Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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John Hoehn ("John") and his wife, Margaret, jointly owned the Foley Flea Market in Foley, Alabama ("the property"). In 2009, John, Margaret, and Roman Fitzpatrick (John and Margaret’s daughter) entered into an agreement to sell John's "1/2 undivided interest in the property" to Fitzpatrick and her then-husband, Paul Kihano. The agreement specified that Margaret would "retain her 1/2 undivided interest in the property." The agreement stated that Fitzpatrick and Kihano "shall be entitled to enter into possession of [the] property so long as [they are] not in default in the performance of [the agreement]." The agreement also made clear that title to John's "1/2 undivided interest in the property" would not pass to Fitzpatrick and Kihano until all the payments had been made under the agreement. John executed a quitclaim deed conveying his one-half interest in the property to Margaret; the quitclaim deed made no mention of the agreement. In 2013, Margaret changed the locks on the property so that Fitzpatrick could no longer access the property or operate the flea market. Fitzpatrick quit making payments under the agreement in December 2013. Fitzpatrick, with her sisters, initiated this lawsuit against Margaret, Kihano, and Mixon alleging intentional interference with a contract and intentional interference with business relations; against John's estate, breach of contract; and against Margaret, Kihano, and Mixon, tortious interference with an inheritance. In case no. 1160393 (Margaret's cross-appeal of the circuit court's judgment in favor of Fitzpatrick on Fitzpatrick's claims of interference with a contract and intentional interference with business relations), the Alabama Supreme Court reversed judgment in favor of Fitzpatrick and rendered judgment in favor of Margaret. In case no. 1160348 (Fitzpatrick's appeal of the amount of Fitzpatrick's compensatory-damages award and the circuit court's judgment in favor of Margaret on Margaret's counterclaim against Fitzpatrick), the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal as moot insofar as Fitzpatrick challenged the compensatory-damages award and affirmed the judgment on Margaret's counterclaim. View "Fitzpatrick v. Hoehn" on Justia Law

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A party waives any right to object to the validity of an arbitration provision calling for the arbitration of certain claims once that party agrees to arbitrate those claims. Here, the parties settled the claims made the basis of case no. CV-2015-900849 by agreeing to arbitrate any further disputes regarding alleged violations of the Hillwood Office Center Owners' Association, Inc.’s ("the HOCOA"), governing documents. Following the dismissal of case no. CV-2015- 900849, Carol Blevins continued to assert violations of the governing documents and made a demand for arbitration. The HOCOA and its board members agreed to the submission of Carol's claims to arbitration. Although the HOCOA and its board members did object to certain issues being submitted to the arbitrator for determination, arguing that those issues instead should be determined by the trial court, they did not object to the submission of the claims to arbitration. The HOCOA and its board members agreed upon two different arbitrators and also sought the enforcement of the settlement agreement containing the arbitration provision by initiating case no. CV-2015- 901891. Accordingly, The Alabama Supreme Court concluded that because the HOCOA and its board members agreed to the submission of the claims raised in this matter to the now pending arbitration proceeding, they waived their right to object to the validity of the arbitration provision. The appeal in case no. CV-2015-900849 was dismissed. To the extent that the HOCOA and its board members appealed the trial court's order dissolving the stay of arbitration in case no. CV-2015-901891, that order was affirmed. Finally, the order appealed from case no. CV-2016- 901627 was affirmed in part and reversed in part and the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Hillwood Office Center Owners' Association, Inc., et al. v. Blevins" on Justia Law

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Alabama Power initiated condemnation proceedings in the probate court seeking to obtain easements across three parcels of property in St. Clair County Alabama for the purpose of erecting new power-transmission lines. Alabama Power Company petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus directing the St. Clair Circuit Court to dismiss an appeal filed by the property owners who challenged the condemnation proceedings. The Supreme Court found that the probate court's July 5, 2017 transfer order notified the property owners that it found their notice of appeal to be vague or in some way deficient instead of ordering a transfer of the action. Because the probate court understood the property owners' notice of appeal to encompass an order of condemnation, no such notice of deficiency was given, and the property owners instead reasonably relied on the probate court's representation that their notice of appeal was effective and that the action had been transferred to the circuit court. The Supreme Court held it would have been unjust in these circumstances for the Supreme Court to declare that the property owners' notice of appeal was in some way deficient so as to render it ineffective. Therefore, the Supreme Court determined the circuit court properly denied Alabama Power's motion to dismiss, and Alabama Power was not entitled to the relief it sought. Accordingly, the petition for the writ of mandamus was denied. View "Ex parte Alabama Power Company." on Justia Law

