Case Summaries

(beneficiary of decedent’s will may not maintain negligence action against attorney for preparation of deed that results in increased tax liability to the estate; beneficiary lacked privity with attorney and no special circumstances present which would override privity requirement).

(parcel of land not qualified for ag land classification because property intended for development and not used primarily for agriculture (sale of Christmas trees)).

(case involves state inverse condemnation action, federal takings violation and violations of substantive due process and equal protection; plaintiff owns farmland for which he sought to obtain water rights for crop irrigation and facilitation of mineral extraction, but water right and mining applications denied; court dismissed all of plaintiff’s claims).

(distribution of ranch under decedent’s will not subject to no-contest clause under will; pertinent provision of will did not incorporate no-contest clause by reference).

(title insurance does not cover monetary losses incurred by insured arising out of bankruptcy of qualified intermediary used in I.R.C. §1031 exchange absent claims asserting threat to marketability of title; thus, unless bankruptcy trustee’s preference action against insured does not implicate marketability of title or other risks specified in policy, title insurer has no duty to defend under policy).

(farm property bequeathed to plaintiff from parent’s trust zoned as an ag district, but was not suitable for farming or pasturing livestock; plaintiff’s application for zoning amendment to rezone property as a restricted rural residential district allowing a 41 single-home subdivision denied; plaintiff’s challenge to denial as unconstitutional taking failed because existing comprehensive land use plan designed to protect ag land not arbitrary or unreasonable and did not deny all economically viable uses of the land).

(Substantial discounts for gifts of farmland to FLP granted – 33.9 percent for one year and 35.6 percent for another year (saving taxpayer about $2 million); FLP operated like a business and not taxpayer’s personal bank account; non-tax avoidance reasons for establishing the FLP present).

(“Christmas Cottage” on Christmas tree farm used as sales office and warming hut for customers during Christmas season and rented guest house during off-season remains eligible for enrollment in tax abatement program as farm property; property used as “rental property” only during “non-farm” season and still remained actively used in a “farming” operation during the Christmas tree harvesting season).

(warrantless entry onto plaintiff’s property constituted reasonable search; area (dog shed) searched not within curtilage of plaintiff’s home – shed unattractive to private home activities, accessible with minimal effort and openly exposed to neighboring properties).

(asparagus crop loss case; plaintiff awarded $2.435 million in damages, but trial court’s grant of new trial upheld).

(defendant has statutory authority to proceed with legalization of road – process of conducting a survey and issuing order to eliminate doubts as to road’s location and its lawful establishment as a county road; plaintiff’s request for injunction denied).

(sole member of LLC personally liable for payroll taxes; LLC was disregarded entity because owner failed to elect to have it treated as a corporation under the check-the-box regulations).

(Zoning Board’s approval of local Planning Board’s decision to grant master plan approval for cluster development of residential subdivision upheld; involves development of farmland which has been in the same family for over 300 years).

(plaintiff's pre-petition tax liabilities not dischargeable because plaintiff willfully attempted to evade or defeat payment of taxes). 

(deeds to property executed in 1967 that reserved a life estate, held to be valid even though deeds not recorded prior to death and subsequent will attempted to devise subject property to different person than grantees; will not offered for probate; deeds delivered to some of the grantees constituted constructive delivery to other; placement of deeds in safety deposit box to which grantor had no access showed grantor’s intent to divest self of title to property upon execution of deeds, thus transfers effective).

(creation of irrevocable trust by community spouse and funding part of trust with institutionalized spouse’s funds did not cease to make trust assets countable resources for purposes of institutionalized spouse’s Medicaid eligibility; trustee had discretion to make distributions to institutionalized spouse).

(case involves title dispute to farm property; decedent died intestate in 1995 owning 120-acre farm, but had executed power of attorney in 1978 concerning the farm; decedent added agent (decedent’s caretaker) as joint-tenant owner of farm in 1992 and agent added spouse as joint-tenant to farm later in 1992; decedent’s heirs challenge to POA fails because agent had power to “manage” the property just as the principal would; but heirs’ breach of fiduciary duty and undue influence claims remanded because trial court improperly ruled such claims barred by 3-year statute of limitations; actions involve attempt to quiet title and 15-year statute of limitations applies).

