Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property 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

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Abutting landowners claimed that the United States effected a taking of their property without just compensation when it converted a former railroad corridor between Sarasota and Venice, Florida, into a recreational trail pursuant to the National Trails System Act Amendments of 1983, 16 U.S.C. 1247(d), because deeds transferred by their predecessors-in-title to a railroad company granted only easements on their land for railroad purposes and, upon termination of the use of the land as a railroad, left the landowners unencumbered title and possession of their land. The Federal Circuit affirmed partial summary judgment in favor of the government, holding that the owners lacked a property right or interest in the land-at-issue because the railroad company, had obtained fee simple title to the land. The court noted that the state’s highest court has confirmed that, under Florida law, a railroad can acquire either an easement or fee simple title to a railroad right-of-way and that no statute, state policy, or factual considerations prevails over the language of the deeds when the language is clear; the language of the six deeds-at-issue clearly convey fee simple title on their face. View "Rogers v. United States" on Justia Law

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Trona is a sodium carbonate compound that is processed into soda ash or baking soda. Because oil and gas development posed a risk to the extraction of trona and trona worker safety, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages the leasing of federal public land for mineral development, indefinitely suspended all oil and gas leases in the mechanically mineable trona area (MMTA) of Wyoming. The area includes 26 pre-existing oil and gas leases owned by Barlow. Barlow filed suit, alleging that the BLM’s suspension of oil and gas leases constituted a taking of Barlow’s interests without just compensation and constituted a breach of both the express provisions of the leases and their implied covenants of good faith and fair dealing. The Federal Circuit affirmed the Claims Court’s dismissal of the contract claims on the merits and of the takings claim as unripe. BLM has not repudiated the contracts and Barlow did not establish that seeking a permit to drill would be futile. View "Barlow & Haun, Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs own land adjacent to central Iowa railway corridors. Pursuant to the National Trail System Act Amendments of 1982, the Surface Transportation Board issued Notices of Interim Trail Use (NITUs) for the corridors. NITUs “preserve established railroad rights-of-way for future reactivation of rail service” and permit the railroad operator to cease operation without legally abandoning any “rights-of-way for railroad purposes,” 16 U.S.C. 1247(d). The trial court found that but for issuance of the NITUs, the railway easements would have reverted to plaintiffs upon cessation of railroad operations, held that a taking occurred, and, focusing on parcels for which the highest and best use was farmland, used the “before and after” method to determine the value of the land subject to the easement. The court determined that the “before” state of the land should take into account the value of the land as it existed before the NITU easements, but ignore any physical remnants of the railway’s use, which would have remained if the railway easement had been permitted to lapse. The Federal Circuit vacated, holding that an appraiser must consider the value of a landowner’s property before the easement, which in this case includes the physical remnants of the railroad. View "Rasmuson v. United States" on Justia Law

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Lost Tree entered into an option to purchase 2,750 acres on the mid-Atlantic coast of Florida, including a barrier island, a peninsula bordering the Indian River, and islands in the Indian River. From 1969 to 1974, Lost Tree purchased most of the land, including Plat 57, 4.99 acres on the Island of John’s Island and Gem Island, consisting of submerged lands and wetlands. Lost Tree developed 1,300 acres into a gated community, but had no plans of developing Plat 57 until 2002, when it learned that a developer applied for a wetlands fill permit for land south of Plat 57 and proposed improvements to a mosquito control impoundment on McCuller’s Point. Because Lost Tree owned land on McCuller’s Point, approval required its consent. Lost Tree sought permitting credits in exchange for the proposed improvements. To take advantage of those credits, Lost Tree obtained zoning and other local and state permits to develop Plat 57. The Army Corps of Engineers denied an application under the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344 for a section 404 fill permit, finding that Lost Tree could have pursued less environmentally damaging alternatives and had adequately realized its development purpose. On remand, the trial court found that the denial diminished Plat 57’s value by 99.4% and constituted a per se taking and awarded Lost Tree $4,217,887.93. The Federal Circuit affirmed, finding that a “Lucas” taking occurred because the denial eliminated all value stemming from Plat 57’s possible economic uses. View "Lost Tree Vill. Corp. v. United States" on Justia Law

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RI purchased 320 acres in Washington State for use as a landfill and, in 1989, applied for state permits. Because the proposed landfill involved filling wetland areas, it sought a Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. 1344) permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. State permits issued in 1996. In 1994, the Corps required an Environmental Impact Statement; its draft EIS preliminarily concluded that RI had not demonstrated that there were no practicable alternatives to the proposed landfill (40 C.F.R. 230.10(a)). RI terminated the process. The Corps denied the application. In 1996, RI sued, alleging that the process and denial violated the CWA and was arbitrary. The district court upheld the decision, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, citing the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. 6941, under which regulation of municipal solid waste in landfills constructed on wetlands lies solely with the EPA or states with EPA-approved programs. The landfill became operational in 1999. In 1998, while the Ninth Circuit appeal was pending, RI filed suit in the Court of Federal Claims, alleging unconstitutional taking. The court dismissed, citing 28 U.S.C. 1500: the Claims Court “shall not have jurisdiction of any claim for or in respect to which the plaintiff or his assignee has pending in any other court any suit or process against the United States.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. View "Res. Inv., Inc. v. United States" on Justia Law