May 18, 2013
Edwards on the Paradoxes of Restitution
Mark Edwards (William Mitchell) has posted The Paradoxes of Restitution, forthcoming in the West Virginia Law Review. The abstract:
Restitution following mass dispossession is often considered both ideal and impossible. Why? This article identifies two previously unnamed paradoxes that undermine the possibility of restitution.
First, both dispossession and restitution depend on the social construction of rights-worthiness. Over time, people once considered unworthy of property rights ‘become’ worthy of them. However, time also corrodes the practicality and moral weight of restitution claims. By the time the dispossessed ‘become’ worthy of property rights, restitution claims are no longer practically or morally viable. This is the time-unworthiness paradox.
Second, restitution claims are undermined by the concept of collective responsibility. People are sometimes dispossessed because collective responsibility is unjustly imposed on them for wrongs committed by a few members of a group. But restitution may require the dispossession of innocent current occupiers of land – thus imposing a type of collective responsibility on them. Therefore, restitution can be seen as committing the very wrong it purports to right. This is the collective responsibility paradox.
Both paradoxes can be overcome, but only if we recognize the rights-worthiness of others before time fatally corrodes the viability of restitution. We must also draw a careful distinction between the imposition of collective rights-unworthiness, which results in the mass dispossession of others, and the voluntary acceptance of collective responsibility, which results in the restitution of others.
After developing these ideas, the article examines them in the context of a particularly difficult and intractable case of dispossession and restitution. It draws upon interviews with restitution claimants whose stories reveal the paradoxes of restitution.
February 22, 2012
Tear Down This Mansion?
A Michigan appellate court has ordered the owner to tear down what looks to be a fairly elaborate and presumably expensive home, because it is only 80 feet from the neighboring property, instead of the 100 feet required in the deed restrictions. Talk about strict enforcement! But as the neighbors say in the video, rules are rules.
The news story is here at msnbc.com. Might be an interesting clip to show for servitudes, land use, or real estate transactions. Thanks to Helen Jenkins for the pointer.
December 08, 2011
Renuart on the Ibañez Time Bomb
Elizabeth Renuart (Albany) has posted Property Title Trouble in Non-Judicial Foreclosure States: The Ibanez Time Bomb? It's the first piece that I've come across to explore the title law ramifications of the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court's Ibañez decision that I alluded to in a post earlier this year. Hat tip to my colleague, Judy Fox, for sharing it with me. Here's the abstract:
The economic crisis gripping the United States began when large numbers of homeowners defaulted on poorly underwritten subprime mortgage loans. Demand from Wall Street seduced mortgage lenders, brokers, and other players to churn out mortgage loans in extraordinary numbers. Securitization, the process of utilizing mortgage loans to back investment instruments, not only fanned the fire; the parties to these deals often handled and transferred the legally important documents that secure the resulting investments — the loan notes and mortgages — in a careless manner.
The consequences of this behavior are now becoming evident. All over the country, courts are scrutinizing whether the parties initiating foreclosures against homeowners legally possess the authority to repossess those homes. When the authority is absent, foreclosure sales may be reversed. The concern about authority to foreclose is most acute in the majority of states where foreclosures occur with little or no judicial oversight before the sale, such as Massachusetts. Due to the decision in U.S. Bank N.A. v. Ibanez, in which the Supreme Judicial Court voided two foreclosure sales where the foreclosing parties did not hold the mortgage, Massachusetts is the focal jurisdiction where an important conflict is unfolding.
This article explores the extent to which the Ibanez ruling may have traction in other nonjudicial foreclosure states and the likelihood that clear title to foreclosed properties is jeopardized by shoddy handling of notes and mortgages. I focused on Arizona, California, Georgia, and Nevada because they permit nonjudicial foreclosures and they are experiencing high seriously delinquent foreclosure rates. After comparing the law in these states to that of Massachusetts, I conclude that Ibanez should be persuasive authority in the four nonjudicial foreclosure states highlighted herein. However, property title trouble resulting from defective foreclosures may be more limited in Arizona and Nevada. The article also provides a roadmap for others to assess the extent to which title to properties purchased at foreclosure sales or from lenders’ REO inventories might be defective in other states. Finally, the article addresses the potential consequences of reversing foreclosure sales and responds to the securitization industry’s worry about homeowners getting free houses.
