Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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This appeal stemmed from a dispute between Summit Park Townhome Association and its insurer, Auto-Owners Insurance Company, over the value of property damaged in a hail storm. To determine the value, the district court ordered an appraisal and established procedural requirements governing the selection of impartial appraisers. After the appraisal was completed, Auto-Owners paid the appraised amount to Summit Park. But the court found that Summit Park had failed to make required disclosures and had selected a biased appraiser. In light of this finding, the court vacated the appraisal award, dismissed Summit Park’s counterclaims with prejudice, and awarded interest to Auto-Owners on the amount earlier paid to Summit Park. Summit Park appealed, raising six issues of alleged error with the proceedings. The Tenth Circuit affirmed, however, finding that in the absence of a successful appellate challenge to the disclosure order, Summit Park was obligated to comply and did not. The court was thus justified in dismissing Summit Park’s counterclaims. In addition, Summit Park’s failure to select an impartial appraiser compelled vacatur of the appraisal award under the insurance policy. View "Auto-Owners v. Summit Park" on Justia Law

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This appeal arose out of a private enforcement action under Section 505 of the Clean Water Act (CWA), 33 U.S.C. 1365. Defendant-Appellant Ozark Materials River Rock, LLC, appealed a district court’s order approving Plaintiff-Appellee David Benham’s proposed restoration plan of unlawfully filled wetlands in Saline Creek. Ozark was a sand and gravel mining company that operated on property adjacent to Saline Creek in Oklahoma. Benham recreates in Saline Creek and claimed Ozark’s operations degraded his ability to do so. In March 2011, Benham served Ozark with a notice letter pursuant to Section 505, informing the company that it was violating Section 404 of the CWA, 33 U.S.C. 1344. Section 404 required a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to discharge dredge or fill material into navigable waters if the activity disturbed more than one-half acre of wetland, and Ozark did not have a Section 404 permit. The Army Corps of Engineers had inspected Ozark’s operations in 2010 (again in 2012 and 2013) by driving through the property, but it found no CWA violations. Nevertheless, after receiving Benham’s notice, Ozark hired an environmental consulting firm to perform a Section 404 impact analysis of Ozark’s Saline Creek operations. By June 1, 2011, Ozark had not addressed the CWA violations that Benham alleged in his notice, so he filed the underlying citizen suit, as authorized by Section 505. The district court held a bench trial and found that Ozark’s construction of a roadway in Saline Creek and the filling of its surrounding wetlands without a permit constitute a continuing violation of the CWA. The district court imposed a civil penalty of $35,000 and ordered briefing on a restoration plan for the unlawfully filled wetlands. On June 1, 2017, the district court issued an order adopting (substantially all of) Benham’s proposed restoration plan; one element of the plan created a conservation easement for the restoration site. Ozark raised several issues on appeal challenging the district court’s order and underlying findings of fact and conclusions of law. But finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "Benham v. Ozark Materials River Rock" on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law

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The United States Bureau of Land Management leased 2,500 acres of geothermal mineral rights in Hidalgo County, New Mexico to Plaintiff Lightning Dock Geothermal HI-01, LLC (LDG), a Delaware company. LDG developed and owned a geothermal power generating project in Hidalgo County. LDG also developed a geothermal well field on the subject tract as part of its project. Defendant AmeriCulture, a New Mexico corporation under the direction of Defendant Damon Seawright, a New Mexico resident, later purchased a surface estate of approximately fifteen acres overlying LDG’s mineral lease, ostensibly to develop and operate a tilapia fish farm. Because AmeriCulture wished to utilize LDG’s geothermal resources for its farm, AmeriCulture and LDG (more accurately its predecessor) entered into a Joint Facility Operating Agreement (JFOA). The purpose of the JFOA, from LDG’s perspective, was to allow AmeriCulture to utilize some of the land’s geothermal resources without interfering or competing with LDG’s development of its federal lease. Plaintiff Los Lobos Renewable Power LLC (LLRP), also a Delaware company, was the sole member of LDG and a third-party beneficiary of the JFOA. The parties eventually began to quarrel over their contractual rights and obligations. Invoking federal diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiffs LDG and LLRP sued Defendants Americulture and Seawright in federal court for alleged infractions of New Mexico state law. AmeriCulture filed a special motion to dismiss the suit under New Mexico’s anti-SLAPP statute. The district court, however, refused to consider that motion, holding the statute authorizing it inapplicable in federal court. After review of the briefs, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed and affirmed. View "Los Lobos Renewable Power v. Americulture" on Justia Law

