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

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property 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

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In 1981, a Georgia federal district court concluded that Atlanta’s zoning regulations for adult businesses were constitutionally overbroad in their entirety and permanently enjoined their enforcement. Atlanta did not appeal. Cheshire operates an Atlanta adult novelty and video store, Tokyo Valentino, and sued, asserting that the definitions of “adult bookstore,” “adult motion picture theater,” “adult mini motion picture theater,” “adult cabaret,” and “adult entertainment establishment” in the current Atlanta City Code are facially overbroad in violation of the First Amendment.On remand, the district court granted Atlanta summary judgment. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The district court did not err in providing a narrowing construction of certain terms (the term “patron” in the definitions of “adult motion picture theater” and “adult mini-motion picture theater”) in the challenged provisions. The phrase “intended, designed, or arranged” suggests that the challenged provisions do not apply to isolated or intermittent uses of the property. Cheshire failed to show that any overbreadth in the provisions is “substantial” as required by Supreme Court precedent. The challenged provisions do not purport to ban the activities or conduct they define or describe but are part of a zoning scheme regulating where covered establishments can locate or operate. View "Cheshire Bridge Holdings, LLC, v. City of Atlanta," on Justia Law

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Property owners filed suit after the Town of Redington Beach passed an ordinance that granted the public certain access to the dry sand beaches. After the lawsuit was filed, Plaintiff Fields was asked to resign from her position on the Board of Adjustment (which reviews requests for variances from the Town's zoning code), because she had filed this suit against the Town.The Eleventh Circuit vacated and remanded the district court's grant of summary judgment to the property owners on their claims that the ordinance violated Florida law and constituted an unlawful taking. The court concluded that the district court erred in declaring the ordinance void under Florida Statute 163.035; the district court erred in granting summary judgment to the property owners on the Town's customary use defense; and the district court erred in finding a facial and an as-applied taking. The court also vacated and remanded the district court's grant of summary judgment to Plaintiff Fields on the First Amendment retaliation claim. View "Buending v. Town of Redington Beach" on Justia Law

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At issue in this case are the terms of a recorded easement that runs with two beachfront lots in Walton County, Florida. After the County enacted an ordinance purporting to establish the public's right to use the dry-sand area of all beaches for recreational purposes, two beachfront property owners filed suit alleging that the ordinance triggered the easement's abandonment clause.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the County, holding that the ordinance triggered the abandonment clause and that no other source of law—Florida common law, separate provisions in the easement, a Walton County resolution, or a consent judgment—forestalls or limits the abandonment clause's operation. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "A Flock of Seagirls LLC v. Walton County Florida" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit held that sexual harassment—both hostile housing environment and quid pro quo sexual harassment—is actionable under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, provided the plaintiff demonstrates that she would not have been harassed but for her sex.In this case, plaintiff filed suit against the property manager and the property's owner, alleging sexual harassment claims under the Act and state law. The district court found no guidance from the court on this question and therefore dismissed the complaint based on the ground that plaintiff's claims were not actionable under the Act. The court vacated the district court's order dismissing plaintiff's complaint and remanded for reconsideration. View "Fox v. Gaines" on Justia Law

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Spencer sued Sheriff Benison under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that Benison violated his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by ordering him to remove cones and vehicles that were preventing Spencer’s neighbor from completing construction that Spencer claimed encroached on his property. The district court found that Benison acted outside the scope of his discretionary authority and was not entitled to qualified immunity on Spencer’s individual capacity claims and that Spencer had presented adequate evidence of a constitutional violation to sustain his section 1983 claims against Benison in both his individual and official capacities.The Eleventh Circuit reversed. Benison was acting within the scope of his discretionary authority when he ordered Spencer to remove the cones and vehicles. It was a legitimate job-related function for Benison, an Alabama sheriff, to seek the removal of cones and vehicles for the purposes of achieving public safety, given that traffic was backing up and customers were unable to access a business. Benison properly carried out his duties by verbally commanding Spencer to remove the cones and vehicles and by threatening arrest should he fail to comply. Spencer failed to present adequate evidence of a constitutional violation; he did not demonstrate that Benison’s actions caused him to be deprived of a constitutionally-protected property interest. View "Spencer v. Benison" on Justia Law