Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law

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Englewood amended its ordinances to address aggressive antiabortion protests that had been regularly occurring outside of a health clinic that provided reproductive health services, including abortions. Some of the “militant activists and aggressive protestors” support violent reprisal against abortion providers. The ordinance restricted the use of public ways and sidewalks adjacent to healthcare facilities during business hours to persons entering or leaving such facility; the facility's employees and agents; law enforcement, ambulance, firefighting, construction, utilities, public works and other municipal agents within the scope of their employment; and persons using the public way solely to reach another destination. The ordinance created overlapping buffer zones at qualifying facilities. Turco, a non-aggressive “sidewalk counselor,” filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging violations of her First Amendment rights to freedom of speech, assembly, and association. The district court concluded that the statute was overbroad and not narrowly tailored to serve the government’s interest. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that genuine issues of material fact preclude the entry of summary judgment to either side. The buffer zones’ exact impact on the sidewalk counselors’ speech and the concomitant efficacy of their attempts to communicate is unclear. Turco admitted that she continued to speak with patients entering the clinic. The city considered and attempted to implement alternatives before creating the buffer zone. View "Turco v. City of Englewood" on Justia Law

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Under the Natural Gas Act of 1938 (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717, Tennessee Gas holds a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, authorizing it to construct natural gas pipelines in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Tennessee Gas sought easements over King’s 975-acre Pike County, Pennsylvania tract. After unsuccessfully attempting to purchase the easements, Tennessee Gas filed a condemnation action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 71.1. The parties stipulated that Tennessee Gas could access and possess the easements, then engaged in discovery pertinent to determining the appropriate compensation. The district court ruled that federal law governs the substantive determination of just compensation and that, although King could recover consequential damages for professional fees and development costs under Pennsylvania law, it could not do so under federal law. The Third Circuit reversed. Because federal law does not supply a rule of decision on this precise issue, the court created a common law remedy, opting to incorporate state law as the federal standard. The court reasoned that fashioning a nationally uniform rule is unnecessary, incorporating state law does not frustrate the NGA’s objectives, and application of a uniform federal rule would risk “upsetting the parties’ commercial expectations” based upon “the already well-developed state property regime.” View "Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co v. Permanent Easement for 7.053 Acres" on Justia Law

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Curto wanted to swim with her family after work. Lusardi wanted to swim with his wife, who had disabilities after a series of strokes and needed pool therapy to recover. They lived at A Country Place; its Condominium Association had adopted rules segregating use of the communal pool by sex. By 2016 over two-thirds of all swimming hours throughout the week were sex-segregated. After they were fined for violating this policy, Curto and the Lusardis sued, alleging violations of the federal Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3601, and New Jersey state law. The district court granted the Association summary judgment, stating “the gender- segregated schedule applies to men and women equally.” The Third Circuit reversed, finding that the pool schedule discriminates against women in violation of the FHA. Although the schedule provided roughly the same amount of time for men and women, women had few time slots outside conventional work hours. The court declined to address whether sex- segregated swimming hours necessarily violate the FHA, or whether a sufficiently limited and more even-handed schedule might be justifiable. View "Curto v. Country Place Condominium Association, Inc." on Justia Law

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T Mobile unsuccessfully applied to Wilmington’s Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) for permission to erect an antenna. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allows a disappointed wireless service provider to seek review in a district court “within 30 days after” a zoning authority’s “final action,” 47 U.S.C. 332(c)(7)(B)(v), T Mobile filed suit. After the case had proceeded for over a year, the district court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction because the claim was not ripe; T Mobile filed its complaint before the ZBA released a written decision confirming an earlier oral rejection of the zoning application. T Mobile had not supplemented its complaint to include the ZBA’s written decision within 30 days of its issuance. The Third Circuit remanded the case. While only a written decision can serve as a locality’s final action when denying an application and the issuance of that writing is the government “act” ruled by the 30-day provision, that timing requirement is not jurisdictional. An untimely supplemental complaint can, by relating back, cure an initial complaint that was unripe. The district court had jurisdiction and should not have granted Wilmington’s motion for summary judgment. View "T Mobile Northeast LLC v. Wilmington" on Justia Law

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The Natural Gas Act (NGA), 15 U.S.C. 717f(h) gives natural gas companies that hold certificates of public convenience and necessity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the power of eminent domain but does not provide for “quick take” to permit immediate possession. Transcontinental is building a natural gas pipeline through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina and needed rights of way. Transcontinental met the requirements of section 717f(h). The administrative review leading up to the certificate of public convenience and necessity lasted almost three years and included extensive outreach and public participation and an Environmental Impact Statement. Transcontinental extended written offers of compensation exceeding $3000 to each Landowner, but these offers were not accepted. The Landowners had all participated in the FERC administrative process. Transcontinental, planning to begin construction in fall 2017, filed condemnation suits The district court granted Transcontinental summary judgment, effectively giving it immediate possession, concluding that the Landowners had received “adequate due process.” The Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that granting immediate possession violated the separation of powers because eminent domain is a legislative power and the NGA did not grant “quick take.” Transcontinental properly obtained the substantive right to the property by following the statutory requirements, which are not similar to “quick take” procedures, before seeking equitable relief to obtain possession. View "Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co., LLC v. Permanent Easements for 2.14 Acres" on Justia Law

