ILNews

Judges rule on first impression escrow matter

Jennifer Nelson
April 28, 2011
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For the first time, the Indiana Court of Appeals addressed whether it’s possible to create an escrow absent an escrow agreement or fee.

In Meridian Title Corp., v. Pilgrim Financing, LLC, No. 45A05-1010-CC-613, the appellate court had to decide whether Meridian Title Corp., a title insurance company, negligently disbursed the net closings of proceeds from a refinancing transaction involving Pilgrim Financing. The trial court had ruled in Pilgrim’s favor on the claim.

Pilgrim sued Meridian after Meridian released proceeds of a property sale to the two property buyers instead of Pilgrim. The buyers had mortgages with Pilgrim. Meridian argued it didn’t have a relationship with Pilgrim that would serve to impose a duty of care on Meridian; Pilgrim claimed Meridian assumed a duty to it gratuitously.

Meridian argued it could not have assumed a duty in escrow as Pilgrim claimed because there wasn’t an escrow agreement or payment of an escrow fee. The Court of Appeals noted there is very little jurisprudence regarding the general standards for escrow, and cited cases from 1881 and 1921 to find that Indiana traditionally hasn’t required an escrow agreement or fee to establish an escrow. The judges also declined to adopt such a requirement.

They held there is sufficient evidence to establish that Meridian held Pilgrim’s payoff letter and partial release in escrow. The letter and partial release served as security to Meridian that Pilgrim would provide the original release of mortgage upon satisfaction of the conditions of the letter. The judges also concluded that parties to an escrow bear a duty toward one another to act with due care.

The Court of Appeals found that Meridian didn’t adequately clarify the nature of the two property buyers’ transactions to Pilgrim, so Pilgrim didn’t have all the necessary information to make an informed decision regarding Pilgrim’s rights to the proceeds.

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