September 26, 2016

Ask the Experts: Why Do Lawyers Get Sued?

EthicsThe ABA Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Liability compiled a comprehensive Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims, evaluating claims from 2008 through 2011. According to the Committee’s report, real estate lawyers held the dubious honor of having the highest percentage of malpractice claims, followed by family law, trust and estate, and personal injury law. Forty-five percent of all malpractice claims were filed due to substantive errors, like failure to know or properly apply the law, discovery errors, procedural choice errors, missing deadlines, and conflicts of interest. Administrative errors counted for the second-highest reason for claims, including procrastination in performance or follow-up (read: not returning phone calls), lost files, calendaring errors, and other clerical errors. Together, nearly three-quarters of all legal malpractice claims filed during the Committee’s study period were due to errors. That is a frightening statistic.

One way to avoid becoming the subject of a malpractice claim is to choose clients carefully. Everyone has experienced “problem” clients—clients who won’t leave you alone, who lack the ability to pay, and who seem to criticize your every move. Attorney Sally Field (no relation to the actress) compiled a list of the top ten warning signs for problem clients:

  1. Clients who want to change lawyers in the middle of the case;
  2. Clients who trash the lawyer they just left;
  3. Clients who are reluctant to answer basic questions;
  4. Clients who are overly opinionated about the law without justification;
  5. Clients who have unreasonable expectations;
  6. Clients who micromanage everything;
  7. Clients who won’t let you end an excessively long initial client interview;
  8. Clients who want to exact revenge or punishment through the legal system;
  9. Clients who make negative comments about judges, courts, and the judicial system; and
  10. Companies with unusually high turnover of key staff or unusual corporate structures.

Bottom line? Many potential malpractice claims can be avoided by refusing to represent those clients who seem like trouble from the outset. Avoiding mistakes is helpful, too.

Sally Field, along with John Palmeri, will discuss common reasons for lawyer malpractice lawsuits in a panel discussion moderated by Heather Kelly. Join us for this interesting and informative breakfast CLE on Tuesday, September 27, 2016. Call (303) 860-0608 to register, or click the links below.

 

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CLE Program: Why Lawyers Get Sued

This CLE presentation will occur on September 27, 2016, at the CBA-CLE offices (1900 Grant Street, Third Floor), from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Register for the live program here or register for the webcast here. You may also call (303) 860-0608 to register.

Can’t make the live program? Order the homestudy here: MP3Video OnDemand.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Binding Precedent Dictates that Tree Straddling Property Line Belongs to Property Where Planted

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Love v. Klosky on Thursday, September 8, 2016.

Tree Straddling Property Line.

Plaintiffs and defendants are adjoining landowners whose common boundary is straddled by a 70-year-old tree. Plaintiffs claimed the tree was a nuisance and wanted to cut it down. Defendants wanted the tree to remain. The tree trunk has been on or over the property line for at least 40 years, and the trunk straddled the property line when both plaintiffs and defendants purchased their properties. The trial court, bound by the one Colorado Supreme Court case on point, Rhodig v. Keck, concluded that the tree was not jointly planted, jointly cared for, or treated as a partition, and entered judgment for plaintiffs. The trial court stayed the effect of its decision pending all appeals.

On appeal, defendants contended that the trial court erred in concluding that they did not jointly care for the tree as required by Rhodig. Because defendants did not provide a complete record on appeal on this issue, the Court of Appeals presumed that the trial court’s findings and conclusions were supported by the evidence.

