Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Lord & Taylor filed suit against White Flint, alleging breach of contract. Lord & Taylor operated a retail department store at the White Flint Shopping Center until White Flint closed the Mall and began demolition for a mixed use development. Lord & Taylor objected to the redevelopment, arguing that the clear terms of the parties' agreement required White Flint to maintain the Mall, and that the proposed mixed-use alternative would negatively affect its business. A jury found White Flint in breach of contract and awarded Lord & Taylor $31 million in damages. Both parties appealed. The court rejected White Flint's challenge to the damages award, concluding that the district court did not abuse its discretion by instructing the jury not to consider the potentially positive economic effects of the planned redevelopment in assessing damages for lost profits. Furthermore, the district court properly admitted a store executive's construction cost estimate as lay testimony. Finally, the court concluded that the district court committed no legal error or other abuse of discretion in applying long-established Maryland law to reject Lord & Taylor's claim to separate damages for the taking of property rights. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Lord & Taylor v. White Flint, L.P." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs challenged the dismissal of their pro se complaint that, inter alia, sought a declaration that Chase and U.S. Bank could not foreclose on their home. The district court dismissed certain counts based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act of 1989 (FIRREA), 12 U.S.C. 1821, and other counts for failure to state a claim. The court affirmed, concluding that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over most of the counts (Counts 1, 2, 5-9, and 16-19) that plaintiffs appeal because they failed to exhaust their claims with the FDIC. The court further concluded that the other relevant counts for constructive fraud (Count 14) and negligence (Count 15) failed to state a claim. Finally, the district court did not abuse its discretion by not providing a reason for denying plaintiffs' requests to amend their complaint. View "Willner v. Dimon" on Justia Law

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Claimants appeal the district court's entry of default judgment for the government in a civil forfeiture action against funds deposited in claimants’ names in banks in New Zealand and Hong Kong. Default judgment was entered after the government successfully moved to disentitle claimants from defending their claims to the defendant property under the federal fugitive disentitlement statute, 28 U.S.C. 2466. Claimants’ alleged copyright infringement scheme, dubbed the “Mega Conspiracy,” used public websites to facilitate the illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted movies, software, television programs, and music. The court rejected claimants' challenge to the district court's in rem jurisdiction over assets in foreign countries; the court affirmed the district court's adoption of the reasoning in Collazos v. United States, a Second Circuit case, holding that claimants had waived the due process rights they claim were violated by operation of section 2466; as section 2466 predicates disentitlement on an allowable presumption that a criminal fugitive lacks a meritorious defense to a related civil forfeiture, the court concluded that it does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and affirmed the district court’s decision; and the court adopted a specific intent standard for section 2466 and affirmed the district court's finding of intent with respect to each defendant. The court rejected claimants' remaining arguments and affirmed the judgment in its entirety. View "United States v. Batato" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against Wells Fargo, alleging that his mortgage agreement, providing him with a loan far in excess of his home’s actual value, was an “unconscionable contract” under the West Virginia Consumer Credit and Protection Act, W. Va. Code 46A–1–101 et seq. The court agreed with the district court that the amount of a mortgage loan, by itself, cannot show substantive unconscionability under West Virginia law, and that plaintiff has not otherwise made that showing. The court concluded, however, that the Act allows for claims of “unconscionable inducement” even when the substantive terms of a contract are not themselves unfair. Accordingly, the court remanded so that the district court may consider this issue in the first instance. View "McFarland v. Wells Fargo Bank" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed this diversity action alleging that he owned fractional working interests in four Ritchie County mining partnerships, which owned six oil and gas wells, and demanding an accounting of the four partnerships. Defendant counterclaimed for the cumulative operating expenses attributable to Plaintiff’s asserted working interests in the partnerships. The district court awarded summary judgment to Defendant, concluding that Plaintiff’s assertion of interests in the four mining partnerships failed because he could not produce a writing that evidenced his co-ownership of the subject leases or wells in conformance with the Statute of Frauds. The Supreme Court of West Virginia accepted the Fourth Circuit’s certified question of law and answered (1) if a person contends he owns an interest in a common-law mining partnership, the Statute of Frauds requires the person to prove he is a partner of the mining partnership through a written conveyance; and (2) if the partnership is a general partnership and the partnership owns oil and gas leases, the Statute of Frauds does not require a person to produce a written instrument to prove he is a partner in the general partnership. Having adopted the West Virginia Supreme Court’s opinion answering the Court’s certified question of law, the Fourth Circuit vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded. View "Valentine v. Sugar Rock, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Montgomery County Council in Maryland approved plans to tear down the White Flint Shopping Center (the “Mall”) and redevelop the site into a mixed-use, town-center-style development. Lord & Taylor, LLC, which operated a retail store connected with the Mall, filed this action seeking a declaration that the Mall’s owner, White Flint, L.P., was precluded from going forward with the development and seeking a permanent injunction to enjoin White Flint from carrying out the redevelopment. The district court denied Lord & Taylor’s request for injunctive relief, determining that an injunction would be unworkable given the “advanced stage[ ]” of the project. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding (1) Maryland law clearly authorized the district court to go beyond the state-law presumption in favor of injunctive relief to consider feasibility and related equitable concerns; and (2) the district court did not err in finding that injunctive relief would be infeasible. View "Lord & Taylor, LLC v. White Flint, L.P." on Justia Law

