Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Nationstar and others, asserting claims relating to defendants' servicing of plaintiffs' home loan. Plaintiffs alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692-1692p; intentional infliction of emotional distress (IIED); and a violation of the Nevada Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA), Nev. Rev. Stat. 598.0915–598.0925, 598.0934. The district court dismissed the complaint. The court concluded that the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs' claims of violations of sections 1692c(a)(2), 1692d, and 1692e pursuant to Ho v. ReconTrust Co. The court reasoned that Nationstar was not engaged in "debt collection" and thus defendants were not "debt collectors" when interacting with plaintiffs. The court concluded, however, that the district court erred in dismissing plaintiffs' claim under section 1692f(6) on the ground that Nationstar was not collecting a debt. The court explained that, unlike sections 1692c(a)(2), 1692d, and 1692e, the definition of debt collector under section 1692f(6) includes a person enforcing a security interest. In this case, plaintiffs alleged that Nationstar threatened to take non-judicial action to dispossess plaintiffs of their home without a legal ability to do so. The court noted that such conduct is exactly what section 1692f(6) protects borrowers against. Finally, the court concluded that the district court correctly dismissed plaintiffs' claims of IIED and of violation of the DTPA. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Dowers v. Nationstar Mortgage" on Justia Law

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Larry and Kari Miller, both Arizona domiciliaries, owned a cooperative apartment held in each of their names, as husband and wife. First Community Bank, a judgment creditor of Larry Miller, obtained a lien against the couple's co-op. Under Arizona law, the co-op would be treated as community property. Under California law, the co-op would not constitute community property because it was not acquired by the couple while they were domiciled in California. The court held that while the co-op owned by the couple did not come within the definition of community property in California, as that term is defined in Section 760 of the California Family Code, it does come within the definition of a tenancy-in-common. The court explained that the interests of a co-tenant in such tenancies, which are presumed to be held in equal shares, are subject to the enforcement of a judgment lien. In this case, applying California's choice-of-law rules, the court held that California law governs, and that the co-op would be treated as a tenancy-in-common, as defined in Section 685 of the California Civil Code, making Larry Miller's interest in the co-op subject to enforcement of the judgment lien. Accordingly, the court reversed the district court's reversal of the bankruptcy court's summary judgment for the creditor, remanding for further proceedings. View "In re Miller" on Justia Law

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The government obtained warrants authorizing it to seize roughly $100 million from bank accounts controlled by appellants, and asserted that the funds were proceeds from a criminal activity and thus subject to forfeiture under 18 U.S.C. 981. Appellants argued that, although they learned of the seizure shortly after it occurred, they did not receive notice pursuant to section 983(a)(1)(A) of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (CAFRA), 18 U.S.C.. 983(a)(1)(A), within 60 days of the seizure. The court concluded that section 983(a)(1)(A)(i) limited the applicability of the 60-day notice deadline to "nonjudicial" civil forfeiture proceedings. The court concluded that, because this case involved judicial forfeiture proceedings, this section does not apply. The court explained that the government could not have pursued nonjudicial forfeiture proceedings even if it had wanted to because the value of the property far exceeded $500,000. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Omidi v. United States" on Justia Law

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After DEA agents seized $99,500 in cash from plaintiff's carry-on bag at San Francisco International Airport, the DEA sent plaintiff a notice on May 1, 2013, informing plaintiff that the money was subject to forfeiture under 21 U.S.C. 881 as a result of a violation of the Controlled Substances Act. The notice stated that June 5, 2013 was the deadline to file a contest of the forfeiture. On June 4th, 2013, plaintiff's attorney tendered plaintiff's claim to FedEx for overnight delivery to the DEA, but the DEA did not receive the claim until June 6th. Plaintiff eventually filed a motion for return of property under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 41(g), arguing that the DEA had wrongfully deemed his claim untimely and that the district court should exercise its equitable jurisdiction to toll the filing deadline. The district court held that it had equitable jurisdiction to consider plaintiff's motion, but denied plaintiff's motion on the merits. The court treated section 983(e) of the Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), 18 U.S.C. 983(e), as a claim-processing rule. In this case, the district court correctly determined that it had jurisdiction to hear plaintiff's motion for equitable relief because there is no clear jurisdictional limitation to CAFRA. The court concluded that plaintiff failed to meet his burden of establishing that he pursued his rights diligently and that some extraordinary circumstance stood in his way. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the motion. View "Okafor v. United States" on Justia Law

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Claimants challenge the government’s seizure of two J.P. Morgan Chase bank accounts in a civil asset-forfeiture action. In a verified complaint seeking forfeiture, the government contends that Claimants unlawfully used the accounts to launder money connected with illicit drug proceeds. Claimants answered and filed verified claims in response to the complaint, alleging that they held ownership and possessory interests in the seized funds sufficient to confer standing. The district court entered judgment in favor of the government. The court concluded that the district court did not err by holding that Claimants failed to provide indicia of their own ownership of the funds sufficient to defeat summary judgment. However, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Claimants, the court held that Claimants’ explanation of their respective possessory interests in the seized funds, coupled with supporting evidence in the form of declarations, deposition testimony, bank records, and other evidence, raises a material dispute of fact for trial. Therefore, the court concluded that Claimants have standing to challenge the forfeiture. The court also concluded that there is sufficient evidence of a possessory interest to confer prudential standing. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Samaniego" on Justia Law