Defendants also contended that the Colorado Supreme Court should reconsider Rhodig because it is the minority rule and it was based on a misreading of a Nebraska case on which it relied. Under the majority rule, a tree on a boundary line belongs to both owners as tenants in common and neither property owner can remove such a tree without the consent of the other. Under the minority rule enunciated in Rhodig, the landowner of the property where the tree was first planted can cut the tree down over the other landowner’s objections unless the other landowner can prove the tree was jointly planted, jointly cared for, or treated as a partition between the properties. The Court concluded that the Supreme Court might wish to reconsider Rhodig based on the many jurisdictions adopting the majority rule and two decisions in other jurisdictions criticizing Rhodig. If the Supreme Court reconsiders Rhodig and adopts the majority rule, it could remand this case to the trial court to issue an injunction to prevent the Kloskys from cutting down the tree. At oral argument, defendants agreed that the trial court’s stay should remain in effect pending any decision by the Supreme Court or the Loves’ failure to timely petition for certiorari. Accordingly, the trial court’s stay was continued.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reformation of Covenants Agreement Placed Parties in Position with CCIOA-Compliant Agreement

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Arrabelle at Vail Square Residential Condominium Association, Inc. v. Arrabelle at Vail Square LLC on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Development—Association—Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act—Small Planned Community—Reformation—Special Master.

The Arrabelle at Vail Square (Arrabelle) is a luxury development built and managed by Vail Resorts Development Company and Arrabelle at Vail Square LLC (Vail Resorts). Arrabelle includes multi-million dollar residential condominiums, a boutique hotel, restaurants, retail shops, an ice-skating rink, a spa, parking, and other amenities. At the time of development, Vail Resorts recorded a plat establishing seven separate real estate parcels collectively titled “Lot 1” and “Airspace Lots A-F” at Arrabelle. Vail Resorts then entered into a Reciprocal Easements and Covenants Agreement (RECA) governing those parcels and creating two lots—the Airspace Lot (which would be developed into condominiums) and the Project Lot (the remainder of the property). The RECA establishes benefits, burdens, and cost allocations between both lots, and it regulates the use and enjoyment of both lots. Immediately after recording the RECA, Vail Resorts recorded a condominium plat creating 67 condominiums in the Airspace Lot and a condominium declaration creating the Arabelle at Vail Square Condominium Association, Inc. (Association). Problems soon developed between Vail Resorts and the Association. The Association subsequently filed this action seeking a declaratory judgment allowing it to terminate the RECA or, alternatively, ruling that the RECA was in violation of the Colorado Common Interest Ownership Act (CCIOA), requiring reformation. Among other things, the trial court (1) ruled that Arrabelle is not a small planned community under C.R.S. § 38-33.3-116(2), because it was subject to development rights; (2) reformed the RECA to adjust the cost allocation ratio between the lots; and (3) had a special master draft an amendment to the RECA.

On appeal, Vail Resorts argued that the trial court erred in ruling that Arrabelle is not a “small planned community” under CCIOA § 38-33.3-116(2) because Vail Resorts reserved development rights under the RECA. By definition, the Arrabelle, which contains 67 units, is not a small planned community containing fewer than 20 units under CCIOA.

Vail Resorts also argued that the trial court erred in reforming the cost allocation and RECA and master association documents because those documents contain terms not required by CCIOA. Because the 59.7% cost allocation to the Association did not correspond to the formula established in RECA section 6(b), and because that allocation discriminated in favor of Vail Resorts’ Project Lot without properly disclosing that the allocation substantially benefited that lot, the trial court did not err in reforming RECA section 6(b) pursuant to the Association’s expert’s recommendation based on as-built drawings of the Arrabelle.

Vail Resorts also contended that additional court-ordered reformations to the RECA exceeded the authority of the court. Principles of equity support the trial court’s conclusion that reformations were necessary for the RECA to comply with CCIOA, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in adopting the special master’s reformations. The court placed Vail Resorts and the Association in the position they would have been had Vail Resorts initially created a CCIOA-compliant common interest community.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Law Firm Breached Contract Not to Represent One Association Member Against Another

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Semler v. Hellerstein on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Notice of Appeal—Timeliness—Amended Complaint—Jurisdiction—Motion to Dismiss—Fraud—Concealment—Misrepresentation—Civil Conspiracy—Breach of Fiduciary Duty—Breach of Contract—Third Party Beneficiary—Attorney Fees.

Plaintiff Semler and defendant Perfect Place are both members of the 1940 Blake Street Condominium Association (Association). Defendant Hellerstein owns and controls both Perfect Place and Bruce S. Hellerstein, CPA P.C. Hellerstein also served as treasurer of the Association. Defendant Bewley is an attorney employed by defendant law firm Berenbaum Weinshienk, P.C. At all relevant times, Bewley represented Hellerstein and his two corporate entities.

