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COA reverses judgment in title insurance issue

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has declined to extend to an insurance agent the duty of an insurer as declared by the state’s highest court. In doing so, the judges reversed the denial of a title insurance company’s motion for summary judgment.

In Meridian Title Corporation v. Gainer Group, LLC, No. 46A03-1006-PL-312, Gainer Group LLC sued Meridian Title Corporation, alleging Meridian failed to properly handle Gainer Group’s claim in a lawsuit involving a piece of property. The Ruth N. Cathey Trust sold some property to the Gainer Group and the trust engaged Meridian to procure title insurance for the property. After the sale, the trust claimed it mistakenly sold more land to Gainer Group than it had intended.

Meridian tried to facilitate a resolution, but the trust ended up suing Gainer Group to recover the piece of property it didn’t want to sell. That’s when Gainer Group filed its lawsuit against Meridian, seeking to recover litigation expenses and attorney fees it incurred prior to its insurer accepting the claim.

There’s no evidence of an intimate, long-term relationship between Meridian and Gainer Group that would require Meridian to perform a duty that extends beyond its general duty to exercise reasonable care, skill, and good-faith diligence in obtaining the insurance policy, wrote Senior Judge John Sharpnack. But the facts of the case do constitute a special circumstance that triggers an extended duty to advise on the part of Meridian.

Meridian tried to facilitate a settlement between the trust and Gainer Group at its offices. At this meeting, Meridian’s president and CEO pointed to a provision in the title policy and said that Gainer Group didn’t have a claim because it had closed without a survey. Meridian also had a financial interest in no claim being made under Gainer Group’s policy of title insurance, the judge continued.

Meridian had this extended duty to advise Gainer Group regarding coverage, and it fulfilled that duty, the Court of Appeals concluded.

Gainer Group cited Erie Ins. Co. v. Hickman by Smith, 622 N.E.2d 515 (Ind. 1993), to support its argument that Meridian owed it a duty of good faith and fair dealing beyond its general duty of reasonable care, skill, and good-faith diligence. But that case dealt with the duty of an insurer to an insured. In the instant case, Meridian is an agent.

“Our Supreme Court has yet to extend this duty to an agent; rather, an insurance agent’s duty does not extend beyond the general duty to exercise reasonable care, skill and good faith diligence in obtaining a policy of insurance unless the evidence, through certain factors as set forth above, establishes a special relationship,” wrote Senior Judge Sharpnack. “Therefore, we decline Gainer Group’s invitation to extend the application of the duty of an insurer as set out by the Supreme Court in Erie.”

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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