Justia Oregon Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Real Estate & Property Law
Wadsworth v. Talmage
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit certified a question of law to the Oregon Supreme Court on whether a constructive trust arises at the moment of purchase of a property using fraudulently- obtained funds, or if it arises when a court orders that a constructive trust be imposed as a remedy. Ronald Talmage ran a Ponzi scheme. Plaintiffs were victims of that scheme. Much of the money Plaintiffs invested with Talmage went to pay for a property he and his wife acquired, “RiverCliff.” When the Talmages divorced, a portion of moneys Plaintiffs invested with Ronald. Talmage failed to pay his taxes one year, and the IRS recorded tax liens on the property, leading to the underlying suit involving the constructive trust. The Oregon Supreme Court answered the first part of the Ninth Circuit’s question by clarifying that a constructive trust arises when a court imposes it as a remedy, but that the party for whose benefit the constructive trust is imposed has an equitable ownership interest in specific property that predates the imposition of the constructive trust. The Court answered the second part of the question by explaining that, in the circumstances of this case, plaintiffs had a viable subrogation theory that allowed them to seek a constructive trust based on equitable interests that predate all tax liens on the property. View "Wadsworth v. Talmage" on Justia Law
Seneca Sustainable Energy, LLC v. Dept. of Rev.
In 2009, Seneca Sustainable Energy LLC (Seneca) began construction of a biomass cogeneration facility on property that it owned outside of Eugene, Oregon. In this direct appeal of the Regular Division of the Tax Court, the Department of Revenue argued the Tax Court erred in concluding that it had jurisdiction to consider a challenge brought by Seneca to the department’s determination of the real market value of Seneca’s electric cogeneration facility and the notation of the real market value on the assessment roll for two tax years, 2012-13 and 2013-14. The department also argued that the Tax Court erred in concluding that the department’s determinations of the property’s real market values for the 2012-13 and 2013-14 tax years were incorrect and in setting the values at significantly lower amounts. Finding no reversible error, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed the Tax Court’s rulings. View "Seneca Sustainable Energy, LLC v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law
Ellison v. Dept. of Rev.
In the underlying property tax appeal, the Tax Court rejected a request by the Department of Revenue and the county assessor to increase the real market value of taxpayer’s property, and the court later awarded taxpayer attorney fees against the department under ORS 305.490(4)(a). The department appealed the attorney fee award only. The Oregon Supreme Court determined that even though the Tax Court also rejected the taxpayer’s request for a reduction in real market value, the legal prerequisite for a discretionary attorney fee award under that statute was met. The Supreme Court also concluded that the Tax Court did not err in applying most of the factors on which it relied in making the fee award. However, the Court concluded that the lower court’s use of one factor was erroneous, thus bringing into question the court’s overall exercise of discretion. Accordingly, the fee award was vacated and the matter remanded for the court to exercise its discretion without considering that factor. View "Ellison v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law
TriMet v. Aizawa
The question this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court’s review centered on fees, and whether the legislature intended to depart from the accepted practice of awarding a party entitled to recover attorney fees incurred in litigating the merits of a fee-generating claim additional fees incurred in determining the amount of the resulting fee award in condemnation actions. The trial court ruled that there was no departure, and awarded the property owner in this case the fees that she had incurred both in litigating the merits of the underlying condemnation action and in determining the amount of the fee award. The Court of Appeals affirmed. Finding no reversible error in the Court of Appeals’ decision, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed. View "TriMet v. Aizawa" on Justia Law
Boardman Acquisition LLC v. Dept. of Rev.
This case involved ad valorem property taxes: the land at issue had been exempted from some property taxes because it was specially assessed as nonexclusive farm use zone farmland. When that special assessment ends, the property ordinarily has an additional tax levied against it. The question here was whether an exception created by ORS 308A.709(5) applied to excuse the payment of that additional tax. The Tax Court agreed with the Department of Revenue and concluded that the exception was not available. The Port of Morrow appealed. The Oregon Supreme Court concluded that the statutory text on which this case turned, “the date the disqualification [from special assessment] is taken into account on the assessment and tax roll,” meant the date the disqualification became effective on the assessment and tax roll. As a result of that holding, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Boardman Acquisition LLC v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law
Village at Main Street Phase II, LLC II v. Dept. of Rev.