This case stems from a related quiet title action in which Perfect Place asked the court to determine that it was the rightful owner of parking spaces C, D, and E. The court presiding over the quiet title action determined that Semler owned parking spaces C and D, while Perfect Place owned parking space E. Semler then brought the current suit, claiming that Bewley and Hellerstein devised a scheme to gain title to Semler’s building parking spaces C and D. Semler’s first amended complaint alleged claims for breach of fiduciary duty against Hellerstein, aiding and abetting that breach against Bewley, and civil conspiracy against all defendants. The court granted defendants’ motions to dismiss. Semler then moved to amend his complaint for the second time, proposing to add claims for fraud, nondisclosure and concealment, negligent misrepresentation, negligent supervision, vicarious liability, and breach of contract. He also more clearly explained that he was seeking damages for the lost income opportunities he suffered as a result of having to defend against the quiet title action. The court denied Semler’s second motion to amend based on lack of standing and awarded attorney fees in favor of defendants.

On appeal, defendants asserted that Semler’s notice of appeal was untimely and, therefore, the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The Court determined that Semler timely filed his notice of appeal.

Semler contended that the trial court erred by denying his motion for leave to amend his complaint a second time. The court, however, considered the claims in the second amended complaint when ruling on the motion to dismiss.

Semler argued that the trial court erred in granting defendants’ motions to dismiss. The Court reviewed the trial court’s dismissal of the action based on Semler’s second amended complaint. Semler’s fraud, concealment, and misrepresentation claims were all premised on conversations and transactions between a third party and defendants in which Semler was not involved. Semler lacked standing to bring these claims. Moreover, Semler’s claims for lost opportunity damages are too remote and unforeseeable to be recoverable under these claims. Therefore, these claims failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and should have been dismissed under C.R.C.P. 12(b)(5).

Semler also contended that defendants conspired with each other to obtain his parking spaces. He is not entitled to relief on a civil conspiracy claim because a director cannot conspire with the corporation which he serves, which is the premise of Semler’s argument. Semler’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Bewley failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Additionally, because Hellerstein was not acting in his role as treasurer when he engaged in the allegedly fraudulent conduct, Semler’s breach of fiduciary duty claim against Hellerstein fails. Because these claims fail, Semler’s aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty claim against Bewley and negligent supervision and vicarious liability claims against Bewley’s law firm, Berenbaum Weinshienk, fail as well.

As to his breach of contract claim, although Semler was not a party to the contract between Berenbaum Weinshienk and the Association in which Berenbaum Weinshienk agreed that it would not represent one Association member against another, Semler sufficiently pleaded a third-party beneficiary breach of contract claim pursuant to this agreement. Therefore, the case was remanded to the trial court for further proceedings on this claim.

Semler also contended that if the dismissal order is reversed, the attorney fees award in favor of defendants must also be reversed. Only Semler’s breach of contract claim survived C.R.C.P. 12(b) dismissal. Thus, because that claim was not pleaded against the Perfect Place defendants, the attorney fees award to them remains undisturbed. The order awarding fees to Bewley and Berenbaum Weinshienk was reversed.

The orders were affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Holder of Evidence of Debt May Initiate Foreclosure with Copy of Evidence of Debt

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Edwards v. Bank of America, N.A. on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Mortgage—Foreclosure—Standing—Summary Judgment—Affidavit.

Plaintiff obtained a loan to finance the purchase of property. When she defaulted on the loan, defendant sold the house through foreclosure. During the foreclosure proceedings, plaintiff filed a complaint alleging that defendant lacked standing to file a C.R.C.P. 120 motion and to commence foreclosure proceedings. The district court granted defendant’s summary judgment motion and subsequently denied plaintiff’s motion to reconsider the judgment.

