Justia Civil Procedure Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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James Township, Michigan filed a nuisance action against Daniel Rice , alleging Rice violated the township’s blight ordinance as well as the Michigan Residential Code by having junk cars, unpermitted construction, and fences of an improper height on his property. Rice moved to dismiss the portions of the citation related to the improper height of his fence and the unpermitted construction, arguing that, under the Right to Farm Act (RTFA), the township was prohibited from enforcing against farms or farm operations local ordinances governing those structures. The township opposed the motion, arguing that the property was not protected by the RTFA because it had not previously been used for farming. Following a hearing, the district court, found that Rice’s use of the property constituted a “farm” or “farm operation” for purposes of the RTFA and that the RTFA was an affirmative defense to those portions of the civil citation. The district court dismissed the specified portions of the citation and denied the parties’ individual requests for costs and fees. Rice moved for reconsideration, arguing that, under MCL 286.473b, he was entitled to costs and expenses, as well as reasonable and actual attorney fees; the district court denied the motion. The district court later dismissed the remaining portions of the citation and dismissed the action with prejudice. Rice appealed and the circuit court affirmed the district court’s order. The Court of Appeals denied Rice’s application for leave to appeal the circuit court’s order. In lieu of granting leave to appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court remanded the case to the Court of Appeals for consideration as on leave granted. On remand, in an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the circuit court’s legal conclusions, holding that an award of costs , expenses, and fees was not mandatory under MCL 286.473b, but the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the district court for articulation of the district court’s reasons for the discretionary denial. The Michigan Supreme Court found no such discretion under the RTFA, and Rice was entitled to his fees. The appellate court’s judgment was reversed. View "Township of James v. Rice" on Justia Law

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In 2008, the City of Gulfport undertook a project to replace the infrastructure associated with its water and sewer systems relating to damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The repair project involved federal, state, and local agencies and ultimately cost approximately $85 million to complete. The original design of the Area 3B project, the sewer infrastructure that crossed the Cowan Road property located north of U.S. Highway 90 and east of Highway 605 were to be replaced, and the new infrastructure was to be installed within the City’s existing easements across the properties. The Cowan Road property at issue was located in the Area 3B geographic zone. Robert “Kris” Riemann, P.E., then-director of the City’s department of public works, was notified that John Felsher had inquired about relocating the sewer infrastructure in Area 3B. Based on an agreement with Felsher to relocate the utilities, the City had the Area 3B design drawings redrafted to move the utilities. The City's project manager was notified that the discovery of underground telephone lines and other utilities required that the sewer line being relocated had to cut the northwest corner of the property. Cowan Road filed a complaint in the Chancery Court of Harrison County, Mississippi, advancing a claim for inverse condemnation against the City. The chancery court transferred the case to the Special Court of Eminent Domain in Harrison County. Due to the jurisdictional limits of county court, the case ended up in Harrison County Circuit Court. The circuit court entered an order granting the motion for partial summary judgment filed by the City on the issue of the date of the taking. The parties eventually settled the reverse condemnation claim, and the City agreed to pay $100,000 to Cowan Road & Hwy 90, LLC, for the improper and unlawful taking of its property. The issue before the Mississippi Supreme Court centered on the circuit court's grant of attorneys' fees and expenses: Gulfport argued that Cowan Road should not have been allowed to recover attorneys’ fees under Section 43-37-9. Finding that the statute applied and fees were appropriate, the Supreme Court affirmed. However, the Court found the trial judge abused his discretion by disallowing requests for postjudgment interest. View "City of Gulfport v. Cowan Road & Hwy 90, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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The issues this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court involved the priority of mortgage liens, the scope of RCW 60.04.226, and whether to adopt certain sections of the Restatement (Third) of Property: Mortgages (Am. Law Inst. 1997). Principal among them: whether a senior mortgage holder’s future advances clause maintained priority over an intervening junior mortgage on the same property. The parties and the Court of Appeals referred to future advances and modification of mortgages interchangeably throughout this case. Though similar, these were different mortgages provisions, carried different legal consequences, and were governed by different provisions of the Restatement. The parties and the appeals court applied Restatement § 7.3 to the future advances clause in the instant mortgage documents. Restatement § 2.3 was the provision that governed future advances while Restatement § 7.3 governed mortgage modifications. Applying both Restatement § 7.3 and RCW 60.04.226 to a future advances clause creates a conflict because the statute does not provide a “stop-notice” protection while the Restatement does. The Washington Supreme Court read RCW 60.04.226 as applying only in the construction context. The Court thus reversed the Court of Appeals and remanded to the trial court to determine the correct priority of claims by applying the common law rules outlined in our cases for both future advances and modifications. View "In re Gen. Receivership of EM Prop. Holdings, LLC" on Justia Law