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Petitioners donated a conservation easement to a land trust and claimed a $10,524,000 charitable deduction for the asserted value. The Tax Court held that the easement did not qualify as a charitable contribution and petitioners were not entitled to the deduction. The Tax Code and Treasury Regulations together make clear that 26 U.S.C. 170(h)(2)(C) means that a charitable deduction may be claimed for the donation of a conservation easement only when that easement restricts the use of the donated property in perpetuity. In this case, because the easement fails to meet this requirement, it is ineligible to form the basis of a charitable deduction under section 170(h)(2)(C). The court rejected petitioners' contention that the court should reject this straightforward application of statutory text and affirmed the judgment. View "Belk, Jr. v. CIR" on Justia Law

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The Bank commenced this adversary proceeding in Restivo's Chapter 11 bankruptcy case, seeking a judgment declaring that the security interest it acquired on January 4, 2005, had priority over the IRS's tax lien filed on January 10, 2005, regardless of the fact that it did not record its security interest until after the IRS had filed notice of its tax lien. The district court granted the Bank priority. The court rejected the district court's holding that Md. Code. Ann., Real Prop. 3-201 gives the Bank retroactive priority over the IRS, concluding that 26 U.S.C. 6323(h)(1)(A)'s use of the present perfect tense precludes giving effect to the Maryland statute's relation-back provision. However, the court affirmed the judgment based on the ground that under Maryland common law, the Bank acquired an equitable security interest in the two parcels of real property on January 4, regardless of recordation, because its interest became protected against a subsequent lien arising out of an unsecured obligation on that date and that therefore its security interest had priority over the IRS's tax lien under sections 6323(a) and 6323(h)(1). View "Susquehanna Bank v. United States/Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the dismissal with prejudice of their Maryland quiet title claim. Where, as here, a property is encumbered by a deed of trust and its release is conditioned on a party's performance under a note, determining who holds title to the property necessarily involves determining whether the party has performed under the note. Therefore, the court could not decouple the questions of plaintiffs' personal liability and the security interest in the property. In this case, plaintiffs are not entitled to the benefits of a quiet title action because they are not authorized by statute to resolve clouds on a legal title which they do not own. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint with prejudice. The court also held that the district court acted within its discretion in denying plaintiffs leave to amend the complaint. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.View "Anand v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC" on Justia Law

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Debtor transferred her interest in real property to AGC, a corporation wholly owned by her husband. Seven months later, debtor declared bankruptcy and the bankruptcy court concluded that the conveyance was constructively fraudulent. The bankruptcy court found AGC did not prove by clear and convincing evidence that it paid for the property or intended to pay for it on the date of the property's purchase. The bankruptcy court also found that, at the time of the purchase, the parties intended that AGC would serve as the property's tenant, not the property's owner. AGC also did not prove that it intended to own the property on the date of acquisition. Therefore, the bankruptcy court found no justification for a resulting trust. The district court found no fault in the bankruptcy court's findings of fact, but nonetheless reversed. The court reversed the district court insofar as it found a resulting trust to sever debtor's legal and equitable interests in the property. Accordingly, the court vacated the judgment of the district court and remanded for further proceedings.View "Anderson v. Architectural Glass Construction" on Justia Law