Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Rochester-Mobile, LLC, and Salzman-Mobile, LLC ("Rochester-Salzman"), appealed a judgment entered against them in a declaratory-judgment action relating to the validity of a 25-year sublease between Rochester-Salzman and Southern Family Markets of Mobile South University BLVD, LLC ("SFM"), and C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc. ("C&S"). The trial court concluded that because the sublease was not recorded pursuant to section 35-4-6, Ala. Code 1975, the sublease was void for the remainder of the term extending beyond 20 years. After review, the Alabama Supreme Court held that the sublease in this case was not void under the provisions of section 35-4-6. Accordingly, the trial court erred in entering a judgment on the pleadings in favor of SFM and C&S and against Rochester-Salzman. Given this holding, the Court pretermitted discussion of the issue whether the sublease contained separate agreements that are independently enforceable, regardless of the validity of the sublease. View "Rochester-Mobile, LLC v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, Inc." on Justia Law

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This action concerned a piece of real property located in Calhoun County, Alabama. Lynda Newman, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Oscar Newman, deceased, appealed the summary judgment entered in favor of Michael and Rhonda Howard. The Howards owned the property in 2003 and in April 2003 mortgaged the property to secure a note. In 2007, the Howards conveyed the property by general warranty deed to Lynda and Oscar Newman; Oscar, Lynda's husband, subsequently died. It was undisputed that, unbeknownst to the Newmans, the 2003 mortgage was not satisfied by the Howards before the conveyance and remained an encumbrance on the property. The Newmans and the Howards were involved in litigation concerning numerous claims against one another, as well as others, involving deeds, financing agreements, mortgages, and contracts between the various parties concerning several pieces of real property, including the property at issue in this case. Before a final judgment was reached in that litigation, in December 2014 the parties dismissed the lawsuit and entered into a "settlement agreement and mutual release agreement." Also in December 2014, shortly after Lynda signed the agreement, she attempted to sell the property at issue here. During the process of closing on the sale of the property, Lynda's attorney conducted a title search of the property and discovered that the property was encumbered by the 2003 mortgage. Lynda requested that the Howards satisfy the mortgage pursuant to the terms of the May 16, 2007, warranty deed. The Howards refused. Following a hearing, the circuit court granted the Howards' summary-judgment motion on the sole basis that Lynda had released any claims she may have had against the Howards. Lynda appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding Lynda timely objected to the Howards' reliance on the affirmative defense of settlement and release in their summary-judgment motion and equally clear that an amendment to specially plead that affirmative defense was not made by the Howards. The circuit court erred in granting the Howards' summary-judgment motion based on an unpleaded affirmative defense of release. View "Newman v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Aliant Bank, a division of USAmeribank ("Aliant"), sued various individuals and business entities involved in a failed effort to develop the Twelve Oaks subdivision in Odenville, alleging that, as a result of those defendants' conspiracy and wrongful actions, Aliant's security interest in the property upon which the Twelve Oaks subdivision was to be built had been rendered worthless. The Circuit Court ultimately entered a number of orders either dismissing Aliant's claims or entering a summary judgment in favor of the various defendants. Aliant filed three appeals. In appeal no. 1150822, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed summary judgment against Aliant: (1) on the negligence and breach-of-fiduciary duty claims asserted against the Board members in count four of Aliant's complaint; (2) on the fraudulent-misrepresentation and fraudulent-suppression claims asserted against Bobby Smith and Twelve Oaks Properties in count seven of Aliant's complaint; and (3) on the conspiracy claims asserted against Smith, Twelve Oaks Properties, Four Star Investments, Mize, and Billy Smith in count seven of Aliant's complaint. The Court affirmed summary judgment against Aliant and in favor of the various Twelve Oaks defendants in all other respects. In appeal no. 1150823, the Court reversed the summary judgments entered against Aliant on the fraudulent misrepresentation and conspiracy claims asserted against Pfil Hunt, and his management company Wrathell, Hunt & Associates, LLC, in count seven of Aliant's complaint; however, the Court affirmed those summary judgments with regard to all other claims asserted by Aliant against Hunt and WHA. Finally, in appeal no. 1150824, the Court affirmed summary judgment against Aliant and in favor of the Engineers of the South, LLC defendants on all counts. View "Aliant Bank v. Four Star Investments, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2004, Walter Price, Alan Goode, William Lunsford ("Lunsford"), and Cathy Lunsford (Lunsford's wife) formed Riverfront Development, LLC ("Riverfront"), with the goal of developing certain real estate located in Tuscaloosa ("the Riverwalk property"). Price and Goode each owned a one-third interest in the property, and Lunsford owned the remaining third. They took title to the Riverwalk property individually, not through Riverfront. Price and Lunsford were involved in other real-estate ventures together. In 2005, Price loaned Lunsford one million dollars for "Summit," a venture unrelated to the Riverwalk property. In October 2008, Lunsford was in default on the loan. Price made several proposals to Lunsford regarding curing Lunsford's default. In November 2008, Lunsford wrote Price a letter agreeing with Price's proposal that Price would not have to pay his current capital contribution related to the Riverwalk property in exchange for his ameliorating part of Lunsford's debt to Price on the unrelated venture. Lunsford thought his only alternative was to sell his interest the Riverwalk property. However, one month earlier, Lunsford had purchased Goode's one-third interest in the Riverwalk property. Price was unaware at that time that Lunsford had purchased Goode's interest. The record reflected that Lunsford was able to acquire other interests in Riverwalk, which lead Price to sue Lunsford under several negligence and contract theories. The Supreme Court concluded after review of the trial court record, that the evidence, on balance, may have favored Lunsford's version of events with respect to the real estate deals at issue here, but it could not be said that Price did not present a genuine issue of fact as to a scenario under which he could possibly prevail. That is, the Court found Price detailed and supplied evidence of a fraudulent scheme, the true nature of which he did not discover until years after the transaction occurred, and, therefore, the applicable statutes of limitations were tolled. The Court, therefore, reversed the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals and remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Walter B. Price" on Justia Law