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Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center of Roanoke (SVWC) provides medical and rehabilitative care to 2,000 animals each year. SVWC is located at the end of a shared private easement that is approximately 476 feet long; the other properties that can only be accessed by the easement’s unpaved, single-lane dirt driveway, across their lawns. The easement is not maintained by any governmental entity. SVWC sought a special use permit to build a large “raptor building.” The Zoning Administrator determined that existing “accessory structures” on SVWC's property were either improperly granted zoning permits or had not been granted permits. The Board of Supervisors granted the special use permit, which retroactively authorized the accessory structures and the construction of the raptor building, subject to conditions requiring buffering and materials. Neighboring owners challenged the approval, arguing that traffic on the easement has increased “20- to 50-fold” since, SVWC began operating in 2014, causing “congestion, noise, dust, and light pollution” and posing a danger to their children.The trial court dismissed their complaint, citing lack of standing. The Virginia Supreme Court reversed. The dust, noise, and light pollution allegedly caused by the traffic on the easement constitute particularized harm to the plaintiffs. The complaint sufficiently alleged that the construction of the raptor building and the corresponding expansion of SVWC’s services would cause more traffic and supports a reasonable inference that the decision to retroactively approve the accessory structures would lead to traffic on the easement. View "Seymour v. Roanoke County Board of Supervisors" on Justia Law

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Vermilion Parish School Board (“VPSB”) filed suit in 2004, alleging oil and gas operations conducted pursuant to a 1935 mineral lease and a 1994 surface lease damaged Section 16 land. VPSB asserted causes of action for negligence, strict liability, unjust enrichment, trespass, breach of contract, and violations of Louisiana environmental laws. The Louisiana Supreme Court granted rehearing to reconsider its prior decision in Louisiana v. Louisiana Land and Exploration Co., 20-00685 (La. 6/30/21), _So.3d_. The case presented two main issues: (1) the proper interpretation of Act 312 relative to the award of damages for the evaluation or remediation of environmental damage; and (2) whether the strict liability tort claim prescribed. With the benefit of additional oral argument and briefing, the Court affirmed its original decree. View "Louisiana, et al. v. Louisiana Land & Exploration Co., et al." on Justia Law

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An automobile driven by defendant Patrick McLaughlan, struck plaintiff Jerry Harwood while Harwood was leaving his work shift and crossing the street to an employer provided parking lot. After an unsuccessful attempt to recover workers compensation benefits for his injuries, Harwood filed a lawsuit against the driver and his employer. The trial court dismissed the lawsuit against the employer for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Harwood appealed, and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. After review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held that because an employer may have assumed the duty to provide a safer crosswalk for access to an employer designated parking lot, the employee pled a claim for relief which is legally possible. The trial court's dismissal was premature. View "Harwood v. Ardagh Group" on Justia Law

