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Supreme Court finds fundamental liberty and equality interests in extending right to marry to same-sex couples

June 26th, 2015 by Joseph William Singer

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges, — U.S. — (2015), that the Constitution’s due process clause protects liberty interests that include personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy and that those include the right to marry, including someone of the same sex. The Court also held that it violates equal protection of the laws to allow male-female couples to marry but to deny that right to same-sex couples. For the same reasons, states must recognize same-sex marriages validly celebrated in other states.

Posted in Antidiscrimination law, Due process, Marital property, Religious freedom, Sexual orientation | Comments Off on Supreme Court finds fundamental liberty and equality interests in extending right to marry to same-sex couples

Supreme Courts affirms disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act (with a caveat)

June 25th, 2015 by Joseph William Singer

The United States Supreme Court announced its decision in Tex. Dep’t of Hous. & Cmty. Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 2015 WL 2473449, — U.S. — (2015), upholding disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. §3601 et seq. The case involved a challenge to criteria used by a state agency on where to give tax credits that subsidize construction of  low-income housing. Plaintiff is a nonprofit organization that promotes housing for low-income families. It claimed that the agency’s formula steered housing to poorer areas and thus perpetuated or aggravated racial segregation in housing. The specific question taken by the Supreme Court was whether disparate impact claims are at all available under the Fair Housing Act. The Court decided that they are but limited them because of constitutional principles.

The Court noted that earlier cases had upheld disparate impact claims in employment discrimination when the statutes focused on consequences of actions rather than just motivation. Those statutes were Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. The FHA makes it unlawful to “otherwise make unavailable” housing because of race or other characteristics. 42 U.S.C. §3604(a). That wording refers to consequences and thus supports a disparate impact approach. The mere fact that the statute makes actions illegal if they are undertaken “because of race” does not mean the statute requires a showing of intentional discrimination. Moreover, the 1988 amendments to the Fair Housing Act (which added “handicap” as a protected class among other things) showed that Congress approved of the uniform case law that had interpreted the FHA to include a disparate impact claim. Justice Kennedy’s opinion refers to Congress’s explicit consideration of disparate impact claims by reference to  legislative history and its rejection of a proposed amendment that would have eliminated disparate impact claims. Moreover, the 1988 Act included 3 exemptions from disparate impact claims that would have been superfluous had they not been available. For example, the 1988 amendments provided that “[n]othing in [the FHA] limits the applicability of any reasonable . . . restrictions regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling.” 42 U.S.C. §3607(b)(1).

At the same time, the Court held that the Constitution prohibits enforcing a disparate impact claim based solely on statistical evidence of a disparity; rather, plaintiffs must show that defendant’s policy causes the disparity and that “there is an alternative practice that has less disparate impact and serves the [defendant’s] legitimate needs.” Because actors must be able to achieve legitimate government or private policies, such policies are not contrary to the disparate-impact requirement unless they are “artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers” to equal access to housing. Mainly because of this limitation on the applicability of disparate impact claims, the Court remanded for consideration of whether the Texas policies met this standard.

Remedial orders must be limited to eliminating the offending practice and should be race-neutral where possible.

The Court’s recognition of disparate impact claims preserves their function in the context of zoning laws. In explaining the “discriminatory practices” the disparate impact claim was intended to eradicate, the Court explained: “These unlawful practices include zoning laws and other housing restrictions that function unfairly to exclude minorities from certain neighborhoods without any sufficient justification. Suits targeting such practices reside at the heartland of disparate-impact liability,” (citing the foundational case of Huntington Branch, NAACP v. Huntington, 844 F. 2d 926, 935–936 (2d Cir 1988), among other cases).

Importantly, the Court clarified that disparate impact claims are available against both private and governmental defendants, rejecting a theory that at least one Circuit had adopted in the past.

It appears that the recent regulations of the Department of Housing and Urban Development that define disparate impact claims are largely consistent with the Supreme Court’s analysis but whether that is actually so may need to await further litigation. Implementation of the Fair Housing Act’s Discriminatory Effects Standard, 78 Fed. Reg. 11460 (2013), 24 C.F.R. §100.500.