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NDSC Industrial Park, LLC (“NDSC”) appealed a district court order dismissing its “Consent Decree Order Motion.” In the late 1990s, the United States and the State of Colorado each filed complaints against Colorado & Eastern Railroad Company (“C & E”) under CERCLA. These complaints sought reimbursement of response costs associated “with the release or threatened release of hazardous substances at the Sand Creek Industrial Site located in Commerce City and Denver, Colorado.” In an effort to avoid protracted litigation, the parties entered into a partial consent decree (the “Consent Decree”) on April 13, 1999. Pursuant to the Consent Decree, C & E agreed to sell two parcels of land, the OU3/6 Property and the OU1/5 Property (collectively the “Properties”), and pay the net proceeds of the sales to the United States and Colorado. In 2002, the remediated OU1/5 and OU3/6 Properties were put up for auction by the United States pursuant to the Consent Decree. NDSC was the winning bidder. Prior to closing on the purchase of the Properties, NDSC was made aware that C & E had already conveyed its fee interest in a right-of-way. In 2014, NDSC filed suit in Colorado state court to quiet title to the railroad right-of-way against C & E, and other interested parties in the Properties. The district court dismissed the motion because NDSC lacked standing to enforce the terms of the consent decree. On appeal, NDSC claimed the district court erred in concluding it: (1) was attempting to enforce the consent decree, as opposed to seeking a limited declaration regarding the meaning of the consent decree; and (2) did not have standing to seek a declaration that a conveyance of property violated the terms of the consent decree. Finding no reversible error in the district court’s dismissal, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Colorado & Eastern Railroad Co" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review centered on how, or even whether, an important-but-subtle and often confusing doctrine limiting federal-court jurisdiction should apply to a unique Colorado procedure for “nonjudicial” foreclosure of mortgages. Plaintiff Mary Mayotte was the debtor on a note held by U.S. Bank, NA. Wells Fargo serviced the loan for U.S. Bank. One allegation was that Plaintiff contacted Wells Fargo to modify her loan, that Wells Fargo told her she needed to miss three payments to secure a modification, and that she eventually took this advice. Rather than granting her a modification, however, Wells Fargo placed her in default. She further alleged the defendants fabricated documents, that their actions rendered her title unmarketable, that they had no ownership interest in her promissory note or property, that they have been unjustly enriched by accepting payments not due them, that they damaged her credit standing, and that they violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The jurisdictional doctrine raised by this appeal was the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which forbade lower federal courts from reviewing state-court civil judgments. Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 120 requires creditors pursuing nonjudicial foreclosure to first obtain a ruling by a Colorado trial court that there is a reasonable probability that a default exists. The Tenth Circuit determined it did not need to decide whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred a federal court challenge to a Rule 120 proceeding or ruling: the federal-court suit here was not barred because none of the claims (at least none pursued on appeal) challenged the Rule 120 proceedings or sought to set aside the Rule 120 ruling. The Court left that issue for the district court on remand to consider what effect, if any, the Rule 120 ruling may have had on this case under state-law doctrines of claim and issue preclusion. View "Mayotte v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the Tenth Circuit’s review centered on how, or even whether, an important-but-subtle and often confusing doctrine limiting federal-court jurisdiction should apply to a unique Colorado procedure for “nonjudicial” foreclosure of mortgages. Plaintiff Mary Mayotte was the debtor on a note held by U.S. Bank, NA. Wells Fargo serviced the loan for U.S. Bank. One allegation was that Plaintiff contacted Wells Fargo to modify her loan, that Wells Fargo told her she needed to miss three payments to secure a modification, and that she eventually took this advice. Rather than granting her a modification, however, Wells Fargo placed her in default. She further alleged the defendants fabricated documents, that their actions rendered her title unmarketable, that they had no ownership interest in her promissory note or property, that they have been unjustly enriched by accepting payments not due them, that they damaged her credit standing, and that they violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The jurisdictional doctrine raised by this appeal was the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which forbade lower federal courts from reviewing state-court civil judgments. Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 120 requires creditors pursuing nonjudicial foreclosure to first obtain a ruling by a Colorado trial court that there is a reasonable probability that a default exists. The Tenth Circuit determined it did not need to decide whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred a federal court challenge to a Rule 120 proceeding or ruling: the federal-court suit here was not barred because none of the claims (at least none pursued on appeal) challenged the Rule 120 proceedings or sought to set aside the Rule 120 ruling. The Court left that issue for the district court on remand to consider what effect, if any, the Rule 120 ruling may have had on this case under state-law doctrines of claim and issue preclusion. View "Mayotte v. U.S. Bank National Association" on Justia Law

