This Never Would Have Happened On The Nina, Pinta, Or Santa Maria.

by:  Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)

Columbus boats (pd)

If the name of your company is Christopher Columbus, LLC then it is probably reasonable for you to expect that you will be subject to the maritime jurisdiction of the federal courts. Nonetheless, this was the issue presented in a recent Third Circuit decision, In The Matter Of The Complaint Of Christopher Columbus, LLC (t/a Ben Franklin Yacht), As Owner Of The Vessel Ben Franklin Yacht, For Exoneration From Or Limitation Of Liability.

The case involved a "drunken brawl which erupted among passengers who were enjoying a cruise on the Delaware River onboard the vessel Ben Franklin Yacht." Specifically, plaintiffs alleged that they were assaulted by other passengers on the vessel while the boat was docking, and at least one alleged that the assault continued in the parking lot near the dock. They alleged that the boats crew members caused their injuries by "providing inadequate security and overserving alcohol to passengers." Plaintiffs sued in state court, and Defendant responded by filing a "limitation action" in federal court. (A "limitation action" is a unique wrinkle in maritime law that allows the "owner of a vessel" to limit its liability to "an amount equal to the value of the owner's interest in the vessel and pending freight.") Both sides then moved for summary judgment. But, while these motions were pending, the district court, sua sponte, invited briefing on whether the court had jurisdiction. After briefing and oral argument, the district court found that maritime jurisdiction was lacking and, therefore, dismissed defendant's limitation action.

Defendant appealed. This is where, I think, it gets interesting, at least for someone who does not generally practice maritime law. (Although I did write about a different case not too long ago, which is actually cited in the Christopher Columbus case, so maybe I am developing a niche.) 

Continue reading “This Never Would Have Happened On The Nina, Pinta, Or Santa Maria.”

“Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs:” New Jersey Supreme Court Holds That Homeowners’ Associations Cannot Ban Political Signs

by:  Peter J. Gallagher 

It is an issue we have reported on before (here), but yesterday the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that homeowners’ associations may not entirely ban homeowners from displaying political signs.  In Mazdabrook Commons Homeowners' Association v. Khan, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that homeowners' associations are allowed to impose reasonable content-neutral rules (e.g., regulating the size, number, and location) of signs, but cannot ban them outright and cannot, even under the guise of reasonable content-neutral rules, “distinguish among different types of political signs.”  This decision is obviously important to community associations, but also has a broader impact because it reiterates the New Jersey Supreme Court’s belief that individual rights identified in the New Jersey Constitution are protected, not against abridgment by the government, but also by certain conduct from private entities. 

 Jude Wefing, sitting by assignment from the Appellate Division, was the lone dissenter.  She criticized the majority for both reaching the constitutional issue in the first place, and for its decision on that issue.  In connection with the former, Judge Wefing noted that the dispute between the parties centered primarily on fines related to the homeowners’ growing of a “rose vine” over the homeowners’ association’s objections about the size and placement of the “vine.”  (In a footnote, Judge Wefing noted that she referred to the offending plant as a “rose vine” only because the majority did so, even though “[a] rose is a shrub, not a vine,” and thus “the plant in question must have been a climbing rose.”)  As a result, the record regarding the issue with the political signs was too sparse, in Judge Wefing’s opinion, to justify reaching the broader constitutional issue. 

When it came to the substantive issue, Judge Wefing parted with her colleagues on a more fundamental level:

My colleagues rightly note our nation’s and our state’s commitment to a free and vigorous debate of public questions. I have no quarrel with that commitment; I embrace it. In my judgment, however, individuals are equally entitled to seek shelter from political debate and division. If a group of individuals wish to live in a common-interest community that precludes the posting of signs, political or otherwise, and have agreed freely to do so, and there is no showing of overreaching or coercion, I would adopt the principles enunciated in [the] dissent in the Appellate Division, that these mutually-agreed upon covenants ran with the land, were reasonable, and were enforceable.

Based on these principles, Judge Wefing concluded: “Some may question the choice to avoid political controversy; I simply recognize the right to make that choice.”

“Put Your Makeup On, Fix Your Hair Up Pretty, And Meet Me Tonight In Atlantic City.”

by:  Peter J. Gallagher

Apparently there is more than fist bumping (pumping?) going on "down the Shore."  The PropertyProf Blog has an interesting story about what it calls "A Non-Taking On The Jersey Shore."  If nothing else, the story gives me a work-related reason to go down to Atlantic City.  I don't really want to go down to the casinos, I have to do it for the sake of the blog . . .

The article tells the story of a tiny lot sandwiched in between Trump Plaza and Cesar's Palace.  It is zoned for gambling, which the post notes "doesn't exactly seem like the highest and best use."  But, the lot has some history, as it was at the center of a high-profile takings case from the early days of the once booming (now not really booming) gambling mecca:

Vera Coling and her husband bought the property in 1961, when Atlantic City was still a thriving beachtown. A decade later, as the city fell into decline, it made the drastic decision to legalize gambling and welcome big-time casino development.  The prime location of Coking's three-story house quickly attracted the interest of the real estate industry. In 1983, for example, Bob Guccione (the founder of Penthouse), offered to purchase the house for $1 million to build a casino. Coking said no.

Soon enough, the property attracted the attention of another tycoon – Donald Trump.  Unlike Guccione, Trump had the local redevelopment agency attempt to acquire the property through eminent domain for $250,000, a much reduced price.  Coking sued Trump and the redevelopment agency, claiming that the taking was not for a public purpose.  The Superior Court in New Jersey agreed with Coking.  It ruled that because there were few restrictions on what Trump could do with the property, there were "no assurances that the public interest will be protected."

The post notes that the arguments raised in the case are "[o]f historical interest for property profs" and other folks interested in takings, because it was "the Institute for Justice's first test case for the theories it later advanced in Kelo [v. City of New London]," the controversial eminent domain/takings case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court a few years back.

Also of historical interest is the interview with Donald Trump embedded in the post, which presents a much younger, pre-Apprentice, less coiffed, but no less pompous, version of the Donald. 

Finally, in case you are interested, the property is for sale.  Here is the listing.  It can be yours for only $5 million, or slightly less than what this guy took from the Tropicana in a marathon gamling session a few weeks ago.