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

Articles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
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Cranbury Development bought a long-abandoned weapons-manufacturing facility that the U.S. military and others contaminated. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) ordered the parties responsible for the contamination (Cranbury, Maxxam, and the U.S. Navy) to memorialize their commitment to perform remediation. The Navy refused to take part. In 2005, Cranbury and Maxxam entered into a Consent Order with NJDEP, agreeing to clean up the site; NJDEP agreed not to sue them if they complied. That settlement let Cranbury and Maxxam seek contribution 10 from other polluters (like the Navy) while immunizing them from such claims. In 2006, Brick Yard bought the site, planning to redevelop it into commercial warehouses, and sought to assume Cranbury Development’s cleanup obligations. Brick Yard agreed to join the existing agreement, substituting for Cranbury Development. During the cleanup, problems arose. Brick Yard claims to have spent $50 million in the process. In 2015, Brick Yard sued the federal government, seeking cost recovery and contribution under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), 42 U.S.C. 9607(a), 9613(f)(1). The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of the claims. The settlement with the state gave Brick Yard immunity from contribution claims, which extinguished its cost-recovery claim. The contribution claim against the federal government is untimely because Brick Yard sued nine years after joining the settlement. View "Cranbury Brick Yard, LLC v. United States" on Justia Law

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Planned Parenthood was the site of numerous clashes between opponents and advocates of abortion rights, including bomb threats, vandalism, and blockades. The police deployed an overtime detail to maintain order. After Pittsburgh was declared a financially distressed municipality in 2003, the detail was discontinued. Police were called as needed. The clinic reported an “obvious escalation.” The City Council held hearings on proposed legislation. Many witnesses expounded on the competing interests and expressed a desire to protect both free speech and access to healthcare, including abortions. A member of the police overtime detail attested that the criminal laws were not adequate. The Ordinance states that “[n]o person or persons shall knowingly congregate, patrol, picket or demonstrate” in a 15-foot “buffer zone” outside the entrance of any hospital or healthcare facility. Plaintiffs engage in leafletting and “peaceful . . . one-on-one conversations” conducted “at a normal conversational level and distance” intended to dissuade listeners from obtaining an abortion. The city asserted that the Ordinance applies to this “sidewalk counseling,” The Third Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of the city, concluding that the Ordinance does not cover sidewalk counseling and thus does not impose a significant burden on speech. The Ordinance prohibits “congregat[ing],” “patrol[ling],” “picket[ing],” and “demonstrat[ing],” saying nothing about leafletting or one-on-one conversations. Nor does it mention a particular topic or purpose. With respect to the listed activities, the Ordinance is “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.” View "Bruni v. City of Pittsburgh" on Justia Law

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The Authority's Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre holds up to 10,000 people and hosts athletic and other commercial entertainment events. The Arena is set back and fenced apart from the public road. Patrons drive on an access road, park in an Arena parking lot, and then walk on a concrete concourse to the “East Gate” and “West Gate” entrances. “All persons are welcome to express their views” at the Arena; protesters must stand within “designated area[s]” on the concourse and “[h]andouts can only be distributed from within” those areas. The designated areas are two “rectangular enclosure[s] constructed from bike racks,” next to the Gates. The policy bans protesters from using profanity or artificial voice amplification. LCA, an animal rights group wanting to protest circus events, sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The trial court found that the Authority was “a public governmental entity acting under color of state law” and entered a preliminary injunction that allowed up to 20 protesters to distribute literature and talk to patrons within a circumscribed section of the concourse; protesters could not block ingress or egress. LCA protested under those terms at 2016-2017 circus performances. At a subsequent trial, LCA introduced evidence that protesters in the "designated areas" attracted little attention and videos showing nonconfrontational interactions with no abnormal congestion. The Arena expressed concerns about unruly protestors and argued that the location condition minimizes congestion and security risks. The court found all three restrictions violated the First Amendment. The Third Circuit reversed in part. The concourse’s function is to facilitate pedestrian movement; a policy sensibly designed to minimize interference with that flow is not unreasonable. The Arena did not establish that the bans on profanity and voice amplification are reasonable. View "Pomicter v. Luzerne County Convention Center" on Justia Law

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Arianna Holding Company purchased a tax lien on a piece of property owned by the Hacklers and eventually obtained title to the Hacklers’ property via foreclosure proceedings. Shortly after Arianna obtained title, the Hacklers filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy and sought to void the transfer of the title as preferential, 11 U.S.C. 547(b). The Bankruptcy Court and the district court ruled in favor of the Hacklers. The Third Circuit affirmed. The title transfer meets 547(b)’s requirements for avoidance. The transfer was made to or for the benefit of a creditor, was made for an antecedent debt, was made while the debtor was insolvent, was made on or within 90 days before filing for bankruptcy, and enabled the creditor to receive more than it would have received in a Chapter 7 liquidation proceeding. The petition and schedules listed the value of the property at $335,000, which far exceeded the value of the liens against the property; Arianna filed a proof of claim for $42,561.21 and other liens totaled no more than $89,000. The Hacklers’ Chapter 13 plan proposed to pay Arianna’s claim in full. Federalism concerns raised by Arianna cannot overcome the plain language of the Code. View "In Re: Hackler" on Justia Law

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Matheis, a retired police officer who has successfully managed a diagnosis of PTSD, routinely and safely donated plasma roughly 90 times in an 11-month period at CSL’s plasma donation facility. CSL barred him from making further donations when he brought his new service dog, Odin, to the facility, citing its policy to bar any individual who is prescribed daily more than two separate anxiety medications or who uses a service animal to manage anxiety. The company required Matheis to provide a letter from his doctor stating he had no need for a service animal before it would screen him for further plasma donation. He sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. 12181. The Third Circuit reversed the district court. Plasma donation centers are “service establishments,” subject to the ADA’s prohibition on unreasonable discrimination. CSL violated the ADA by imposing a blanket ban on prospective donors who use a psychiatric service animal. Public accommodations like CSL must permit disabled individuals to use service animals unless they can show a regulatory exception applies, “based on actual risks and not on mere speculation, stereotypes, or generalizations about individuals with disabilities.” View "Matheis, Jr. v. CSL Plasma Inc" on Justia 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