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EvaBank appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Traditions Bank, TBX Title, Inc., and Terry Williams. In 2013, EvaBank customers William Michael Robertson and Connie Robertson, entered into a purchase agreement with Terry Williams, pursuant to which Williams agreed to purchase the Robertsons' property located on County Road 35 in Hanceville ("the property"). EvaBank held two mortgages on the property. Williams financed his purchase through Traditions Bank. TBX Title, a Traditions Bank subsidiary, acted as the closing agent for the real-estate transaction. EvaBank faxed Traditions Bank the payoff statement for the wrong EvaBank customer, Michael Roberson, with an address in Moulton, Alabama. TBX Title closed the real-estate transaction between the Robertsons and Williams. Traditions Bank thereafter delivered a check to EvaBank; EvaBank accepted and negotiated the check and applied the proceeds to the loan of Michael Roberson. TBX Title wired the net sales proceeds from the closing to the Robertsons. TBX Title recorded the warranty deed and mortgage and mailed the deed to Williams. When EvaBank contacted William Robertson about his loan being past due; Robertson responded that the loan should have been paid off at the closing with the proceeds from the sale. EvaBank learned at this point that there was a problem with the payoff statement it had provided. EvaBank sent Traditions Bank an e-mail explaining its mistake and noting that it had made a demand upon William Michael Robertson to pay the remaining balance due on the EvaBank mortgages but that Robertson had refused. Accordingly, EvaBank informed Traditions Bank that it would not release it mortgages encumbering the Robertsons' property until the balance on the loan they were securing had been fully satisfied. Traditions Bank sued EvaBank, asserting a claim of slander of title and seeking a judgment declaring that it was the first lienholder on the property. All parties moved for a summary judgment. The trial court entered judgment in favor of Traditions Bank and TBX Title, on the basis of equitable estoppel, on the claims involving those parties and dismissed all other claims. The Alabama Supreme Court determined that Traditions Bank and TBX Title were on notice of one or more discrepancies between the payoff statement and the closing documents, which, through the exercise of due diligence, would have revealed the fact that the payoff statement was not for the loan secured by the Evabank mortgages encumbering the property being sold by the Robertsons. Therefore, the Court concluded as a matter of law, that Traditions Bank and TBX Title's reliance on the payoff statement, without further inquiry, was not reasonable. Accordingly, they could not rely on estoppel as a basis on which to claim a priority interest in the property. View "Evabank v. Traditions Bank, et al." on Justia Law

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Alan Newell appealed the grant of summary judgment against him on various claims and counterclaims relating to two tracts of real property located in Franklin County. This appeal arises from a dispute between a father, Floyd Newell, and his son, Alan, regarding the ownership of two tracts of land located in Franklin County. The two tracts were farmland, "the Hester farm" and "the DeVaney farm." Floyd was the title owner of the two properties. Alan, however, claimed to be the true owner of the properties and asserts that the properties were deeded to Floyd only as security for loans Floyd made to Alan to purchase the land. Floyd sued Alan, asserting claims of ejectment and detinue. Floyd flatly denied Alan's claim of ownership of the two farms. Floyd contended he purchased both the Hester farm and the DeVaney farm and that he owned the farms outright. He denied lending Alan money to purchase the properties, and that Alan made any payments to him toward the purchase price of the farms. He disputed claims that Alan made improvements to the farms. However, Floyd admitted to allowing Alan to use the properties in varying degrees over the years. The trial court entered a partial summary judgment in favor of Floyd as to the ejectment claim and counterclaim and as to Alan's claim seeking recognition of an equitable mortgage. The trial court specifically held that the basis for Alan's claim of ownership of the two tracts of real property was barred by the Statute of Frauds. The Alabama Supreme Court determined it was clear from Alan's pleadings and from the arguments made at trial that what Alan termed an "equitable mortgage" was what the Supreme Court long recognized as a "resulting trust in the nature of an equitable mortgage." A resulting trust in the nature of a mortgage arises by implication of law and is therefore not subject to the Statute of Frauds. In this case, because the Statute of Frauds was not applicable to a claim seeking a declaration of a trust in the nature of an equitable mortgage, the summary judgment entered on that basis was in error. Furthermore, nearly every fact relevant to Alan's counterclaim seeking an equitable mortgage was disputed, making summary judgment improper. View "Newell v. Newell" on Justia Law