 

 

Posted in Antidiscrimination law, Consumer protection, Fair Housing Act, Real estate transactions | Comments Off on Supreme Courts affirms disparate impact claims under the Fair Housing Act (with a caveat)

Tribe’s aboriginal title claim fails because it did not present a claim to a state agency in 1851

June 23rd, 2015 by Joseph William Singer

The Ninth Circuit has held that the Kawaiisu (a tribe that is not recognized by the federal government) cannot assert title to its ancestral lands because it failed to file a claim under the California Land Claims by the 1851 deadline. Failure to do so, the court held, extinguished tribal title, apparently without compensation. Nor could it base its claim on a later treaty because that treaty (like other treaties with California tribes) was never ratified by Congress. Robinson v. Jewell, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 10446 (9th Cir. 2015).

Posted in Title issues, Tribal property | Comments Off on Tribe’s aboriginal title claim fails because it did not present a claim to a state agency in 1851

Takings clause applies to physical seizure of personal property

June 22nd, 2015 by Joseph William Singer

The Supreme Court held in Horne v. Dep’t of Agric., 133 S.Ct. 2053, — U.S. — (2015), that the takings clause applies to physical takings of personal property (like cars) as well as to real property. Thus a government program designed to shore up the price of raisins by requiring farmers to hand over a certain percentage of the raisin crop to the government effected a categorical physical taking of personal property.

The limit on supply of raisins for sale was intended to increase the price farmers receive for the raisins they sell, thus promoting the profitability of their businesses. The expropriated raisins are given away or sold by the government and if any profits remain they are returned to the farmers. The Court held any economic benefits farmers received from increased raisin prices or moneys from sales of the raisins turned over to the government do not affect the question of whether a taking has occurred. When physical property is seized by the government, a taking has occurred even if it is is personal property and just compensation is due.

The Court also held that the government cannot condition participation in a price-support program on the condition that the farmer turn over a portion of the crop to the government.

At the same time, the Court made a sharp distinction between physical taking of personal property and regulation of its use. The takings clause does not prohibit regulation of personal property; nor does it prevent the state from prohibiting creation or possession of certain dangerous forms of property such as drugs like heroin. Thus it would not be a per se or categorical taking to limit the production of raisins (although it might be a regulatory taking). But it is a per se or categorical taking for the government to force the owner to hand the raisins over to the government. Justice Sotomayor dissented on the ground that this is a distinction without a difference.

Justice Thomas concurred on the ground that the taking was not for “public use.”

Justice Breyer concurred along with Justices Ginsburg and Kagan on the ground that a remand should have been ordered to determine if any compensation would have been due had the owner complied with the regulation. Breyer noted that the takings clause does not prohibit takings; it just requires just compensation when property is taken for public use. There was therefore a question of whether compliance with the government’s mandate would have resulted in just compensation being paid and if so it is not clear why a constitutional violation occurred since the obligation is to compensate not to refrain from taking. Part of the complication is that the requirement of handing over some raisins to the government effectively raises the price of those that are kept by the farmer. If that amount is sufficient to compensate for the value of the raisins handed over to the government then no more compensation should be due.

Posted in Due process, Eminent domain, Personal property, Takings | Comments Off on Takings clause applies to physical seizure of personal property

California Supreme Court Upholds San Jose Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance Against a Takings Challenge

June 19th, 2015 by Joseph William Singer

The California Supreme Court has upheld the inclusionary zoning ordinance of the City of San Jose against a challenge that it constitutes an illegal exaction and violates the state constitution’s takings clause or the federal constitution’s takings clause. Cal. Bldg. Indus. Ass’n v. City of San Jose, 2015 Cal. LEXIS 3905 (Cal. 2015). The ordinance required all new development projects containing 20 housing units or more to reserve 15 percent for sale at affordable prices to low- or moderate-income families. San Jose Mun. Code, §§ 5.08.010 to 5.08.730. The Court held that the municipal government had the power to enact reasonable land use regulations designed to increase the amount and dispersion of affordable housing and that this ordinance served those ends. Because it regulated land use, it did not constitute an “exaction” or forced donation of land to public use. The Court held that so long as a land use regulation does not deprive the owner of all economically viable use of the property or mandate a forced physical taking, there is no violation of the takings clause when restrictions govern an owner’s use of property. The Court also interpreted the Supreme Court’s requirements in the cases of Dolan v. City of Tigard, 512 U.S. 374 (1994) & Nollan v. Cal. Coastal Comm’n, 483 U.S> 825 (1987), that mitigation fees must bear a reasonable relationship to externalities caused by the development of land did not apply when the law simply regulates the uses to which land can be put.