November 16, 2011
Alexander and Powell on Neighborhood Strategies for Vacant Properties
Frank Alexander (Emory) and Leslie Powell have posted Neighborhood Stabilization Strategies for Vacant and Abandoned Properties, 34-8 Zoning and Planning Law Report 1 (2011). Here's the abstract:
Vacant and abandoned properties are a growing inventory in many American neighborhoods as a result of unusually high foreclosure numbers, population loss, and property value declines. The impact of vacant and abandoned properties is tangible and requires a willingness by local governments to acknowledge and address the problem. This article outlines the problems caused by vacant and abandoned properties and suggests a variety of potential strategies, from property tax foreclosure reform to land banking.
Frank has co-founded along with Dan Kildee the Center for Community Progress (f/k/a The National Vacant Properties Campaign). His scholarly and consulting work with affordable housing, title-clearing and land bank present a model of engaged scholarship that should inspire all law teachers as Frank himself does for those who have the pleasure to meet him.
November 14, 2011
Sterk and Brunelle on Zoning and Res Judicata
Stewart Sterk (Cardozo) and Kimberly Brunelle have posted Zoning Finality: Reconceptualizing Res Judicata Doctrine in Land Use Cases, 63 Fla. L. Rev 1139 (2011). Here's the abstract:
Zoning disputes provide many Americans with their only firsthand exposure to the workings of democratic government. Land use issues trigger participation because neighbors perceive the wrong kind of development as posing a double-barreled threat to the stability of the community in which they have chosen to live and to the economic value of their homes.
The protagonists in zoning disputes-landowners and neighbors-invest time and other resources to persuade the relevant decisionmakers to rule in the protagonists’ favor. When the parties make that investment, should they assume that a decision made today will have some enduring significance? Whether the decision is “final” may play an important role in shaping the parties’ participation and presentations. If a zoning board were free to deny a variance today and to grant the identical variance next week (or next year), there would be less reason for neighbors (and landowner applicants) to spend time and money framing their arguments for today’s decision.
Many of the reasons that underlie res judicata doctrine apply to these local land use disputes. In the interest of conserving the resources of all parties- landowners, neighbors, and local decisionmakers-issues should be decided once, not multiple times. There is little reason to think that, were the issues decided multiple times, subsequent determinations would improve on prior ones. This is especially true in the context of land use, where the issues involve primarily questions of fact, and parties have incentives to come forward with all relevant information at the time the first decisionmaker considers the dispute.
If a court, rather than a zoning board, were resolving the dispute, res judicata doctrine would circumscribe the power of a subsequent court to depart from the earlier determination. In the first instance, however, zoning disputes are resolved not by the courts, but by local legislatures and administrative bodies. No finality principle comparable to res judicata attaches to legislative determinations, no matter which legislative body-Congress, a state legislature, or a local city council- makes those determinations. Unlike most judicial decisions, which resolve discrete disputes over past events, legislatures act prospectively. Finality rules would preclude legislative decisionmakers from considering new facts that cast doubt on the wisdom of past decisions. It should not be surprising, then, that legislatures are typically free of finality constraints.
In contrast to the well-established principles that apply to judicial and legislative determinations, the applicability of finality principles is unclear when it comes to administrative decisions by the local zoning board, such as the grant or denial of a variance. Courts sometimes treat zoning board decisions as if they were judicial decisions, using res judicata language to preclude new applications for relief that the zoning board previously denied. In other cases, courts-often from the same jurisdictions-permit boards to entertain applications virtually identical to previously rejected applications. Although courts sometimes suggest the need to be “flexible” in applying res judicata doctrine to zoning disputes, neither courts nor scholars have offered a coherent prescriptive or descriptive account for how that flexibility does or should operate.
This Article has two related objectives: to develop a normative theory explaining how finality principles should apply in the land use context and simultaneously to argue that existing case law, however inarticulately, reflects that normative theory. Part I begins by exploring the distinctive structure of zoning doctrine, which fits imperfectly with traditional categorization of decisions as legislative or judicial. Part II examines more generally the role of finality in legal decisionmaking. Part III demonstrates that, in light of the structure of zoning doctrine, traditional claim preclusion doctrine should have no place in zoning law. This Article argues, by contrast, that issue preclusion doctrine should and does operate to constrain zoning decisionmakers. The Article goes on to demonstrate that this framework explains the results, even if not the language, in the vast majority of zoning cases that raise finality issues.
October 31, 2011
Bevilacqua: In Massachusetts, the Other Shoe has Dropped
Earlier in the year, I blogged about a decision (Ibañez) by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court finding as invalid a land title claimed by a foreclosing bank that could not show that it held the mortgage at the time of foreclosure. Prior to that ruling, a stated practitioners' standard recognized as curative post-foreclosure assignments of mortgages. The Bevilacqua v. Rodriquez case presented the Court (previously blogged about here) with similarly sloppy handling of the mortgage assignments but also a third-party purchaser (and redeveloper) of the property from the foreclosing bank.
