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Title company didn't have authority to close real estate deal

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For the first time, the Indiana Court of Appeals has decided that a title insurance agent is not also an agent of the title insurance company with respect to escrow and closing services.

The issue arose in Fidelity National Title Insurance Company v. Rhys Mussman and Sally Mussman, No. 64A03-0905-CV-204, in which the Mussmans were awarded $1.6 million on summary judgment on their complaint alleging conversion of funds held in an escrow account by Intercounty Title Company. Fidelity National Title Insurance Company hired ITC as its title insurance agent based on an issuing agency agreement.

The Mussmans contracted to sell real estate for $1.6 million, in which the purchase agreement provided that ITC would issue owner’s and mortgagee’s title insurance policies. ITC also acted as closing agent and escrow agent for the parties. Fidelity didn’t have any contact with the parties during the transaction.

The Mussmans later discovered insufficient funds in ITC’s escrow account when they tried to collect their money. The escrow account funds had been stolen by ITC’s owner and others as part of a Ponzi-like scheme.

The Mussmans sued for conversion and theft against ITC and its owner and filed an amended complaint alleging negligence by Fidelity.

The Mussmans argued on appeal that ITC had implicit actual authority as Fidelity’s agent to close the action based on the agreement and conduct of the companies. They emphasized the fact that Fidelity had and exercised the right to audit ITC’s closing records and escrow accounts.

The appellate court used Southwest Title Insurance Co. v. Northland Building Co., 552 S.W.2d 425 (Tex. 1977), and Proctor v. Metropolitan Money Store Corp., 579 F.Supp.2d 724 (D. Md. 2008), to conclude that Fidelity’s authority to audit ITC’s escrow accounts doesn’t convert ITC’s limited agency to issue title insurance commitments and polices into a broader general agency in which Fidelity has vicarious liability as the principal.

“We conclude that neither the indemnification provisions in the Agreement, nor ITC’s issuance of policies and collection and remittance of premiums confers a sufficient benefit upon Fidelity to establish a general agency relationship that does not otherwise exist,” wrote Judge Edward Najam. “Thus, we agree with the court in Proctor that the primary purpose for general escrow account requirements, including reconciliation, access for audits, and indemnification, is to minimize the risk of loss under the title insurance policies, and even allegations of vicarious liability like the ones raised in this case.”

There’s no evidence Fidelity conducted any business other than the issuance of title insurance or that ITC had any more authority from Fidelity than to issue its polices, he continued.

Even if the agreement and conduct of the companies implied actual authority, it’s well settled that a determination of actual authority focuses on the belief of the agent and there’s no designated evidence showing whether ITC believed it had authority to conduct escrow or closing services on Fidelity’s behalf.

Fidelity is entitled to summary judgment on the Mussmans’ complaint.
 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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