Justia Zoning, Planning & Land Use Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Legal Ethics
Jenkins v. Brandt-Hawley
The Jenkinses bought a one-bedroom home, built in 1909, with a small accessory cottage in San Anselmo. Following conversations with an architect, contractors, and the Town Planning Director, they sought permits to demolish the existing structures and build a new home with a detached studio. The Planning Commission approved the project. The Jenkinses nevertheless worked with neighbors to accommodate their concerns and submitted revised plans, which were also approved. Four individuals unsuccessfully appealed to the Town Council. Attorney Brandt-Hawley filed a mandamus petition on behalf of an unincorporated association and an individual, alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), although the appeal did not include any CEQA claim and CEQA has a categorical exemption for single-family homes, and “violation of the Town Municipal Code,” without citation.The trial judge denied the petition, criticizing aspects of Brandt-Hawley’s briefing and advocacy. Petitioners appealed, then offered to dismiss the appeal for a waiver of fees and costs. The Jenkinses rejected the offer. On the day the opening brief was due, Brandt-Hawley dismissed the appeal. The Jenkinses sued Brandt-Hawley for malicious prosecution. The court denied Brandt-Hawley’s special anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike. The court of appeal affirmed. The Jenkinses met their burden under step two of the anti-SLAPP procedure demonstrating a probability of success on their complaint. View "Jenkins v. Brandt-Hawley" on Justia Law
Schwartz v. Menas, Esq.
Consolidated appeals arose from two actions based on real estate development disputes. Plaintiffs sued their former legal counsel, two real estate developers, and executives employed by the developers, alleging that defendants’ tortious conduct deprived them of the opportunity to construct an affordable housing complex on a property in Monroe Township, New Jersey; a second development was planned for Egg Harbor. Plaintiffs had formed NJ 322, LLC with a developer to build a market-rate rental and commercial development on the property. Plaintiffs contended that defendants arranged to have the property rezoned so that only affordable housing could be built on it, at which time the developer withdrew and Plaintiff had no alternative but to sell the property. Plaintiffs’ damages expert prepared a report that included his opinion on “the profits that would likely have been earned by [p]laintiffs in the event that their development goals and objectives in connection with the development of the Project had not been frustrated” by defendants’ alleged conduct. The expert presented lost profits damages models for the development: the profit plaintiffs would have achieved if the development had proceeded as originally planned, and the profit had plaintiffs been the ones to construct the affordable housing project that was actually built. Based on the new business rule, the trial court granted defendants’ motion to bar testimony by plaintiffs’ expert in both cases. The Appellate Division affirmed in both cases. The New Jersey Supreme Court rejected a per se ban on claims by new businesses for lost profits damages, and it declined to follow Weiss v. Revenue Building & Loan Association, 116 N.J.L. 208 (E. & A. 1936) to the extent that it barred any claim by a new business for such damages. "Claims for lost profits damages are governed by the standard of reasonable certainty and require a fact-sensitive analysis. Because it is substantially more difficult for a new business to establish lost profits damages with reasonable certainty, a trial court should carefully scrutinize a new business’s claim that a defendant’s tortious conduct or breach of contract prevented it from profiting from an enterprise in which it has no experience and should bar that claim unless it can be proven with reasonable certainty." The Court remanded these cases so that the trial court could decide defendants’ motions in accordance with the proper standard. View "Schwartz v. Menas, Esq." on Justia Law
World Outreach Conference Center v. City of Chicago
In 2005, World Outreach, a Christian religious organization, purchased a Chicago building from the YMCA, which had operated a community center and 168 single-room occupancies (SROs) for 80 years. The community center was a “legal nonconforming use,” which, under Chicago’s zoning ordinance, “is not affected by changes of tenancy, ownership, or management.” The city nonetheless insisted that a Special Use Permit was required. While the city was unlawfully withholding licenses, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Thousands of residents were evacuated and transplanted. WO claimed that it had a verbal agreement with Federal Emergency Management Agency to use the SRO rooms at $750 per room, per month, for one year, but never received any evacuees. The city sued WO for operating the community center without a permit but later voluntarily dismissed. WO then sued the city, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc. In August 2007, the city issued the licenses. Following a remand, the district court granted WO summary judgment on its claim for defending the frivolous lawsuit, awarding $15,000, but rejected all other claims. On remand of the RLUIPA claim regarding the city’s unlawful deprivation of the licenses. WO ultimately reduced its damages claim from $2.44 million to $363,000 in February 2016. In April 2016, the city made an offer of judgment of $25,001 “plus reasonable costs and attorney’s fees.” WO accepted and sought $1,913,929.20 in attorney’s fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s modification of the lodestar to $1,559,991.50, application of a 70% across-the-board reduction, and award of $467,973.45, noting that the award of $40,001 was a “dismal failure” in contrast to the damages sought for nearly nine years. View "World Outreach Conference Center v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law