Earlier this month, the Mass. SJC again found that the foreclosing bank had no title to transfer and that the title claimant's more sympathetic position with regard to the botched securitization process did not create title. The Court dismissed his "try title" action and suggested that his equitable rights to the (as yet unforeclosed) mortgage might support a possible reforeclosure--a less than reassuring directive if the purchaser has invested in the property more than the lien value of the mortgage.
May 05, 2011
Massachusetts SJC Hears Arguments in Bevilacqua (and so can you)
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral arguments Monday in a foreclosure title case called Bevilacqua v. Rodriguez. Earlier in the year, I blogged about the Court's Ibanez opinion invalidating a bank's foreclosure title based on a botched securitization. Bevilacqua concerns the validity of the title claim of a foreclosure sale purchaser. In the Land Court proceedings below, U.S. Bank was unable to establish its ownership of the underlying loan leading to a declaration that the foreclosure and sale left the original owner's title unaffected.
In addition to video of the oral arguments (brought to you by the good folks at Suffolk Law), the SJC website features an amicus brief supporting the decision below submitted by Adam Levitin (Georgetown) and three other leading real estate law professors. If the Court agrees with these prominent academics that "U.S. Bank, N.A. was no more capable of passing good title to the Rodriguez property than a common thief", then the decision could have broad implications for titles coming out of nonjudicial mortgage foreclosures in Massachusetts and possibly many other states. But, that would only happen if slapdash securitizations turned out to have been somewhat commonplace. The Court should issue a ruling in the next few months.
March 21, 2011
Brescia on State Enforcement Actions and the Robo-Sign Scandal
Raymond H. Brescia (Albany) has posted Leverage: State Enforcement Actions in the Wake of the Robo-Sign Scandal. The abstract:
In the fall of 2010, in one of the largest scandals to ever hit the American court system, information gathered from lawsuits across the country revealed that tens of thousands of foreclosure filings were likely fraudulent - if not outright criminal. These revelations sparked a nation-wide investigation by all 50 state attorneys general to assess not only the extent of the scandal and its potential impacts but also potential legal and policy responses to such behavior. One of the tools at the state attorneys general’s disposal that might rein in this behavior includes each state's Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices (UDAP) laws. Such laws typically prohibit "unfair" and "deceptive" practices and often give consumers, as well as state attorneys general, the ability to bring affirmative litigation to rein in practices that violate their terms. UDAP laws serve a critical consumer protection function by filling in gaps in the law where other, more targeted statutes might not cover practices that have a harmful impact on consumers. Since their inception, UDAP laws have been used to rein in abusive practices in such areas as used car sales, telemarketing and even the sale of tobacco products. This paper explores the availability of UDAP laws and the remedies they provide to rein in the range of practices revealed in the so-called "robo-sign scandal." It concludes that such practices - the false affidavits, reckless claims and improper notarizations - all violate the essence of most state UDAP laws; accordingly, the remedies available under such laws may be wielded by state attorneys general to halt abusive foreclosure practices throughout the nation. Such remedies include civil penalties, actual and punitive damages, attorney's fees and injunctions. What's more, UDAP actions in light of robo-sign abuses could help chart a path towards a more robust mortgage modification regime, one that would result in principal reduction, which is the clearest path out of the current crisis.
February 11, 2011
Fort on Laches and Indian Land Claims
Kate Fort (Michigan State) has posted Disruption and Impossibility: New Laches and the Unfortunate Resolution of the Iroquois Land Claims in Federal Court, 11 Wyo. L. Rev. ____ (forthcoming 2011). Here's the abstract:
That the law changes over time is no secret. That the law changes based on the parties involved is less obvious, but still no secret. In the case of the Haudenosaunee land claims cases, however, the law shifted dramatically and quickly based entirely on the identity of the parties. In less than five years, the federal appellate courts changed the law so drastically to all but end more than thirty years of modern litigation, reversing years of relative fairness at the district court level. These actions required a fundamental shift in the law of equity: the creation of a new equitable defense for governments against Indian land claims. How the courts accomplished so much in such a short amount of time requires a close reading of the cases and a few logical leaps.
