Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Fortuity Doctrine

            This is a bit complicated. But follow along until you see the words “The Fortuity Doctrine.Доверяй, но проверяй.

Kernell and Stanley Thaw were married in 2001. In 2002 Stan Thaw and Leslie Schachar began operating a business together. When the business failed, Schachar paid business debts that were guaranteed by both Stanley and Schachar.

            Schachar sued Stanley in 2008 to recover Stanley’s share of the debt.
            While the lawsuit was pending, the Thaws contracted to purchase a home in Frisco Texas. In 2009 Schachar obtained a final judgment against Stanley, and Stanley appealed.
            While the appeal was in process, Schachar recorded an Abstract of Judgment in Collin County before any Deeds to the new home were recorded. Kernell and Stanley Thaw moved into their new home in 2010.

            In 2011 the Thaws paid off the mortgage debt and only then recorded a Deed in a transaction insured by Fidelity National Title. One month later the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed Schachar’s judgment, so Stanley countered by filing a bankruptcy petition near the end of 2011.

            Schachar filed a proof of claim in the bankruptcy for a $400,000 secured interest in the Frisco property. The bankruptcy court held that both the claim and lien were valid, finding that Schachar had recorded his Abstract of Judgment lien before the Thaws had made their new Frisco property their Texas homestead.

            As a consequence, when the Frisco property was sold in 2013 the Schachar lien attached to the net proceeds of the sale, approximately $500,000.

            In 2014 the bankruptcy Trustee as well as Stanley and Kernell Thaw made demand upon Fidelity for insurance benefits, as the title insurance policy insured title without exclusion for Schachar’s judgment. In 2016 the bankruptcy court approved a settlement in which Schachar received $444,000 from the net proceeds of the sale, in full satisfaction of his claim.

At that juncture the Trustee and Kernell Thaw determined they could recover the amount paid to Schachar from their title insurance carrier. As you likely guessed, Fidelity Title resisted and refused to pay.

            So Kernell and the Trustee sued Fidelity Title, arguing that Fidelity had breached its Policy by denying the claim. The bankruptcy court reviewed the policy and these unique facts, and issued an Order that coverage under Fidelity’s insurance policy was barred. The reasoning was partly due to application of the “Fortuity Doctrine.”

            The Trustee and Kernell Thaw appealed the bankruptcy court’s Order.

            The Fortuity Doctrine relieves insurers from covering some behaviors that the insured undertook prior to purchasing the insurance policy. Under this doctrine, the insured cannot obtain coverage for losses of which the insured had knowledge when the policy was bought, but failed to disclose to the insurance carrier.

            Kernell claimed that she had no actual knowledge that Schachar had recorded an Abstract of Judgment lien and further – she would not have understood the effect of such a filing if she had known of it.

            Evidently the Fortuity Doctrine covers this event, as it precludes insurance coverage when the insured is or should be aware of a known loss at the time the policy is purchased. Not understanding the legalities or process is not a great defense.

            The Court rationalized that even if Kernell had no knowledge of the recordation of the Abstract of Judgment, she knew or should have been aware that her husband’s failure to pay his debts resulted in a Judgment against him in 2009. And that due to appeals, the Judgment was uncollected at the time the Thaws purchased the Frisco property. And that the Judgment remained unpaid when the Thaws paid off the mortgage debt and purchased the title insurance policy in 2011.

            The Court reasoned that was a “loss in progress” and for that reason, Fidelity Title is not responsible for the claims asserted by Kernell Thaw and the Trustee.

            Fidelity Title wins; Kernell Thaw and the Trustee lose. See Christopher Moser and Kernell Thaw v. Fidelity National Title Insurance Company; US District Court; Eastern District of Texas; Case 4:17-CV-104; March 21, 2018;

            Lessons Learned / Questions Asked:

1.      Now I know what the Fortuity Doctrine is!

2.      Insurance companies have abilities to defend that many of us (meaning: me) could never contemplate. This is one among many.

3.      This is my 99th blog posting over a period of almost 10 years. Shouldn’t I get a watch, pen, or tuna sandwich? I mean, for the love of Pete it’s been fun but 99 blogs, really?

                                                                                                                            Stuart A. Lautin, Esq.*
* Board Certified, Commercial (1989) and Residential (1988) Real Estate Law,
Texas Board of Legal Specialization
Licensed in the States of Texas and New York

Reprinted with the permission of the North Texas Commercial Association of REALTORS®, Inc.


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