Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Richard George, Steven Leavitt, Sandra Leavitt, and Darrell Dalton appealed the district court’s dismissal of their putative class action against Urban Settlement Services, d/b/a Urban Lending Solutions (Urban) and Bank of America, N.A. (BOA). Plaintiffs asserted a claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against BOA and Urban. Plaintiffs also brought a promissory estoppel claim against BOA. Both claims arose from the defendants’ allegedly fraudulent administration of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The district court granted the defendants’ Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss both claims, denied the plaintiffs’ request for leave to amend their first amended complaint, and dismissed the case. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that plaintiffs’ first amended complaint stated a facially plausible RICO claim against BOA and Urban and a facially plausible promissory estoppel claim against BOA. As such, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. This reversal mooted plaintiffs’ challenge to the district court’s denial of their request to further amend the complaint. View "George v. Urban Settlement Services" on Justia Law

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Thirty years ago, the Tenth Circuit decided all boundary disputes between the Ute Indian Tribe, the State of Utah, and its subdivisions. The only thing that remained was for the district court to memorialize that mandate in a permanent injunction. Twenty years ago, the Court modified its mandate in one respect, but stressed that in all others, the Court's earlier decision remained in place. The matter came before the Tenth Circuit again: the State of Utah, one of its cities, and several of its counties sought to relitigate the same boundaries. "Over the last forty years the questions haven’t changed - and neither have our answers." This case and all related matters were reassigned to a different district judge. The court and parties were directed to proceed to a final disposition both promptly and consistently with the Tenth Circuit's mandates in "Ute V," "Ute VI," and this case. View "Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah v. Myton" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case were two provisions of a title insurance policy underwritten by Fidelity National Title Insurance Company. One provision insured against unmarketability of title, and the other insured against a lack of access to property. The owner of the policy, Woody Creek Ventures, LLC, contended that both provisions covered losses it sustained when it learned, after purchasing two parcels of land, that one parcel lacked permanent access. And although Fidelity obtained a 30-year right-of-way grant to that parcel, Woody Creek argued Fidelity failed to cure the lack of access and the title remained unmarketable. After review, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court’s conclusions that: (1) the policy did not insure a permanent right of access; (2) the right-of-way cured the lack of access to the parcel; and (3) the lack of permanent access did not render Woody Creek’s title unmarketable. View "Fidelity National Title v. Woody Creek Ventures" on Justia Law

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At the heart of this appeal was the dispute over the scope of an insurance policy. The insureds, BV Jordanelle, LLC and BV Lending, LLC (collectively, "BV") obtained a mortgage on real property as security for a loan and acquired a title-insurance policy from Old Republic National Title Insurance Company. When the borrower defaulted, BV foreclosed on the property. But when a municipal assessment went unpaid, the municipality foreclosed, too. BV and the municipality litigated in state court; the municipality prevailed and obtained title to the property. After losing title to the property, BV sued Old Republic in federal district court, alleging that Old Republic had breached the title insurance policy by: (1) refusing to compensate BV for its loss of the property; and (2) failing to defend BV in the state-court litigation. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings to Old Republic, concluding that the policy did not entitle BV to either payment for its loss of the property or a defense in the state-court suit. BV appealed, but finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "BV Jordanelle v. Old Republic National" on Justia Law

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Zia Shadows, LLC operated a mobile-home park in Las Cruces, New Mexico, under a special-use permit from the City. In late 2000, a dispute over water-rights fees arose between Zia Shadows and the City, and principal Alex Garth protested these fees and lodged written and oral complaints with the City Council. This appeal arose out of that zoning dispute. Zia Shadows and its principals, Alex and William Garth (collectively, Zia Shadows), filed suit in federal district court, alleging the City’s delays in approval of a zoning request (and the conditions ultimately attached to the approval) violated Zia Shadows’ rights to due process and equal protection. Zia Shadows also alleged the City’s actions were taken in retaliation for Zia Shadows’ public criticisms of the City. The district court granted summary judgment to the City on Zia Shadows’ due-process and equal-protection claims, and a jury found in favor of the City on Zia Shadows’ First Amendment retaliation claim. Zia Shadows argued on appeal to the Tenth Circuit: (1) that the district court erred in granting summary judgment; (2) the district court abused its discretion both in its instruction of the jury and its refusal to strike a juror; and (3) the jury’s verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment, concluding Zia Shadows failed to establish the requisite elements of its due-process and equal-protection claims and did not demonstrate reversible error in either the proceedings or verdict at trial. View "Zia Shadows, LLC v. City of Las Cruces" on Justia Law

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In June 2012, a hailstorm damaged Plaintiff KCOM’s motel. Soon a dispute arose between KCOM and its insurer, defendant Employers Mutual Casualty (EMC), over the extent of the damage. In October 2012, following receipt of an inspection report, KCOM submitted a proof of loss of $631,726.87. EMC admitted coverage but not the amount of loss. Dissatisfied, KCOM invoked the insurance contract’s appraisal provision. KCOM claimed there were issues with the appraisal process, prompting it to ultimately file suit against EMC, alleging breach of contract, unreasonable delay and denial of benefits, and bad faith breach of the insurance contract. The threshold question presented for the Tenth Circuit's review in this state law diversity action was whether the Court had appellate jurisdiction over the district court’s non-final order denying confirmation of a property loss appraisal. The Court concluded it did not, and dismissed the appeal. View "KCOM, Inc. v. Employers Mutual Casualty Co." on Justia Law