Posted in Antidiscrimination law, Eminent domain, Real estate transactions, Takings, Zoning | Comments Off on California Supreme Court Upholds San Jose Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance Against a Takings Challenge

Foreclosure complaint can subject law firm & bank to a claim for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

June 5th, 2015 by Joseph William Singer

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq., regulates the processes by which debts are collected. The Third Circuit has agreed with other courts in holding that the filing of a foreclosure complaint can subject both the plaintiff bank and the lawyers filing the complaint to liability under the FDCPA. In the case of Kaymark v. Bank of America, N.A., 783 F.3d 168 (3d Cir. 2015), the allegation was that the complaint sought payments that were not yet due — a demand that violated the FDCPA. The Court applied the holding of the Supreme Court case of Heinz v. Jenkins, 514 U.S. 291 (1995) that had established that lawyers are “engage[d] in consumer-debt-collection activity” when they file lawsuits.

Posted in Consumer protection, Mortgages, Real estate transactions | Comments Off on Foreclosure complaint can subject law firm & bank to a claim for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

Postforeclosure judicial process satisfies due process clause

June 5th, 2015 by Joseph William Singer

The Sixth Circuit has ruled that nonjudicial foreclosure satisfies constitutional due process requirements because the homeowner/borrower was given notice of the foreclosure and notice of who to cure the default or seek a loan modification and how to redeem the property (get it back) after the foreclosure sale during a six-month redemption period. Garcia v. Fed. Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n,  782 F.3d 736 (6th Cir. 2015). These statutory procedures satisfied the constitutional right to notice and an opportunity to be heard before being deprived of a property right.

Posted in Consumer protection, Due process, Mortgages, Real estate transactions, Title issues | Comments Off on Postforeclosure judicial process satisfies due process clause

District of Columbia prohibits noncompetition clause in sale of grocery store

March 29th, 2015 by Joseph William Singer

The District of Columbia  passed legislation designed to prevent a grocery store owner from selling the property with a covenant that would have prevented the property from being used for grocery store purposes because this would deny residents in the neighborhood easy access to a grocery store. read article  The legislation is similar to the ruling of the New Jersey court in Davidson Bros, Inc. v. D. Katz & Sons, Inc., 643 A.2d 642 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1994).

Posted in Real estate transactions, Restraints on alienation, Servitudes | Comments Off on District of Columbia prohibits noncompetition clause in sale of grocery store

Sex offender residency law struck down as unconstitutional by California Supreme Court

March 12th, 2015 by Joseph William Singer

The California Supreme Court has struck down a voter initiative that barred all sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of schools and parks. In re Taylor, 83 U.S.L.W. 1299, 2015 BL 54822 (Cal. 2015). The court held that the ban deprived sex offenders of liberty without due process of law because it rendered many sex offenders homeless and was not reasonably related to government interests in protecting children. Because 97 percent of the county was off limits to sex offenders, many had no place where they could live or receive medical treatment and services, depriving them of constitutionally protected liberty interests. The law also  made it difficult or impossible for the sex offenders to be monitored by parole officers, thereby defeating the purpose of the regulation and depriving it of any rational relationship to the legitimate government objective of protecting the public.

Posted in Due process, Homelessness | Comments Off on Sex offender residency law struck down as unconstitutional by California Supreme Court

Fair Housing Act’s Disparate Impact Claims at Issue

December 29th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

The Supreme Court has taken certiorari in a Fifth Circuit case to address the question of whether disparate impact claims are available under the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. §§3601 et seq. Tex. Dep’t of Hous. & Comty. Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 46 (2014), on appeal from The Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. v. Tex. Dep’t of Hous. & Comty. Affairs, 747 F.3d 275 (5th Cir. 2014). All federal Circuit Courts to address the issue have found such claims to be available and the Department of Housing and Urban Affairs has fairly recently promulgated a regulation defining the test for disparate impact claims under the FHA. 24 Code Fed. Reg. Part 100, §§100.5 to 100.500.

