Justia U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
Bruce v. City and County of Denver, et al.
Douglas Bruce sued the City and County of Denver (“Denver”) and others (collectively, “Appellees”) in federal district court for alleged constitutional violations arising from a Colorado state court’s determination that Bruce’s liens on several properties were inferior to Denver’s liens. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Bruce contended that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply because he was not a party to the state court litigation. After review, the Tenth Circuit disagreed and affirmed the dismissal. View "Bruce v. City and County of Denver, et al." on Justia Law
Johnson v. Heath, et al.
Defendants Michael and Dawn Heath sold Plaintiff Harry Johnson a gasoline and automobile-service station in Wells, Nevada. Soon after the sale, Plaintiff allegedly discovered that the property had material, undisclosed defects and that Defendants had artificially inflated the business’s profits by scamming customers over the years. In suing them, Plaintiff asserted many state-law claims against both Defendants and a claim against Defendant Michael Heath under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). The district court dismissed Plaintiff’s RICO claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state claims. The issue Plaintiff's appeal raised for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether Defendants’ actions as alleged plausibly violated the federal RICO statute. Because the Court concluded they did not, it affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Johnson v. Heath, et al." on Justia Law
Nelson, et al. v. United States
Plaintiff-appellee James Nelson was seriously injured while riding his bicycle on a trail on Air Force Academy property in Colorado. He and his wife, Elizabeth Varney, sued the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). Nelson sought damages for his personal injuries; Varney sought damages for loss of consortium. After several years of litigation, the district court ruled the government was liable for Nelson’s accident and injuries. The court based its decision on the Colorado Recreational Use Statute (“CRUS”). The court awarded Nelson more than $6.9 million, and awarded Varney more than $400,000. In addition to the damages awards, the district court also ordered the government to pay plaintiffs' attorney’s fees. CRUS contained an attorney’s-fees-shifting provision, allowing prevailing plaintiffs to recover their fees against defendant landowners. Providing an exception to the United States’s sovereign immunity, the Equal Access to Justice Act (“EAJA”) provided that “[t]he United States shall be liable for such fees and expenses to the same extent that any other party would be liable under the common law or under the terms of any statute which specifically provides for such an award.” The district court concluded that the government had to pay for plaintiffs' fees. The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit's review centered on whether the district court erred in ordering the government to pay the attorney's fees after holding the CRUS qualified under the EAJA as “any statute which specifically provides for” an attorney’s fees award. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Nelson, et al. v. United States" on Justia Law
Herrera, et al. v. City of Espanola, et al.
Appellants Darren Herrera and Paula Garcia purchased a home in the City of Espanola, New Mexico (the “City”). At the time Appellants purchased the home, the existing owner, Charlotte Miera, was not current on her water and sewer bill. Although the City initially provided water service to Appellants, it discontinued service in February 2017, and declined to recommence it until someone paid the water and sewer bill. In June 2020, Appellants filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act (“NMTCA”) based on the City’s refusal to provide them water service unless someone paid Miera’s bill. The City filed a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion, arguing the statute of limitations had elapsed before Appellants filed their action. Although Appellants conceded a three-year statute of limitations governed their section 1983 claims, and a two-year statute of limitations governed their NMTCA claim, they argued the limitations period had not expired on their claims because the City repeatedly denied their requests for water service between February 2017 and February 2020. They expressly relied on the continuing violation doctrine to extend the limitations period, and also argued facts consistent with the related repeated violations doctrine. The district court granted the City’s motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, vacated in part and reversed in part. The Court agreed with the district court that Appellants’ action first accrued no later than March 2017. Further, although it held the continuing violation doctrine was available within the section 1983 context, the Court concurred with the district court that it did not save Appellants’ claims against the City or their NMTCA claim. The Court found Appellants’ claims premised on the City’s alleged policy of conditioning water service to new property owners on the payment of bills owed by prior property owners was not time-barred under the repeated violation doctrine and Hamer v. City of Trinidad, 924 F.3d 1093 (10th Cir. 2019). View "Herrera, et al. v. City of Espanola, et al." on Justia Law
LKL Associates, et al. v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.
