Justia Alabama Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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Brett/Robinson Gulf Corporation ("Brett/Robinson"); Claudette Brett, as the personal representative of the estate of Tillis Brett; Thomas Brett; William Robinson, Jr.; and Brett Real Estate and Robinson Development Company, Inc. ("Brett Real Estate") (collectively referred to as "the developer parties"), appealed a circuit court's judgment entered in favor of Phoenix on the Bay II Owners Association, Inc. ("the Association"), and Pamela Montgomery. Phoenix on the Bay II ('POB II') was a condominium project. Four areas of POB II were in dispute; the Association and Montgomery contended these four areas were not lawfully created units, and constituted common areas of the condominium. Brett/Robinson sued the Association and Montgomery asserting a trespass claim, alleging that the Association and Montgomery had willfully and intentionally trespassed on the "check-in unit" and the "maintenance unit" (two of the disputed areas). It also asserted claims that the Association and Montgomery had interfered with its business relationships and contractual relationships with condominium unit owners who rented out their units at Phoenix on the Bay II ("POB II") through Brett/Robinson. The trial court entered an order in which it found the Association and Montgomery were entitled to the equitable relief they had requested. The trial court then set forth the revised ownership interest in the common elements for each unit type; struck a formula for determining each unit percentage share of the common expenses (which had included the commercial units); and set forth a revised formula for determining the percentage of each unit's share of the common expenses, without including the commercial units. That resulted in increasing the ownership interest in the common elements for the owners of each of the remaining units and increasing each remaining unit owner's percentage share of the common expenses. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred when it found that the commercial units were not validly created and when it amended and reformed the Second Declaration in accordance with that finding. Accordingly, the trial court's judgment was reversed and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Brett/Robinson Gulf Corp. v. Phoenix on the Bay II Owners Association, Inc. et al." on Justia Law

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Damon Stephens appealed a circuit court order ordering that certain property located on Old Railroad Bed Road in Toney, ("the property"), be partitioned by sale, pursuant to the Alabama Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act ("the Heirs Act"). In September 2017, Michael Claridy filed a complaint to quiet title to the property and requested that the circuit court partition the property by sale on the basis that the property could not be equitably divided or partitioned in kind. Stephens acquired his interest in the property in 2019; he has neither lived on the property nor paid taxes on the property. Stephens stated that he had lived on the property and made improvements to some of the buildings there. Following an initial hearing, the circuit court determined that the property was heirs property governed by the Heirs Act. Based on the testimony, the evidentiary materials, and the judge's personal observation of the property, the circuit court concluded that there was no method by which the property could be partitioned in kind to adequately preserve each cotenant's interest in the property. Accordingly, the circuit court entered a detailed judgment ordering that the property be partitioned by sale via public auction. Stephens contended the circuit court erred by ordering a partition by sale because, he contended, the court considered only one factor in its analysis, provided no discussion of the other factors, and provided no analysis regarding whether any particular cotenant would be greatly prejudiced by a partition in kind. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court's order. View "Stephens v. Claridy" on Justia Law

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Pentagon Federal Credit Union ("PenFed") purchased Susan McMahan's house at a foreclosure sale and sold it less than a year later. They disagreed about how to divide the sales proceeds. In "PenFed I," the Alabama Supreme Court reversed a circuit court judgment in favor of McMahan, holding that the trial court had erred by not considering PenFed's unjust-enrichment argument. On remand, the trial court concluded that the doctrine of unjust enrichment did not apply and again entered judgment in favor of McMahan. PenFed appealed. After review, the Supreme Court found McMahan sued PenFed, arguing she was entitled to $94,741.20 of the $157,525 that PenFed received when it sold the house she had lost in foreclosure. PenFed conceded that McMahan should have received $3,484.66 of the sales proceeds but argued that it was entitled to retain $91,256.54 of the amount she sought -- because that was how much it cost PenFed to pay off her debt to Wells Fargo so that the property could be sold unencumbered by Wells Fargo's lien. The trial court awarded the disputed $91,256.54 to McMahan, but the doctrine of unjust enrichment will not allow her to receive those funds. The trial court's judgment was therefore reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings. View "Pentagon Federal Credit Union v. McMahan" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc., and Lee Riggins appealed the dismissal of their complaint asserting various claims against, among others, Donald Moulton, Sr., Broken Vessel United Church ("Broken Vessel"), Lucien Blankenship, Blankenship & Associates, Antoinette M. Plump, Felicia Harris-Daniels, Tara Walker, and Tavares Roberts ("defendants"). Cathedral Church conducted worship at its property until membership dwindled and discontinued meeting. A mortgage existed on the property with Regions Bank which was outstanding and failed to be paid by Riggins. Riggins and Willie Bell Hall were the sole survivors and interest holders of Cathedral Church; their interest conveyed legally to Riggins. Moulton, on behalf of Broken Vessel Church, sought to rent the Cathedral Church property from Riggins. Riggins agreed to rent the property; Moulton and Broken Vessel Church were to seek financing. Moulton and Broken Vessel Church were to pay the commercial liability insurance Cathedral Church maintained with Planter's Insurance. However Moulton and Broken Vessel unilaterally changed the insurance carrier in July 2015 to Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company without Cathedral Church and Riggins's knowledge or consent. Moulton and Broken Vessel never obtained financing to purchase the property and never paid any money to Riggins or Cathedral Church. Riggins paid for all Cathedral Church repairs and renovations required. Then in late 2016, Cathedral Church burned and was a total loss. Moulton made a claim to Nationwide for the lost premises and contents. No money was paid to Riggins. Riggins discovered the property settlement with Nationwide in or around August 2017. Riggins also discovered two recordings of a general warranty deed at the local Tax Assessor's office purporting to be the sale of the property by Riggins to Broken Vessel. Riggins filed suit, raising a number of causes of action sounding in fraud and conspiracy, and denying he conveyed the church property to Moulton or Broken Vessel, and denied the validity of the deeds on file at the Assessor's office. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court judgment on appeal here did not adjudicate all claims before the court. It was therefore a nonfinal judgement that could not support this appeal. The appeal was thus dismissed. View "Cathedral of Faith Baptist Church, Inc. et al. v. Moulton, et al." on Justia Law