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Defendant Texas Brine Company, LLC (Texas Brine) operated brine wells on land owned by Co-Defendant Occidental Chemical Corporation (Oxy) in Louisiana. In August 2012, a sinkhole appeared near one of these wells. After the sinkhole appeared, Texas Brine began clean-up efforts. In December 2012, Texas Brine retained Frontier International Group, LLC (Frontier), an Oklahoma-based consulting firm, for “emergency management, state and local government relations, community relations, litigation settlement strategy, and media communications.” Some time later, Texas Brine retained Brooks Altshuler, an attorney and Frontier’s owner, in his individual capacity to advise the company on response and remediation efforts and to negotiate with government agencies. Later, Texas Brine retained Frontier as a consulting expert for trial preparation. Litigation began soon after the sinkhole appeared, with multiple plaintiffs suing Texas Brine and Oxy in the Eastern District of Louisiana. To verify the work Frontier performed and the cost of such work, Oxy issued a subpoena duces tecum to nonparty Frontier, requesting production of eight categories of documents related to services Frontier provided Texas Brine. In response, Texas Brine filed a motion to quash the subpoena in the Western District of Oklahoma, the district where compliance was required. Proceeding under the uncontested assumption that Louisiana law applied, Texas Brine first claimed the attorney-client privilege protected the subpoenaed communications. In a written order, the trial court noted that Texas Brine failed to comply with Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(e)(2)(A), instead, relying on a “blanket claim of privilege.” In the context of Texas Brine’s claim of a blanket privilege did the court address whether Louisiana’s attorney-client privilege statute extended the privilege to a public relations firm and its agents. Without a privilege log before it, the court concluded that much of the work Frontier performed for Texas Brine did not constitute “legal advice” and, thus, was not protected by the attorney-client privilege. The court ultimately required Texas Brine to produce a privilege log for any communications that it believed were protected. Texas Brine appealed. Frontier complied with the district court’s order and has, at this point, produced around 20,000 documents and a privilege log regarding the confidentiality of the withheld documents. The Tenth Circuit determined that the trial court’s factual record was insufficient, and the court did not require the production of protected documents, Texas Brine’s appeal was not ripe for review. Accordingly, Frontier and Texas Brine’s appeals were dismissed for want of jurisdiction and lack of ripeness respectively. View "Texas Brine Co. v. Occidental Chem. Corp." on Justia Law

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This case involved an implied covenant to market gas. Energen owned and operated oil and gas wells in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Its wells were subject to leases and other agreements (many of which were quite old) requiring it to pay a monthly royalty or overriding royalty on production to the Anderson Living Trust, the Pritchett Living Trust, the Neely-Robertson Revocable Family Trust (N-R Trust), and the Tatum Living Trust. Believing Energen was systematically underpaying royalties, the Trusts filed a putative class action complaint against it. The New Mexico Trusts claimed Energen was improperly deducting from their royalties their proportionate share of (1) the costs it incurs to place the gas produced from the wells in a marketable condition (postproduction costs) and (2) a privilege tax the State of New Mexico imposes on natural gas processors (the natural gas processors tax). They also alleged Energen had not timely paid royalties or interest thereon, as required by the New Mexico Oil and Gas Proceeds Payments Act. Both the New Mexico Trusts and the Tatum Trust further claimed Energen was wrongfully failing to pay royalty on the gas it used as fuel. The district judge dismissed the New Mexico Trusts’ marketable condition rule claim for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and entered summary judgment in favor of Energen on the remaining claims. All of the Trusts appealed those judgments. For the most part, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the district court. The Tenth Circuit’s analysis differed from that of the district court relating to: (1) the fuel gas claims made by the N-R Trust and Tatum Trust; and (2) the New Mexico Trusts’ claim under the New Mexico Oil and Gas Proceeds Payments Act. As to the former, the N-R Trust’s overriding royalty agreement required royalty to be paid on all gas produced, including that gas used as fuel. And the Tatum Trust’s leases explicitly prohibited Energen from deducting post-production costs (Energen treats its use of the fuel gas as an in-kind postproduction cost). Moreover, the “free use” clauses and royalty provisions in the Tatum Trust’s leases limited the free use of gas to that occurring on the leased premises. Because use of the fuel gas occurred off the leased premises, Energen owed royalty on that gas. With regard to the latter, the district court was right in permitting Energen to hold funds owed to the N-R Trust in a suspense account until a title issue concerning a well was resolved in favor of that Trust. However, the district court did not address whether the N-R Trust was entitled to statutory interest on those funds. It was so entitled, yet the current record (at least in the Tenth Circuit’s analysis) did not show interest to have been paid on the funds. View "Anderson Living Trust v. Energen Resources" on Justia Law

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Richard Turley appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of the United States, acting on behalf of the United States Postal Service, awarding specific performance of an option to purchase real estate from Turley. The purchase option was contained in a lease of the premises that the Postal Service had renewed on several occasions. Turley argued on appeal: (1) the lease had expired when the Postal Service attempted to exercise the purchase option because he had not received notice that the government was exercising its final option to renew the lease; (2) even if the lease was renewed, the Postal Service did not properly exercise the purchase option because it continued to negotiate for a new lease after it purported to exercise the option; and (3) equity precluded enforcement of the purchase option because the Postal Service attempted to use the purchase option as leverage to negotiate a better lease agreement. The Tenth Circuit was not persuaded. The Court found the lease-renewal option was properly exercised when the notice was delivered to the proper address, even though Turley refused to retrieve it. And Turley has presented no legal or equitable doctrine that would forbid a party who exercises (and is bound by) an option to purchase from pursuing an alternative arrangement. View "United States v. Turley" on Justia Law