Justia U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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In this case, Eliezer and Valeria Taveras (the appellants) appealed the decision of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida when it abstained from exercising federal jurisdiction over their case, pending the conclusion of a related state case under the Colorado River abstention doctrine. The Taveras' case centered around a dispute concerning the validity of a mortgage and an allegedly fraudulent promissory note secured by a parcel of real property they had purchased in 2006. The appellants contended that the district court improperly abstained from exercising jurisdiction and erroneously denied their motion to amend the complaint. The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court. The court found that the district court did not abuse its discretion in abstaining under the Colorado River doctrine as the federal and state proceedings involved substantially similar issues and parties. It also found that the district court properly denied the Taveras' motion to amend the complaint because the proposed amendments would not have changed the outcome of the abstention analysis. View "Taveras v. Bank of America" on Justia Law

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In this long-running property use dispute, the plaintiffs, the Thai Meditation Association of Alabama and four of its organizers (collectively, TMAA), seek to convert a property zoned for residential use into a meditation center. In Thai Meditation Association of Alabama v. City of Mobile, 980 F.3d 821 (11th Cir. 2020) (TMAA I), the Eleventh Circuit reviewed the outcome of a bench trial that ended in judgment for the City of Mobile on all counts. In that case, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part but remanded three counts for further consideration. The vacated and remanded claims consisted of (1) a substantial burden challenge under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA); (2) a Free Exercise challenge under the First Amendment; and (3) a state law challenge under the Alabama Constitution’s Religious Freedom Amendment (ARFA). On remand, the district court granted summary judgment to the City on all three counts, and this appeal followed.   The Eleventh Circuit vacated in part, affirmed in part, and remanded. The court concluded that summary judgment was improper, for either party, on the RLUIPA claim; summary judgment was proper on the Free Exercise claim; and the City has failed to carry its burden to satisfy strict scrutiny on the ARFA claim. The court explained that the City is imposing a burden on TMAA’s religious freedom, and because it has failed to carry its burden to demonstrate a compelling government interest, TMAA is entitled to judgment on the ARFA claim. View "Thai Meditation Association of Alabama, Inc., et al. v. City of Mobile, Alabama" on Justia Law

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This appeal arises from the tragic death of a man who died while in custody. Appellants appealed the district court’s orders dismissing their claims against the Sheriff and granting summary judgment to the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department Officers, NaphCare, and a NaphCare employee.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the claims against the Sheriff and its grant of summary judgment to both the Officers and the employee. However, the court vacated and remanded the district court’s summary judgment in favor of NaphCare. The court explained that in Appellants’ response to NaphCare’s motion for summary judgment, Appellants relied mainly on the medical report and deposition of Dr. Timothy Hughes but also referred to the report and deposition of two other witnesses, as required by O.C.G.A. Section 9-11-9.1. Dr. Hughes’s report concluded the failure of NaphCare medical staff to properly screen, examine, and treat the decedent was the proximate cause of his death. This testimony is supported by the other witnesses. The court agreed with Appellants that, based on Dr. Hughes’s testimony, there is enough of a genuine issue of material fact for NaphCare’s liability to reach a jury. Dr. Hughes did not solely rest his argument on NaphCare’s failure to sedate the decedent. It was the failure of the staff to follow through with the decedent at all that was the problem. While this included the need for sedation, it also included immediate classification to suicide watch and observation. View "April Myrick, et al v. Fulton County, Georgia, et al" on Justia Law

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Residents of the Royal Palm Village Mobile Home Park in Haines City, Florida, sued the Park’s owners in federal court. The residents alleged that the owners had engaged in fraud by, among other things, illegally passing on costs to the residents, embellishing lot descriptions to justify increased rents, and falsely promising to upgrade roads and other common areas. The residents filed an amended complaint alleging violations of a slightly different collection of state and federal statutes: four counts under both the federal and Florida RICO statutes—as well as one under the ADA. The owners moved to dismiss. The district court dismissed the amended complaint for essentially the same reasons that it had dismissed the initial complaint. The owners now appeal the district court’s rejection of their fee requests pertaining to the first and second amended complaints. Those complaints, the owners argue, were also “to enforce” the FMHA because the residents predicated the RICO claims in those complaints on violations of the FMHA.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling. The court explained that here the alleged FMHA violations set out in the residents’ amended complaints were not independent legal claims, but rather components of other claims (e.g., the RICO claims). The amended complaints did not seek any relief under the FMHA. Nor did they request compliance with the FMHA. Those complaints, therefore, were not “proceeding[s] to enforce provisions” of the FMHA. The district court correctly denied fees to the owners as to those complaints under Section 723.068. View "Royal Palm Village Residents, Inc., et al v. Monica Slider, et al" on Justia Law

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Appellee’s confirmed bankruptcy plan purported to modify the rights of Appellant Creditor Mortgage Corporation of the South’s (“MCS”) mortgage on Appellee’s residence. In fact, her plan purported to eradicate all remaining outstanding payments on her mortgage, beyond MCS’s claims for past-due arrearages. The bankruptcy court had confirmed Appellee’s Plan without objection and that 11 U.S.C. Section 1327 (the “finality” provision) renders confirmed plans final, the bankruptcy court granted Appellee’s motion, and the district court affirmed. On appeal, at issue was which provision wins— antimodification or finality—when the two clash in the scenario this case presents.   The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s ruling holding that release of MCS’s lien before its loan had been repaid in full violates Section 1322(b)(2)’s antimodification clause. The court held that under Supreme Court and Eleventh Circuit precedent, it read the antimodification provision as an ironclad “do not touch” instruction for the rights of holders of homestead mortgages. So a bankruptcy plan cannot modify the rights of a mortgage lender whose claim is secured by the debtor’s principal residence by providing for release of the homestead-mortgagee’s lien before the mortgagee has recovered the full amount it is owed. View "Mortgage Corporation of the South v. Judith Lacy Bozeman" on Justia Law

