Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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The Helms-Burton Act allows any United States national with a claim to property confiscated by the Cuban Government to sue any person who traffics in such property. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that American had trafficked in confiscated property in violation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, seeking damages that include triple the value of the Cuban beachfront properties at issue.The Fifth Circuit disagreed with the district court's decision to dismiss plaintiff's claim under the Act for lack of standing. The court sided with courts that have held that the legally cognizable right provided by the Helms-Burton Act to the rightful owners of properties confiscated by Fidel Castro allows those property owners to assert a concrete injury based on defendants' alleged trafficking in those properties.However, plaintiff's claim fails on the merits because it does not satisfy certain statutory requirements under the Act. The court agreed with the district court's alternative conclusion that the statutory time limit requirement is fatal to this suit, because the property in which plaintiff claims an ownership interest was confiscated before 1996—yet he did not inherit his claim to that property until after 1996. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's dismissal of the case for lack of standing and rendered judgment for defendant. View "Glen v. American Airlines, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Wells Fargo foreclosed on plaintiffs' home, they filed suit to set aside the foreclosure sale, to cancel the trustee’s deed, to quiet title, and for trespass to try title (collectively, the foreclosure-sale claims). Plaintiffs also filed claims for alleged violations of the Texas Debt Collection Act (TDCA), Texas Financial Code sections 392.301(a)(8) and 392.304(a)(8), and of their due process rights. Alternatively, plaintiffs asserted claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and money had and received.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the foreclosure-sale claims where the undisputed evidence shows that Wells Fargo properly served notice; affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on the due process claim where it was not only untimely, but also inextricably tied to the non-meritorious foreclosure-sale claims; and dismissed the remaining claims. In this case, Wells Fargo was not prohibited by law from foreclosing and the district court did not err in dismissing this TDCA claim; Wells Fargo did not violate the Texas Finance Code; and the claims for breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and money had and received are unpersuasive. View "Douglas v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Appellant alleged that appellee played a key role as a strawman purchaser in a fraudulent land transfer where valuable property passed from a limited partnership, A&D, to another limited partnership in appellee's control, TAFI. Before the action was removed to federal court under bankruptcy jurisdiction, a Texas state trial court granted several evidentiary objections to appellant's detriment, dismissed his claims against appellee and TAFI on summary judgment, and expunged a notice of lis pendens that appellant had placed on the property.The Fifth Circuit found that the state trial court abused its discretion in granting the evidentiary objections and granting summary judgment despite there being issues of material fact with respect to all of appellant's claims. The court also found that the controversy surrounding the state court's expungement of the notice of lis pendens is moot because the property at issue was sold to a third party months after the trial court's expungement. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Cohen v. Gilmore" on Justia Law