Posted in Antidiscrimination law, Fair Housing Act, Real estate transactions | Comments Off on Fair Housing Act’s Disparate Impact Claims at Issue

City can demolish blighted structure it believes is financially unreasonable to repair

December 23rd, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

The Michigan Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that had held it to be unconstitutional for a city to demolish a structure that the city believes is financially unreasonable to repair even if the owner claims to want to make the repairs. The court held that it does not constitute a deprivation of due process of law to require the demolition given the fact that the owner allowed the property to become dilapidated and the city could rationally believe that demolition was the best remedy to remove the public nuisance. Bonner v. City of Brighton, 848 N.W.2d 380 (Mich. 2014).

Posted in Due process, Eminent domain, Takings | Comments Off on City can demolish blighted structure it believes is financially unreasonable to repair

Servient owner entitled to change easement location

December 23rd, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

The Vermont Supreme Court has adopted the rule promoted by the Restatement (Third) of Property (Servitudes), §4.8(3), allowing the owner of a servient estate to relocate an easement if this does not reduce the utility of the easement to the owner of the dominant estate. Roy v. Woodstock Cmty. Trust, Inc., 94 A.3d 530 (Vt. 2014). The case concerned an underground easement for water lines.

The court also held that the dominant estate owner was entitled to build a housing complex and that this development did not exceed the scope of a right-of-way easement even though it had been originally used only by a church.

Posted in Easements, Real estate transactions, Servitudes | Comments Off on Servient owner entitled to change easement location

Easement by necessity implied over government land

December 23rd, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

A Hawai`i court has recognized an easement by necessity over government land when the landlocked parcel was separated from land belonging to the state. Malulani Group, Ltd. v. Kaupo Ranch, Ltd. 329 P.3d 330 (Haw. 2014). The court held that the intent of the parties determines whether an easement exists over remaining land of the grantor to ensure access to a public road from an otherwise landlocked parcel. The court also held that no statute of limitations bars assertion of an easement by necessity.

Posted in Easements, Real estate transactions | Comments Off on Easement by necessity implied over government land

New Jersey Supreme Court confirms state constitution’s grant of free speech rights to enable a coop owner to disseminate written information to co-owners

December 10th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

While the US Constitution’s free speech provisions in the first amendment apply only to state action, both California and New Jersey have interpreted their state constitutions to grant individuals free speech rights in some cases in relation to private parties. In both states, citizens have the right to distribute leaflets in shopping centers. In Dublirer v. 2000 Linwood Avenue Owners, Inc., 2014 WL 6777311 (N.J. 2014), a resident wanted to run for a seat on the Board of Directors of the coop and sought to distribute materials relevant to his campaign and he was prevented from doing so by the coop board. The Supreme Court of New Jersey held that the coop rule banning soliciting and distributing written materials in the building was unreasonable and a violation of the resident’s state constitutional free speech rights. The ruling reaffirmed and expanded on the rulings in earlier cases that protected free speech rights of owners in common-interest communities when those owners wanted to post signs. See Mazdabrook Commons Homeowners’ Ass’n v. Khan, 46 A.3d 507 (N.J. 2012); Comm. for a Better Twin Rivers v. Twin Rivers Homeowners Ass’n, 929 A.2d 1060 (N.J. 2007).

 

Posted in Condominiums, Consumer protection, Free speech, Trespass | Comments Off on New Jersey Supreme Court confirms state constitution’s grant of free speech rights to enable a coop owner to disseminate written information to co-owners

New York law protects inheritance rights of children conceived after the death of their biological parents

December 1st, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

New York state has adopted a statute that defines procedures for ensuring that children conceived after the death of their biological parents can inherit property, receive Social Security survivor benefits, and benefit from trusts established for them. The law applies to  ova or sperm that are stored for use after the death of a biological parent, usually when that parent knows his or her lifespan is limited. The law requires a written declaration of the purpose for which the biological material was stored, recording of the document in public records, and requires the genetic child to be in utero within 24 months or born within 33 months of the death of the genetic parent. read article

Posted in Wills and inheritance | Comments Off on New York law protects inheritance rights of children conceived after the death of their biological parents

Cert denial brings same-sex marriage to many more states

October 7th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

The Supreme Court’s refusal to take certiorari in a number of cases means that same-sex marriage will become legal in Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin, and soon afterwards in Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wyoming bringing the total number of jurisdictions to 31 (including the District of Columbia) plus at least 5 Indian nations. In addition a ruling by a three judge panel in the 9th Circuit on Oct 7, 2014 will likely open up Nevada and Idaho as well, making a total of 33 jurisdictions. States that still ban same-sex marriages include Alaska, Montana, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Jessica Meyers, Appeals rejected, way cleared for wider same-sex marriage: court action likely to affect 11 more states, Boston Globe, Oc. 6, 2014.