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Leigh Shelton, as the personal representative of the estate of Margaret Blansit, deceased, appealed a judgment in favor of I.E. Green in a personal-injury action brought by Shelton seeking damages for injuries Blansit allegedly suffered in a slip-and-fall accident at Green's residence. Before Shelton filed her complaint, Blansit died of causes unrelated to the fall. Green filed a motion for a judgment on the pleadings, arguing that Blansit's cause of action abated upon her death. The trial court agreed and granted Green's motion. Shelton appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed. View "Shelton v. Green" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Frank and Martha Buck, challenged the Court of Civil Appeals’ decision to affirm the trial court's judgment in favor of defendants CH Highland, LLC (“Highland”) and the City of Birmingham (“City”) in their challenge to a City rezoning ordinance. The Bucks owned property in the City. Highland, a real-estate-development company, wanted to build a multistory apartment complex ("the project") on property located adjacent to the Bucks' property. As planned, the project did not conform with the then existing zoning restrictions for the area in which the subject property was located. Thus, Highland submitted a rezoning application to the Zoning Advisory Committee of the Birmingham Planning Commission. Highland requested that the subject property be rezoned from a "B-2 general business district" to a "B-3 community business district" so that it could construct the project. The Alabama Supreme Court found that the proposed rezoning ordinance that was published merely indicated to the public that there would be a zoning change from a B-2 district to a B-3 district. Ordinance 1949-G did not create a B-3 district; instead, it created a district of a substantially smaller range of uses than what was otherwise disclosed to the public in the Public Notice of the rezoning change. “Even if this Court were to reject the long-standing rule that, to invalidate an ordinance, it is unnecessary for the public to be prejudiced by the City's failure to publish the ordinance, we cannot presume that no prejudice occurred in this case.” The Court reversed the Court of Civil Appeals, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Ex parte Buck." on Justia Law

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Darlene Slamen, Charles Martin, Wilhelmina Martin, and Harris Partnership, LLP ("Harris LLP") (collectively "the defendants"), appealed a circuit court order granting Herbert Slamen's motion for a preliminary injunction. Herbert and Darlene married in 1981 and later formed Harris LLP, of which Herbert, Darlene, Charles, and Wilhelmina each owned a 25% share. In 2008, Herbert was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and, in 2010, he moved to Thailand because, Darlene said, he wanted "to enjoy what remained of his life." After moving to Thailand, Herbert was dependent upon Darlene to send him the proceeds generated from his assets so that he could pay for living expenses and medical treatment. Payments in an agreed amount were deposited in a checking account in Thailand set up in Herbert's name. In addition to his interest in Harris LLP, Herbert's assets included a house in Alabama, a house in Florida, and an interest in the dental practice from which Herbert had retired. In 2013, Herbert, via his attorney in fact, established the Herbert A. Slamen Revocable Living Trust ("the trust") to facilitate the management of his assets, and he thereafter transferred his assets, including his interest in Harris LLP, to the trust. Herbert was the beneficiary of the trust, and both he and Darlene were the appointed cotrustees. In 2016, Herbert sued the defendants, alleging that he had revoked the trust but that Darlene, purportedly under her authority as cotrustee, had nevertheless transferred the assets of the trust to herself. As a result, Herbert alleged, the defendants had "failed to distribute proceeds from [Harris LLP] to [Herbert] and instead made all payments directly to Darlene." Herbert filed a motion for a preliminary injunction in which he requested that the trial court enjoin the defendants "from disbursing funds and profits from [Harris LLP] and requiring [the defendants] to keep all funds and profits in the regular business account of [Harris LLP] until the resolution of this case." The motion was granted, and the defendants appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court reversed, finding the underlying causes of action asserted in Herbert's complaint were actions at law that alleged only monetary loss and sought only to recover monetary damages for that alleged loss. Thus, Herbert's alleged injury was not irreparable, given that it can be adequately redressed with the monetary damages he sought if he was able to prove that the defendants wrongfully divested him of the proceeds generated from his assets. View "Slamen v. Slamen" on Justia Law

