Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
Liebhart v. SPX Corporation
In the 1950s, a Watertown building began manufacturing operations, using PCBs. Congress banned the manufacture of PCBs in 1979. In 2004, the plant closed. In 2010, SPX commissioned an environmental study and confirmed that PCBs permeated the property. SPX's proposed remediation plan was approved by the EPA. SPX subsequently decided to demolish the building. In 2014, SPX notified the EPA of its demolition plans and its intent to complete a “self-implementing on-site cleanup” under the implementing regulation for the Toxic Substances Control Act. The contractors broke ground before EPA approval.The Liebhart residential properties adjoin the facility. The Liebharts claim that no dust-suppression methods were used. After the demolition work ended, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) ordered SPX to take soil samples, which indicated that PCBs were present on the Liebharts’ properties. Many samples exceeded the Wisconsin law residential standard. SPX submitted proposed remediation plans.The Liebharts sued SPX and its contractors under the Toxic Substances Control Act, 15 U.S.C. 2601, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, 42 U.S.C. 6901. They argued that compliance with DNR guidance was not enough; the remediation needed to comply with the U.S. EPA’s “PCB Spill Cleanup Policy.”The district court granted the defendants summary judgment, refusing to issue an injunction. The DNR authorized and began to supervise the clean-up. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although there are colorable arguments that the DNR’s plan is not ideal, more is required to find that a court abused its discretion by withholding equitable relief. The Liebharts have not established substantive inadequacies in the state plan or irregularities in the DNR’s enforcement. View "Liebhart v. SPX Corporation" on Justia Law
145 Fisk, LLC v. Nicklas
Fisk, an LLC formed in 2018, had two members; one is an attorney. Fisk collaborated with the City of DeKalb regarding the redevelopment of a dilapidated property. Under a Development Incentive Agreement, if Fisk met certain contingencies, DeKalb would provide $2,500,000 in Tax Increment Financing. In 2019, Nicklas became the City Manager and opened new inquiries into Fisk’s financial affairs and development plans. Nicklas concluded Fisk did not have the necessary financial capacity or experience, based on specified factors.Fisk's Attorney Member had represented a client in a 2017 state court lawsuit in which Nicklas was a witness. Nicklas considered funding incentives for other development projects with which, Fisk alleged, Nicklas had previous financial and personal ties.The City Council found Fisk’s financial documents “barren of any assurance that the LLC could afford ongoing preliminary planning and engineering fees,” cited “insufficient project details,” and terminated the agreement. Fisk sued Nicklas under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging Nicklas sought to retaliate against Fisk and favor other developers. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. Fisk did not exercise its First Amendment petition right in the 2017 lawsuit. That right ran to the client; Fisk did not yet exist. Fisk had no constitutionally protected property right in the agreement or in the city’s resolution, which did not bind or “substantively limit” the city “by mandating a particular result when certain clearly stated criteria are met.” Nicklas had a rational basis for blocking the project, so an Equal Protection claim failed. View "145 Fisk, LLC v. Nicklas" on Justia Law
Dix v. Edelman Financial Services, LLC
For several years Miller provided Dix with living space in her basement, without payment of rent. Miller told Dix to move out so she could sell the house. He refused; Miller called the police. Officers told Miller that she could not evict Dix without a court order. Miller called the police again the next day. Officers arrived, allegedly knowing that there had been no domestic disturbance. They prevented Dix from entering the house while Miller hauled Dix’s things outside. Dix protested and yelled insults. Officers threatened to arrest him for disorderly conduct. Eventually, Dix left and got a moving van. When he returned, the officers allowed him inside to retrieve his property but refused him access to certain rooms and took his keys.Dix a pro se suit, with 12 causes of action against nine defendants. The district court struck the pleading citing “redundant, impertinent, and scandalous allegations.” Dix amended his complaint. adding seven causes of action and five defendants, including Fourth Amendment claims against the officers under 42 U.S.C. 1983.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. With respect to the Fourth Amendment claims, the court noted that Dix was free to leave at any time and that Miller maintained complete possession and control over her home but had granted Dix a revocable license. When a license is revoked, the licensee becomes a trespasser. A seizure of property occurs when there is meaningful interference with an individual’s possessory interests; here there was none. Even if there were a seizure, it was reasonable. View "Dix v. Edelman Financial Services, LLC" on Justia Law
Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District
The Barack Obama Foundation selected Jackson Park in Chicago to house the Obama Presidential Center. Chicago acquired 19.3 acres from the Chicago Park District, enacted the necessary ordinances, and entered into a use agreement with the Obama Foundation. Construction will require the removal of multiple mature trees, the diversion of roadways, and will require the city to shoulder some expenses. Opponents sued, alleging that the defendants violated Illinois’s public trust doctrine, which limits the government’s ability to transfer control or ownership of public lands to private parties and that under Illinois law, the defendants acted beyond their legal authority in entering the use agreement because it delegates decision-making authority to the Foundation and grants the Foundation an illegal lease in all but name, Under federal law, they argued that, by altering the use of Jackson Park and granting control to the Foundation, the defendants took the plaintiffs’ property for a private purpose and deprived them of property in a process lacking in procedural safeguards.The district court granted the defendants summary judgment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to the federal claims and held that the state claims should have been dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. Federal courts are only permitted to adjudicate claims that have allegedly caused the plaintiff a concrete injury. The federal claims allege a concrete injury, but the lack of a property interest is a fundamental defect. The state claims allege only policy disagreements. View "Protect Our Parks, Inc. v. Chicago Park District" on Justia Law
United States v. Ginsberg
Spring Hill owned a 240-apartment complex in a Chicago suburb. In 2007, the owner converted the apartments into condominiums and attempted to sell them. Ginsberg recruited several people to buy units in bulk, telling them they would not need to put their own money down and that he would pay them after the closings. The scheme was a fraud that consisted of multiple components and false statements to trick financial institutions into loaning nearly $5,000,000 for these transactions. The seller made payments through Ginsberg that the buyers should have made, which meant that the stated sales prices were shams, the loans were under-collateralized, and the “buyers” had nothing at stake. The seller paid Ginsberg about $1,200,000; Ginsberg used nearly $600,000 to make payments the buyers should have made, paid over $200,000 to the buyers and their relatives, and kept nearly $400,000 for himself. The loans ultimately went into default, causing the financial institutions significant losses.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Ginsberg’s bank fraud conviction, 18 U.S.C. 1344. The evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude Ginsberg knew that the loan applications, real estate contracts, and settlement statements contained materially false information about the transactions, including the sales prices, the down payments, and Ginsberg's fees. The court rejected a challenge to the admission of testimony by a title company employee. View "United States v. Ginsberg" on Justia Law
Baker v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co.
From 1906 -1970, the companies manufactured industrial materials at an East Chicago, Indiana Superfund Site. In the 1970s, the East Chicago Housing Authority constructed “West Calumet,” a low-income residential building, on that site. In 2017, former West Calumet tenants sued the companies based on the tenants’ exposure to hazardous substances. Defendant Atlantic Richfield removed the case to federal court, asserting a government contractor defense because its predecessor, ISR, operated during World War II. ISR sold lead and zinc to entities who were under contract with the government to produce the goods for the military. ISR itself held five Army contracts. The materials made by ISR were critical wartime commodities that had to be manufactured according to detailed federal specifications. Other regulations effectively prevented ISR from selling to distributors for civilian applications. Defendant DuPont asserted that the government directed it to build a facility for the government and then lease it from the government to produce Freon-12 and hydrochloric acid solely for the government. The district court remanded, finding that most of the Companies’ government business occurred outside the relevant time frame.The Seventh Circuit reversed. Atlantic Richfield worked "hand-in-hand with the federal government to achieve a task that furthers an end of the federal government.” The Companies’ wartime production was a small but significant portion of their relevant conduct; the federal interest in the matter supports removal. Atlantic Richfield set forth sufficient facts regarding its government contractor defense. View "Baker v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co." on Justia Law
Taylor v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.
