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Sale to trust creates first impression

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A sale of a home to a trust that included disputed errors in a sales disclosure form presented an issue of first impression for the Indiana Court of Appeals Monday.

Indiana Code Section 32-21-5 spells out when an owner isn’t liable for any errors, inaccuracies, or omissions of information in the disclosure form. It also states when Chapter 1 of the statute doesn’t apply, and that includes transfers to a living trust.

Rebecca Hoffmeister-Repp sold her lake-front home to Rex Breeden, who bought the home through his revocable trust. When she was preparing the home for sale, she signed a seller’s residential real-estate sales disclosure form saying that there weren’t any moisture or water problems in the basement, crawl space area, or any other area.

More than 10 years before she sold the home, Hoffmeister-Repp saw water in a floor vent and heating duct. She and her husband had a sump pump installed and after that, she never noticed water in the ducts and assumed the issue was fixed.

Breeden saw the sales disclosure form, saw issues with the roof and siding, and got the home at a reduced priced to cover the costs of repairs. Breeden also hired an inspector, who advised Breeden to hire someone else to determine if there was actual water penetration in some decayed wood trim in the house. Breeden didn’t follow through with that recommendation and purchased the home.

He later discovered damage to some structural walls and defective conditions of the duct work. On behalf the trust, he sued Hoffmeister-Repp alleging her statements on the form constituted fraud to allow for damages or rescission, and there was a mutual mistake in the contract which entitled the trust to rescission of the purchase agreement.

The trial court granted summary judgment for Hoffmeister-Repp, which the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed. The suit brought up for the first time what liability a seller to a trust would have for errors contained in the form.

Both sides argued the statute was not ambiguous, but both interpreted it differently. The trust claimed it wasn’t required to establish that any error was within actual knowledge of Hoffmeister-Repp because of the exception involving trusts. She claimed application of the exception to include selling to trusts would allow buyers to avoid the terms of the statute by creating a living trust and having the trust act as the purchaser of record for residential real estate.

In Rex E. Breeden Revocable Trust v. Rebecca Jane Hoffmeister-Repp, No. 03A04-1003-CT-185, the judges found the statute to be ambiguous and ruled in favor of Hoffmeister-Repp. They noted that exceptions to the requirement of a disclosure form are based on a special relationship between the buyer and seller, and some exceptions take into account that the seller is unlikely to have actually lived in the home such that knowledge of the home’s components can’t be assumed.

“Because I.C. § 32-21-5-10 requires this Disclosure Form to be completed and signed prior to an offer for the sale of the residence is accepted, the ninth exception—transfer to a living trust—can necessarily only come into play if the residence is purchased by the seller’s own living trust,” wrote Judge Patricia Riley. “If the sale is occasioned between a seller and a non-related living trust, the seller will always include a Disclosure Form as he is unaware as to the identity of the prospective buyer.”

The judges also held the trust failed to show Hoffmeister-Repp had actual knowledge of the moisture problems in the duct work at the moment she completed the disclosure form, and that there was insufficient designated evidence to support a finding of mutual mistake.

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  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

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