U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Property Law Category

Wells Fargo's Win on Nevada Lien Law Left Intact by Supreme Court

In a tacit affirmation of another U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision this week, the U.S. Supreme Court left intact the appeals court's ruling that Nevada's lien law violated due process rights of mortgage lenders.

The Ninth Circuit said in Bourne Valley Court Trust v. Wells Fargo Bank last year that homeowners' associations should have to give notice to lenders before foreclosing on a property for delinquent dues. The Nevada law allowed the HOA to strip the bank's title without notice, unless the lender "opted-in" beforehand.

"How the mortgage lender, which likely had no relationship with the homeowners' association, should have known to ask is anybody's guess..." the appeals court said. "But this system was not just strange; in our view, it was also unconstitutional."

The goal of the Clean Water Act is fairly straight forward: to protect and restore the waters of the United States. But what counts as "waters of the United States" is often a tricky and highly contentious question. And if federal agencies determine that your isolated marsh, seasonal ponds, or agricultural slough are subject to regulation under the act, then a whole host of legal restrictions can suddenly apply. Yet, you may not be able to challenge that determination until years in the future.

That is to say, CWA disputes can quickly get a bit murky. The Supreme Court jumped right into those muddy waters today, in its first major environmental case since the death of Justice Scalia. The court heard arguments in a challenge to CWA determinations that blended environmental and administrative law with questions of justice and jurisdiction.

It was a frontier-themed set of oral arguments in the Supreme Court today, as attorneys debated how to define native tribal territory and the extent of federal regulation over wild lands. The first case involves liquor stores and the boundaries of the Omaha Indian Reservation since 1882. The second concerns a 70-year old elk hunter and his renegade hovercraft.

Here's what went down when the Wild West came east for oral arguments.

SCOTUS Hears Arguments: Can Gov't Freeze Money to Pay Lawyers?

Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for the case of Luis v. United States, a case of first impression for SCOTUS that asks probing questions about the role of government forfeiture of personal assets.

The legal issue at the core of Luis is this: Can prosecutors freeze all of the defendant's assets even if they are unrelated to any criminal activity and even if freezing them would hinder the defendant's ability to hire counsel?

With all the attention given to the Supreme Court's recent rulings on Obamacare, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty, it was easy to overlook several other important decisions. For example, last Thursday, the Supreme Court recognized that housing policies which have a disproportionate impact of certain groups can violate the Fair Housing Act.

The ruling is the first time the Supreme Court has approved disparate impact claims, though they have been used widely for decades. The decision allows advocates to maintain a major tool in fighting housing discrimination, where intentional discrimination can often be hard to establish.

The Supreme Court ruled today that a government program that sought to prop up the price of raisins by seizing excess production is a taking that requires just compensation. Under the Agricultural Marketing Agreement Act, a New Deal era attempt to protect agricultural markets, government-backed agricultural boards can set "marketing orders," under which a certain amount of a crop is set aside and sold off-market.

Since the raisins are actually seized, that constitutes a physical appropriation and a per se taking. The fact that the farmers retain an interest in the raisins and that they are compensated through higher market prices does not matter, according to the Court.

In a unanimous decision released Monday, the Supreme Court held that debtors in bankruptcy cannot void a second mortgage lien on a wholly underwater property. The case was Bank of America v. Caulkett, which involved two debtors who each owned houses with a senior and junior mortgage lien. Both mortgages were underwater meaning that the amount owed on the senior mortgage was higher than the value of the home.

If the houses were sold in bankruptcy, the junior mortgage holder would receive nothing. The families sought to void the junior mortgage liens under section 506 of the Bankruptcy Code, which voids liens that are "not an allowed secured claim."

SCOTUS Exercises Equitable Power in Kansas Water Rights Dispute

In a fractured opinion authored by Justice Elena Kagan, the Supreme Court sided with Kansas in a battle over water rights in the Republican River Basin.

Kagan, along with the Court's four liberals, signed on to the whole opinion. Chief Justice Roberts agreed, but only to parts I and III. Justice Scalia concurred and dissented separately, and Justice Thomas concurred and dissented in part, joined by Justice Alito, Roberts, and Scalia.

Got all that?

SCOTUS: Borrower Can Rescind Mortgage Just by Sending a Letter

How do you have to "notify" a creditor of an intent to rescind a mortgage? Five circuits to decide the issue held that "notify" meant filing a lawsuit, while three said that a written notice was sufficient.

A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court today agreed with the minority, holding that a simple letter notifying the creditor of the intent to rescind is good enough to rescind the loan.

SCOTUS Grants 3 New Cases, Lets Texas Voter ID Law Stand (for Now)

The Supreme Court's latest orders list is out, with three very interesting grants. First, what happens to a convict's guns? Can a court order them transferred or sold to a buyer of the convict's choice? Second, can a Batson issue be dealt with ex parte? And in the third grant, the Court explores the possibility of a facial challenge to a hotel records law under the Fourth Amendment.

In other news: The Court let another state voting law stay in effect, this time in Texas, in the strongest test of the Purcell v. Gonzalez holding yet. A district court had held that the law had a discriminatory purpose, and blocked it, but the Fifth Circuit, citing Purcell, reversed the trial court.