(party asserting ownership of property by adverse possession via prescriptive easement does not bear the burden of proving that use not with implied permission of true owner; trial court wrongly interpreted prior caselaw and case remanded to trial court for entry of appropriate judgment).

(contract dispute involving calculation of royalty payments under oil and gas leases; method used by defendants to calculate royalty payments proper).

(trial court’s decision ordering partition and sale of farm property rather than partition in-kind upheld where partition in-kind would greatly prejudice one owner; evidence demonstrated that property odd-shaped, portion of property much more productive, and farming operations would be much more difficult with partition in-kind).

(Medicaid case; state law disallowing otherwise available exclusions for assets from being deemed “available” assets for Medicaid eligibility purposes violates state Constitution’s equal protection clause; Medicaid applicant may use post-eligibility income to pay nursing home care expenses incurred before Medicaid eligibility achieved).

(innocent spouse relief under I.R.C. §6105 only available if joint return filed for year in question; while taxpayer faced joint liability under state community property law, plain language of I.R.C. §6105 provides relief only to spouses who file a joint return).

(Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered to reconsider its decision to allow construction of wind farm near site of new Las Vegas Airport; evidence indicated that turbines would interfere with airport radar systems and that FAA determination arbitrary and capricious).

(USDA decision to deny eligibility of tree-farm operation for Conservation Security Program is contrary to the evidence, arbitrary and capricious, and not entitled to deference; regulation defining, in part, eligible agricultural land as forest land if an incidental part of the agricultural operation could not be read so as to deny forest land from CSP eligibility in situations where the forest land is the agricultural operation itself).

(state partition statute vesting courts with equitable powers in partition actions does not include the power to order one party to buy out the other party’s share of jointly owned property; case remanded to determine whether personal property involved can be partitioned without great prejudice to the parties involved).

(U.S. Sup. Ct. decision in United States v. Atlantic Research Corp., 127 S. Ct. 2331 (2007) allowing private parties to recover environmental clean-up cost has overruled 9th Circuit’s prior opinion in Pinal Creek Group v. Newmont Mining Corp., 118 F.3d 1298 (9th Cir. 1997); potentially responsible parties under CERCLA may seek contribution and cost recovery from other potentially responsible parties).

(operation of equine facility on 6.4 acre tract began in 1973; zoning regulations revised in 1984 and use became nonconforming; property owner sought permission to construct 12,000 square foot indoor riding arena; such proposal held to constitute a change to defendant’s permitted use of the property requiring special permit to be filed and public hearing held).

(Illinois 10-year construction statute of repose applies to construction-related improvements to real property; coal mine is an improvement to real property, but defendant coal company sued in its capacity as owner of the mineral estate for negligent failure to provide adequate subjacent support; as such, coal company not protected by statute of repose and trial court’s grant of summary judgment reversed and case remanded).

(injury sustained by farm worker while grinding corn to feed farm owner’s cattle was incurred during scope of employment and was covered by farm owner’s liability policy that covered occurrences to “farm employees”; insurer had duty to defend and indemnify the insured). 

(defendant’s taking of easement via eminent domain for laying of telecommunication cable on farmland proper; defendant vested with discretion for determining necessity for taking of land for public purposes, and plaintiff failed to establish prerequisites for injunctive relief and lawful public purpose existed for taking).

(sawmill operation not “farming” for purposes of state ad valorem property tax exemption; however, yarding tractor used to harvest trees is exempt farm equipment).

(action involving cost-share agreement between government and plaintiff for implementing conservation practices in mushroom waste recycling facility; court affirmed dismissal of plaintiff's action seeking indemnification from government for costs incurred in defending and settling third party claims). 

(case involves dispute over defendant’s methods used to control deer population within city limits; ordinance banning deer feeding on private property upheld as well as trapping and relocation program). 

(debtor’s transfer of one-half interest in farmland to mother within five months of filing bankruptcy does not constitute actual fraud under11 U.S.C. §548(a)(1)(A), but is constructive fraud under 11 U.S.C. §548(a)(1) (B); debtor had interest in the land, voluntarily transferred it to his mother within a year of filing bankruptcy, received less that equivalent value for the deed and became insolvent as a result of the transfer; bankruptcy trustee entitled to sell the farmland to pay mother for her interest and also entitled to debtor’s share of CRP payments related to the farmland).