Taylor fell behind on his mortgage payments during the 2008 financial crisis and sought help under the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP), which allowed eligible homeowners to reduce their monthly mortgage payments to avoid foreclosure. The first step toward a permanent loan modification was for qualifying borrowers to enter into a Trial Period Plan (TPP, 12 U.S.C. 5219(a)(1)) with their lenders and make lower payments on a provisional basis. Taylor’s lender, Chase, sent him a proposed TPP agreement to be signed and returned to Chase to start the process. That agreement stated that the trial period would not begin until both parties signed the TPP and Chase returned to Taylor a copy bearing its signature. Taylor signed the proposed agreement, but Chase never did. Taylor’s loan was never modified. Taylor sued Chase.The district court granted Chase judgment on the pleadings. The breach of contract claim failed because Taylor failed to allege that Chase had signed and returned a copy of the TPP. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Chase never pre-committed to sending Taylor a countersigned copy of the TPP; it expressly reserved the right not to The return of the signed copy was a condition precedent to contract formation. Taylor alleged no actions by Chase from which it could be reasonably inferred that Chase intended to proceed with the trial modification absent a countersignature. View "Taylor v. J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law
West v. Charter Communications, Inc.
In 1938, West’s predecessor granted Louisville Gas & Electric’s predecessor a perpetual easement permitting a 248-foot-tall tower carrying high-voltage electric lines. In 1990, Louisville sought permission to allow Charter Communication install on the towers a fiber-optic cable that carries communications (telephone service, cable TV service, and internet data); West refused. In 2000 Louisville concluded that the existing easement allows the installation of wires that carry photons (fiber-optic cables) along with the wires that carry electrons. West disagreed and filed suit, seeking compensation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the use that Louisville and Charter have jointly made of the easement is permissible under Indiana law. The court cited 47 U.S.C. 541(a)(2), part of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, which provides: Any franchise shall be construed to authorize the construction of a cable system over public rights-of-way, and through easements, which is within the area to be served by the cable system and which have been dedicated for compatible uses, except that in using such easements the cable operator shall ensure…. The court examined the language of the easement and stated: “At least the air rights have been “dedicated” to transmission, and a telecom cable is “compatible” with electric transmission. Both photons and electrons are in the electromagnetic spectrum.” View "West v. Charter Communications, Inc." on Justia Law
Abellan v. Lavelo Property Management, LLC
A New York owner of a fast-food property in Illinois, which was rented by an Arizona tenant, sold the property to buyers in California (Abellan). The tenant declared bankruptcy and never paid rent to its new landlord. Abellan sued. A jury found the purchase agreement rescindable for mutual mistake and the sellers liable for fraud and breach of contract and awarded damages of more than $2 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The sellers warranted to Abellan that there was “no default by Seller, or to Seller’s knowledge ... under the Lease.” A critical provision of the lease required the tenant to operate its restaurant business continuously. the jury had sufficient evidence to find a breach of the no-default warranty “to Seller’s knowledge” and Abellan reasonably relied on the no-default warranty. The court rejected claims of waiver and that the jury’s findings on damages and reliance were contrary to the weight of the evidence. View "Abellan v. Lavelo Property Management, LLC" on Justia Law
Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance v. United States Department of the Interior
Years of heavy industrial use at Wisconsin's Badger Army Ammunition Plant contaminated the soil and groundwater with asbestos, lead paint, PCBs, and oil. Operations ceased in 1975. Remediation has yielded thousands of acres suitable for recreational use. The National Park Service donated 3,000 acres to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. An environmental group sued to halt three activities at the Sauk Prairie Recreation Area: dog training for hunting, off-road motorcycle riding, and helicopter drills by the Wisconsin National Guard citing the Property and Administrative Services Act, which controls deeds issued through the Federal Land to Parks Program, 40 U.S.C. 550. The Act requires the government to enforce the terms of its deeds and that the land be used for recreational purposes. The relevant deeds require that Wisconsin use the park for its originally intended purposes. Dog training and motorcycle riding were not mentioned in Wisconsin’s initial application. The group also argued that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 42 U.S.C. 4321, required an environmental impact statement.The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment. Dog training and off-road motorcycle riding were not mentioned in the application, but are recreational uses. While helicopter training is not recreational, the Service included an explicit deed provision reserving the right to continue the flights, as authorized by the Property Act. The Service reasonably concluded that its approval of dog training and motorcycle riding fell within a NEPA categorical exclusion for minor amendments to an existing plan. The Service was not required to prepare an environmental impact statement for helicopter training because it had no authority to discontinue the flights. View "Sauk Prairie Conservation Alliance v. United States Department of the Interior" on Justia Law