June 26, 2019

Frederick Skillern: Real Estate Case Law — Titles and Title Insurance (5)

Editor’s note: This is Part 20 of a series of posts in which Denver-area real estate attorney Frederick Skillern provides summaries of case law pertinent to real estate practitioners (click here for previous posts). These updates originally appeared as materials for the 32nd Annual Real Estate Symposium in July 2014.

By Frederick B. Skillernfrederick-b-skillern

US Bank, N.A. v. Stewart Title Guaranty Company
Civil Action No. 13-cv-00117-PAB-KLM
United States District Court For the District Of Colorado
2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36876 (March 20, 2014)

Because Colorado’s appellate courts tend to not “select for publication” any number of interesting cases involving title insurance, I make a note here of a summary judgment order of Judge Brimmer in the federal district court in Denver. There is an allegation in a case brought by homeowner X that a deed of trust recorded by Wells Fargo securing a loan to Y was not a valid lien, as a recorded quit claim deed from X to Y was forged. X first sues Wells Fargo – by this time the loan has been assigned to U.S, Bank. The court discusses whether there is a duty to defend U.S. Bank’s insured title in a lawsuit before U.S. Bank is added to the litigation – the original title claim was made by Wells Fargo. The court reasons “no,” based on a thorough review of the policy language. Paragraph 4(a) of the Conditions and Stipulations states that Stewart Title’s obligation extends only to “the defense of an insured.”

It also reviews a claim that the insurer had a duty to initiate action to clear title to U.S. Bank’s lien prior to the date that U.S. Bank was served in the underlying litigation. The court surveys the cases on whether the insurer “may” or “must” take an affirmative action when it is notified that an insured may have a title issue. The court agrees that under these facts, no such duty was triggered until U.S. Bank – the real party in interest – was named in the suit. Although a title insurer may take action to clear an insured’s title, any duty is subject to the Conditions and Stipulations in the policy. “These policy provisions do not support U.S. Bank’s assertion that the policy creates a duty to defend the title independent of the insurer’s duty to defend the insured. If anything, these provisions reinforce the interpretation of the policy that Stewart Title’s duties are defined in relationship to the insured. The policy’s stated purpose is “a contract of indemnity against actual monetary loss or damage sustained or incurred by the insured” and Paragraph 7(c) states that Stewart Title will only pay “those costs, attorneys’ fees and expenses incurred in accordance with Section 4 of these Conditions and Stipulations.” (Emphasis added).

Frederick B. Skillern, Esq., is a director and shareholder with Montgomery Little & Soran, P.C., practicing in real estate and related litigation and appeals. He serves as an expert witness in cases dealing with real estate, professional responsibility and attorney fees, and acts as a mediator and arbitrator in real estate cases. Before joining Montgomery Little in 2003, Fred was in private practice in Denver for 6 years with Carpenter & Klatskin and for 10 years with Isaacson Rosenbaum. He served as a district judge for Colorado’s Eighteenth Judicial District from 2000 through 2002. Fred is a graduate of Dartmouth College, and received his law degree at the University of Colorado in 1976, in another day and time in which the legal job market was simply awful.
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