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This case involved two competing claims to a 40-acre tract of land ("the property") and whether the rule of repose could be applied to resolve that dispute. The complications in this case began in 1964, when one of Felix's children, James Freeman ("James"), purported to deed all the property to another child of Felix's, Joseph Freeman ("Joseph"). The 1964 deed was duly recorded. Nothing in the record established that, before that deed was executed, James owned more than the one-tenth interest in the property he had inherited from Felix in 1961. The 1964 deed from James to Joseph began a series of conveyances involving various parties over several years. That line of conveyances ended with two deeds in 2004, when DRL, LLC, purported to convey one-half of the surface estate of the property to Thomas and Cindy Hinote and one-half of the surface estate of the property to David and Rebecca Dowdy. DRL also purported to convey a portion of the mineral rights in the property to the Hinotes and the Dowdys; DRL retained a portion of the mineral rights for itself. The various transactions created a situation with two sides laying claim to the property. In 2011, four of Felix's descendants sued the Hinotes and the Dowdys. In pertinent part, the plaintiffs sought a judgment determining the ownership of the property, and they requested a sale of the property for a division of the proceeds. The Hinotes and the Dowdys primarily argued that the plaintiffs' action is barred by the 20-year rule of repose; the plaintiffs dispute that their action is barred by the rule of repose.After review, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded the rule of repose was inapplicable in this case and thus did not bar the plaintiffs' action. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment in favor of the plaintiffs. View "Hinote v. Owens et al." on Justia Law

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The City of Selma ("the City") filed a petition for a writ of mandamus requesting the Alabama Supreme Court direct the Dallas Circuit Court to enter a summary judgment in its favor, based on State-agent immunity, as to claims Gregory Pettaway filed against it. Pettaway financed the purchase of a 2006 Nissan Armada sport-utility vehicle. Subsequently, Santander Consumer USA, Inc. ("Santander"), took over the loan. Santander contracted with Par North America, Inc. ("Par"), to handle repossessions for it and that Par used Central Alabama Recovery Systems ("CARS") to carry out the actual repossessions. Early on November morning in 2010, two men from CARS came to Pettaway's residence and told him that they were there to repossess the vehicle. By the time Pettaway got dressed and walked outside, the men had already hooked the Armada up to the tow truck and lifted it. Pettaway objected and telephoned the Selma Police Department; Officer Jonathan Fank responded to the call. After Officer Fank told Pettaway that the repossession was a civil matter and that he could not do anything because the vehicle was already hooked up to the tow truck, Pettaway again called the Selma Police Department to ask that Officer Fank's supervisor come to the scene. Pettaway filed a complaint against Santander, Par, CARS, and the City, alleging conversion, negligence, wantonness, and trespass claims. Although he stated conversion, negligence, wantonness, and trespass claims, Pettaway admitted that his only complaint against the City was that the officers told the repossession men to take the vehicle. The City admitted that officers were called to the scene at Pettaway's request to keep the peace but denied the remaining allegations as to the actions of its officers, raising the affirmative defense of immunity. The City argued the trial court erred in denying its motion for a summary judgment: at the time of the incident that formed the basis for Pettaway's complaint, Officers Fank and Calhoun were performing discretionary functions within the line and scope of their law-enforcement duties and that, therefore, they would be entitled to State-agent immunity. The Supreme Court concluded the City established that it has a clear legal right to a summary judgment in its favor based on State-agent immunity. View "Ex parte The City of Selma." on Justia Law