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

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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The case involves Jeremy and Kristy Morris, who sued the West Hayden Estates First Addition Homeowners Association (HOA) under the Fair Housing Act. The Morrises alleged that the HOA discriminated against them based on religion by attempting to prevent them from conducting a Christmas program. The jury ruled in favor of the Morrises, awarding them compensatory and punitive damages. However, the district court granted judgment as a matter of law to the HOA, alternatively granted a new trial, and issued a permanent injunction against future productions of the Christmas program that violate the HOA’s covenants, conditions, restrictions, and easements.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s judgment. The appellate court held that the district court properly granted judgment as a matter of law to the HOA as to the Morrises’ disparate treatment claim under 42 U.S.C. § 3604(b) because they did not show that they were adversely affected by the HOA’s actions. However, the court reversed the district court's judgment as a matter of law on the Morrises’ claim that the HOA interfered with their right to purchase and enjoy their home free from discrimination, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 3617. The court affirmed the district court’s grant of a new trial to the HOA as to the § 3617 claim and vacated the district court’s grant of an injunction to the HOA. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "MORRIS V. WEST HAYDEN ESTATES FIRST ADDITION HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC." on Justia Law

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The case involves the United States government's action to reduce federal tax liens to judgment and foreclose on real property. The government sought to foreclose on tax liens against a property owned by Komron Allahyari. Shaun Allahyari, Komron's father, was named as an additional defendant due to his interest in the property through two deeds of trust. The district court found that the government was entitled to foreclose on the tax liens and sell the property. However, the court did not have sufficient information to enter an order for judicial sale and ordered the parties to submit a Joint Status Report. Shaun Allahyari filed an appeal before the parties submitted the Joint Status Report and stipulated to the value of the property to be sold.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court explained that the district court's order was not final because it did not have sufficient information to enter an order for judicial sale. The court also clarified that for a decree of sale in a foreclosure suit to be considered a final decree for purposes of an appeal, it must settle all of the rights of the parties and leave nothing to be done but to make the sale and pay out the proceeds. Because that standard was not met in this case, there still was no final judgment. The court therefore dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "USA V. ALLAHYARI" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment for the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) in a case brought by two utilities, Southern California Edison Company and Southern California Gas Company. The utilities claimed they were entitled to compensation under the Takings Clause or under state law for having to relocate their equipment from public streets to allow for the construction of a streetcar line.The court held that the utilities did not have a property interest under California law in maintaining their facilities at their specific locations in the face of OCTA’s efforts to construct a streetcar line. The California Supreme Court recognized in a previous case that a public utility accepts franchise rights in public streets subject to an implied obligation to relocate its facilities therein at its own expense when necessary to make way for a proper governmental use of the streets.The court rejected the utilities’ argument that constructing rail lines is per se a proprietary activity, not a governmental one. California common law has traditionally required utilities to bear relocation costs when governments construct subways, and there is no reason why above-ground rail lines should be treated differently.Finally, the court rejected the utilities’ supplemental state-law claim that California Public Utilities Code section 40162 places the costs of relocation on OCTA. That provision says nothing about imposing the costs of relocation on OCTA. Thus, section 40162 does not apply to OCTA’s project. View "SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA EDISON COMPANY V. ORANGE COUNTY TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY" 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 the case involving Katherine Blumenkron, David Blumenkron, and Springville Investors, LLC, versus Multnomah County, the Metro Regional Government, and members of the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission, the plaintiffs challenged the designation of their land in Multnomah County, Oregon, as "rural reserves" under the Oregon Land Reserves Statute. They claimed that the statute and regulations facially violate the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses of the federal constitution, and that the defendants’ rural reserve designations violated their federal procedural due process, substantive due process, and equal protection rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ facial and as-applied constitutional challenges to the designation, concluding that the requirements for Burford abstention (a doctrine that allows federal courts to refrain from deciding a case in deference to state courts) were met for each of the as-applied claims. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by abstaining from exercising jurisdiction over the claims in their entirety, including plaintiffs’ claims for damages. The court concluded that plaintiffs had abandoned their facial constitutional claims on appeal and therefore affirmed the district court’s dismissal of these claims for failure to state a claim as a matter of law. View "BLUMENKRON V. MULTNOMAH COUNTY" on Justia Law