The first part of this article will give a brief history of the New York land claims, focusing on the Oneida Indian Nation and the Cayuga Indian Nation of New York. While the tribes have been fighting the status of this land since the original agreements were signed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, this article looks to the modern era of land claims in the federal courts. The second part of this article will review how a decision in the Oneida claims case directly informed City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation. The third part will focus on the Cayuga Nation line of cases and how Cayuga Indian Nation of New York v. Pataki changed the fundamental understanding of the equitable defense of laches into a new defense used to defeat tribal land claims. Finally, the fourth part of this article will look closely at the most recent loss, Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida, where the court admits the creation of a new equitable defense. This defense, identified as “new laches” or “Indian law laches” is a defense that can prevent even the bringing of a land claim in the courts. The defense is no longer traditional laches, but rather an equitable defense that follows none of the rules of equity, and exists only in federal Indian law.
January 24, 2011
First Ibanez, next Bevilacqua: Title Insecurity and the Mortgage Securitization Mess
The most viewed business article today on the Boston Herald website examines the next foreclosure-mess case coming to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and its impact on the title marketability of foreclosed homes there. Francis Bevilacqua paid for a property in Haverhill, Mass. pursuant to a foreclosure on a mortgage in a securitized trust supervised by U.S. Bancorp. Judge Keith Long of the Massachusetts Land Court found that Bevilacqua had no title to the property because the foreclosure was invalid. In its recent decision in U.S Bank v. Ibanez (see my earlier post), the SJC upheld another Judge Long decision finding a completed U.S. Bank foreclosure to be invalid.
According to an attorney quoted about the foreclosure buyer's predicament, even should he lose on appeal, Mr. Bevilacaqua may be able to take advantage of a color-of-title-shortcut adverse possession statute and obtain valid title in as little as three years. (To think, I was concerned that nonjudicial foreclosures and botched mortgage securitizations might combine to create serious, widespread title problems.) Stay tuned, the SJC will hear the case in April.
January 20, 2011
The Full Story of the Ibanez Case
Following up on a post I made last week, I wanted to share an item that might be useful to those of us trying to teach on (and/or sort out ourselves) the ongoing mortgage mess. Tracy Alloway of Financial Times has put up a blog post illustrating (literally) the tangled web of mortgage securitization missteps that led to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's recent ruling in U.S. Bank v. Ibanez.
December 02, 2010
Yellin on the Case for a Reliance Interest in Economic Development Takings
David S. Yellin (JD candidate, Georgetown) has posted Masters of Their Own Eminent Domain: The Case for a Reliance Interest Associated with Economic Development Takings, forthcoming in the Georgetown Law Journal, Vol. 99 (2011). The abstract:
When the Supreme Court, in Kelo v. City of New London, held that economic development was a valid justification for the use of eminent domain, there was a massive public outcry. In the resulting backlash, many communities enacted legislation aimed at restricting economic development takings, but most of these reforms were largely symbolic and had little or no actual effect on such takings. This Note accepts the reality that economic development takings will inevitably occur, and identifies the greatest threat associated with such takings as the risk that when they do they may cause more harm than good. For example, after the failure of the development project at issue in Kelo, Pfizer has recently announced that they will be shutting down their facility in New London, Connecticut, taking 1,400 jobs with them. As a result, the price New London paid by condemning the homes of its residents has been for nothing and the city is left even worse off than before.
This Note analogizes the failures of eminent domain takings to some of the harms that arose during the rash of plant shut-downs in the 1980s and early 1990s. Faced with the loss of the foundations of local economies, municipalities and scholars alike tried to come up with ways to protect the reliance that communities place in economic actors. This Note argues that although many of these proposals were not suitable for responding to the problems of plant closings, they are well-suited to use in the takings context. To that end, I discuss key differences between the two scenarios that justify applying some of the most progressive of these proposals in the takings context. Specifically, I propose that courts recognize a reliance interest, similar to an easement, which gives a municipality a legally enforceable right against corporate entities that benefit from economic development takings.
December 2, 2010 in Caselaw, Constitutional Law, Economic Development, Eminent Domain, Judicial Review, Local Government, Property Rights, Remedies, Scholarship, Takings | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
June 15, 2010
Marsh on Commercial Real Estate Remedies
Tanya D. Marsh (Indiana; Wake Forest) has posted Sometimes Blackacre is a Widget: Rethinking Commercial Real Estate Contract Remedies. The abstract:
June 11, 2010
Barkehall-Thomas on Families Behaving Badly & the Granny Flat
Susan Barkehall-Thomas (Monash University) has posted Families Behaving Badly: What Happens When Grandma Gets Kicked Out of the Granny Flat?,