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Judges affirm judgment for real estate agent on negligence claim

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The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed that a real estate agent representing buyers did not breach the duty he had to the sellers when he communicated with them personally about accepting his clients’ offer.

Jack Stump represented Zachary and Holli Gredy, who wanted to buy Terry and Marti Likens’ home. The Likenses had their own real estate agent, who advised the couple to accept another offer instead of the Gredys’. Stump contacted the Likenses directly by phone and e-mail encouraging them to accept the Gredys’ offer.

They executed a purchase agreement, in which the Gredys were to close before Sept. 30, 2008, and have $10,000 held in escrow. Closing didn’t happen on time, and the bank letter guaranteeing the funds was fraudulent. The Likenses sued the Gredys, Stump and his employer, Prickett’s Properties. At issue in the instant case is the grant of summary judgment in favor of Stump and his employer on the Likenses’ negligence/breach of agency duty claim.

The Likenses argued Prickett’s Properties was liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior. They also claimed that Stump owed them a common law duty because he went beyond acting as an agent for the Gredys and undertook to advise and coerce the Likenses into a course of action.

But statutory law supersedes any common law to the contrary, the Court of Appeals concluded in Terry Likens, et al. v. Prickett's Properties, Inc., et al., No. 43A03-1008-PL-455. The judges cited Indiana Code Chapter 25-34.1-10, which governs real estate agency relationships, to define the duty Stump owed the Likenses. Section 11 of the chapter says a licensee representing a buyer owes no duties or obligations to the seller, except that a licensee shall treat all prospective sellers honestly and not knowingly give them false information, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. The section also says that the licensee owes no duty to conduct an independent investigation of the buyer’s financial ability to purchase or verify the accuracy of any statement made by the buyer or a third party.

“Indeed, Stump had a duty to treat the Likenses honestly and not knowingly give them false information. But the negligence count against Stump does not allege any violation of this clearly-articulated statutory duty,” she wrote, noting the Likenses didn’t appeal the summary judgment ruling pertaining to their fraud claim against Stump. “Finally, while Stump’s actions in directly contacting the Likenses to encourage them to accept the Gredys’ offer may seem inappropriate, Stump, as the buyers’ agent, is allowed to provide the Likenses services in the ordinary course of a real estate transaction and any similar services that do not violate the terms of his agency relationship with the Gredys.”

Judge Vaidik also referenced section 15, which says the “duties and obligations of a licensee set forth in this chapter supersede any fiduciary duties of a license to a party based on common law principles of agency to the extent that those common law fiduciary duties are inconsistent with the duties and obligations set forth in this chapter.”

Also, there’s no evidence of a writing that the Gredys and the Likenses consented to Stump acting as a limited agent for both of them.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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