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Shamblin Hamilton appealed a circuit court judgment concluding he had no interest in a Birmingham property, and ejected him from the property. In 1992, the property was conveyed to Shamblin and Carol Hamilton by general warranty deed. The Hamiltons owned the property in fee simple subject to a mortgage to Compass Bank recorded in 2003. In 2004, Shambin and Carol divorced, and pursuant to that divorce judgment, Shamblin was awarded sole ownership of the property. In 2009, the divorce judgment was modified by an agreement of the parties, and a court order adopting that agreement declared that Shamblin had assumed sole responsibility of a home-equity line of credit that Shamblin and Carol had jointly executed with Compass Bank. In his filings in the circuit court in this case, Shamblin asserted that he was still making payments on the home-equity line of credit as the litigation ensued. The Hamiltons failed to pay the ad valorem real-property taxes on the property, and in 2014, the State sold the property at auction to Mercury Funding, LLC ("Mercury"). Mercury conveyed its interested to Guardian Tax AL, LLC (“Guardian”) by quitclaim deed. In 2018, Guardian filed a complaint for ejectment and to quiet title to the property against the Hamiltons and Compass Bank. Shamblin denied not paying the ad valorem property taxes on the property, and he asserted that he had no notice of delinquency even though he had retained physical ownership of the property since 1992. Shamblin asserted a counterclaim for judicial redemption of the property, arguing he, not Carol as part title-holder, had a right to redeem. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court erred in holding Carol had a right to redeem, and reversed. View "Hamilton v. Guardian Tax AL, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Scott and Janet Lopas filed suit against, among others, Performance Builders, LLC, Chris White, Shana Tyler Clark, and DSKAT Holdings, LLC, d/b/a A-Pro Home Inspection Services Birmingham (collectively, "the movants") asserting various causes of actions based on the inspection, appraisal, and sale of a piece of real property purchased by the Lopases. The movants moved to compel arbitration of the Lopases' claims, which the circuit court denied. The movants appealed the circuit court's order. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the movants met their burden of establishing the existence of an agreement containing an arbitration provision between the parties, and that that agreement involved a transaction affecting interstate commerce. Furthermore, the arbitration provision dictated that the issue of enforceability raised by the Lopases had to be submitted to the arbitrator for determination. Therefore, the circuit court's order denying the movants' motion to compel arbitration was reversed. View "Performance Builders, LLC, et al. v. Lopas" on Justia Law