Four consolidated property tax appeals returned to the Oregon Supreme Court following remand to the Oregon Tax Court. In "Village I," the Supreme Court addressed whether the Tax Court had erred by denying defendant-intervenor Clackamas County Assessor's (assessor) motion for leave to file amended answers on the ground that the answers contained impermissible counterclaims challenging the value of taxpayers' land. The Supreme Court determined that the assessor should have been allowed to challenge the land valuations, and it reversed and remanded the cases to the Tax Court. Before the assessor filed amended answers, taxpayers served notices of voluntary dismissal of their cases pursuant to Tax Court Rule (TCR) 54 A(1). The Tax Court then entered a judgment of dismissal, over the assessor's objection. The court denied the subsequent motions for relief from the judgment by defendant Department of Revenue (department) and the assessor. On appeal, the Supreme Court addressed whether, as defendants argued, the Tax Court erred by giving effect to taxpayers' notices of voluntary dismissal rather than to the decision in "Village I" concerning the assessor's counterclaims pending in the motions for leave to file amended answers. The Court concluded that the Tax Court erred in dismissing the appeals given the decision and remand in Village I. Accordingly, it vacated the Tax Court's order denying defendants relief from the judgment, reversed the general judgment of dismissal, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Village at Main Street Phase II, LLC II v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law
Wels v. Hippe
Plaintiff sought a prescriptive easement over an existing road that crossed defendants’ property. The dispute in this case was whether plaintiff satisfied the requirement to prove “adverse use.” The trial court found that plaintiff did establish adverse use of the road in either of two ways: (1) plaintiff’s use of the road interfered with defendants’ rights, in that defendants could see vehicles passing in close proximity to their house; or (2) in the alternative, plaintiff established adversity through testimony that he believed (although without communicating that belief to defendants) that he had the right to use the road without defendants’ permission. The Court of Appeals affirmed. After review of this matter, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court and the Court of Appeals erred: in this case, there is a complete absence of evidence in the record that plaintiff’s use of the road either interfered with the owners’ use or that plaintiff’s use was undertaken under a claim of right of which the owners were aware. The trial and appellate courts’ decisions were reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Wels v. Hippe" on Justia Law
FountainCourt Homeowners v. FountainCourt Develop.
American Family Mutual Insurance Company (AFM) sought review of a Court of Appeals decision upholding the trial court's judgment in a garnishment proceeding requiring AFM to pay a judgment that plaintiffs FountainCourt Homeowners’ Association and FountainCourt Condominium Owners’ Association (FountainCourt) had obtained against AFM’s insured, Sideco, Inc. (Sideco). The underlying dispute centered on a housing development that was constructed between 2002 and 2004 in Beaverton. FountainCourt sued the developers and contractors seeking damages for defects in the construction of the buildings in the development. Sideco, a subcontractor, was brought in as a third-party defendant, and a jury eventually determined that Sideco’s negligence caused property damage to FountainCourt’s buildings. Based on that jury verdict, the trial court entered judgment against Sideco in the amount of $485,877.84. FountainCourt then served a writ of garnishment on AFM in the amount owed by Sideco, and, in response, AFM denied that the loss was covered by its policies. The trial court ultimately entered judgment against AFM, after deducting the amounts that had been paid by other garnishees. After review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error in the court of Appeals' judgment and affirmed the courts below. View "FountainCourt Homeowners v. FountainCourt Develop." on Justia Law
Habitat for Humanity v. Dept. of Rev.
Habitat for Humanity of the Mid-Willamette Valley was a nonprofit corporation. Part of Habitat's mission (as reflected in its articles of incorporation) is that it acquires vacant lots and builds affordable housing on those lots. In this direct appeal from the Regular Division of the Tax Court (Tax Court), the issue was whether Habitat was entitled to an exemption from property taxes assessed on a vacant lot that it owned. During the relevant time, Habitat intended to build a home on the lot but had not yet started construction. The Marion County Assessor (the county) denied Habitat’s application for a tax exemption under ORS 307.130(2)(a), which provided nonprofit institutions with a tax exemption on “such real or personal property, or proportion thereof, as is actually and exclusively occupied or used in the literary, benevolent, charitable or scientific work carried on by such institutions.” The Tax Court affirmed, holding that Habitat was not using the vacant lot to carry out its charitable work at the time of the assessment. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that it was "apparent" that the real property at issue was actually and exclusively "used in the literary, benevolent, charitable or scientific work carried on" by Habitat. As a result, at the time of the assessment, Habitat was entitled to receive the exemption that the county denied. View "Habitat for Humanity v. Dept. of Rev." on Justia Law
Lake Oswego Preservation Society v. City of Lake Oswego
The issue this case presented for the Oregon Supreme Court's review called for a review of ORS 197.772(3): if a local historic designation is imposed on a property and that property is then conveyed to another owner, may the successor remove that designation? The local government concluded that it was required to grant the successor-owners’ request, but on appeal the Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) disagreed, concluding that the right to remove imposed designations did not apply to successors-in-interest like the owners in this case. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that, although the legislature intended ORS 197.772(3) to provide a statutory remedy for certain owners whose property was designated as historic against their wishes, the legislature also intended that owners who acquired property after it had been designated would be bound by that designation and by any resulting restrictions on the use and development of that property. Accordingly, the Court agreed with LUBA that the right to remove an historic designation under ORS 197.772(3) applied only to those persons who owned their properties at the time that the designation was imposed and not to those who acquired them later, with the designation already in place. The Court therefore reversed the decision of the Court of Appeals and affirmed LUBA’s final order. View "Lake Oswego Preservation Society v. City of Lake Oswego" on Justia Law
Posted in: Real Estate & Property Law