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Lassen Irrigation Company (Irrigation Company) challenged the superior court’s orders interpreting paragraphs1 17 and 55 of the 1940 Susan River Water Rights Decree (decree). The superior court adopted the trust’s interpretations of those paragraphs, thereby overturning the contrary decisions by Honey Lake Valley Resource Conservation District, serving as the watermaster administering the decree. Although the superior court expressed an unfamiliarity with water law, it viewed the trust’s interpretations of the paragraphs as “not ridiculously inconsistent with the objectives of the overall agreement” and “within the bounds of the agreement and . . . consistent with the language in the agreement.” The Court of Appeal concluded the trust’s interpretations of paragraphs 17 and 55, as adopted by the superior court, were unreasonable considering the language, record, history, and context of the decree. The superior court’s finding the trust’s place of use change request otherwise comported with Water Code section 1706 and California water law also did not save the paragraph 17 order. Accordingly, the superior court’s orders were reversed in their entirety. View "Dow v. Lassen Irrigation Company" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court approved the ruling of the Fifth District Court of Appeal that a trial court may order a defendant over whom it has in personam jurisdiction to act on foreign property pursuant to Fla. Stat. 56.29(6), holding that a trial court has the authority to order a defendant over whom it has in personam jurisdiction to act on foreign property.The district court concluded that section 56.29(6) plainly authorizes a trial court to order a debtor, over whom the court has in personam jurisdiction, to act on assets located outside of the court's territorial jurisdiction. The Supreme Court approved the district court's ruling, holding that the trial court in this case undisputedly had in personam jurisdiction over the debtor and therefore compel him to act on his foreign assets under section 56.29(6). View "Shim v. Buechel" on Justia Law

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Koch Construction, Inc.; Marilyn Koch, Personal Representative of the Estate of Michael P. Koch; and Koch Property Investments, Inc. (collectively “appellants”) appealed the judgment and amended judgment entered in favor of Toman Engineering Company (“Toman”). Michael Koch owned and operated Koch Construction and Koch Property Investments (“KPI”). Toman provided engineering services to Koch Construction on various projects, including designing a stormwater management system for the Koch Meadow Hills residential development project in Dickinson, North Dakota. Michael died in August 2017. The stormwater management system included a detention pond referred to as the Marilyn Way Stormwater Pond, which was the detention pond at issue in this case. In 2016, Janet Prchal, Dean Kubas, and Geraldine Kubas, owners of property near the Koch Meadow Hills development, sued the City of Dickinson and KPI for damages, alleging the development of Koch Meadow Hills caused water to drain and collect on their properties. The Prchal lawsuit was settled in September 2018, and the settlement required modifications to be made to the Marilyn Way Stormwater Pond before June 30, 2019. The reconstruction work on the detention pond occurred during the summer and fall of 2019. Toman served a summons and complaint on Koch Construction and Marilyn Koch, to collect unpaid amounts for engineering services Toman provided to the defendants in 2017. Toman filed the complaint in the district court in June 2019. The appellants argued the district court erred in deciding they committed intentional spoliation of evidence and dismissing their counterclaim as a sanction. After review of the district court record, the North Dakota Supreme Court concluded the district court abused its discretion when it dismissed the appellants’ counterclaim as a sanction for spoliation of evidence. Judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for a new trial. View "Toman Engineering Co. v. Koch Construction, et al." on Justia Law

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In 2018, the Indiana Supreme Court held that the state holds exclusive title to Lake Michigan and its shores up to the lake’s ordinary high-water mark. The plaintiffs, who own beachfront property on Lake Michigan’s Indiana shores, believed that their property extended to the low-water mark, and filed suit, alleging that the ruling amounted to a taking of their property in violation of the Fifth Amendment–a “judicial taking.” The defendants were Indiana officeholders in their official capacities: the Governor, the Attorney General, the Department of Natural Resources Director, and the State Land Office Director.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. None of the named officials caused the plaintiffs’ asserted injury or is capable of redressing it, so the plaintiffs lack Article III standing. View "Pavlock v. Holcomb" on Justia Law