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SE Property Holdings, LLC ("SEPH"), the successor by merger to Vision Bank, and FNB Bank ("FNB") separately appealed a circuit court's judgments on their breach-of-contract claims against Bama Bayou, LLC, formerly known as Riverwalk, LLC ("Bama Bayou"), and Marine Park, LLC ("Marine Park"), and the individuals and entities guaranteeing Bama Bayou's and Marine Park's contract obligations, challenging the trial court's damages awards. Bama Bayou and Marine Park were the developers of a planned mixed-use development in Orange Beach consisting of a marine park, residential condominiums, retail shops, hotels, and commercial entertainment venues. Marine Park specifically intended to develop a special-use facility for the exhibition of marine animals. Vision Bank made four loans to Bama Bayou and Marine Park related to the development project. The Marine Park loan was fully funded by FNB pursuant to a participation agreement with Vision Bank. The participation agreement provided that the Marine Park parcel would be owned by FNB in the event it was acquired by foreclosure. Bama Bayou and Marine Park were having financial problems with regard to the project by August 2007. Vision Bank demanded payment at that time, and Bama Bayou, Marine Park, and the guarantors failed and/or refused to pay the indebtedness owed on the loans. In 2009, Vision Bank conducted a public auction to separately foreclose the mortgages. No bids were submitted; Vision Bank purchased the properties. Neither Bama Bayou, nor Marine Park, nor the guarantors exercised their rights to redeem the properties. Vision Bank sued Bama Bayou and its guarantors, and Marine Park and its guarantors for amounts owed under those loans, including all principal, accrued interest, late charges, attorney's fees and collection costs. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the trial court's judgments in these consolidated cases and remanded for a determination of the appropriate awards on the breach-of-contract claims. "Such awards should account for all accrued interest, late charges, attorney's fees, collection costs, and property- preservation expenses owed." View "FNB Bank v. Marine Park, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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Eleanor Williams appealed a probate court order denying her request for redemption of certain real property. In 2003, the State purchased property located in Birmingham ("the property") at a tax sale after the then owners, Benjamin and Marzella Rosser, failed to pay ad valorem taxes. The State sold the property in 2016 for $1,000 to Waynew Global Holdings, LLC ("WGH"). In February 2017, WGH sold the property to Mari Properties, LLC ("Mari"), for $5,000, and Mari recorded the deed to the property. Williams claimed that she inherited the property from the Rossers in or around March 2003. In September 2017, Williams petitioned for redemption of the property under section 40-10-120, Ala. Code 1975, with which she tendered $1,100. The probate court granted Williams petition, thereby ordering Mari to compute and submit the amount of those items and stated that, upon receipt of those figures, the probate court would enter an amendment to the order and direct payment by Williams. The probate court did not vest title of the property in Williams. Mari, however, moved to vacate the probate's order, arguing the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the redemption petition because, it argued, Williams was required under 40-10-120 to redeem the property through statutory redemption within three years of the May 13, 2003, tax sale. Mari contended in the motion that the only redemption process available to Williams was judicial redemption under section 40-10-83, Ala. Code 1975, and that the circuit court had exclusive jurisdiction over that process. Despite Mari's filing of the notice of appeal to the circuit court, the parties continued filing documents in the probate court. By March 6, 2020, the probate court reversed course, vacating its earlier judgment in favor of Williams for redemption under 40-10-120, and holding that Williams should have filed her redemption petition with the circuit court. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that once Mari appealed to the circuit court, the probate court's jurisdiction was divested, making all orders filed after Mari's circuit court suit void. View "Williams v. Mari Properties, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Anniston ("the Board") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Calhoun Circuit Court ("the trial court") to vacate its order entering a partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiffs Betty Milner and Teresa Holiday. In 2018, plaintiffs sued the Board seeking compensatory and punitive damages based on claims of breach of contract, nuisance, continuing trespass, negligence, and wantonness. Plaintiffs alleged that in February 2016 they instructed the Board to cut off water supply to a house they owned; that plaintiffs "returned to reopen" the house in February 2018 and discovered that the water supply to the house had not been completely cut off; and, that the Board's failure to properly cut off the water supply caused severe damage to the house. The Board filed an answer that included general denials of plaintiffs' allegations and asserted a number of "affirmative defenses," including that plaintiffs' injuries were the result of the "intervening and superseding" actions of an individual or entity other than the Board or anyone under its control. Viewing the evidence before it in a light most favorable to the Board, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court could have assigned some culpability to the Board. However, the Court determined the Board could not have known plaintiffs would initiate litigation against the Board once it was discovered that, at least from the Board's perspective, water was running to plaintiffs' house only because a third party had tampered with the cap and lock device, not because the Board had failed to properly cut off the water in 2016. Moreover, the Court concluded plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that fundamental fairness required the most severe sanction available to the trial court to impose upon the Board. Therefore, the Court determined the Board established a clear legal right to mandamus relief. The petition was granted and the writ issued. View "Ex parte The Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Anniston." on Justia Law

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Larry Toomey blocked a culvert that had been installed to channel water away from the only road providing access to his property and to the property of his neighbor, Riverside RV Resort, LLC ("Riverside"). Toomey did this with the knowledge that the blockage might damage the road and Riverside's property. Riverside sued and obtained an injunction against Toomey, as well as a judgment awarding it compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees. Toomey appealed. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed judgment to the extent it enjoined Toomey from blocking the culvert and granted Riverside compensatory and punitive damages, but reversed to the extent it awarded attorney fees to Riverside. View "Toomey v. Riverside RV Resort, LLC" on Justia Law