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James Nelson was seriously injured bike riding when he encountered a sinkhole on a bike path on United States Air Force Academy land. He sued under the Federal Tort Claims Act for damages and was awarded over $7 million. The government appealed, contending that it was immune from liability under the Colorado Recreational Use Act, limited the liability of landowners who allow the use of their property for recreational purposes. The Tenth Circuit agreed that under the Recreational Use Act Nelson was a permissive user of the bike path and the Academy was therefore not liable for its negligent maintenance of the path. View "Nelson v. United States" on Justia Law

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This case spanned 140 years of land surveys and transfers. Pertinent to this matter, in 1907, federal lands within "Section 33" (a portion of the land at issue here) were made part of the San Juan National Forest. In 1925, the BLM issued an oil and gas permit in "Lot 6" of that section. The BLM later issued oil and gas permits for Lot 6 in 1964 and 1977. From 1893 until 1951, each time the property described in the "Overocker patent" was conveyed, the deeds used the original land description ("aliquot," dating back to the 1880s): the “south half of the north-east quarter and the north half of the south-east quarter of section thirty three” of Township 36. In 1951, James and Lois Heidelberg conveyed the Overocker land to Angelo Dallabetta by warranty deed with the same aliquot description. In 1967, Dallabetta conveyed the land to defendant-appellant Laverne St. Clair and his first wife by warranty deed, which described the land by metes and bounds. In 1976, St. Clair conveyed the property to himself and his second wife by warranty deed using the metes and bounds description (Mr. St. Clair passed away in late 2015; his estate was named a party to this action). In 1984, St. Clair purchased land from Dallabetta’s estate that was not included in the Overocker patent description. The First National Bank represented Dallabetta’s estate in the transaction. In conveying the land, the First National Bank also agreed to include a quit claim deed to Lot 6. In 2000, Forest Service personnel discovered road construction, fence posts, brush hogging, and vegetation clearance in Lot 6. In 2011, the Government sued Mr. St. Clair for trespass on Lot 6. The complaint requested that he be ejected and pay for the damage he caused by constructing a road and making the other alterations to Lot 6 land. Following a bench trial, the district court held St. Clair liable for trespass, ordered him ejected, and imposed damages for alterations he had made upon the land. St. Clair appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. St. Clair" on Justia Law

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Boardwalk Apartments, L.C. sued State Auto Property and Casualty Insurance Co. for breach of an insurance policy, contending that State Auto had underpaid on the policy after one of Boardwalk’s eight apartment buildings (Building 1) was destroyed in a fire. In district court, State Auto contended that Boardwalk was underinsured under the policy’s coinsurance provision. Under this provision, Boardwalk’s insurance benefits were reduced if the value of the Boardwalk apartment complex exceeded the policy limit. Before trial, the district court issued two rulings: (1) for purposes of the policy’s coinsurance provision, the value of the apartment complex did not include the cost of complying with laws and ordinances regulating the construction and repair of buildings ("law-and-ordinance costs"); and (2) the district court excluded reference at trial to either the coinsurance provision or the possibility that Boardwalk was underinsured. At trial, the jury valued the Boardwalk complex below the policy limit. Based on this valuation, the district court concluded that Boardwalk was not underinsured under the coinsurance provision. In addition to valuing the apartment complex, the jury found that State Auto had underpaid for the loss of Building 1. As a result, the court awarded damages to Boardwalk. State Auto appealed. After review, the Tenth Circuit concluded: (1) the district court abused its discretion by excluding reference to the coinsurance provision; and (2) incorrectly construed the coinsurance provision. In light of these errors, the Court reversed and remanded for a new trial. View "Boardwalk Apartments v. State Auto Property" on Justia Law

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Appellant/cross-appellee OXY USA Inc. appealed the grant of summary judgment to appellees/cross-appellants, a class of plaintiffs represented by David and Donna Schell, and Ron Oliver, on the question of whether their oil and gas leases required OXY to make "free gas" useable for domestic purposes. OXY also appealed: the district court’s certification of plaintiffs' class; the denial of a motion to decertify; and an order to quash the deposition of an absent class member. Plaintiffs cross-appealed the district court's: denial of their motion for attorneys' fees; denial of their motion for litigation expenses; and denial of an incentive award. Notably, plaintiffs also moved to dismiss the appeal as moot. OXY opposed dismissal for mootness, but argued that if the Tenth Circuit found mootness, the Court should vacate the district court’s decision. Appellees/cross-appellants were approximately 2,200 surface owners of Kansas land burdened by oil and gas leases held or operated by OXY, executed separately from approximately 1906 to 2007. The leases contained a "free gas" clause. The clauses weren't identical, but all, in substance, purported to grant the lessor access to free gas for domestic use. All of the plaintiffs who have used free gas obtain their gas from a tap connected directly to a wellhead line. In addition, some members of the plaintiff class (including about half of the current users of free gas) received royalty payments from OXY based on the production of gas on their land. In August 2007, OXY sent letters warning free gas users that their gas may become unsafe to use, either because of high hydrogen sulfide content or low pressure at the wellhead. These letters urged the lessors to convert their houses to an alternative energy source. On August 31, 2007, leaseholders David Schell, Donna Schell, Howard Pickens, and Ron Oliver filed this action on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, seeking a permanent injunction, a declaratory judgment, and actual damages based on alleged breaches of mineral leases entered into with OXY for failure to supply free usable gas. After review of the matter, the Tenth Circuit held that that OXY’s sale of the oil and gas leases at issue here mooted its appeal; therefore, the Court granted plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss. Nevertheless, the Court concluded that the cross-appeal had not been mooted by this sale, and affirmed the district court’s judgment as to the denial of attorneys’ fees, litigation expenses, and an incentive award. View "Schell v. OXY USA" on Justia Law