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In January 2020, Plaintiff sued Iberostar under the Helms-Burton Act, which grants the right to sue companies trafficking in property confiscated by the Cuban government. Plaintiff claims that Cuba seized her family’s hotel in 1961 and that Iberostar and the Cuban government now operate the hotel together.Iberostar successfully sought a stay of the proceedings, citing a regulation that prohibits participation in Helms-Burton suits—on pain of a fine that could reach 600,000 euros. Two years have passed since the stay, and Plaintiff sought to lift the stay. The district court denied her request.On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's decision, vacated the stay, and remanded the case with instructions it proceed. The court noted that the stay was indefinite and that the European Union agency tasked with resolving the matter has no timeline for its decision. As a result, the court concluded that the stay is immoderate and must be vacated. View "Maria Dolores Canto Marti v. Iberostar Hoteles Y Apartamentos SL" on Justia Law

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Sailboat Bend Sober Living, LLC (“Sailboat Bend”), a for-profit sober living home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Silboat Bend has had trouble complying with the City of Fort Lauderdale (“the City”)’s Building and Fire Codes (collectively, “Codes”) and the City’s recently enacted Zoning Ordinance. Sailboat Bend brought several claims under the Fair Housing Act and Amendments (“FHA”) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) against the City in the Southern District of Florida, claiming that the City’s code enforcement decisions were motived by hostility to the disabled, their accommodation request was wrongfully denied, and the Zoning Ordinance was facially discriminatory against people with disabilities.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's order granting summary judgment to the City of Fort Lauderdale, finding that the challenged zoning ordinance does not discriminate against the plaintiffs, but instead works to their benefit. The court also determined that plaintiff's requested accommodation was not necessary. View "Sailboat Bend Sober Living, et al v. City of Fort Lauderdale, FL." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued Select Portfolio Servicing ("Portfolio"), a mortgage servicer, under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act ("FDCPA") and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act ("FCCPA"). Plaintiff claimed that several mortgage statements sent by Portfolio misstated a number of items, including the principal due, and that by sending these incorrect statements, Portfolio violated the FDCPA and FCCPA. The district court dismissed Plaintiff's complaint, finding the mortgage statements were not "communications" under either statute.The Eleventh Circuit reversed, holding that monthly mortgage statements may constitute "communications" under the FDCPA and FCCPA if they "contain debt-collection language that is not required by the TILA or its regulations" and the context suggests that the statements are an attempt to collect or induce payment on a debt. View "Constance Daniels v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs are property owners in Forsyth County who used to rent their homes on a short-term basis. Forsyth County recently amended its Unified Development Code (“UDC”) to prohibit certain property owners from renting their homes on a short-term basis. The amendment includes a grandfathering provision under which a property owner who was engaged in previously lawful activity that is now prohibited may continue to engage in that use. Plaintiffs sought the ability to continue renting their homes on a short-term basis under the amended UDC. The dispute involves determining which of the terms, “owner occupancy,” “rental,” and/or “lease” the phrase “on a weekly, monthly or longer basis” modifies. The court determined that neither the last-antecedent rule nor the series-qualifier canon rule would shed light on the UDC’s meaning. Therefore, the court found that it must discern and apply the ordinary meaning of the terms at issue. Applying ordinary meanings, the court concluded that the prior version of the UDC prohibited short-term rentals.Further, the court disagreed with Plaintiffs’ argument that “[b]ecause the prohibition on ‘rentals’ of less than a week was not explicit in the ordinances, the former UDC[‘s short-term rental ban] was void for vagueness.” The court reasoned that “when the plain text of the statute sets forth clearly perceived boundaries, our inquiry is ended.” Here, the court found that the plain text of the ordinance prohibited short-term rentals, thereby ending the court’s vagueness inquiry. Thus, short-term rentals remain prohibited. View "Kenneth R. Heyman, et al v. Molly Cooper, et al" on Justia Law

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Debtor executed a security deed for a piece of property. She acknowledged the deed to her closing attorney who certified the acknowledgment on the deed’s final page.Under Georgia law, a deed must be attested by two witnesses, and at least one of them needs to be an official such as a notary or court clerk. Here, the deed was invalid because the attorney was a notary, but he failed to attest to the deed. The error was discovered a few years later when the debtor filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Under federal law, a bankruptcy trustee may void a deed if it is voidable by a bona fide purchaser. The managing trustee noticed the problem and sued the loan companies to keep the property in the bankruptcy estate. The loan companies argue that they have produced what the statute requires to save a problematic deed: an affidavit from a “subscribing witness.” Here, the court reasoned that a person becomes a subscribing witness only when she attests a deed, and the closing attorney did not do so. Therefore, the loan companies’ interest in the real property is voidable. View "Pingora Loan Servicing, LLC, et al. v. Cathy L. Scarver" on Justia Law