Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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The Inholders own patented mining and homestead claims within the Santa Fe National Forest. The 2011 Las Conchas Fire caused widespread destruction of vegetation within the forest. Forest Roads 89 and 268, which the Inholders had used to access their properties, were severely damaged by subsequent flooding. The Forest Service notified them that the roads were “impassible” and that it would provide them with limited access: “a combination of driving and hiking over specific routes and under specific weather conditions.” Later, the Service sent a letter stating that “public safety would be highly threatened by use of” the roads; that it would close the roads to public access for the foreseeable future; that because of continuing terrain instability, any reconstruction would likely be destroyed by future flooding; and, even if reconstruction were possible, the Service could not justify expending public funds when there is no general public need. The Service suggested that the Inholders work “collectively” to reconstruct the roads. The Inholders claimed that they held statutorily-granted easements. The USDA disagreed, citing 90 Stat. 2743, but acknowledged that the Inholders had a right to access their properties, “subject to reasonable regulations.” The Inholders claimed a compensable taking. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal, finding that the Inholders had not adequately pled a physical taking and that any regulatory taking claim was not ripe because the Inholders had not applied for a permit to reconstruct the roads. View "Martin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Surface and Transportation Board (STB) has regulatory authority over rail carriers, 49 U.S.C. 10501(b). A "discontinuance" allows a rail carrier to preserve a rail corridor for possible reactivation of service; "abandonment" removes the line from the system and terminates the railroad’s common carrier obligation. The 1983 Amendments to the National Trails System Act created an alternative process, “railbanking,” 16 U.S.C. 1241, which maintains STB jurisdiction over the dormant corridor, but allows a third party to assume responsibilities for the right-of-way, preserve the right-of-way for future rail use, and, in the interim, convert the corridor into a recreational trail. The railroad first initiates abandonment proceedings; a party interested in acquiring the corridor then requests an STB Notice of Interim Trail Use (NITU). If an agreement is reached, the STB suspends abandonment proceedings, preventing state law reversionary interests in the corridor from vesting. Property owners who believed they had a reversionary interest began claiming that railbanking constituted a taking: the threshold question is whether the claimant has a compensable property interest, which is often answered by analyzing the original deeds that conveyed the property to the railroad. In 2012, BNSF initiated proceedings to abandon a corridor. The Chicago Department of Transportation indicated interest in railbanking. The STB issued an NITU, giving BNSF until April 2014, to negotiate an agreement, after which the corridor would be abandoned. After numerous extensions, BNSF has neither reached an agreement nor abandoned the corridor. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court: the deeds between the predecessors-in-interest to the claimants and the original railroad conveyed the property to the railroad in fee simple rather than only an easement. There was no taking of any reversionary interest. View "Chicago Coating Co., LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs leased part of Love Field airport from the City of Dallas and constructed a six-gate airline terminal. Plaintiffs claim that the Wright Amendment Reform Act of 2006 (WARA), 120 Stat. 2011, effected a regulatory taking of their leases and a physical taking of the terminal because the statute codified a private agreement in which Dallas agreed to bar the use of plaintiffs’ gates for commercial air transit and to acquire and demolish plaintiffs’ terminal. The Claims Court found that WARA's enactment constituted a per se regulatory taking of plaintiffs’ leaseholds under Supreme Court precedent, Lucas, and a regulatory taking of the leaseholds under Penn Central, and a physical taking of the terminal. The Federal Circuit reversed. Noting the history of regulation of Love Field and limitations in place before WARA, the court stated there can be no regulatory taking because plaintiffs cannot demonstrate that their ability to use their property for commercial air passenger service pre-WARA had any value. Plaintiffs’ reasonable, investment-backed expectations are limited by the regulatory regime in place when they acquired the leases. Rejecting a claim of physical taking the court reasoned that a requirement that federal funds not be used for removal of plaintiffs’ gates explicitly distances the federal government from Dallas’ intended action. View "Love Terminal Partners, L.P. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Saint Bernard Parish Government and other owners of real property in St. Bernard Parish or in the Lower Ninth Ward of the City of New Orleans sued under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. 