Posted in Antidiscrimination law, Marital property, Sexual orientation | Comments Off on Cert denial brings same-sex marriage to many more states

No easement by necessity when parcel is landlocked because of eminent domain

August 10th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

When a taking of property by eminent domain to build a highway bifurcated a parcel, one part became landlocked but obtained access to a public road by permission over neighboring property. When that permission ended many years later and the parcel became landlocked the owner sought an easement by necessity over the neighbor’s land but the court found the traditional requirements for such an easement to be lacking. Since the parcel had not become landlocked when severed from the neighboring land there was no basis for imposing an obligation on that neighbor to create an easement for access to the roads. Nor did the owner obtain a prescriptive easement because access to the land had been by permission. No claim was made for a constructive trust or easement by estoppel, alternative theories that might have been relevant if the owner of the servient estate had induced the owner of the landlocked parcel to invest in reliance on the easement. The implication of the case may be that the owner should have received a greater amount of just compensation at the time of the exercise of the eminent domain power given the landlocked nature of the property. Clifton v. Wilkinson, 748 S.E.2d 372 (Va. 2013).

Posted in Servitudes, Takings | Comments Off on No easement by necessity when parcel is landlocked because of eminent domain

Tribal sovereign immunity precludes tax foreclosure action against tribe

August 3rd, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

The Supreme Court’s recent reaffirmation of the long-standing rule that that Indian nations have sovereign immunity from suit in the absence of waiver by the tribe or abrogation by Congress, Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Cmty., 134 S.Ct. 2024 (2014),  led the Second Circuit to reaffirm its earlier decision to deny a county the power to foreclose on tribal land for failure to pay state property taxes. Cayuga Indian Nation v. Seneca Cnty., 2014 WL 3746795 (2d Cir. 2014). While having a right without a remedy would seem to render the right meaningless, the oddity of this situation can be attributed to the vagaries of federal Indian law and casts doubt on the wisdom of earlier decisions that authorized the state to tax tribal land. For the earlier Second Circuit decision, see Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Madison Cnty., 605 F.3d 149 (2d Cir. 2010), vacated, 131 S.Ct. 704 (2011). The Supreme Court decision holding that tribal land is subject to state taxes at least when it was held by non-Indians in fee simple and bought back by the tribe even if it is within the original borders of tribal territory and the cession of land was never lawfully ratified by statute or treaty. City of Sherrill, NY v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 544 U.S. 197 (2005).

Posted in Tribal property | Comments Off on Tribal sovereign immunity precludes tax foreclosure action against tribe

West and Lexis have “fair use” rights to publish searchable versions of briefs

July 16th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

Judge Jed Rakoff of the Southern Districit in New York   held that legal publishers West and Lexis did not violate copyright law by publishing searchable versions of lawyers briefs. Their conduct was a protected “fair use” because it was transformative, changing the purpose and character of the works. White v. West Publ’g Corp., 2014 WL 3057885 (S.D. N.Y. 2014).

Posted in Intellectual property | Comments Off on West and Lexis have “fair use” rights to publish searchable versions of briefs

State did not dispossess owners and thus did not “take’ lands in violation of the constitution merely by asserting ownership

July 16th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

The Texas Supreme Court affirmed its ruling that the border between state-owned submerged lands and private lands along the coast is the “mean higher high tide line” or the mean location of the high tide line over the regular tidal cycle of 18.6 years. Porretto v. Tex. Gen. Land Office, 2014 WL 2994436 (Tex. 2014). In various ways, agents of the state of Texas has acted so as to claim public rights in property that is on the “private” or landward side of the line. The Texas General Land Office (GLO) claimed that it owns lands that the Texas Supreme Court says are privately owned; that office also requested that tax records be changed to indicate state ownership of those lands. These statements have made it harder for private owners to sell those lands. However, since the GLO ended its bid to change the tax rolls to claim public ownership of those lands and, “even though the [GLO] lawyers’  statements injured the [landlowners]”, the state did not actually dispossess the owners and therefore did not “take” their property without just compensation in violation of the takings clause.

The court also held that the line separating public and private ownership does not change because of state renourishment of beaches. “The State does not gain the dry beach by dumping sand on it,, nor does it lose what was before the wet beach, even if the renourishment pushes the MHHT [mean higher high tide] line farther seaward, which is usually the purpose of renourishment.”

