Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
Central Crude v. Liberty Mutual Ins
In 2017, Plaintiff discovered a crude oil leak on its property. Despite 15 years of remediation efforts, the leak persists and the cause of the leak remains unknown. Plaintiff filed a claim with Defendant insurance company under a commercial general liability policy. However, the policy contains a "total pollution exclusion endorsement" which removes coverage for various events related to "pollution."Initially, the insurer agreed to cover Plaintiff's loses, but later denied the claim. In January 2017, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in state court seeking: (1) coverage for past and future expenses it incurred in cleaning up the spill; (2) coverage for defense costs in connection with the Lawsuit; and (3) damages, penalties, and attorney fees. The insurer removed the case to federal court and the district court determined that the total pollution exclusion barred coverage.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, explaining "the absolute pollution exclusion in Liberty Mutual’s policy unambiguously excludes coverage ... related to 'clean up' or 'remov[al]' of the crude oil, as well as for any 'property damage’ which would not have occurred in whole or part but for the . . . release or escape” of the crude oil." View "Central Crude v. Liberty Mutual Ins" on Justia Law
South Central v. Oak Baptist
Fountain of praise, a church, leased space to Central Care Integrated Health Services. Shortly after the execution of the lease, the relationship soured when the parties disagreed on the frequency and amount of rent payments. Eventually, Fountain of Praise terminated the lease and successfully evicted Central Care from the premises.Subsequently, Central Care filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. Central Care then sued Fountain of Praise in state court, claiming breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Fountain of Praise then removed the case to bankruptcy court as an adversary proceeding. The bankruptcy court entered judgment in favor of Fountain of Praise, finding that any breach was excusable due to Central Care's failure to make timely rent payments and that Central Care lacked the requisite interest in the property for an unjust enrichment claim.Central Care appealed, and the district court judge assigned to the case reassigned the case to a magistrate judge who affirmed the bankruptcy court's judgment.On appeal, the Fifth Circuit vacated the magistrate judge's order, finding that the district court improperly authorized referral of the appeal from a bankruptcy court decision to a magistrate judge. Under 28 U.S.C. Section 158, appeals from a bankruptcy court must be heard either by the district court or a panel of bankruptcy court judges. View "South Central v. Oak Baptist" on Justia Law
CANarchy Craft Brewery v. Texas Alcoholic
The Texas Legislature limited beer-to-go sales to brewers and manufacturers that produced no more than 225,000 barrels annually “at all premises [they] wholly or partly owned.” Tex. Alco. Bev. Code Ann. Sections 62.122(a) and 12.052(a). The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) ordered CANarchy to cease and desist after it determined that CANarchy’s facilities collectively exceeded the 225,000-barrel limit. CANarchy complied with the order but then filed suit, seeking a declaratory judgment that the 225,000- barrel threshold did not apply to barrels produced at leased premises. The district court agreed with CANarchy that “premises wholly or partly owned” do not include leased premises and granted it summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order granting Plaintiff’s motion for a declaratory judgment. The court held that “premises wholly or partly owned” do not include leased premises and granted it summary judgment. The court wrote, “it is the Legislature’s prerogative to enact statutes; it is the judiciary’s responsibility to interpret those statutes according to the language the Legislature used, absent a context indicating a different meaning or the result of the plain meaning of the language yielding absurd or nonsensical results.” Here, the ordinary definition of “owned,” when applied to sections 12.052(a) and 62.122(a) of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, establishes that the 225,000-barrel production threshold set in those statutes encompasses only barrels produced at premises owned by the brewer, either in whole or in part, and not at premises leased by the brewer. View "CANarchy Craft Brewery v. Texas Alcoholic" on Justia Law
B A Kelly Land Co., L.L.C. v. Aethon Energy Operating, L.L.C.
Kelly owns 160 acres within compulsory oil and gas drilling and production units established by the Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation. Aethon is the designated operator of the units which include 16 producing wells. Kelly’s land is not subject to a valid oil, gas or mineral lease to Aethon or to anyone else. Louisiana’s oil and gas conservation law provides that the Commissioner may establish a drilling unit even if all owners of oil and gas interests have not agreed to pool their interests. When the operator proposes to drill a well in a unit, owners may participate in the risk by contributing to the drilling costs. If an owner does not participate and the well produces, the operator may recover out of production the nonparticipating owner’s share of expenditures and, in certain cases, a “risk charge” of 200 percent of that expenditure share. Louisiana law requires operators to report information to unleased owners if requested.Kelly sought a declaration that Aethon failed to comply with disclosure and reporting obligations and had forfeited its right to demand contribution from Kelly. In two certified mail letters to Aethon, Kelly had informed Aethon that it was an unleased owner within the Units and requested information regarding the wells, and subsequently, cited Aethon’s failure to provide that information. The district court granted Aethon summary judgment. The Fifth Circuit vacated in part. The district court impermissibly imposed requirements on Kelly that are not present in the statutes. Kelly’s letters complied with the statute. View "B A Kelly Land Co., L.L.C. v. Aethon Energy Operating, L.L.C." on Justia Law
Mary v. QEP Energy Co.