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This case began as an interpleader action filed by El Paso E&P Production, L.P. ("El Paso"), to determine who owned the mineral interest in a piece of property located in Walker County ("the Landon parcel"), on which El Paso operated a methane well. The competing claimants for the mineral interest were Simmons Group, LTD, and the Caine O'Rear, Jr. Family Trust, Mary Lou Foy, Susan Foy Spratling, Paula Robertson Rose, Stacy Baker Carson, and Warren Dane Baker (referred to collectively as "O'Rear"). Simmons Group claimed ownership by an unbroken chain of conveyances starting with an 1883 quitclaim deed from Elizer Taylor to Musgrove Bros. purporting to convey the mineral interest ("the 1883 deed"). O'Rear claimed ownership by a separate chain of conveyances originating in the adverse possession of the Landon parcel by J.K.P. Chilton and allegedly ripening into ownership sometime before 1921. O'Rear argued that the 1883 deed did not validly convey the mineral interest and that the mineral interest was not severed from the surface estate until after Chilton adversely possessed the Landon parcel. O'Rear did not dispute Simmons Group's chain of title subsequent to the 1883 deed. Thus, it was undisputed that, if the 1883 deed validly conveyed the mineral interest to Musgrove Bros., Simmons Group was the rightful owner. Ownership of the mineral interest was the dispositive issue in this case. The circuit court determined that Chilton had adversely possessed the Landon parcel with the mineral interest still attached and that O'Rear therefore owned the mineral interest. The Supreme Court reversed, finding the first conveyance of the mineral interest recorded after the total destruction of the Walker County land records was the 1883 deed. As such, the 1883 deed was the presumed beginning point of the chain of title, and O'Rear offered no evidence sufficient to rebut this presumption. Therefore, the Court held that title to the mineral interest in the Landon parcel vests in Simmons Group. View "Simmons Group, LTD v. Caine O'Rear, Jr. Family Trust" on Justia Law