On appeal, plaintiff contended that the district court erred in granting defendant’s summary judgment motion. The holder of an evidence of debt may initiate foreclosure proceedings with a copy of the evidence of debt and deed of trust, rather than the original documents. Here, defendant produced sufficient evidence to establish that it was entitled to foreclose and that plaintiff failed to demonstrate there was a genuine issue of material fact as to defendant’s standing to foreclose. Accordingly, the district court did not err in granting defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

Plaintiff also contended that the district court erred in denying her motion to reconsider summary judgment because the court prematurely granted summary judgment without giving her sufficient opportunity to conduct discovery. C.R.C.P. 56(f) allows a party who cannot produce facts essential to its opposition to a motion for summary judgment to submit an affidavit explaining why it cannot do so. Plaintiff did not submit a C.R.C.P. 56(f) affidavit. Accordingly, the district court properly denied plaintiff’s motion to reconsider summary judgment.

The judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

Tenth Circuit: No Error where District Court Granted Summary Judgment Prior to Rule 26(f) Meeting

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Trans-Western Petroleum, Inc. v. United States Gypsum Co. on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.

United States Gypsum (USG) owns the oil and gas underlying 1,700 acres of land in Utah. USG entered into an oil and gas lease in 1995 that was subsequently assigned to Wolverine Oil & Gas Corp. and extended through August 17, 2004. In 2004, Douglas Isern, the owner and sole officer of Trans-Western, called USG and expressed interest in leasing the oil and gas rights when the Wolverine lease expired. Trans-Western sent USG a proposed five-year lease beginning August 17, 2014, and a check for $32,680. USG executed the lease on September 15, 2004 but did not cash the check.

On October 1, 2004, Wolverine protested the recording of the lease, claiming its lease remained valid. USG then rescinded the Trans-Western lease both orally and in writing. Trans-Western brought suit against Wolverine in 2006, seeking a declaratory judgment that Wolverine’s lease had expired on August 17, 2004. The district court determined that the lease had expired and granted the parties’ joint motion for a Rule 54(b) certification and stay. The Tenth Circuit affirmed on appeal. Thereafter, USG and Trans-Western executed a Ratification and Lease Extension for a primary five-year term beginning December 11, 2009.

In 2010, Trans-Western filed a second amended complaint, seeking a declaratory judgment that its lease with USG was valid and damages for breach of contract and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Trans-Western moved for partial summary judgment, which USG opposed. The district court granted partial summary judgment but denied attorney fees due to disputed material facts on damages. At a bench trial on damages, Trans-Western contended it was entitled to expectation damages because USG deprived it of the opportunity to assign. The district court disagreed, finding Trans-Western was entitled to only nominal damages based on the contract’s value on the date of the breach. The parties appealed.

The Tenth Circuit certified a question to the Utah Supreme Court regarding how expectation damages should be measured for the breach of an oil and gas lease. The Utah Supreme Court responded that consequential damages are those that are reasonably foreseeable by the parties at the time the contract was made. The court also held that the trial court may exercise its discretion to allow for the use of post-breach evidence to help calculate expectation damages.

The Tenth Circuit first evaluated USG’s cross-appeal, in which it argued that the district court should have granted its Rule 56(d) motion and deferred ruling on its partial summary judgment motion so that USG could conduct discovery. The district court determined that USG had a correct understanding of certain facts and constructive notice of others, thereby allowing the case to be resolved as a matter of law. In the district court, USG argued that extra time would allow it to discover evidence that Trans-Western was aware that USG was under a mistaken impression. On appeal, USG argued that discovery would have shown there was no meeting of the minds due to a lack of consideration from Trans-Western. The Tenth Circuit found these arguments different, and ruled that USG waived its argument. The Tenth Circuit further noted, though, that even if it were to consider the argument, USG did not meet the requirements for Rule 56(d) deferral because its allegations were vague and non-specific.

