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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. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

  2. It was mentioned in the article that there have been numerous CLE events to train attorneys on e-filing. I would like someone to provide a list of those events, because I have not seen any such events in east central Indiana, and since Hamilton County is one of the counties where e-filing is mandatory, one would expect some instruction in this area. Come on, people, give some instruction, not just applause!

  3. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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