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In 2007, the Site, in Trainer Borough, was owned by SCT, and used for making corrosion inhibitors, fuel additives, and oil additives. SCT kept flammable, corrosive, and combustible chemicals. Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) determined that “there is a release or threat of release of hazardous substances or contaminants, which presents a substantial danger to human health or the environment. The federal EPA initiated removal actions. SCT could not afford the cleanup expenses, including electricity to power pollution control and security equipment, The power company was going to shut off the Site's electricity, so PADEP assumed responsibility for the bills. Delaware County forced a tax sale. Buyers purchased the Site for $20,000; the purchase agreement stated that the Site had ongoing environmental issues and remediation. Trainer Custom Chemical took title in October 2012. The EPA and PADEP completed their removal actions in December 2012. PADEP had incurred more than $818,000 in costs. The buyers had demolished many of the Site’s structures; reclaimed salvageable materials were sold for $875,000. In 2014, PADEP received reports indicating that hazards still existed at the Site; its buildings had asbestos-containing materials. PADEP sued under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9601-28, and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act (HSCA), to recover cleanup costs. The Third Circuit held that the Buyer is liable for environmental cleanup costs incurred at the Site both before and after the Buyer acquired it. View "Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection v. Trainer Custom Chemical LLC" on Justia Law

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From 1910-1986, Greenlease owned the Greenville Pennsylvania site and operated railcar manufacturing facilities there. Trinity acquired the site from Greenlease in 1986 and continued to manufacture railcars there until 2000. A state investigation of Trinity’s waste-disposal activities resulted in criminal prosecution and, eventually, a plea-bargained consent decree, requiring that Trinity remediate the contaminated land. That effort cost Trinity nearly $9 million. The district court held that, under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, 42 U.S.C. 9601 (CERCLA), and Pennsylvania’s Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act, Trinity is entitled to contribution from Greenlease for remediation costs. After eight years of litigation, and having sorted through a century of historical records, the court allocated 62% of the total cleanup costs to Greenlease and the remainder to Trinity. The Third Circuit affirmed pre-trial rulings on dispositive motions but vacated the cost allocation determination. The agreement between Trinity and Greenlease did not shift liability away from Greenlease after a three-year contractual indemnification period expired. Trinity’s response costs were necessary and reasonable. The court’s methodology, however, failed to differentiate between different remediation activities and their varied costs, and, as applied, treated data measured in square feet as equivalent to data measured in cubic yards. View "Trinity Industries Inc v. Greenlease Holding Co" on Justia Law

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Vorchheimer suffers from pulmonary hypertension and other disabilities and must use a rolling walker to get around. She owned a condominium in The Philadelphian and had a reserved parking space in front of the building. Vorchheimer used her walker to get from her condo to the lobby and then used her cane from the lobby to her car. She could neither lift her walker, nor fold it, nor put it into her car, so she began leaving her walker in the lobby. The building managers refused to allow her to continue to do so, but offered her alternatives that involved having staff members take and store the walker or storing the walker in the building’s indoor garage. She sued under the Fair Housing Amendments Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604(f), claiming that her preferred accommodation was necessary to equally enjoy her home. The Third Circuit affirmed the dismissal of her complaint, holding that she had not plausibly pleaded necessity. For a housing accommodation to be “necessary” under the Act, it must be required for that person to achieve equal housing opportunity, taking into account available alternatives. Leaving the walker in the lobby was her preference but given the four alternatives offered she did not plausibly plead that it was necessary. View "Vorchheimer v. Philadelphian Owners Association" on Justia Law

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The Hayes family is a low-income family whose rent is subsidized by enhanced voucher assistance under the Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 1437f(t) (Section 8). Enhanced vouchers exist to enable residents to “choose” to continue renting the “dwelling unit in which they currently reside.”because an ordinary voucher does not cover a tenant’s rent to the extent that it exceeds the applicable payment standard, and, following a valid opt-out, property owners are no longer subject to limitations on what they may charge for rent. The Hayes family's eligibility to receive enhanced vouchers is contingent upon their continued tenancy in a unit currently owned by Harvey. Harvey notified the Hayes family that he would not renew their lease. The Hayes family refused to vacate, arguing that as enhanced-voucher tenants, they have an enforceable “right to remain” in their unit as long as it is offered for rental housing. The district court granted Harvey summary judgment. The Third Circuit initially affirmed. On rehearing, the Third Circuit reversed. The statute’s plain language and history indicate that enhanced voucher holders may not be evicted absent good cause, even at the end of a lease term. The court remanded so that the district court may consider whether Harvey has good cause to evict. View "Hayes v. Harvey" on Justia Law

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A Pennsylvania municipal lien is automatic; it is perfected by filing with the local court, without notice or a hearing, where it is publicly docketed. Until filed, a municipal lien may not be enforced through a judicial sale. Municipalities can delay filing a lien indefinitely, but it is not enforceable against subsequent purchasers until filed. A municipality can petition the court for a sale. Property owners may request a hearing on the legality of a lien at any time by paying the underlying claim into the court with a petition. PGW, a public utility owned by the city, scans its billing database, identifies delinquent accounts, then sends a pre-filing letter. If full payment is not made, the system automatically files the lien and sends another notice. Landlords are not normally apprised of tenants' growing arrearages. An exception is entered if the name/address associated with an account does not match the property tax records. PGW frequently enters “exceptions,” which do not prevent arrearages from continuing to grow nor do they interrupt service but prevent the lien from being filed. Landlords who learned of thousands of dollars of liens against their properties, due to nonpayment by tenants, filed suit. The court certified a class and held that the City had violated the landlords’ due process rights. The Third Circuit reversed. Whether the lien procedures comport with due process depends on three factors: the private interest that will be affected; the risk of an erroneous deprivation and the value of other procedural safeguards in avoiding errors; and the governmental interest. Although the filing of a lien is “significant” enough to trigger due process protections, it is a relatively limited interference with the landlords’ property. None of the plaintiffs have suffered injury to their credit. Nor have the liens interfered with their ability to maintain their properties or collect rents. Risks associated with an erroneous lien are mitigated by the statute's post-deprivation remedies. View "Augustin v. City of Philadelphia" on Justia Law