to their appeal and the subsequent certification of questions to the Supreme Court of Texas by the Fifth Circuit. The key question was whether simultaneous rescission and reacceleration could reset the limitations period under Section 16.038.The Supreme Court of Texas held that a rescission that complies with the statute resets the limitations period, even if it is combined with a notice of reacceleration. The court reasoned that the statute doesn't require the rescission notice to be separate from other notices, nor does it impose a waiting period between rescission and reacceleration. The court's ruling means that lenders can rescind and reaccelerate a loan simultaneously, thereby resetting the foreclosure statute of limitations. View "MOORE v. WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A." on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute among neighbors over the use and ownership of a private road in Rhode Island. The plaintiffs, Merlyn P. O’Keefe and Mary Ellen O’Keefe, who own the residential lot farthest from the main road, sought injunction relief and claimed adverse possession over the private road. The private road was part of a residential compound, known as White Horn Acres, and each party owned an undivided one-sixth interest in the private road and the six residential lots in the compound. The plaintiffs observed multiple obstructions in the private road over the years, some of which were removed during the course of the lawsuit.The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court, denying the plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief and their claims for adverse possession. The court found no evidence that the defendants' obstructions excluded the plaintiffs from enjoying their equal privileges in the private road. Therefore, the plaintiffs did not demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits, irreparable harm, or that the balance of the equities favored injunctive relief. Regarding the adverse possession claims, the court found that the plaintiffs did not provide clear and convincing evidence of acts of possession that excluded the rights of the other cotenants. The defendants regularly used the cul-de-sac and believed it was their right to do so. Therefore, the plaintiffs' claims for adverse possession related to the cul-de-sac were denied. View "Merlyn O'Keefe v. Myrth York" on Justia Law

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In this case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit addressed a dispute involving the owners of two parcels of real estate in Chicago who contended that banks tried to collect notes and mortgages that belonged to different financial institutions. The state judiciary had ruled that the banks were entitled to foreclose on both parcels, but the properties had not yet been sold and no final judgments defining the debt were in place. The plaintiffs attempted to initiate federal litigation under the holding of Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., arguing that their case was still pending. However, the district court dismissed the case, citing the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which states that only the Supreme Court of the United States can review the judgments of state courts in civil suits.The Appeals court held that the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine was incorrect in this case because the foreclosure litigation in Illinois was not yet "final". According to the court, the foreclosure process in Illinois continues until the property is sold, the sale is confirmed, and the court either enters a deficiency judgment or distributes the surplus. Since these steps had not occurred, the plaintiffs had not yet "lost the war", and thus parallel state and federal litigation could be pursued as per Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp.However, by the time the district court dismissed this suit, the state litigation about one parcel was over because a sale had occurred and been confirmed, and by the time the Appeals court heard oral argument that was true for the second parcel as well. The Appeals court stated that Illinois law forbids sequential litigation about the same claim even when the plaintiff in the second case offers novel arguments. The court found that the plaintiffs could have presented their constitutional arguments in the state court system and were not free to shift what is effectively an appellate argument to a different judicial system.The court also noted that Joel Chupack, the lead defendant, was the trial judge in the state case and was not a party to either state case. He did not claim the benefit of preclusion. Judge Chupack was found to be entitled to absolute immunity from damages, as he acted in a judicial capacity.The judgment of the district court was modified to reflect a dismissal with prejudice rather than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, and as so modified it was affirmed. View "Bryant v. Chupack" on Justia Law

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This case involves a dispute over the right to use a gravel crossing over a railroad track in Johnson County, Texas. The landowners, Nathan Albert and Chisholm Trail Redi-Mix, LLC, were granted an easement by necessity, an easement by estoppel, and a prescriptive easement by a jury, allowing them to cross the railroad tracks owned by the Fort Worth & Western Railroad Company (Western). The jury also found that the landowners did not trespass on the railroad’s property. The Court of Appeals reversed these findings, stating that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury’s easement findings and factually insufficient to support the trespass finding. The Supreme Court of Texas partially reversed the Court of Appeals' judgment. It held that while the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury's findings of an easement by necessity and an easement by estoppel, it was legally sufficient to support the prescriptive easement. The Supreme Court of Texas remanded the case back to the Court of Appeals to consider unresolved issues involving the boundaries and permitted uses of the easement. The dispute started when the railroad company began sending notices to the landowners that they were trespassing on the railroad’s property by using the gravel crossing. Despite this, the gravel crossing had been used without issue for many years and had been referenced as a "private road" on local maps since the 1940s. View "ALBERT v. FORT WORTH & WESTERN RAILROAD COMPANY" on Justia Law

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In the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, One Love Housing, LLC, a company that operates a residential sober living home in Anoka, Minnesota, sued the City of Anoka for refusing to grant a waiver from the city's zoning regulations. The regulations permit only a single family or a group of not more than four unrelated persons to reside together in the area where the sober home is located. One Love wanted to accommodate seven unrelated recovering addicts in the home. One Love and two residents of the home alleged that the city violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act by refusing to grant this waiver.The district court granted One Love summary judgment on its claim that the city failed to reasonably accommodate the sober home's request. The court ordered the city to grant the waiver for One Love to house seven unrelated individuals recovering from substance abuse. The city appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the district court's decision and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appellate court held that the district court erred by considering evidence that was not presented to the city council when it denied One Love's request for a waiver. The appellate court also found that the district court erred in granting summary judgment to One Love because there was a genuine dispute over whether the requested accommodation was reasonable and necessary. The court stated that the financial viability of One Love's sober home is relevant only if One Love can prove that the service it offers provides a therapeutic benefit that is necessary for people recovering from alcohol or drug abuse to successfully live in a residential neighborhood without relapsing. The court concluded that there are genuine issues of disputed fact on these issues. The court also declined to rule on One Love's disparate treatment and disparate impact claims, leaving those for the district court to address on remand. View "One Love Housing, LLC v. City of Anoka, MN" on Justia Law