South Carolina Dept. of Trans. v. Revels
After prevailing in a condemnation action, petitioners-landowners moved for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to section 28-2-510(B)(1) of the Eminent Domain Procedure Act. Contrary to petitioners' view, the circuit court determined attorneys' fees should be awarded based on an hourly rate via a lodestar calculation rather than the contingency fee agreement between Petitioners and their attorney. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court interpreted section 28-2-510 and concluded the General Assembly intended for attorneys' fees to be awarded based on a constellation of factors. Specifically, section 28-2-510(B)(1) mandated that in order for a prevailing landowner to recover reasonable attorneys' fees he or she must submit an application for fees "necessarily incurred." Therefore, by implication, the General Assembly precluded a landowner from recovering attorneys' fees based solely on a contingency fee agreement without regards for section 28-2-510. The Court explained that even though the contingency fee agreement is not the sole element in the calculation, it is still a significant component as it may be used to explain the basis for the fee charged by the landowner's counsel. "Our decision should not be construed as somehow condemning or eliminating an attorney's use of a contingency fee agreement. To the contrary, we recognize that the use of these agreements is a legitimate and well-established practice for attorneys throughout our state. This practice may still be pursued. Yet, it is with the caveat that the terms of the agreement are not controlling. Rather, they constitute one factor in a constellation of factors for the court's consideration in determining an award of reasonable litigation expenses to a prevailing landowner under section 28-2-510(B)(1). The court may, in fact, conclude that the contingency fee agreement yields a reasonable fee. However, the court is not bound by the terms of the agreement. " For this case, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals misapplied case law precedent. Furthermore, the Court concluded the circuit court failed to conduct the correct statutory analysis, and remanded this matter to the circuit court. Petitioners' counsel was instructed to submit an itemized statement in compliance with section 28-2-510(B)(1) as counsel's original affidavit failed to identify the "fee charged" and the actual number of hours expended. View "South Carolina Dept. of Trans. v. Revels" on Justia Law
Magin v. Solitude Homeowners, Inc.
After Barbara Magin purchased property in the Solitude subdivision, the Solitude site committee informed her that pre-existing fences and a barn were in violation of the subdivision covenants. Solitude filed a complaint against Magin, alleging violations of the covenants and seeking to recover attorney fees. Attorney Glenn Ford, who practiced in the same firm as the first attorney Magin hired before retaining other counsel, acted as Solitude's counsel. No written waiver of conflict was executed. Magin filed a motion to disqualify Ford from acting as Solitude's counsel due to conflict of interest. The motion was dismissed. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Solitude. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Solitude's counsel had a conflict of interest, but the district court did not err by refusing to disqualify the firm because Magin's motion to disqualify was untimely; (2) the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Solitude; and (3) the district court abused its discretion by ordering Magin to pay the attorney fees generated by her former firm because it failed to segregate the non-recoverable fees associated with clearing the conflict.
Tierney v. Four H Land Co. Ltd.
James Tierney and Jeffrey Tierney brought an action against Four H Land Company and other defendants to compel them to lower the elevation of a lakeside housing development adjoining the Tierneys' land. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and the Tierneys appealed. While their appeal was pending the Tierneys discovered that the district court judge who issued the order harbored a personal prejudice against the Tierneys' attorney. The Supreme Court concluded that the three-factor test set forth in Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corp. is the best means of determining when the rulings of a judge who should have recused himself or herself will be vacated and adopted the test. Applying the Liljeberg test to the facts of the case, the Court concluded that the district court judge's order on the summary judgment motions should be vacated.