Posted in Takings, Title issues, Trespass, Water rights | Comments Off on State did not dispossess owners and thus did not “take’ lands in violation of the constitution merely by asserting ownership

No prescriptive easement for underground sewer pipe because the use was not open and notorious

July 11th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

The Massachusetts Land Court has held that no prescriptive easement can arise no matter how long a sewer pipe has traversed a neighbor’s property because the non permissive use was not “open and notorious” and there were no other indications that the pipe was there. 143-145 Nahant Rd, LLC v. Mastoras, (Mass. Land Ct. 2014), 2014 WL 2548094, 42 Mass. Lawyers Weekly 1879 (July 7, 2014). With no easement, the use was likely a trespass although that was a question on remand.

Posted in Easements, Servitudes, Trespass | Comments Off on No prescriptive easement for underground sewer pipe because the use was not open and notorious

Massachusetts SJC considers remedies for seller’s breach of promise to sell

July 10th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

In K.G.M. Custom Homes, Inc. v. Prosky, 10 N.E.3d 117 (Mass. 2014), the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts held that a buyer can choose to seek either specific performance or damages when a seller breaches the promise to sell. The issue was hard because Massachusetts allows only specific performance as a remedy for anticipatory breach and the complaint had alleged only anticipatory breach. Because the issue of actual breach was fully litigated and the court found the seller to have committed an actual breach, the judge was justified in giving the plaintiff a choice of remedies. Massachusetts law also provides that a liquidated damages clause does not prevent an aggrieved party from seeking specific performance of a real estate transaction. The court also affirmed the rule that every contract contains an “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.” That covenant “exists so that the objectives of the contract may be realized.”

Posted in Real estate transactions, Title issues | Comments Off on Massachusetts SJC considers remedies for seller’s breach of promise to sell

Mortgage can be equitably reformed because of mutual mistake

July 10th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

In a classic application of a traditional doctrine of contract law, the Massachusetts Land Court allowed a mortgage document to be reformed because of mutual mistake. Citibank, N.A. v. Heywood, 2014 WL 2158409 (Mass. Land Ct. 2014). While courts are very reluctant to amend written property documents or contracts because of unilateral mistake, it is standard practice to ignore the written terms of the agreement, despite the statute of frauds, when the evidence shows that it does not reflect the intent of both parties. The court noted that [A] court acting under general principles of equity jurisprudence has broad power to reform, rescind, or cancel written instruments, including mortgages, on grounds such as fraud, mistake, accident, or illegality” as long as the mistake was mutual.

Posted in Mortgages, Real estate transactions, Statute of frauds | Comments Off on Mortgage can be equitably reformed because of mutual mistake

Robo-signing mortgage servicer may have violated state false document statute

July 10th, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

The Ninth Circuit held that a mortgage servicer that allegedly engaged in robo-signing may well have violated an Arizona statute, Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 33-420, that criminalizes filing false property title documents with the state recording offices. In re Mortg. Electronic Registrations Systems, Inc (Robinson v. Am. Home Mortg. Serv. Inc.), 2014 WL 2611314, 2 014 U.S. App. LEXIS 10934 (9th Cir. 2014). There was  evidence that trustee’s sale documents were notarized in blank and signed later by a person other than the one who was supposed to sign the document. Such signings were also done in bulk (robo-signing) and because not signed by the correct person were forged. In addition, notaries are supposed to witness the signature not notarize a blank document before any signature appears. The case is notable because the servicer was MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.). Judge William Fletcher engaged in a detailed discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of the MERS system.

Posted in Consumer protection, Mortgages, Real estate transactions, Statute of frauds, Title issues | Comments Off on Robo-signing mortgage servicer may have violated state false document statute

Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancels trademark for Washington pro football team name

June 21st, 2014 by Joseph William Singer

In another case in a long-running saga, the Patent and Trademark Office cancelled the federal registration for the “Washington Redskins” on the ground that the name is disparaging in violation of Section 2(a) of the Trademark Act of 1946, 15 U.S.C. §1052(a). Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., U.S. P.T.O. Canc. No. 92046185 (June 18, 2014).

Posted in Antidiscrimination law, Intellectual property, Tribal property | Comments Off on Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancels trademark for Washington pro football team name

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