USG also argued the district court violated a scheduling order by granting summary judgment prior to the Rule 26(f) meeting. The Tenth Circuit found no abuse of discretion, noting that nothing suggested that USG sought to enforce the scheduling order and the order did not preclude motions practice. USG next argued the district court erred by granting Trans-Western’s motion for partial summary judgment because the lease failed for want of mutuality and consideration. The Tenth Circuit again disagreed. Trans-Western issued a bank draft in 2004, and USG had the ability to negotiate the draft from the moment of its delivery. Because the parties exchanged promises with adequate consideration, the district court did not err in granting partial summary judgment.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court but remanded for calculation of damages consistent with the Utah Supreme Court’s opinion.

Tenth Circuit: Lower-Rung Participant in RICO Association-in-Fact Enterprise Can Play Part in Carrying Out Affairs

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in George v. Urban Settlement Services on Monday, August 15, 2016.

Plaintiffs Richard George, Steven Leavitt, Sandra Leavitt, and Darrell Dalton asserted claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) against Bank of America (BOA) and Urban Settlement Services, along with a promissory estoppel claim against BOA, based on the defendants’ allegedly fraudulent administration of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). BOA was required to participate in HAMP and comply with the program guidelines because it received funds pursuant to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. BOA contracted with third parties, including Urban, to administer its HAMP program. Each of the four plaintiffs had a home mortgage through BOA and applied for home loan modifications through HAMP, interacting with BOA and Urban representatives during the application process. Despite various misleading representations from BOA and Urban, the plaintiffs were unable to obtain HAMP relief, depriving them of opportunities to sell their homes or pay off other debts.

Plaintiffs brought RICO claims against BOA and Urban, alleging defendants formed a RICO enterprise with the common goal of wrongfully denying HAMP loan modifications to qualified homeowners by developing a scheme to obstruct and delay borrowers’ HAMP loan modification requests. Plaintiffs also asserted promissory estoppel claims against BOA, alleging BOA made clear promises in Trial Period Plan (TPP) documents and on its website promising permanent loan modifications to qualified borrowers who completed TPPs. BOA and Urban filed Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. BOA argued the plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege a RICO enterprise distinct from BOA, while Urban argued they failed to sufficiently allege Urban participated in the enterprise. Both defendants argued plaintiffs failed to sufficiently allege a pattern of racketeering activity. The district court granted both defendants’ motions and dismissed plaintiffs’ claims.

On appeal, plaintiffs argued the factual allegations in their amended complaint state facially plausible RICO claims against BOA and Urban and the district court erred in dismissing the claims. The plaintiffs argued that because they alleged an association-in-fact enterprise consisting of independently owned and operated companies, the alleged enterprise is sufficiently distinct from BOA. The Tenth Circuit agreed. The plaintiffs contend the enterprise’s common purpose was to extend as few HAMP modifications as possible while appearing to comply with program rules. The district court concluded that Urban employees were BOA’s agents, who did nothing more than follow BOA’s instructions, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed. The Tenth Circuit found that plaintiffs sufficiently showed that BOA and Urban formed an association-in-fact enterprise, and that by orchestrating and operating a scheme to deny HAMP modifications, BOA and Urban furthered the enterprise’s scheme to delay modifications.

The district court also concluded that plaintiffs failed to show Urban’s participation in the enterprise. The district court characterized Urban as an outside entity having no participation in BOA’s enterprise. The Tenth Circuit noted that this mischaracterization failed to appreciate that BOA was not the alleged enterprise. Plaintiffs alleged Urban was a lower-rung participant knowingly carrying out BOA’s orders, and the Tenth Circuit agreed, noting that even a bit part participant can play some part in carrying out the enterprise’s affairs.

Defendants alternatively argued that the Tenth Circuit could affirm the district court because plaintiffs failed to show a pattern of racketeering activity. Plaintiffs alleged several acts of mail and wire fraud, but defendants argued plaintiffs failed to show particularity. As to BOA, the Tenth Circuit disagreed, noting that plaintiffs had illustrated several conversations with various BOA employees about their HAMP modifications. As to Urban, the Tenth Circuit found it was a close call. Plaintiffs argued that they were unable to show particularity without further discovery, because Urban employees frequently held themselves out as BOA employees. The Tenth Circuit found this sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss. The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ RICO claims and remanded for further proceedings.

