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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. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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