The Union Pacific Railroad charged Heber Rentals, LC (“Heber”) and L.K.L. Associates, Inc. (“L.K.L.”) rent under a lease that allowed L.K.L. to continue operating a building materials supply business on land that was owned in fee by Heber—and leased to L.K.L.—but encumbered by Union Pacific’s right of way. After the Supreme Court stated in 2014 that railroad rights of way like Union Pacific’s were “nonpossessory” easements, L.K.L. and Heber stopped paying rent and filed suit against Union Pacific. In addition to requesting declaratory relief, L.K.L. and Heber sought to have their leases rescinded and to receive restitution for rent already paid. Union Pacific brought counterclaims arising out of their nonpayment. On summary judgment, the district court held that Union Pacific’s easement, while nonpossessory, gave it exclusive use and possession rights “insofar as Union Pacific elected to use the land subject to its easement for a railroad purpose.” Although it found that the lease agreements served no railroad purpose, it denied the rescission claim as “untimely and redundant.” In a follow-up order, it ruled that L.K.L. and Heber had abandoned their remaining claims. The district court also rejected all of Union Pacific’s counterclaims. The Tenth Circuit agreed with Union Pacific that its right of way included the unqualified right to exclude L.K.L. and Heber, but the Court agreed with L.K.L. and Heber that their leases were invalid. “Even if the incidental use doctrine applies, neither the leases nor the underlying business conduct furthered a railroad purpose, as the easement requires.” The Court: reversed the district court’s declaratory judgment rulings to the extent they are inconsistent with the Court’s opinion; affirmed the district court’s ruling that the rescission claim was time-barred; affirmed the district court’s rejection of Union Pacific’s counterclaim for breach of contract; reversed its rejection of Union Pacific’s other substantive counterclaims; and reversed the district court’s finding of abandonment. The matter was remanded for further proceedings. View "LKL Associates, et al. v. Union Pacific Railroad Co." on Justia Law
Ohlsen v. United States
In the summer of 2016, a large fire, later known as the Dog Head Fire, engulfed Isleta Pueblo and United States Forest Service land in the Manzano Mountains of New Mexico. The fire resulted from forest-thinning work performed by Pueblo crewmembers under an agreement with the Forest Service. Insurance companies and several owners of destroyed property (collectively, “Appellants”) sued the government, alleging negligence under the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”). The government moved to dismiss, arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction and, alternatively, for summary judgment on that same basis. The district court granted the government summary judgment, concluding: (1) the Pueblo crewmembers had acted as independent contractors of the government, and thus, the government wasn’t subject to FTCA liability based on the Pueblo crewmembers’ negligence; and (2) Appellants’ claims premised on the Forest Service employees’ own negligence, under the FTCA’s discretionary-function exception, were barred. On appeal, Appellants contended the district court erred in ruling that the FTCA jurisdictionally barred their claims. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "Ohlsen v. United States" on Justia Law
Marcantel v. Michael & Sonja Saltman Family
In 2015, Michael and Sonja Saltman sold a vacant lot in Park City, Utah, to Curt Marcantel. Marcantel pushed to close the deal quickly, but at the time of the sale, the Saltmans knew something that Marcantel didn’t: a ten-foot wide sewer easement (including a sewer pipe within it) ran under a portion of the property, rendering infeasible Marcantel's plans to redevelop the property. The Saltmans did not tell Marcantel about the pipe, and the company Marcantel hired discover the easement did not find it. Because of an indexing error by the county recorder, at least three different title companies on four separate occasions failed to find and note the sewer easement on the property. Marcantel first heard about the easement when his prospective buyer alerted him to it; that buyer fortuitously learned of the easement from a neighboring property owner. The prospective buyer then balked at Marcantel’s asking price. Marcantel eventually sold the lot at a significant loss. Marcantel sued the Saltmans for, among other things, fraudulent nondisclosure and breach of the parties’ real estate purchase contract, arguing the Saltmans’ silence breached their contractual and common-law duties to disclose the easement. The Saltmans claimed they had assumed Marcantel knew about the easement, and in any event, Marcantel had constructive notice of the easement because it was publicly recorded. The district court granted the Saltmans summary judgment on all Marcantel’s claims. On appeal, Marcantel argued the district court repeatedly misapplied Utah law and disregarded summary-judgment procedure that required it to draw inferences in Marcantel’s favor. To this, the Tenth Circuit agreed, reversing in part the trial court's grant of summary judgment, but affirmed in all other respects. View "Marcantel v. Michael & Sonja Saltman Family" on Justia Law
DiTucci v. Bowser
Defendant William Bowser appealed to challenge an interlocutory order forbidding him from transferring or encumbering a residence he was arranging to purchase and requiring him to deposit almost $350,000 with the district court. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction. The district court characterized its order as a prejudgment writ of attachment, which was unappealable. And although the Court might agree with Mr. Bowser that the characterization was incorrect, the Court disagreed that the order should have been characterized as an injunction that he would have a right to appeal under 28 U.S.C. 1292(a)(1). The Court declined to treat the order as the equivalent of an injunction because Mr. Bowser did not show that it “might have a serious, perhaps irreparable, consequence.” View "DiTucci v. Bowser" on Justia Law
Posted in: Real Estate & Property Law
Hill v. Warsewa
Plaintiff-Appellant Roger Hill appealed a district court's dismissal of his complaint for failure to state a claim (Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)) -- specifically for lack of prudential standing. Hill was a fly fisherman who preferred to fish at a favorite spot in the Arkansas River. Defendants-Appellees Mark Everett Warsewa and Linda Joseph (Landowners) contended they owned the Arkansas riverbed up to its centerline at the spot at which Hill preferred to fish. Hill contended this segment of the river was navigable for title at the time Colorado was admitted to the United States and that title to the riverbed consequently vested in the state at admission under Article IV of the Constitution and the Equal Footing Doctrine. According to Hill, the state holds this title in trust for the public, subject to an easement for public uses such as fishing. Defendant-Appellee State of Colorado agreed with the Landowner-Appellees that this segment of the river was non-navigable for title at statehood and was privately owned. The district court found that Hill lacked prudential standing because he asserted a generalized grievance and rested his claims on the rights of the state. The Tenth Circuit reversed. Hill alleged he had a specific, legally protected right to fish resulting from alleged facts and law. "The other parties and amici may ultimately be correct that Colorado law does not actually afford Mr. Hill the right to fish that he asserts, even if he can prove navigability as a factual matter. But in this regard 'far-fetchedness is a question to be determined on the merits.'" The Court assumed Hill’s claim had “legal validity” and concluded that he asserted his own rights, not those of Colorado, for prudential standing purposes. View "Hill v. Warsewa" on Justia Law
Arlin Geophysical Company v. United States
After John Worthen amassed over eighteen million dollars in unpaid tax liabilities, the federal government placed liens on properties it claimed belonged to his alter egos or nominees. Following a court- ordered sale of the properties, Worthen sought to exercise a statutory right to redeem under Utah state law. The district court concluded there were no redemption rights following sales under 26 U.S.C. 7403. The Tenth Circuit concurred, finding neither section 7403 nor 28 U.S.C. 2001, which governed the sale of realty under court order, explicitly provided for redemption rights. Moreover, federal tax proceedings provided sufficient protection for taxpayers and third parties. View "Arlin Geophysical Company v. United States" on Justia Law