Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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The defendants, exploration and production companies, contracted with landowners (plaintiffs) to drill for oil and gas on leased properties in Ohio’s Utica Shale Formation between 2010-2012. The agreements provide for royalty payments to the plaintiffs based on the gross proceeds received by the defendants from the sale of each well’s oil and gas production. The defendants sell the oil and gas extracted from the leased properties to “midstream” companies affiliated with the defendants. To calculate the price that an unaffiliated entity would have presumptively paid for the oil and gas, the defendants use the “netback method.” The plaintiffs claim the defendants underpaid their royalties because the netback method does not accurately approximate an arm’s-length transaction price, and improperly deducts post-production costs from the price. The district court granted class certification under FRCP 23(b)(3). The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While the plaintiffs have not met their burden of showing that common issues predominate with respect to a theory that the defendants sold oil and gas to midstream affiliates at below-market prices, the plaintiffs no longer pursued that theory at the class-certification stage. The plaintiffs satisfy the requirements of Rule 23(b)(3) with their liability theory based on the defendants’ deductions of post-production costs. View "Zehentbauer Family Land, LP v. Chesapeake Exploration, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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American Islamic Community Center (AICC) unsuccessfully sought zoning permission to build a mosque in Sterling Heights, Michigan. AICC sued, alleging violations of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the First Amendment. The Department of Justice also investigated. The city negotiated a consent judgment that allowed AICC to build the mosque. At the City Council meeting at which the consent judgment was approved, people voiced concerns about issues such as traffic and noise; others disparaged Islam and AICC. Comments and deliberation were punctuated by audience outbursts. Eventually, Mayor Taylor cleared the chamber of all spectators, except the press. The Council voted to settle the case. A consent judgment was entered. Plaintiffs sought a judgment declaring the consent judgment invalid. The Sixth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for the defendants. The defendants fulfilled their procedural obligations; they considered and made findings on the relevant criteria, such as “parking, traffic and overall size,” before voting. The court upheld limitations on speech imposed during the meeting: the relevance rule and a rule forbidding attacks on people and institutions. The city did not “grant the use of a forum to people whose views it finds acceptable, but deny use to those wishing to express less favored or more controversial views.” View "Youkhanna v. City of Sterling Heights" on Justia Law

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Virginia Run Cove is a privately owned Memphis street that offers access to the parking lots of several businesses, including a Planned Parenthood clinic. It is described on county records as “common area” in a commercial development. Brindley sought a preliminary injunction requiring the city to let him stand near the entrance to this clinic and spread his pro-life message. He argued that Virginia Run Cove was a traditional public forum and that his exclusion from the street violated the First Amendment. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of his motion for a preliminary injunction. The Supreme Court has long held that public streets are traditional public fora. Even when a street is privately owned, it remains a traditional public forum if it looks and functions like a public street. Virginia Run Cove, which connects directly to a busy public thoroughfare, displays no sign of private ownership, and is used by the general public to access many nearby buildings, including the clinic, a gas station, a church, and a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office, has all the trappings of a public street. View "Brindley v. City of Memphis" on Justia Law

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The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) creates a cause of action for “borrower[s],” 12 U.S.C. 2605(f). Tara and Nathan Keen got a loan and took out a mortgage when they bought their house. Both of them signed the mortgage; only Nathan signed the loan. The pair later divorced. Nathan gave Keen full title to the house. He died shortly afterward. Although Tara was not legally obligated to make payments on the loan after Nathan died, she made payments anyway so she could keep the house. She later ran into financial trouble, fell behind on those payments, and contacted the loan servicer, Ocwen. After unsuccessful negotiations, Ocwen proceeded with foreclosure. The house was sold to a third-party buyer, Helson. Soon after foreclosure, Tara sued both Ocwen and Helson, alleging that Ocwen violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), 12 U.S.C. 2601, which requires that loan servicers take certain steps when a borrower asks for options to avoid foreclosure. Tara alleged that Ocwen failed to properly review her requests before it foreclosed on her house. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Keen’s RESPA claims. RESPA’s cause of action extends only to “borrower[s].” Keen was not a “borrower” because she was never personally obligated under the loan agreement. View "Keen v. Helson" on Justia Law

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The Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Columbia Gas on Landowners' state-law trespass and unjust enrichment claims involving underground storage of natural gas. In regard to the trespass claims, the court held that Landowners failed to show that Columbia Gas interfered with the possessory interest in their subsurface where each Landowner had admitted that they have not used and do not intend to use their subsurface. In regard to the unjust enrichment claims, the court held that Columbia Gas need not file a cross-appeal in order to preserve its argument to affirm the damages judgment on the ground that Columbia Gas has no underlying liability. Furthermore, Landowners' unjust enrichment claims failed because Landowners could not show, as they must, that they conferred a benefit upon the defendant. View "Baatz v. Columbia Gas Transmission, LLC" on Justia Law