Turning to the promissory estoppel claims against BOA, the Tenth Circuit again found the district court erred. Plaintiffs described BOA’s unambiguous promises to provide permanent HAMP modifications for borrowers who complied with their TPPs. The district court found that BOA made no promise, but the Tenth Circuit determined this to be in error. Screenshots of the BOA website and TPP documents unambiguously promised borrowers permanent modifications if they complied with their TPPs. The Tenth Circuit found this sufficient to satisfy the first step of the promissory estoppel analysis. Because the district court did not address the remaining factors, the Tenth Circuit remanded for further proceedings.

The Tenth Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ RICO and promissory estoppel claims, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Reversal Based on Firm and Definite Conviction that Mistake Had Been Made

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Indian Mountain Corp. v. Indian Mountain Metropolitan District on Thursday, August 11, 2016.

In 1970, Indian Mountain Corporation’s (IMC’s) predecessor in interest purchased land and water rights in Park County with the intent of creating an upscale subdivision within a community of amenities. After residential construction had begun in the Indian Mountain subdivision, SB 72-35 passed, requiring the subdivision to obtain a water-court-approved augmentation plan. The plan required homeowners to drill a well at their own expense, but for many years, IMC maintained and operated the plan at its own expense.

In 1972, the developer spearheaded the creation of the Indian Mountain Parks & Recreation District, which was converted into the Indian Mountain Metropolitan District (IMMD) in 2012 in order to be able to legally purchase and provide water services. IMMD negotiated to purchase the plan from IMC, but was not successful. In 2013, owners of a neighboring ranch approached IMC’s director about purchasing the reservoir, and eventually purchased all of the assets of IMC, including the water plan. IMC’s new owner charged IMMD for its water usage, but IMMD did not pay the invoices.

IMC filed an action in district court, seeking a declaratory injunction that it is the legal owner of the water rights and the plan and IMMD has no right, title, or interest in them. IMMD filed an answer and counterclaim, seeking a declaratory injunction that the Indian Mountain lot owners owned the plan and water rights as beneficiaries of a constructive trust. The district court issued an order in favor of IMMD. IMC filed a post-judgment motion requesting a hearing on the amount of reasonable fees it could charge IMMD for ongoing operation of the plan, which the district court denied.

On appeal, the court of appeals ruled the district court erred in finding that the water rights and augmentation plan were held in a constructive trust. The court based its reversal on a “firm and definite conviction that a mistake ha[d] been made.” Because three experts testified that the lot prices included the cost of the plan, but all advanced different theories that were directly refuted by the documentary evidence in the record, the court found reversal necessary. The court of appeals found that the district court clearly erred in finding that the lot prices included the cost of the plan, and the unjust enrichment analysis failed at the first prong.

The judgment of the district court was reversed.

Colorado Court of Appeals: “For Sale” Sign Only Invites Viewer to Contact Listing Agent, Not Enter Property

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Rucker v. Federal National Mortgage Association on Thursday, July 28, 2016.

Ellyn and David Rucker decided to purchase a house that their daughter, Kristin, would rent from them. David placed an offer on a house for which Kristin had had a showing with a Heter & Co. listing agent, but Ellyn had not seen the property, so Kristin took Ellyn to the house. There was a “For Sale” sign in the yard and a small notice on the door warning that trespassers would be prosecuted. After walking around the house and looking through some windows, Ellyn started walking from the house down the paved walkway to return to the car. She fell and sustained injuries.

Ellyn sued Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) and Heter for damages, alleging she was an invitee under the Premises Liability Act (PLA) because the “For Sale” sign constituted an implied invitation to the public. She also argued that she was an invitee because she was present on the property for purposes of a business transaction. The trial court disagreed and concluded Ellyn was a trespasser, finding that because she never obtained the express or implied consent of the landowner, she did not have an invitation to enter the property. The court did not address Ellyn’s business transaction argument. Upon Ellyn’s request, the court certified its “For Sale” sign order for immediate appeal. The court of appeals dismissed her appeal without prejudice, finding the issues were not ripe. Ellyn again raised the “For Sale” sign and business transaction issues in the trial court, and again the court ruled that Ellyn was not an invitee and rejected her arguments. She again requested the court to certify its order for immediate appeal.

