Land Baron Invs., Inc. v. Bonnie Springs Family Ltd. P'ship

Decision Date17 September 2015
Docket NumberNo. 59687.,59687.
Citation131 Nev. Adv. Op. 69,356 P.3d 511
PartiesLAND BARON INVESTMENTS, Inc., a Nevada Corporation; Michael Chernine, a Trustee of the Misha Trust; and Robert Black, Jr., Trustee of the Blackbush Family Trust, Appellants, v. BONNIE SPRINGS FAMILY LIMITED PARTNERSHIP, a Nevada Limited Partnership; Bonnie Springs Management Company, a Nevada Limited Liability Corporation; Alan Levinson, an Individual; Bonnie Levinson, an Individual; and April Boone, an Individual, Respondents.
CourtNevada Supreme Court

Cotton, Driggs, Walch, Holley, Woloson & Thompson and John H. Cotton and Christopher G. Rigler, Las Vegas, for Appellants.

Greenberg Traurig, LLP, and Tyler R. Andrews and Philip M. Hymanson, Las Vegas, for Respondents.

Darren J. Welsh, Chtd., and Darren J. Welsh, Las Vegas, for Amicus Curiae Prudential Americana Group, Realtors.

BEFORE HARDESTY, C.J., PARRAGUIRRE and CHERRY, JJ.

OPINION

By the Court, HARDESTY, C.J.:

This appeal arises from a failed land sale contract and raises three issues of first impression. First, we must consider whether a mutual mistake will provide a ground for rescission where one of the parties bears the risk of mistake. Second, we must determine whether an abuse of process claim may be supported by a complaint to an administrative agency instead of one involving a legal process. Finally, we consider whether a nuisance claim seeking to recover only emotional distress damages requires proof of physical harm.

In addressing the first issue, we adopt the Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 154(b) (1981), which provides that a party bears the risk when he is aware, at the time the contract is made, that he has only limited knowledge with respect to the facts to which the mistake relates but treats his limited knowledge as sufficient.” In this, we reject mutual mistake as a basis for rescission. We also reject the assertions that an abuse of process claim may be supported by a complaint to an administrative agency or that a nuisance claim seeking only emotional distress damages must be supported by proof of physical harm. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the district court's orders and judgment.

FACTS

Factual background

In 2004, appellants Land Baron Investments, Inc., Michael Chernine, and Robert Black, Jr. (collectively, Land Baron), contracted to purchase land for $17,190,000 from respondents Bonnie Springs Family Limited Partnership, Bonnie Springs Management Company, Alan Levinson, Bonnie Levinson, and April Boone (collectively, Bonnie Springs) for the express purpose of building a subdivision. The property lies next to the Bonnie Springs Ranch, beyond the outskirts of Las Vegas and is surrounded largely by undeveloped land.

Prior to signing the purchase agreement, Land Baron verified that Bonnie Springs had title to the property but did not inquire into water or access rights or do any other due diligence. Land Baron drafted the purchase agreement, which stated that Bonnie Springs would allow Land Baron to use some of its treated wastewater for landscaping but did not mention access or water rights or make the contract contingent upon its ability to secure access, water, or any other utility necessary for the planned subdivision. Immediately after signing the agreement and while the sale was pending, Land Baron also began listing and relisting the property for sale, first as a single piece of property and then as separate parcels. However, obtaining access and water proved to be difficult, and beginning in December 2004, the parties amended the purchase agreement five times to extend the escrow period, with Land Baron paying a nonrefundable fee of $50,000 for each extension.

The property is flanked by two gravel roads, Los Loros Lane and Gunfighter Lane, both of which overlap or border Federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land. Clark County informed Land Baron it would not approve either road as access into the proposed subdivision unless the road was widened and paved. After further researching the issue, Land Baron discovered that Gunfighter Lane could not be paved or widened because a right-of-way1 would not allow it and that Los Loros Lane2 likewise could not be paved or widened because it was on National Conservation Land and use of that road could constitute a trespass.

In September 2005, Land Baron began a search for water rights for the subject property. An attempt to buy existing water rights from another owner in the area failed because the rights were not in the same water basin. Land Baron was unable to find a viable option for obtaining water rights from nearby water sources and was unable to bring in water by a pipeline from another development. Land Baron asked Bonnie Springs if it would be willing to share its commercial water rights from the Bonnie Springs Ranch, but Bonnie Springs informed Land Baron that it could not allow its commercial water to be used in the residential development. Despite these issues, Land Baron never attempted to amend the language of the agreement with Bonnie Springs to address concerns with access or water.

The parties met in August 2007 to discuss the access and water rights issues. Land Baron informed Bonnie Springs that, because the property would likely need to be sold as a single parcel rather than as individual lots in a subdivision, its value was greatly reduced. Following this meeting, Land Baron failed to make a payment to extend the escrow period through September 2007. On September 26, 2007, Bonnie Springs notified Land Baron that it was in breach and that Bonnie Springs was terminating escrow and keeping the deposits as liquidated damages. The next day, Bonnie Springs notified the title company of Land Baron's breach and requested that escrow be terminated.