1491(a)(1), alleging a taking. They claimed that the government was liable for flood damage to their properties caused by Hurricane Katrina and other hurricanes. Plaintiffs’ theory was that the government incurred liability because of government inaction, including the failure to properly maintain or to modify the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) channel, and government action (the construction and operation of the MRGO channel). The Claims Court found a taking occurred and awarded compensation. The Federal Circuit reversed. The government cannot be liable on a takings theory for inaction and the government action in constructing and operating MRGO was not shown to have been the cause of the flooding. The Claims Court failed to apply the correct legal standard, which required that the causation analysis account for government flood control projects that reduced the risk of flooding. View "St. Bernard Parish Government v. United States" on Justia Law

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Freeman's company, RNR located eight mining claims on public lands of the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest. In 2011, RNR filed a plan of operations with the U.S. Forest Service for commercial mining of ore that “contains commercially recoverable amounts of nickel, chromium[,] and iron” from two deposits over the course of 30 years. RNR proposed the construction of nearly eight miles of new roads, excavation of a pit for water storage, construction of two crossings over a creek, and creation of a processing facility on a 20-acre site, to be located on lands managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Officials concluded that the BLM office had not received a complete plan of operation and requested a proposal for bulk sampling and construction of a pilot-prototype plant. Officials repeatedly asserted they would not process the pending plan without more specific information and a pilot-prototype. RNR did not respond to those requests, but sued, alleging a regulatory taking. The Federal Circuit affirmed the dismissal, of the suit finding the claim not ripe. The Forest Service has not reached a final decision and it is not clear compliance with its requests would be futile. View "Freeman v. United States" on Justia Law

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Under 42 U.S.C. 1485, the USDA's Rural Housing Service (RHS) makes loans for construction of affordable rental housing. From 1972-1982, each of 10 limited partnerships (with a common general partner, Olsen) entered into a 50-year loan agreement that stated that each borrower could pay off the loan and convert its properties to conventional housing after 15 or 20 years. The 1987 Emergency Low Income Housing Preservation Act, 42 U.S.C. 1472(c)), provided that before accepting prepayment, the USDA must attempt to enter into an agreement with the borrower. In 2002, Olsen was negotiating to sell to a nonprofit organization. He notified the RHS of “intent . . . to convert [some] units into conventional housing” and sought approval to pay off the mortgages. RHS responded with a checklist. Olsen did not proceed; the potential acquirer decided against purchasing the properties. In 2011, Olsen submitted more definite prepayment requests. RHS responded with an incentive offer concerning four properties, which Olsen accepted, remaining in the program. For three other properties, RHS informed Olsen that prepayment was not an option. Olsen purportedly believed that pursuing prepayment on any properties was futile. He did not submit additional applications. In 2013, the partnerships sued, alleging that the government, through the 1987 enactment or the 2011 correspondence, violated their prepayment rights. The Federal Circuit reversed the Claims Court's dismissal. The 2002 correspondence did not trigger the RHS’s duty to accept prepayment; RHS did not take any steps inconsistent with prepayment. The government did not breach its contractual obligation in 2002. Because the alleged breaches occurred no earlier than 2011, the contract claims are not barred by the six-year limitations period. The Claims Court implicitly premised the dismissal of takings claims on the same erroneous rationale. View "Airport Road Associates, Ltd. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Louisiana law recognizes the right to extract minerals separately from ownership of the land (mineral servitudes). Servitudes generally revert back to the landowner if not used for 10 years. The servitudes at issue were established in 1932-1934, by deeds contemplating the 10-year prescriptive period. From 1934-1937, the United States acquired 180,000 acres of the encumbered land in Kisatchie National Forest. In 1940, Louisiana’s Act 315 retroactively declared that outstanding mineral rights in land sold to the United States would be imprescriptible while the government remained the landowner. Nebo acquired mineral rights in 1942, believing its rights imprescriptible. The government sought a declaratory judgment. The Fifth Circuit held that Nebo’s rights to a specific tract were imprescriptible. In 1973, the Supreme Court held that Act 315 could not be applied retroactively to land acquired by the