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This case concerns the property rights of two uniquely Alaskan entities. On one side is Flying Crown Subdivision Addition No. 1 and No. 2 Property Owners Association (“Flying Crown”), a homeowners’ association for the eponymous subdivision in Anchorage, Alaska. Flying Crown is one of many subdivisions nestled in South Anchorage. The homes in Flying Crown back up to a small airstrip. Some of Flying Crown’s homeowners selected the subdivision for that very reason. On the other side is the Alaska Railroad Corporation (“ARRC”), a state-owned corporation that owns and operates Alaska’s railroad system. ARRC filed this action seeking to quiet title in the right-of-way and to clarify that ARRC’s interest in the right-of-way includes an exclusive-use easement. The district court properly granted summary judgment to ARRC.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed. The panel held that the Alaska Railroad Act of 1914 authorized the creation of the Alaska Railroad, a federal railroad, and reserved railroad rights-of-way to the United States. The Alaska Railroad Transfer Act of 1982 authorized the federal government to transfer nearly all of the Alaska Railroad property rights to ARRC. The panel held that the 1914 Act did not reveal the scope of the right-of-way retained by the government. The panel concluded that, in the Sperstad Patent, the federal government intended to reserve an exclusive-use easement under the 1914 Act. The panel further held that the federal government transferred the exclusive-use easement it retained under the 1914 Act. View "ALASKA RAILROAD CORPORATION V. FLYING CROWN SUBDIVISION ADDITION NO. 1 & NO. 2, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The United States initiated an eminent domain action to acquire land in Montecito, California, to build the Ortega Reservoir. Plaintiff’s property is located directly north of the Ortega Reservoir, and the maintenance road at issue (the Access Road) runs along the southern edge of Kimball-Griffith’s property, just within the boundaries of the federal reservoir land. The federal Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) granted an easement over the Access Road to the County of Santa Barbara, and the County installed locked gates across the road, blocking public entry. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, asserting the right to use the Access Road based on its purported ownership. The district court held that Plaintiff’s claim against the BOR and its officials must be construed pursuant to the Quiet Title Act (QTA). The district court dismissed the remaining claims as time-barred and because Plaintiff failed to allege a property interest in the Access Road.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that in light of Wilkins, it need not decide whether the statute of limitations applied. The panel held that it could affirm on any ground supported by the record. The panel held that Plaintiff did not allege that, at the time of condemnation, the Access Road existed as a “public street.” As a result, Plaintiff cannot rely on the theory that the adjacent landowners acquired a private easement. Second, the panel held that Plaintiff had not alleged facts suggesting that the adjacent landowners acquired an easement over the Access Road as a third party by any other means or operation of law. View "KIMBALL-GRIFFITH, L.P V. BRENDA BURMAN, ET AL" on Justia Law

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The United States Forest Service, together with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, managed the rapidly changing fire conditions and actively communicated with the public about the Lolo Peak Fire. After the fire, various affected landowners sued the federal government. They claim that the Forest Service is liable under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”) for failing to comply with its duty to consult with them about fire-suppression activities on and near their properties. Specifically, they argued that the Forest Service was required to consult with landowners through individualized—rather than public—communication channels. The district court granted summary judgment for the Forest Service, holding that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction because the property owners’ claims were barred by the discretionary function exception.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of the United States. The panel applied the requisite two-step test to determine whether the discretionary function exception applied. First, the panel examined whether there was a federal statute, regulation, or policy that prescribed the Forest Service’s course of action regarding the agency’s communications with the landowners during the Lolo Peak fire in the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana in July 2017. The panel held that the Forest Service’s specific communications with the landowners exceeded the incident decision’s instruction and involved an element of judgment or choice sufficient to satisfy the first step of the discretionary function exception. The panel held that the Forest Service’s decisions about notifying the landowners about fire-suppression activities likely to occur on and near their properties were susceptible to a policy analysis. View "MICHELLE SCHURG, ET AL V. USA" on Justia Law

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The State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game brought this action against the Board and several federal officials, alleging that the changes violated the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (“ANILCA”) and the Administrative Procedure Act. Before the district court issued its decision, the Kake Hunt ended, and the district court deemed the challenge to it moot. And while this appeal was pending, the partial Unit 13 closure expired.   The Ninth Circuit reversed in part and vacated in part the district court’s decision in an action challenging the Federal Subsistence Board’s approval in 2020 of two short-term changes to hunting practices on federal public lands in Alaska, specifically (1) the Board’s opening of an emergency hunt for Intervenor, the Organized Village of Kake; and (2) the Board’s partial temporary closure of public lands in game management Unit 13 to nonsubsistence users.   The panel first held that Alaska’s claim that the Board violated ANILCA by opening the 60-day emergency Kake hunt without statutory authority was not moot because it fit within the mootness exception of being capable of repetition yet evading review. Alaska’s claim that ANICLA did not authorize the federal government to open emergency hunting seasons raised a question of first impression in this circuit and required resolution of complicated issues of statutory interpretation. Noting that the district court had not reached the merits, the panel remanded this claim to the district court. With regard to Alaska’s partial Unit 13 closure claim, the panel vacated the part of the district court’s order that addressed the claim. View "STATE OF ALASKA DEPARTMENT OF V. FEDERAL SUBSISTENCE BOARD, ET AL" on Justia Law

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Field Asset Services, Inc. (“FAS”) is in the business of pre-foreclosure property preservation for the residential mortgage industry. Plaintiff was the sole proprietor of BB Home Services, which contracted with FAS as a vendor. Plaintiff alleged that FAS willfully misclassified him and members of the putative class as independent contractors rather than employees, resulting in FAS’s failure to pay overtime compensation and to indemnify them for their business expenses. FAS first argued that the district court abused its discretion by certifying the class, despite the predominance of individualized questions over common ones.   The Ninth Circuit filed (1) an order denying a petition for panel rehearing, denying on behalf of the court a petition for rehearing en banc, and amending the opinion filed on July 5, 2022; and (2) an amended opinion reversing the district court’s order certifying a class of 156 individuals who personally performed work for FAS, reversing the partial summary judgment in favor of the class, vacating the interim award of more than five million dollars in attorneys’ fees, and remanding for further proceedings.   The panel held that here, the class failed the requirement because complex, individualized inquiries would be needed to establish that class members worked overtime or that claimed expenses were reimbursable. The panel concluded that class certification was improper. The panel noted that FAS’s joint employment argument would likely succeed was an actual employee of a vendor suing FAS, claiming that FAS was an employer. The panel further held that the interim award of attorneys' fees must be vacated because the class certification and summary judgment orders were issued in error. View "FRED BOWERMAN, ET AL V. FIELD ASSET SERVICES, INC., ET AL" on Justia Law