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Thomas Rhone, a property owner in Texas City, Texas, had his apartments declared a nuisance by a Municipal Court of Record. Rhone disputed this decision in state court, but the City moved the case to federal district court. There, Rhone's claims were dismissed on summary judgment. Rhone appealed the district court's decision, challenging the standard of review and its conclusions regarding his constitutional claims. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the role of the City Attorney in finalizing the Municipal Court’s order of abatement.Rhone's property, three apartment buildings, passed a city inspection in 2013 without any issues regarding a lack of a certificate of occupancy being raised. However, following an inspection in 2020, Texas City informed Rhone that his buildings were substandard and that he would need a certificate of occupancy to operate them. Rhone argued that city officials interfered with his efforts to remedy the violations claimed by the City and imposed conditions that made it impossible for him to preserve the value of his property by repairing the apartment buildings to bring them into compliance with the Texas City Code instead of demolishing the structures.After the city filed an administrative action in its Municipal Court of Record, the court ordered the demolition of the apartment buildings, finding them to be "dilapidated, substandard, unfit for human habitation, a hazard to the public health, safety, and welfare," and a nuisance. Rhone appealed this order in the 122nd Judicial District Court of Galveston County, but the City removed the action to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas in Galveston under federal-question jurisdiction. The federal district court ultimately granted partial summary judgment in favor of Texas City.The Court of Appeals held that any of Rhone's claims that would only interfere with the demolition of the buildings on his property were moot due to the demolition of the buildings. However, the court also held that the demolition did not eliminate a potential takings claim. The court ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on the role of the City Attorney in finalizing the Municipal Court’s order of abatement. The court also held that Rhone has not shown that an initial inspection by a city fire marshal and an issuance of a citation that has consequences on his use of the property violate federal law. View "Rhone v. City of Texas City" on Justia Law

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In this case, Plaintiff-Appellant Lazy S Ranch Properties, LLC (Lazy S) filed a lawsuit against Defendants-Appellees Valero Terminaling and Distribution Company and related entities (collectively, Valero), alleging that Valero's pipeline leaked and caused contamination on Lazy S's property. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed in part and affirmed in part the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Valero.Lazy S runs cattle operations on a large property in Oklahoma, beneath which several pipelines transport hydrocarbons. In 2018, a representative of the ranch noticed a diesel fuel odor emanating from a cave near a water source on the property. Samples were taken and tested, and these tests revealed trace amounts of refined petroleum products in soil, surface water, groundwater, spring water, and air on the ranch.Lazy S brought several claims against Valero, including private nuisance, public nuisance, negligence per se, and negligence. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Valero, holding that Lazy S did not present sufficient evidence to establish a legal injury or causation.On appeal, the Tenth Circuit found that Lazy S had presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to legal injury on its claims of private nuisance, public nuisance, and negligence per se. The court noted that Lazy S had presented evidence of a strong odor emanating from a cave near a water source on the property, headaches suffered by individuals due to the odor, and changes in behavior due to the odor. As such, a rational trier of fact could conclude that the odor injured the ranch.The Tenth Circuit also found that Lazy S had presented sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to causation. The court noted that the pipeline was a major source of potential contamination beneath the ranch, that it had leaked in the past, and that a pathway existed for hydrocarbons to travel from the pipeline to the water source.The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Lazy S's claims of constructive fraud and trespass, finding that Lazy S had not presented sufficient evidence to support these claims.The court remanded the case to the district court for trial on the issues of negligence per se, private nuisance, and public nuisance, including Lazy S's claims for damages. View "Lazy S Ranch Properties v. Valero Terminaling and Distribution" on Justia Law

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In the case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Peace Ranch LLC challenged the constitutionality of California AB 978, a mobilehome-rent-control statute. Peace Ranch alleged that if it increases mobilehome rents more than AB 978 permits, the California Attorney General would enforce AB 978 against it. However, Peace Ranch also alleged that AB 978 does not apply to its mobilehome park. The Court of Appeals concluded that Peace Ranch had adequately established standing based on a pre-enforcement injury. The court reasoned that Peace Ranch was trapped between complying with a law that it believes does not apply to it or risking enforcement proceedings by raising rents. This dilemma, the court ruled, is the precise predicament that supports pre-enforcement standing. As such, the court reversed the district court's dismissal for lack of standing. View "PEACE RANCH, LLC V. BONTA" on Justia Law

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In this case decided by the Indiana Supreme Court, plaintiff Dux North LLC, the owner of a landlocked property in rural Hamilton County, Indiana, sought an implied easement over adjacent property owned by defendants Jason and Sarah Morehouse. Dux North claimed either an implied easement by prior use or an implied easement of necessity over the Morehouse property. The court clarified that these two types of implied easements are conceptually different. For an implied easement by prior use, the claimed servitude must predate the severance creating the separate parcels. For an implied easement of necessity, the claimed necessity need to arise only at severance and not before. Thus, Dux North could seek relief under either implied easement, and the failure of one such easement does not necessarily defeat the other. Furthermore, the court held that an implied easement of necessity requires a showing that access to the property by another means is not just impractical but impossible. The court then reversed the trial court's judgment granting Dux North's motion for summary judgment on the easement-by-prior-use claim and denying the Morehouses' motion for partial summary judgment on the easement-of-necessity claim. The case was remanded for further proceedings to decide whether Dux North has an easement by prior use over the Morehouse property. View "Morehouse v. Dux North LLC" on Justia Law