government under the Migratory Bird Conservation Act. The Court did not overrule Nebo, distinguishing its facts. The government began issuing mineral leases. Servitude owners sought declaratory relief. The Fifth Circuit held that Act 315 could not provide the federal rule of decision and that the Kisatchie servitudes had prescribed. The Supreme Court denied certiorari. One servitude holder sued in the Claims Court, based on the same facts. The Federal Circuit affirmed dismissal of permanent takings claims, contract claims, and some temporary takings claims under the statute of limitations. The Claims Court subsequently held that remaining temporary takings claims were barred by 28 U.S.C. 1500; because the judicial takings claim would require the Claims Court to question the merits of the Fifth Circuit’s decision it also lacked jurisdiction over those claims. View "Petro-Hunt, L.L.C. v. United States" on Justia Law

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In the 1980s, Simonson began exploring for deposits of pumicite, a porous volcanic rock, which he thought had potential commercial applications. Simonson found high quality pumicite in Kern County and located 23 mining claims in his name. For two decades, Simonson commissioned scientific testing. Lab reports and industry analyses confirmed that pumicite could be useful in industrial paint and plastic manufacture; Simonson began taking orders. In 1987, Simonson submitted a Plan of Operations to Bureau of Land Management to mine 100,000 tons per year. BLM conditionally approved the plan, specifying that it had not yet determined whether Simonson had discovered valuable minerals under the General Mining Law, 30 U.S.C. 22. Simonson postponed mining until BLM completed its common/uncommon variety determination, but hired a consultant to generate investor interest. In 1989, the BLM concluded that Reoforce pumicite was an uncommon mineral, locatable under federal law, but did not establish that Simonson had a right to patent his claims. From 1987-1995, Simonson mined only 200 tons of pumicite and sold only five. In 1995, BLM stated that the lands encompassing 10 of the claims would be transferred to become part of Red Rock Canyon State Park. An agreement between BLM and California permitted some mining claimants to continue operating, depending on prior use of the mine, subject to California’s Surface Mining and Reclamation Act. Ultimately, BLM found pumicite not marketable and the claims invalid. The Department of the Interior later granted Simonson a conditional right to mine some claims. Simonson then sought compensation for a temporary taking (1995-2008). The Federal Circuit affirmed rejection of the claims. Although the character of the government's action did not weigh heavily against the taking claim, the economic-impact and reasonable-investment-backed-expectations factors weighed heavily against Simonson. View "Reoforce, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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The High Line is an elevated “linear park” in New York City that runs along the west side of Manhattan from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street. The park, used for walking, jogging, and other recreational purposes, occupied the elevated viaduct of a former railway line. In 2005, the elevated viaduct was converted to a public recreational trail under the authority of the National Trails System Act. Before the Federal District Court of Appeals was a takings matter: appellant Romanoff Equities, Inc., contended that the conversion of the railway property to a trail entailed a taking of its property without just compensation. The Court of Federal Claims held, on summary judgment, that the conversion did not result in a taking of Romanoff’s property. Finding no reversible error, the Federal District appellate court affirmed. View "Romanoff Equities, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Landowners filed a class action suit challenging the federal Surface Transportation Board’s approval of King County using a Burlington Northern Railroad corridor as a public trail, pursuant the National Trails Systems Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The Claims Court approved a $110 million settlement agreement and an award to class counsel of approximately $35 million in attorney fees under the common fund doctrine. Two class members challenged the approval and award. The Federal Circuit vacated, noting that the government also challenged the approval, claiming that class counsel failed to disclose information necessary to allow class members to assess the fairness and reasonableness of the proposed settlement. The government had standing to raise its challenge under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act (URA), 42 U.S.C. 4654(c) and its arguments were not barred by waiver or estoppel.The Claims Court erred in approving a settlement agreement where class counsel withheld critical information not provided in the mailed notice to class members, but which had been produced and was readily available. Although a “common fund” exists in this case, the URA attorney fee provision provides for reasonable fees and preempts application of the common fund doctrine. View "Haggart v. United States" on Justia Law