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Charles Breland was a developer of real property, with properties in Alabama and Florida. In 2002, Breland hired David Hudgens to provide legal services for him and his companies. According to Hudgens, Breland informed him early during their professional relationship that he "was suffering significant cash flow problems." As a result, Hudgens says, the various law firms with which Hudgens worked while providing Breland and his companies with legal services delayed billing "a significant portion of the attorneys' fees and costs" for those services. Breland disputed that, claiming that he and/or his companies paid Hudgens more than $2.7 million for Hudgens's legal services between 2004 and 2010. In 2009, Breland filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition. Breland filed the required schedules, required disclosure statement, and a proposed plan of reorganization that identified Hudgens & Associates, LLC ("H&A") as an unsecured creditor holding a $1 million claim and identified ETC as an unsecured creditor holding a $390,000 claim. Hudgens filed a proof of claim in the Breland bankruptcy on behalf of H&A for "legal fees" in the amount of $2,334,987.08 and filed proofs of claim on behalf of ETC for "guaranty of note" in the amounts of $879,929.55. Breland did not make payments according to the bankruptcy reorganization plan. Breland conveyed property to Gulf Beach Investment Company of Perdido, LLC which Hudgens alleged was in violation of the reorganization plan. Hudgens filed suit against Breland and Gulf Beach seeking enforcement of the plan, monies owed under the plan, and to void transfer of the property to Gulf Beach. The trial court entered a judgment on the parties' motions for a partial summary judgment, noting that it was not addressing the plaintiffs' "mortgage claim" because it had denied that claim in a September 2015 order. After setting forth extensive findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court awarded the plaintiffs $2,189,342.96 (consisting of $1.5 million in principal, plus interest); "denied and dismissed" the defendants' fraud, breach-of-contract, and slander-of-title claims; and certified the judgment as final pursuant to Rule 54(b). The trial court denied the defendants' postjudgment motion, and the defendants appealed. That case was assigned case no. 1150876, and the Alabama Supreme Court consolidated case nos. 1150302 and 1150876 for the purpose of writing one opinion. After review, the Court dismissed both appeals, finding the trial court exceeded its discretion in certifying as final the underlying appeals. View "Equity Trust Co. v. Breland" on Justia Law

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Kiva Lodge Condominium Owners' Association, Inc. ("Kiva Lodge") was an Alabama nonprofit corporation formed for the purpose of administering and maintaining the Kiva Dunes Clubhouse and Condominium ("Kiva Dunes") located in Gulf Shores. In 2009, Kiva Lodge contracted with Hudak & Dawson Construction Co., Inc. ("Hudak") to be the general contractor for the remediation of deficiencies in Kiva Dunes buildings that were allowing water to enter the buildings. Hudak subcontracted the stucco and/or sealant portion of the work to Don Colvin d/b/a Colvin Plastering ("Colvin"). The Hanover Insurance Company ("Hanover"), as surety for Hudak, issued to Kiva Lodge a performance bond ensuring and/or securing the full performance of Hudak's contractual obligations. In September 2012, Kiva Lodge informed Hudak and Colvin of leaks and bubbling in the stucco exterior of the buildings at Kiva Dunes caused by water intrusion. Kiva Lodge alleged that Hudak and Colvin failed to determine and/or disclose the course of the problems and the proper scope of repairs necessary. It also alleged that Hanover breached the terms of its performance bond by failing to promptly remedy the default, complete the work within the scope of the contract in accordance with the terms and conditions, or arrange for payment of an alternative contractor to complete the work. Hanover filed a motion to dismiss Kiva Lodge's claims against Hanover on the ground that, under its performance bond, its claims were time-barred, falling outside of a two-year statute of limitations. In 2015, the circuit court heard arguments concerning Kiva Lodge's motion to compel arbitration, eventually granting the stay and ordering the parties to arbitration. The court also denied Hanover's motion to dismiss. Hudak, Colvin, and Hanover timely appealed the circuit court's order. After review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error in the trial court's order and affirmed. View "Hanover Insurance Co. v. Kiva Lodge Condominium Owners' Association, Inc." on Justia Law

