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Judges reverse summary judgment for agent, partner

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A case involving a Bloomington real estate transaction required the Indiana Court of Appeals to decipher the statutes in question without the aid of previous interpretations because of a lack of previous caselaw interpreting them.

Sheree Demming sued real estate agent Cheryl Underwood and her business partner Kenneth Kinney for breach of fiduciary duty, constructive fraud, and vicarious liability, and she requested the imposition of a constructive trust ordering Underwood and Kinney to convey title of the properties at issue to Demming.

Demming renovated and leased or sold properties in Bloomington and had her eye on two properties near Indiana University’s campus. She had Underwood contact the property owners’ real estate agent many times over the course of several years to see if the owners would be interested in selling, and the two discussed strategies in order for Demming to get the properties. Underwood was to be paid when Demming purchased the properties. When Underwood learned the owner would entertain offers after the death of her husband, instead of informing Demming, Underwood and Kinney submitted an offer and purchased the properties.

The trial court granted summary judgment to Underwood and Kinney on all of the claims, concluding that there were no genuine issues of material fact and no agency relationship existed between Demming and Underwood.

But in Sheree Demming v. Cheryl Underwood and Kenneth Kinney, No. 53A01-1005-PL-252, the Court of Appeals judges found several genuine issues of material fact regarding whether Demming exercised sufficient control over Underwood’s activities to support the existence of an agency relationship and whether Underwood breached a common law fiduciary duty owed to Demming.

On the matter of whether Underwood breached a fiduciary duty owed to Demming under Indiana’s real estate agency statutes, Judge Paul Mathias pointed out that the applicable statutes in Indiana Code Chapter 25-34.1-10 (referred to as the agency chapter) are nearly opaque and there is a dearth of caselaw interpreting them.

The definitions of “customer” and “client” highlight “the perplexities inherent in the Agency Chapter. Section 25-34.1-10-9.5(a)(2) provides that a real estate licensee has an agency relationship with and is representing the person with whom the licensee is working unless the licensee is assisting that person as a customer without compensation. But a customer is someone who is not a client, and client is defined as someone who has entered into an agency relationship with a licensee. Thus, under section 25-34.1-10-9.5(a)(2), a person with whom a licensee is working is a client unless he or she is not a client and is not paying for the licensee’s services,” he wrote.

The trial court concluded Demming was merely a customer, relying on the definition of real estate transaction under Section 25-34.1-10-8, to rule that a “cold call” to find out if a property not on the market could be purchased was not “the sale or lease of any legal or equitable interest in real estate” and was not a “real estate transaction.”

The judges held the fact that the properties weren’t listed for sale at the time Underwood contacted the other real estate agent doesn’t necessarily preclude the conclusion that Underwood was Demming’s agent under the agency chapter. They also held that Underwood breached the fiduciary duties owed to Demming under statute.

The judges ruled that genuine issues of material fact preclude summary judgment on the breach of fiduciary duty and constructive fraud claims and that summary judgment was an “inappropriate vehicle for the trial court to dispose of Demming’s request for the imposition of a constructive trust.” They also reversed summary judgment in favor of Kinney on the claim of vicarious liability and remanded for further proceedings.
 

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  1. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  2. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  3. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  4. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

  5. Dear Fan, let me help you correct the title to your post. "ACLU is [Left] most of the time" will render it accurate. Just google it if you doubt that I am, err, "right" about this: "By the mid-1930s, Roger Nash Baldwin had carved out a well-established reputation as America’s foremost civil libertarian. He was, at the same time, one of the nation’s leading figures in left-of-center circles. Founder and long time director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Baldwin was a firm Popular Fronter who believed that forces on the left side of the political spectrum should unite to ward off the threat posed by right-wing aggressors and to advance progressive causes. Baldwin’s expansive civil liberties perspective, coupled with his determined belief in the need for sweeping socioeconomic change, sometimes resulted in contradictory and controversial pronouncements. That made him something of a lightning rod for those who painted the ACLU with a red brush." http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/roger-baldwin-2/ "[George Soros underwrites the ACLU' which It supports open borders, has rushed to the defense of suspected terrorists and their abettors, and appointed former New Left terrorist Bernardine Dohrn to its Advisory Board." http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1237 "The creation of non-profit law firms ushered in an era of progressive public interest firms modeled after already established like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") to advance progressive causes from the environmental protection to consumer advocacy." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cause_lawyering

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