Subsequent negotiations proved unsuccessful, and Land Baron filed a citizen's complaint with the Clark County Commissioner's office alleging that there were multiple county code violations on the Bonnie Springs Ranch. The complaints were based on investigations allegedly performed at Bonnie Springs Ranch by individuals it hired to search for code violations. These investigators allegedly found horses that had been electrocuted or infected with West Nile virus

; turtles in the petting zoo that were infected with salmonella; licensing issues with the motel and business; code violations with the walkways, handrails, restrooms, shade structures, electrical wiring, and stairways; and other health, waste, and zoning issues. As a result, the county commissioner and multiple state and local regulatory agencies performed a large-scale inspection of the Bonnie Springs Ranch during business hours, when guests and school children were present. Officials from each county office arrived at the ranch in police vehicles that had lights flashing. No violations were found on the Bonnie Springs Ranch.

Procedural background

The same month it filed the citizen's complaint, Land Baron also filed a complaint against Bonnie Springs in district court, asserting claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, intentional misrepresentation and nondisclosure, negligent misrepresentation, rescission based on mutual mistake, rescission based on unilateral mistake, rescission based on failure of consideration, and rescission based on fraud in the inducement. All of the claims centered on Land Baron's difficulty obtaining access and water rights for the subject property. Bonnie Springs counterclaimed for breach of contract, abuse of process, nuisance, fraudulent misrepresentation, intentional interference with contractual relations, and slander of title.

Several summary judgment motions were filed. Of note, Bonnie Springs filed a motion for summary judgment on the ground that it had no legal or contractual duty to provide or secure water rights for the property. And Land Baron filed a motion for summary judgment to confirm its right to rescind the contract based on mutual mistake.

The district court granted Bonnie Springs' motion for summary judgment on the water rights issues. It found that Bonnie Springs had no contractual duty to provide notice of water rights issues or to help secure water rights for the subject property, and that the burden was on Land Baron to secure water rights.

The district court then denied Land Baron's motion for summary judgment regarding mutual mistake. The court found that there was no mutual mistake because the parties did not know, at the time of the agreement, whether there were sufficient access and water rights to support a subdivision on the property, and it assigned the risk of that mistake to Land Baron. Finally, the district court granted Land Baron's second summary judgment motion dismissing Bonnie Springs' intentional interference with contractual relations and fraudulent misrepresentation claims because it found that there were no remaining factual issues. However, it denied the motion as to Bonnie Springs' counterclaims for breach of contract, abuse of process, nuisance, and slander of title because it found that factual issues remained.

The parties proceeded to trial on Bonnie Springs' remaining counterclaims for abuse of process and nuisance.3 Prior to closing arguments, Land Baron made a motion for a directed verdict, arguing that Bonnie Springs had failed to satisfy the elements of each claim and had failed to prove the physical harm necessary to support emotional distress damages under the nuisance claim. The district court denied the motion.4

The jury returned a unanimous verdict for Bonnie Springs on its nuisance and abuse of process counterclaims, awarding Bonnie Springs $1,250,000 as compensatory damages for its abuse of process counterclaim and $350,000 as compensatory damages for its nuisance counterclaim. The jury awarded Bonnie Springs an additional $1,512,500 in punitive damages on the abuse of process counterclaim and...

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    • United States
    • Nevada Court of Appeals
    • February 8, 2017
    ...a party is confronted with withheld, untimely, or surprise detrimental evidence. See Land Baron Inv., Inc. v. Bonnie Springs Family Ltd. P'ship, 131 Nev. ___, ___ n.14, 356 P.3d 511, 522 n.14 (2015) (emphasis added) (stating that "[t]rial by ambush traditionally occurs where a party withhol......
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    ...the Droges can pursue nominal damages or even damages for annoyance and discomfort. See Land Baron Invs., Inc. v. Bonnie Springs Family Ltd. P'ship, 131 Nev. 686, 700, 356 P.3d 511, 521 (2015) (recognizing that a plaintiff asserting a trespass claim may recover damages for annoyance and dis......
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    ...indicating how the defendant willfully misused legal process to further the improper purpose. See Land Baron Invs. Inc. v. Bonnie Springs Family Ltd. , 131 Nev. 686, 356 P.3d 511, 519 (2015) ("the claimant must provide facts, rather than conjecture, showing that the party intended to use th......
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    ...may be rescinded in cases where there exists a mutual mistake as to the contract's terms. See Land Baron Inv., Inc. v. Bonnie Springs Family LP, 131 Nev. ___, ___, 356 P.3d 511, 517 (2015). ...
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    .... State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Hansen, 357 P.2d 338 (Nev. 2015)[86] . Land Baron Invs., Inc. v. Bonnie Springs Family Ltd. P'ship, 356 P.3d 511, 131 (Nev. 2015).[87] . Smith v. Datla,164 A.3d 1110 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2017).[88] . Olstad v. Hopkins, No. 34,467 (N.M. Ct. App. Sep. 15,......

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