Ellyn filed a second interlocutory appeal, seeking review of both the “For Sale” and business transaction orders. The court of appeals limited its review to the “For Sale” sign issue because the trial court declined to certify the business transaction issue for interlocutory appeal. On appeal, Ellyn contended that the “For Sale” sign created an implied representation that the public was requested, expected, or intended to enter the premises. The court of appeals disagreed. After examining case law from other jurisdictions, the court of appeals found that the “For Sale” sign created only an invitation to contact the listing agent, not to enter the property. Because the listing agent or landowner did not have a practice of allowing others to enter the property without express permission, Ellyn could not show that her entrance on the property was as an invitee.

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court.

Tenth Circuit: Title Insurance Does Not Cover Loss of Property at Foreclosure Sale

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in BV Jordanelle, LLC v. Old Republic National Title Insurance Co. on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.

In 2008, BV loaned $6.3 million to PWJ Holdings, which owned the Aspens Property in Wasatch, Utah. In exchange for the loan, BV received a mortgage for one parcel in the Aspens Property, and obtained a title insurance policy through Old Republic. PWJ defaulted on the loan, and BV foreclosed on the property in 2009, acquiring title to the property at a trustee’s sale. The property was located in an improvement district, but PWJ did not pay the assessments for the improvement district, and the district initiated foreclosure proceedings in 2010. BV sued the district in state court, seeking to stop the foreclosure and retain title, but the court issued a decree in 2012 allowing the district to complete the foreclosure. Because Utah law holds that improvement district liens are superior to all other liens, the improvement district obtained title to the insured property, extinguishing BV’s interest.

BV did not learn about the improvement district’s lien until 2010, after it had acquired title to the property. When it learned of the lien, BV sought compensation from Old Republic under the title insurance policy, but Old Republic denied coverage. BV sued Old Republic, contending Old Republic had breached the insurance policy by refusing to compensate it for the loss of the property and by failing to defend BV in the state court litigation with the improvement district. The district court granted judgment on the pleadings to Old Republic, concluding that the policy did not entitle BV to recovery for loss of the property or defense in the state court suit. BV appealed.

The Tenth Circuit applied Utah law in affirming the district court. BV contended it was entitled to coverage based on six different covered risks: loss caused by a defect in title, loss by encroachments that affect title, loss caused by unmarketable title, loss caused by enforcement of subdivision regulations, loss caused by a governmental taking, and loss caused by the imposition of a statutory lien for services, labor, or material used in construction. The Tenth Circuit found that none of the covered risks applied.

The Tenth Circuit specifically found that a Utah Supreme Court opinion precluded BV’s claims regarding the defect in title, as that case held the defect must be present at the time of acquisition of the property. BV argued that because the improvement district was contemplated before it acquired the property, the defect was present, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed. The Tenth Circuit also rejected BV’s claims due to loss caused by encroachment, noting those claims were not raised in BV’s complaint. Similarly, the Tenth Circuit refused to consider BV’s claim for loss caused by unmarketable title because it was not raised in district court. The Tenth Circuit disposed of the remaining claims by finding that the improvement district’s notice to enforce a subdivision regulation was not in effect at the time BV acquired title, any governmental taking would have happened after BV acquired title, and the improvement district’s lien was not for any services, labor, or materials used in construction.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Tenth Circuit: Lack of Economic Marketability Does Not Equate to Unmarketable Title

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. v. Woody Creek Ventures, LLC on Tuesday, July 26, 2016.

Woody Creek acquired two parcels of land in Pitkin County and purchased two title insurance policies from Fidelity, insuring, among other things, access and marketability of title. The two parcels were separated by a tract of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, but Woody Creek assumed it could access the more remote parcel via a roadway crossing the BLM’s tract. It subdivided the parcels and sought prospective buyers. When a prospective buyer expressed concern about access to the remote lot, Woody Creek discovered that it had no legal right of access.