(tractor/dump truck collision case; while defendant negligent in causing collision, plaintiff contributorily negligent; issue of last clear chance should not have been submitted to jury due to lack of evidence that defendant had time and means to avoid the injury; trial court’s judgment reversed and defendant entitled to judgment).

(University of Minnesota entitled to refund of FICA taxes paid on medical residents’ stipends because payments qualify for student exclusion from FICA taxation; amended regulations disqualifying residents from the exclusion have been held invalid). 

(EPA’s 2002 regulatory definition of “navigable waters” (40 C.F.R. §112) under the Clean Water Act found to be arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act; EPA failed to consider impact of 2001 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in SWANCC and regulation was, therefore, not a product of reasoned decisionmaking and must be set aside).  

(case involves a joint operating agreement (entered into in 1969) between the parties involving contribution of for oil and natural gas leases to a newly-formed joint venture; joint operating agreement also included preferential purchase rights; claim was that the preferential purchase rights clause violated the rule against perpetuities; court holds that legislature’s repeal of the rule against perpetuities effective for interests created after 2006 should apply in this case because policies prompting the creation of the rule are “no longer laudable” and applying the rule in this case would hurt the oil and gas industry).

(boundary dispute case; evidence established that boundary properly determined by survey references to descriptive elements (e.g., area, quantity and frontage) rather than by reference to natural and artificial monuments).

(boundary dispute case; defendant found to have retained an easement by necessity and title reformed due to defendants’ adversely possessing the disputed property for over 30 years).

(EPA’s 2002 regulatory definition of “navigable waters” (40 C.F.R. §112) under the Clean Water Act found to be arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act; EPA failed to consider impact of 2001 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in SWANCC and regulation was, therefore, not a product of reasoned decision-making and must be set aside).

(state agriculture officials impounded 46 of plaintiff’s horses and 3 of her donkeys based on claim that plaintiff was not providing them adequate food and shelter; plaintiff brought claims against state officials for violation of her Constitutional rights; Due Process requirement satisfied by availability of both administrative and state court review, no Equal Protection violation, and areas where animals located not part of curtilage of home so no Fourth Amendment violation).

(EPA’s 2002 regulatory definition of “navigable waters” (40 C.F.R. §112) under the Clean Water Act found to be arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act; EPA failed to consider impact of 2001 U.S. Supreme Court opinion in SWANCC and regulation was, therefore, not a product of reasoned decisionmaking and must be set aside).

(bankruptcy debtor may only deduct the actual amounts necessary to repay 401(k) loans when calculating disposable income, and once the loans are repaid, the debtor must redirect the funds used to repay the loans to unsecured creditors; bankruptcy court erred in allowing debtor to keep the funds).

(boundary-line dispute involving claim of adverse possession; claim failed).

(Medicaid eligibility case; married couple established revocable trust in 2003 and deeded marital home to trust; in 2004, wife entered nursing home and trust later deeded home back to wife in her individual capacity; weeks later, wife filed application for Medicaid benefits; couple claimed that state Medicaid agency failed to include value of home in initial resource assessment (so as to increase the husband’s spousal share of couple’s resources); claim fails – home not treated as an available resource).

(state law allowing collection of filing fees and surcharges for estate claims held unconstitutional; “pick-up” tax amounted to an unconstitutional estate or inheritance tax masquerading as a graduated probate court user or filing fee; in CA, legislature, acting alone, cannot impose an inheritance or estate tax; in this case, calling a $74,762 filing fee a “court user fee” disingenuous).

(buyers of homes purchased from estate heirs liable for unpaid estate tax pursuant to IRS 10-year estate tax lien, and buyers could not challenge additional estate tax assessment because they were not the “taxpayer”; buyers’ liability covered by title insurance policies).

(patent infringement action also involving state law claims for conversion, unjust enrichment and breach of contract for defendant’s alleged unauthorized use of plaintiff’s seed technology; plaintiff seeks expedited discovery to minimize risk of loss to seed and crop in order to protect evidence; court adopts “good cause” standard for determining whether expedited discovery warranted; plaintiff met standard and entitled to expedited discovery).

(right of first refusal to buy real estate, after seller has determined both to sell the entire remaining property and to accept terms and conditions specified by potential buyer, ripens into an option; because options are assignable, provision in option holder’s acceptance reserving right to assign does not constitute material deviation).