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Charles Breland, Jr., and Breland Corporation (collectively, "Breland") appealed the grant of summary judgment entered in favor of the City of Fairhope in Breland's declaratory action based on alleged negligent conduct by Fairhope in relation to real property owned by Breland. In 2000, Breland filed applications for permits and certifications from the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management ("ADEM") in order to fill approximately 10.5 acres of wetlands on the property. Fairhope opposed the fill project. Breland purchased the mitigation credits required by the Corps permit, and hired engineers and consultants for the project sometime before he began actual filling activity. Eight years later, actual work on the fill project began, but the City issued a stop-work order that halted operations. Because his Corps permit would expire in late 2008, Breland sued Fairhope for declaratory relief and an injunction against the effects of multiple City ordinances passed in attempts to stop Breland's work. Fairhope moved to dismiss the complaint. Charles Breland testified that he dismissed his lawsuit against Fairhope when both his Corps permit had been extended (to 2013), and that "there [were] conversations that the city [initiated] about buying the property." According to Breland, by late 2011, he got the impression that Fairhope had been negotiating with him to buy the remainder of the property under false pretenses and that Fairhope actually was trying to delay Breland from resuming the fill project until the Corps permit expired. In early 2013, Breland sued again seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against Fairhope's attempts to stop the fill project. The trial court dismissed Breland's case on statute of limitations grounds. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that each time Fairhope enforced its ordinances to stop Breland from filling activity on his property, Fairhope committed a new act that served as a basis for a new claim. Fairhope's last stop-work order was issued in November 2011; Breland filed this action on August 7, 2013. Accordingly, the two-year statute of limitations did not bar a claim for damages stemming from the 2011 stop-work order. View "Breland v. City of Fairhope" on Justia Law

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Wilcox Investment Group, LLC, Foley Investment Partners, LLC, and Wilcox Communities, LLC ("Wilcox Communities") (collectively referred to as "Wilcox"), appealed a circuit court judgment awarding P&D, LLC, $122,291 on P&D's claims alleging the breach of two leases involving two condominium units formerly owned by P&D. P&D appealed the trial court's judgment on the grounds that the damages the trial court awarded were insufficient and that the trial court erred in failing to award it attorney fees. The Supreme Court consolidated the appeals for the purpose of writing one opinion. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that Wilcox was not bound by the leases, and it therefore could not be held liable for a refusal to pay rent under the leases. The trial court erred in concluding otherwise. This result pretermitted any need to discuss Wilcox's argument that the trial court awarded P&D a remedy to which it was not entitled under the leases. The Court's decision also mooted the issues presented by P&D's cross-appeal as to whether the trial court erred in failing to award P&D: (1) past-due rent; (2) the actual value of the two units lost as a consequence of the alleged breach of the leases; and (3) attorney fees. In sum, the trial court's judgment against Wilcox was reversed and P&D's cross-appeal was dismissed. View "Wilcox Investment Group, LLC et al. v. P&D, LLC" on Justia Law

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Kathy Torbert petitioned the Alabama Department of Public Health ("the Department") for a declaratory ruling with respect to a proposed garbage-transfer station to be built near Torbert's home. Among other relief requested, Torbert sought a declaratory ruling under Ala. Code 1975, ยง 41-22-11(b), regarding the meaning of the administrative regulations defining the minimum required buffer zones around a solid-waste-transfer station. Pertinent here was the starting point for measuring the required buffer zones. The Department rejected Torbert's proposed interpretation of the buffer-zone regulations. Torbert appealed the ruling to the Circuit Court. The circuit court remanded the case to the Department for additional factual findings, including the preparation of a revised land survey. On remand, the survey was prepared and the Department made the necessary findings and reaffirmed its previous ruling. The circuit court subsequently affirmed the Department's decision. Torbert appealed to the Court of Civil Appeals. The Court of Civil Appeals unanimously affirmed the judgment, without an opinion. The Alabama Supreme Court granted certiorari review, and found that the Department's interpretation of its regulations was arbitrary and unreasonable, and accordingly, reversed and remanded. "The Department could have adopted regulations specifically defining the area of transfer activities as the tipping floor or regulations measuring the buffer zones from the tipping floor. It did neither but, instead, attempted to circumvent the regulations in this case by using an unreasonable definition of the phrase 'area of transfer activities.'" View "Ex parte Kathy Torbert" on Justia Law