Plaintiffs filed suit after defendant installed two pipelines on their property partially outside the boundary established in the parties' servitude agreement. At issue in this appeal is whether, as a consequence of this encroachment, plaintiffs are entitled to disgorgement of all profits defendant earned from the gas that flowed through the pipelines.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of defendants, concluding that the most plaintiffs could recover are the additional profits defendant earned as a direct result of the encroachment, as compared to the profits it would have earned if it had installed the pipelines entirely within the servitude. In this case, plaintiffs have no evidence that defendant earned any such additional profits, and thus the district court correctly determined that defendant was not responsible for disgorging its profits. View "Mary v. QEP Energy Co." on Justia Law
Posted in: Real Estate & Property Law
Cleven v. Mid-America Apartment Communities, Inc.
Plaintiffs filed two actions against their landlord, MAA, alleging that it charged unreasonable late fees in violation of the Texas Property Code and seeking to certify a class under Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court certified in both cases and MAA sought interlocutory review of class certification.The Fifth Circuit concluded that, under section 92.019 of the Texas Property Code, there is no requirement that a landlord engage in a process to arrive at its late fee so long as the fee is a reasonable estimate at the time of contracting of damages that are incapable of precise calculation. Therefore, the district court erred in interpreting section 92.019 and the court remanded to the district court to determine if class certification is appropriate. View "Cleven v. Mid-America Apartment Communities, Inc." on Justia Law
Stevens v. St. Tammany Parish Government
In the first suit between the parties, the state trial court entered judgment against plaintiffs in August 2018. Plaintiffs then filed this second suit in federal court, asserting the same state law claims in addition to claims under the federal Clean Water Act (CWA).The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of the state law claims as precluded by res judicata; dismissal of the CWA claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim; and denial of plaintiffs' motion for injunctive relief. In this case, the non-CWA claims existed at the time of the state court judgment, and are the same as those asserted in the state court litigation. Furthermore, plaintiffs have forfeited any argument that the district court erred in dismissing the CWA allegations in the original, first, and second amended complaints. The court also affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' subsequent Rule 59(e) motion for reconsideration, which included a request for leave to file a third amended complaint. View "Stevens v. St. Tammany Parish Government" on Justia Law
Hawkins v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development
Plaintiffs, tenants living in substandard conditions in a "Section 8" housing project, filed suit seeking to compel HUD to provide relocation assistance vouchers. The Fifth Circuit held that, because 24 C.F.R. 886.323(e) mandates that HUD provide relocation assistance, its alleged decision not to provide relocation vouchers to plaintiffs is not a decision committed to agency discretion by law and is therefore reviewable. Furthermore, the agency's inaction here constitutes a final agency action because it prevents or unreasonably delays the tenants from receiving the relief to which they are entitled by law. Therefore, the district court has jurisdiction over plaintiffs' Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and Fair Housing Act (FHA) claims and erred in dismissing those claims.However, the court agreed with the district court that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted on their Fifth Amendment equal protection claim. In this case, plaintiffs failed to state a plausible claim of intentional race discrimination. Accordingly, the court reversed in part, affirmed in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Hawkins v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law
Luminant Mining Co., LLC v. PakeyBey
The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Luminant in a trespass-to-try-title action against defendants. The court concluded that Luminant demonstrated, by uncontested evidence, its adverse and peaceable possession of the tracts of land also claimed by defendants for at least ten years, satisfying Texas's adverse possession statutes. Therefore, Luminant is vested with a fee simple interest in the disputed tracts and summary judgment in its favor was proper. View "Luminant Mining Co., LLC v. PakeyBey" on Justia Law
Posted in: Real Estate & Property Law
United States v. LightRay Capital, LLC
This case arose from an alleged international conspiracy to secure lucrative oil and gas contracts in Nigeria in exchange for bribes involving real estate, furniture, artwork, and other gifts. LightRay, the sole shareholder of the corporate owner of the yacht, M/Y Galactica Star, appeals the district court's 2018 order striking its claims and dismissing it for lack of standing. Enron Nigeria, a judgment creditor of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, appeals the district court's 2020 order granting a consent motion that resulted in the forfeiture of the yacht.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's ruling with respect to LightRay's appeal and dismissed Enron Nigeria's appeal for lack of jurisdiction. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that LightRay deliberately withdrew its claim against the yacht and waived its argument that it did so under duress. Furthermore, the district court did not err in dismissing LightRay from the proceedings for lack of standing with respect to the Remaining Assets. The court also concluded that Nigeria's Verified Claim was at all times immune from attachment and execution under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. In this case, Nigeria did not waive its sovereign immunity by encouraging the United States Government to sell the Galactica Star. View "United States v. LightRay Capital, LLC" on Justia Law