Justia Legal Ethics Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Zoning, Planning & Land Use
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In 2005, World Outreach, a Christian religious organization, purchased a Chicago building from the YMCA, which had operated a community center and 168 single-room occupancies (SROs) for 80 years. The community center was a “legal nonconforming use,” which, under Chicago’s zoning ordinance, “is not affected by changes of tenancy, ownership, or management.” The city nonetheless insisted that a Special Use Permit was required. While the city was unlawfully withholding licenses, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Thousands of residents were evacuated and transplanted. WO claimed that it had a verbal agreement with Federal Emergency Management Agency to use the SRO rooms at $750 per room, per month, for one year, but never received any evacuees. The city sued WO for operating the community center without a permit but later voluntarily dismissed. WO then sued the city, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), 42 U.S.C. 2000cc. In August 2007, the city issued the licenses. Following a remand, the district court granted WO summary judgment on its claim for defending the frivolous lawsuit, awarding $15,000, but rejected all other claims. On remand of the RLUIPA claim regarding the city’s unlawful deprivation of the licenses. WO ultimately reduced its damages claim from $2.44 million to $363,000 in February 2016. In April 2016, the city made an offer of judgment of $25,001 “plus reasonable costs and attorney’s fees.” WO accepted and sought $1,913,929.20 in attorney’s fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s modification of the lodestar to $1,559,991.50, application of a 70% across-the-board reduction, and award of $467,973.45, noting that the award of $40,001 was a “dismal failure” in contrast to the damages sought for nearly nine years. View "World Outreach Conference Center v. City of Chicago" on Justia Law

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After prevailing in a condemnation action, petitioners-landowners moved for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to section 28-2-510(B)(1) of the Eminent Domain Procedure Act. Contrary to petitioners' view, the circuit court determined attorneys' fees should be awarded based on an hourly rate via a lodestar calculation rather than the contingency fee agreement between Petitioners and their attorney. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court interpreted section 28-2-510 and concluded the General Assembly intended for attorneys' fees to be awarded based on a constellation of factors. Specifically, section 28-2-510(B)(1) mandated that in order for a prevailing landowner to recover reasonable attorneys' fees he or she must submit an application for fees "necessarily incurred." Therefore, by implication, the General Assembly precluded a landowner from recovering attorneys' fees based solely on a contingency fee agreement without regards for section 28-2-510. The Court explained that even though the contingency fee agreement is not the sole element in the calculation, it is still a significant component as it may be used to explain the basis for the fee charged by the landowner's counsel. "Our decision should not be construed as somehow condemning or eliminating an attorney's use of a contingency fee agreement. To the contrary, we recognize that the use of these agreements is a legitimate and well-established practice for attorneys throughout our state. This practice may still be pursued. Yet, it is with the caveat that the terms of the agreement are not controlling. Rather, they constitute one factor in a constellation of factors for the court's consideration in determining an award of reasonable litigation expenses to a prevailing landowner under section 28-2-510(B)(1). The court may, in fact, conclude that the contingency fee agreement yields a reasonable fee. However, the court is not bound by the terms of the agreement. " For this case, the Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals misapplied case law precedent. Furthermore, the Court concluded the circuit court failed to conduct the correct statutory analysis, and remanded this matter to the circuit court. Petitioners' counsel was instructed to submit an itemized statement in compliance with section 28-2-510(B)(1) as counsel's original affidavit failed to identify the "fee charged" and the actual number of hours expended. View "South Carolina Dept. of Trans. v. Revels" on Justia Law

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After Barbara Magin purchased property in the Solitude subdivision, the Solitude site committee informed her that pre-existing fences and a barn were in violation of the subdivision covenants. Solitude filed a complaint against Magin, alleging violations of the covenants and seeking to recover attorney fees. Attorney Glenn Ford, who practiced in the same firm as the first attorney Magin hired before retaining other counsel, acted as Solitude's counsel. No written waiver of conflict was executed. Magin filed a motion to disqualify Ford from acting as Solitude's counsel due to conflict of interest. The motion was dismissed. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Solitude. On appeal, the Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) Solitude's counsel had a conflict of interest, but the district court did not err by refusing to disqualify the firm because Magin's motion to disqualify was untimely; (2) the district court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Solitude; and (3) the district court abused its discretion by ordering Magin to pay the attorney fees generated by her former firm because it failed to segregate the non-recoverable fees associated with clearing the conflict.

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James Tierney and Jeffrey Tierney brought an action against Four H Land Company and other defendants to compel them to lower the elevation of a lakeside housing development adjoining the Tierneys' land. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants, and the Tierneys appealed. While their appeal was pending the Tierneys discovered that the district court judge who issued the order harbored a personal prejudice against the Tierneys' attorney. The Supreme Court concluded that the three-factor test set forth in Liljeberg v. Health Services Acquisition Corp. is the best means of determining when the rulings of a judge who should have recused himself or herself will be vacated and adopted the test. Applying the Liljeberg test to the facts of the case, the Court concluded that the district court judge's order on the summary judgment motions should be vacated.