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Justices address economic loss rule in 2 opinions

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In two separate rulings involving the “economic loss rule,” the Indiana Supreme Court ruled against a library seeking to hold subcontractors and an engineer responsible for negligence, and in favor of a bank in its tort claim against a title company.

In Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library v. Charlier Clark & Linard, P.C., et al., No. 06S05-0907-CV-332, the justices dealt the library a blow in its attempt to recover damages for repair costs and other fees because of a delay in the construction of the Central Library in Indianapolis. Construction was delayed after problems were discovered in the concrete used for the parking garage and foundation of the library. The library brought a lawsuit against the architect, general contractor, and various subcontractors for negligence. The library settled with the architect and general contractor, with whom it had a contractual relationship.

The trial court granted the remaining defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding the negligence claims were barred by the economic loss rule. The Indiana Court of Appeals majority affirmed.

In the IMCPL case, the justices extensively examined the economic loss rule and held that it applies in the instant case. The library is connected with the defendants through a network or chain of contracts in which the parties allocated their respective risks, duties, and remedies, and those contracts - not negligence law - govern the outcome of the library’s claims, wrote Justice Frank Sullivan.

“From the outset of the project, the Library looked to a series of contracts to establish the relative expectations of the parties. And reliance on contract law in this regard is perhaps greater in construction projects than any other industry,  …” wrote the justice.

The Supreme Court also emphasized that the economic loss rule operates as a general rule to preclude recovery in tort for economic loss and does so only for purely economic loss. There are exceptions to the general rule, but those don’t apply in the library’s case.
 
But one of those exceptions does apply in the case of U.S. Bank, N.A. v. Integrity Land Title Corp., No. 17S03-1002-CV-120, which is a case of first impression. The issue is whether or not a title company, after issuing an incorrect title commitment on which the lender relied to its detriment, owes a duty in tort to the recipient to which it certified clear title to the subject real property.

The facts of this case fit within the tort of negligent misrepresentation, so applicable tort law allows U.S. Bank’s tort claim to go forward, the justices ruled.

A buyer of real property got a mortgage from lender Texcorp Mortgage Bankers, who prior to lending the money, contracted with Integrity Land Title Corp. to prepare a title commitment, close the mortgage, and provide the company with an insured first and superior mortgage lien against the subject real property. Integrity’s search uncovered no judgments against the seller of the real property, but the search failed to show a 1998 foreclosure judgment from LPP mortgage.

U.S. Bank, as successor of Texcorp’s interests, intervened in LPP’s action to foreclose the 1998 judgment lien. The bank asserted claims against Integrity of breach of contract and tort of negligent real estate closing. The trial court found Integrity wasn’t in breach of contract and not negligent because it owed no duty to U.S. Bank in tort. The two parties did not have a contract.

Justice Sullivan noted that the existence or non-existence of a contract is not the dispositive factor for determining whether a tort action is allowable where special circumstances and overriding public polices have created exceptions.

Integrity should have known that Texcorp would act in justifiable reliance on the statement in the preliminary commitment that the title was free and clear. The relationship between Integrity and Texcorp was of an advisory nature and Integrity deliberately provided specific information in response to a request by Texcorp to guide Texcorp into its transaction with a third party. Integrity also affirmatively vouched for the accuracy of the information.

 Based on this, applicable tort law allows U.S. Bank’s tort claim to go forward.
 

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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