Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property 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

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Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against defendants, a group of developers and their agents or affiliates, claiming that defendants' business practices violated California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL), Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code 17200 et seq. Plaintiffs specifically alleged that defendants failed to make certain disclosures as required by the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act (ILSA), 15 U.S.C. 1701 et seq. Although defendants concede that they failed to comply with the disclosure requirements, they raise certain affirmative defenses. The district court rejected defendants' claims and granted partial summary judgment for plaintiffs. In this interlocutory appeal, the court affirmed the judgment. The court concluded that, because the UCL's four-year statute of limitations and its accompanying accrual rules apply, the district court properly concluded that plaintiffs’ UCL claim is not time-barred; defendants failed to overcome the strong presumption against preemption, and ILSA’s three-year statute of limitations does not bar plaintiffs’ UCL claim; plaintiffs' units are "lots" and are therefore subject to ILSA's disclosure requirements; the Improved Lot Exemption does not extinguish plaintiffs’ claims; the text and interpretive history of the statute lead to the conclusion that the agency’s interpretation of “lot” is reasonable and entitled to Chevron deference; and the 2014 Amendment to ILSA does not retroactively apply to the present action where the amendment was a substantive change in the law. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Beaver v. Tarsadia Hotels" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose from a dispute over interests in mining claims originally owned by Guy Anderson and bequeathed to his six children upon his death. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in allowing all defendants to be joined in a single partition action. In this case, the district court acted well within its discretion in concluding that a single partition action was the most expeditious way of resolving this dispute, and in allowing all defendants to be joined in that action. The court also concluded that the district court did not err when it granted summary judgment in favor of Cuprite and ordered partition by sale to Freeport; the district court properly concluded that partition by sale was more appropriate than partition in kind; and accepting the current offer or any better terms that could be had was a reasonable way for the district court to structure the partition sale, and does not violate any terms of the operative statute. Finally, the court concluded that, regardless of whether an Arizona state court would have been required to hold a trial, the district court correctly resolved the summary judgment motion according to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Cuprite Mine Partners v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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The Park, a mobile home park, filed suit against the City, challenging Ordinance 644, asserting claims for, among other things, violations of the Takings, Due Process, and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution. Ordinance 644's purpose is to “stabilize mobile home park space rents” to, among other things, “[p]revent exploitation of the shortage of vacant mobile home park spaces,” “[p]revent excessive and unreasonable . . . rent increases,” and “[r]ectify the disparity of bargaining power” between park owners and mobile home owners. The district court granted the City's motion to dismiss. The court held that no regulatory taking occurred here and that the Park’s self-styled “private takings claim” is not a separately cognizable claim. The court concluded that the Park’s “private takings claim” cannot serve as a means to evade Penn Central Transportation Company v. City of New York scrutiny. And in any event, as articulated here, such claim fails because it is a thinly veiled facial challenge, which is both time barred and lacks merit. Further, the court was not persuaded by the related due process and equal protection claims. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the case. View "Rancho de Calistoga v. City of Calistoga" on Justia Law

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After claimants defeated the Government's attempts to forfeit property seized in connection with a criminal investigation, claimants received significant awards of attorney's fees. Claimants' lawyer asked the district court that he be paid those fees directly, pursuant to an assignment in their representation agreement. The Government asserts that the Anti-Assignment Act, 31 U.S.C. 3727, voids such an assignment. The court concluded that the Government is not estopped from asserting the Anti-Assignment Act; the Act applies to and voids an award of attorney's fees pursuant to Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (CAFRA), 28 U.S.C. 2465; and an award of attorney's fees under CAFRA is a claim against the United States to which the Act applies. The Act does not prevent an attorney from taking an interest in the fees that is effective against the Government; it merely forbids an assignment of the right to be paid directly from the United States Treasury. The court vacated the district court's order awarding attorney's fees directly to the lawyer because the Act applies to void the assignment in the representation agreement between claimants and the lawyer. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Kim" on Justia Law

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This case arose from a dispute between plaintiffs and Chicago Title over whether Chicago Title breached a duty of care to plaintiffs, causing damages, when it recorded unauthorized liens on Plaintiff CPIII's property. Because this appeal turns on an unresolved question of Washington law, the court certified the following question to the Washington Supreme Court: Does a title company owe a duty of care to third parties in the recording of legal instruments? View "Centurion Properties v. Chicago Title" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a homeowner, appealed the dismissal of his action against Freddie Mac, for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty where Freddie Mac purchased plaintiff's mortgage from Taylor Bean, the loan originator, on a secondary market. Taylor Bean failed to pay the insurance premium from an escrow account and caused plaintiff's insurance to be cancelled. The court concluded that plaintiff failed to allege facts that, if true, would establish that Freddie Mac had a contractual duty to service the loan where the Deed of Trust expressly disavows any assumption of servicing obligations by a subsequent purchaser of the loan, and Freddie Mac never expressly assumed any such obligations. The court concluded that Washington law did not prohibit this arrangement and that this arrangement is typical for such home loans. Finally, the court concluded that plaintiff's breach of fiduciary duty argument failed because Section 20 of the Deed of Trust where the duty to hold the money for the insurance premiums in escrow remained with the loan servicer, Taylor Bean. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Johnson v. FHLMC" on Justia Law

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Byron Pickle appealed the district court's default judgment and final judgment of forfeiture of real property. The judgment was entered after the district court granted the government's motion to strike Pickle's claim and answer based on Pickle's failure to respond to special interrogatories the government propounded under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure's Supplemental Rules for Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions (Rule) G(6)(c)(i)(A), and denied Pickle's motion to stay. The court concluded that the district court incorrectly viewed Pickle's failure to answer the Rule G(6) special interrogatories as a per se basis for striking his claim. Because the district court’s decision to strike Pickle’s claim was based on the legally erroneous belief that Pickle’s failure to comply with Rule G(6) vitiated his statutory standing to contest the forfeiture and required dismissal of his claim forthwith, and because Pickle’s failure to answer the G(6) interrogatories would not have warranted striking his claim as a discovery sanction without giving him an opportunity to cure his lack of response, the court reversed and remanded. View "United States v. Pickle" on Justia Law

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Nathan Stoliar was convicted and sentenced for crimes related to fraudulent schemes involving the false generation of renewable fuel credits under United States law, false representations regarding the type of fuel being sold, and the export of biodiesel without retiring or purchasing renewable energy credits adequate to cover the exported amount as required under United States law. Canada filed a petition for restitution from Soliar but the district court denied the order. This is a petition for a writ of mandamus filed pursuant to the Crime Victims' Rights Act (CVRA), 18 U.S.C. 3771. Because a petitioner seeking restitution under the CVRA must also rely on a substantive restitution statute, Canada sought restitution pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA), 18 U.S.C. 3663A(a)(1), (c)(1). The court concluded that Canada's claim for restitution is based on events that are insufficiently related to the schemes set forth in the indictment and the facts supporting Stoliar's guilty plea. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for a writ of mandamus. View "Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada v. U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada" on Justia Law