Starke County man’s quiet title action reinstated on appeal

June 29, 2018

A man who claims his signatures on 2005 real estate documents were forged won his appeal Friday to reinstate a lawsuit seeking quiet title of property he claims to have had an interest in since 1991.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the Starke Circuit Court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of the bank in Terrance E. Chmiel v. US Bank National Association, 75A05-1708-PL-1979. Chmiel obtained a fee simple interest in property owned by his mother and stepfather in 1991, subject to life estates in their names. In 2005, a quitclaim deed conveying that interest was conveyed back to Chmiel’s mother was registered, but he insists his signature was forged. He contends he was working as an Elkhart police officer on the days he is purported to have signed the papers, and he says he has never visited the Knox notary’s office where he is said to have signed the papers.

Afterward, Chmiel’s mother obtained a $40,000 mortgage on the property, and over time the loan was assigned to numerous various entities until finally becoming serviced by US Bank. Chmiel sent at least three letters to various lenders contesting the quitclaim deed. In 2011, the mortgage was assigned to US Bank, which foreclosed. Chmiel moved to intervene, and the foreclosure was stayed when his mother filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy. She made monthly payments on the mortgage under the bankruptcy plan until she died in 2015.

A year later, Chmiel filed a quiet title action against US Bank, alleging he owned a fee simple title to the property; that the mortgage expired upon his mother’s death. US Bank countered that it was a holder in due course of the mortgage.

Starke Circuit Judge Kim Hall granted summary judgment in favor of the bank finding Chmiel’s action was barred by the statute of limitations and doctrine of laches, the deed was valid and US Bank was a bond fide mortgagee. A panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed Friday, agreeing with Chmiel’s arguments that the trial court erred.

“Because we conclude that: (1) Chmiel’s quiet title action was not barred by the statute of limitations; and (2) there remain genuine issues of material fact regarding whether: (a) the doctrine of laches bars Chmiel’s claim; (b) the 2005 deed was valid; and (c) U.S. Bank was a bona fide mortgagee, we agree that the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment,” Judge Rudolph R. Pyle wrote for the panel. “We reverse the trial court’s order and remand for further proceedings.”


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