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This case arises out of an action to quiet title to real property purchased at a homeowners’ association foreclosure auction in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Nevada Revised Statutes section 116.3116 et seq. strips a mortgage lender of its first deed of trust when a homeowners’ association forecloses on the property based on delinquent HOA dues. The court held that the Statute’s “opt-in” notice scheme, which required a homeowners’ association to alert a mortgage lender that it intended to foreclose only if the lender had affirmatively requested notice, facially violated the lender’s constitutional due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded for further proceedings. View "Bourne Valley Court Trust v. Wells Fargo" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against USB and Recon challenging the complete foreclosure sale of their residential property. Plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the trustee’s sale was invalid under the Oregon Trust Deed Act (OTDA), ORS 86.770(1), because several assignments of the Trust Deed that took place prior to the 2010 assignment to USB were never recorded. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint, holding that ORS 86.770(1) barred plaintiffs' claims. In this case, the only defect the foreclosure process identified by plaintiffs has to do with the content of the notice. The defect is the incorrect listing of the beneficiary in the notice they received. However, plaintiffs do not dispute that: (1) they were in default; (2) they were served in the manner required by ORS 86.740 (requiring, at a minimum, service by certified mail 120 days before the sale) and ORS 86.750 (requiring personal service on grantors who occupy the property 120 days before the sale); (3) they had no financial ability to cure the default and redeem the property; (4) they took no action to challenge the sale prior to it becoming final; and (5) they only challenged the foreclosure sale many months after the foreclosure sale was completed. Therefore, plaintiffs' post-sale claims are barred as their property interests have been terminated and foreclosed pursuant to ORS 86.770(1). Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Woods v. U.S. Bank" on Justia Law

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This case concerns a dispute between the parties over who has priority ownership of property located in Las Vegas. Nevada has a statute that gives a homeowners’ association lien priority over “all other liens and encumbrances” (subject to some limited exceptions) for up to nine months of unpaid HOA fees. NEV. REV. STAT. 116.3116(2)–(3). After the HOA foreclosed on property that Ashley Spencer bought, Weeping Hollow purchased the property at the foreclosure sale. Just over two months after the HOA foreclosure sale, Wells Fargo attempted to foreclose on the property under its 2008 deed of trust. Weeping Hollow filed suit in state court against Spencer, Wells Fargo, and a title insurance company. Wells Fargo removed to federal court. The district court then granted Wells Fargo’s motion to dismiss Weeping Hollow’s complaint. After the district court issued its ruling, the Nevada Supreme Court issued an opinion that expressly abrogates the district court’s interpretation of the HOA statute. Under the Nevada Supreme Court’s holding, a foreclosure on an HOA lien extinguishes an earlier-recorded security interest even though the HOA lien was recorded later. The court held that the district court erred in applying the fraudulent-joinder doctrine to this case. Because Spencer was not shown to be fraudulently joined, her presence in the action divests the district court of diversity jurisdiction and the district court must remand the case to state court. Since this case should never have made it into federal court, the court has no reason to address Wells Fargo’s constitutional and state-law arguments. View "Weeping Hollow Ave. Trust v. Spencer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs and volunteers built the La Contessa, a replica of a 16th-century Spanish galleon, from a used school bus for use at the Burning Man Festival. Defendant intentionally burned the wooden structure of the La Contessa so that a scrap metal dealer could remove the underlying school bus from his property. Plaintiffs filed suit alleging that defendant violated the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA), 17 U.S.C. 106(A), and committed common law conversion when he destroyed the La Contessa. The trial court granted summary judgment on their VARA claim and awarded attorneys' fees. The court held that an object constitutes a piece of “applied art”- as opposed to a “work of visual art”- where the object initially served a utilitarian function and the object continues to serve such a function after the artist made embellishments or alterations to it. Conversely, “applied art” would not include a piece of art whose function is purely aesthetic or a utilitarian object which is so transformed through the addition of artistic elements that its utilitarian functions cease. In this case, the court concluded that the La Contessa plainly was "applied art," and thus was not a work of visual art under the VARA and not eligible for its protection. Therefore, the trial court properly granted summary judgment to defendant on the VARA claim. The court also concluded that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding the testimony of two of plaintiffs' expert witnesses, nor did the trial court err in its jury instructions on abandoned property and abandonment. Furthermore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by failing to include jury instructions on lost profits and punitive damages resulting from the destruction of the La Contessa; in admitting evidence of drug paraphenalia surrounding the La Contessa as it sat on defendant’s property; and in denying plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment on their conversion claim. Finally, the trial court did not err in awarding attorneys' fees. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Cheffins v. Stewart" on Justia Law

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Agnes and Anne Purdy dispute the State’s claim of ownership to rights-of-way for four public trails that cross the Purdys' land, seeking to stop members of the public from trespassing on their property by using the trails. The Purdys acquired ownership of the parcels in question under the Alaska Native Allotment Act, 43 U.S.C. 270–1 et seq. The State filed suit against the Purdys and the United States, contending that the Purdys' allotments are subject to rights-of-way. The State further alleges that, by virtue of public use, it acquired ownership of the rights-of-way under an unusual federal statute known as R.S. 2477. The district court dismissed the quiet title and declaratory judgment claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and entered partial final judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). The remainder of the action has been stayed pending resolution of this appeal. The court concluded that the district court correctly held that the State’s quiet title claim is barred because the United States is a necessary party to that claim but has not waived its immunity from suit pursuant to the Indian lands exception of the Quiet Title Act (QTA), 28 U.S.C. 2409a. The court also concluded that the district court correctly dismissed the State’s claim for declaratory relief under 28 U.S.C. 2201, which sought essentially the same relief as the quiet title claim. Although the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to hear the State’s condemnation claim, that claim may not proceed as pleaded. The court remanded as to this claim so that the State may be given an opportunity to amend the claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "State of Alaska Dept. of Nat. Res. v. United States" on Justia Law