Woody Creek submitted a claim to Fidelity under the title insurance policies, and Fidelity retained counsel on Woody Creek’s behalf. Counsel ultimately negotiated the purchase of a 30-year revocable right-of-way grant from the BLM to allow Woody Creek access to the remote parcel. Woody Creek maintained that it suffered a covered loss because the lack of permanent access significantly diminished the value of the remote parcel. Fidelity filed an action for declaratory judgment that Woody Creek was not entitled to coverage for its alleged losses because the right-of-way cured the access issue. Woody Creek counterclaimed for declaratory judgment on the existence of coverage, breach of contract, and bad faith breach of insurance contract. The parties filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment on the coverage issues.

After a hearing, the district court granted Fidelity’s motion and denied Woody Creek’s. The court concluded that the 30-year right-of-way fell within the plain meaning of “access” and left the question of whether Fidelity may be required to pay for future loss of access for another day. The court concluded that the possibility of future litigation did not render the title unmarketable, and rejected Woody Creek’s bad faith claims as a matter of law. Woody Creek appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first addressed Woody Creek’s argument that Fidelity’s purchase of a 30-year right-of-way did not cure the access issue because the right-of-way was revocable and temporary. Fidelity argued that although the title insurance policy guaranteed access, it did not guarantee unrestricted, unregulated, or permanent access. The Tenth Circuit construed the phrase “right of access” and determined that permanent, unrestricted access was not contemplated by the phrase. The Tenth Circuit decided that the Colorado Supreme Court would have construed the phrase “right of access” to include the 30-year right-of-way obtained by Fidelity.

The Tenth Circuit next considered whether the lack of permanent access supported Woody Creek’s claim for unmarketability of title, and concluded it did not. Woody Creek cited a treatise on title insurance law for the proposition that lack of access makes title unmarketable. Fidelity disagreed and suggested that Colorado case law supported its position that even complete lack of access does not render title unmarketable. The Tenth Circuit evaluated the cases and affirmed the district court’s decision, noting the distinction between economic marketability and marketability of title. The Tenth Circuit noted that a parcel of land could be worth no money but have clear title.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Tender of Funds in Satisfaction of Lien Before Redemption Period Must Be Accepted by Creditor

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Mortgage Investment Enterprises, LLC v. Oakwood Holdings, LLC on Thursday, July 14, 2016.

Foreclosure—Lien—Redemption.

The debtors purchased the property at issue and subsequently defaulted on their obligation to pay monthly fees to the Kimblewyck Village Owners Association (Kimblewyck). Kimblewyck filed a lien against the property. The property was also encumbered by (1) a lien filed by the Fox Run Owners Association and (2) two judgments entered in favor of Community Management Association, Inc. (CMA). Kimblewyck obtained a judgment and decree of foreclosure. Mortgage Investments Enterprises LLC (Mortgage Investments) was the successful bidder at the foreclosure sale. On the day before the foreclosure sale, Oakwood Holdings, LLC (Oakwood) purchased the Fox Run lien and both CMA judgments. Oakwood subsequently filed notices of intent to redeem the Fox Run lien and one of the CMA judgments. Mortgage Investments tendered, on behalf of the debtor, pursuant to a valid power of attorney, lien satisfaction payments to Oakwood. Although Oakwood’s period to redeem had not yet begun, it refused to accept the payments. Mortgage Investments filed a complaint for a declaratory judgment that Oakwood was required to accept Mortgage Investments’ tenders on behalf of the debtor. Oakwood subsequently redeemed the property, and the district court granted Oakwood’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, Mortgage Investments argued that the district court erred in concluding that Oakwood had no duty to accept tender of payment in satisfaction of its liens. Prior to the start of Oakwood’s period to redeem and before it tendered redemption funds, Oakwood had a duty to accept Mortgage Investments’ tender of payment, on behalf of the debtor, in satisfaction of the lien Oakwood sought to redeem. The district court’s judgment was reversed and the case was remanded with directions to enter summary judgment in favor of Mortgage Investments.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.