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The surface and mineral estates of “Tract 46” in Pike County, Kentucky have been severed for a century. Pike and Johnson own the surface estate as tenants in common. Pike also owns the entirety of the coal below and wants to mine. In 2013, Pike granted its affiliate a right to enter the land and commence surface mining. Despite Johnson’s protestations, Kentucky granted a surface mining permit. Mining commenced in April 2014. In 2014, as the result of a federal lawsuit, the Secretary of the Interior determined that the permit violated the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA), 30 U.S.C. 1250. The deficiencies in the original permit were remedied; Kentucky issued an amended permit the same year. The Secretary then confirmed that the permit complied with federal law. Johnson sued again. An ALJ, the district court, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, first finding that Johnson exhausted its administrative remedies to the extent required by SMCRA. The ALJ’s application of Kentucky co-tenancy law, instead of the state’s rules of construction for vague severance deeds, to uphold the issuance of Elkhorn’s permit and the Secretary’s termination of the cessation order was not arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law. View "M.L. Johnson Family Properties, LLC v. Bernhardt" on Justia Law

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A chapter 7 trustee sought a declaration that a refinanced mortgage only encumbered the interest of the person specifically defined within the body of the mortgage as a “Borrower/Mortgagor.” The mortgage instrument listed the co-debtor's wife as a “Borrower” in the signature block but the mortgage did not specifically name her as a “Borrower” within the text of document other than in the signature block. The bankruptcy court regarded the mortgage as ambiguous under these circumstances, considered extrinsic evidence, and concluded that the property was fully encumbered by the mortgage. Pending appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court answered certified questions, stating that the failure to identify a signatory by name within the body of the mortgage instrument did not render the agreement unenforceable against the signatory’s in rem rights as a matter of law and that when a mortgage is properly signed, initialed and acknowledged by a signatory who is not named within the document itself, the mortgage is not invalid as a matter of law. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed, concluding that the mortgage encumbered the rights of both husband and wife. View "In re Perry" on Justia Law

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Oakes filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in 2013, including Franklin, Ohio real property, valued at $160,000. PNC holds a mortgage lien on the property, which was filed in 2003. That mortgage lien was not executed in accordance with the Ohio law; Oakes’ signatures were not acknowledged before a notary public. In 2013, Ohio Rev. Code 1301.401(C) was enacted, providing that “Any person contesting the validity or effectiveness of any transaction referred to in a public record is considered to have discovered that public record and any transaction referred to in the record as of the time that the record was first filed with the secretary of state or tendered to a county recorder for recording.” The Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Trustee sought to avoid the PNC mortgage because it was not properly recorded. In the meantime, the Ohio Supreme Court held that O.R.C. 1301.401 applied to all recorded mortgages and acts to provide constructive notice of a recorded mortgage, even if that mortgage was deficiently executed. The bankruptcy court denied PNC’s motion for judgment, finding that the statutory constructive notice had no effect on a trustee’s avoidance powers as a judicial lien creditor. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel and Sixth Circuit affirmed. A bankruptcy trustee may avoid a deficiently executed mortgage when acting as a judicial lien creditor. View "Harker v. PNC Mortgage Co." on Justia Law

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Saginaw, Michigan requires owners of vacant property to register their property. The registration form says that owners must permit the city to enter their property if it “becomes dangerous as defined by the City of Saginaw Dangerous Building Ordinance.”. Several property owners refused to register. The city imposed a fine. Claiming they had no obligation to consent to unconstitutional searches of their property, the owners filed suit. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. The registration form and the ordinance, as implemented by the city, only ask for something that the Fourth (and Fourteenth) Amendment already allows—a warrantless search of a building found to be dangerous. The court noted the safeguards the ordinance provides before a property is declared dangerous. Because the registration form requires the property owner to allow entrance to his property only after a fair administrative process determines the building is dangerous, it does not require the waiver of any Fourth Amendment rights. View "Benjamin v. Stemple" on Justia Law

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In 2000, Ann Arbor passed an ordinance requiring certain homeowners to undergo structural renovations to their homes to alleviate stormwater drainage problems affecting the city and surrounding areas. The city paid or reimbursed the homeowners for the renovations. In 2014, homeowners affected by the ordinance sued in Michigan state courts, alleging that the city’s actions amounted to a taking without just compensation under the Michigan Constitution; they filed an “England Reservation” in an attempt to preserve federal takings claims for subsequent adjudication. The homeowners lost in state court and then filed suit in federal court, citing the Fifth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The district court dismissed the Fifth Amendment claim as issue precluded and the section 1983 action as claim precluded. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. The court did not address whether Michigan law is coextensive with federal law. If the takings jurisprudence of the two constitutions is coextensive, then issue preclusion bars subsequent litigation of the federal takings claims after litigation of the state takings claims. If the takings jurisprudence of the two constitutions is not coextensive, then claim preclusion bars subsequent litigation of the federal takings claim because it should have been brought with the state claim in the first instance in the Michigan court. View "Lumbard v. Ann Arbor" on Justia Law