The Indiana Court of Appeals, in Lunsford v. Deutsche Bank, 966 N.E.2d 815 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013), begins its opinion with this legal principle: “. . . first in time is first in right . . . .” In Indiana property and debt collection law, this means “a prior lien gives a prior claim, which is entitled to prior satisfaction, out of the subject it binds . . . .” This rule doomed a land contract buyer (vendee) in his priority dispute with a lender (mortgagee).
The operative dates. In Lunsford, the owner of the real estate entered into a land contract to sell on August 28, 2000, but the buyer failed to record the land contract until March 8, 2006. On August 25, 2005, the owner obtained a mortgage loan, and the lender recorded the mortgage approximately six months before the recordation of the land contract. The owner subsequently defaulted on the mortgage loan, resulting in the lender’s foreclosure suit.
Priority dispute. The issue in Lunsford was whether the land contract should have been foreclosed as a junior and subordinate interest to the lender’s mortgage. In other words, was the land contract buyer’s claim to the real estate subject to the lender’s mortgage, even though the land contract predated the mortgage by five years?
Mortgage superior. The Court in Lunsford swiftly dispensed with the land contract buyer’s priority contention. Since the lender recorded its mortgage six months before the buyer recorded its land contract, the mortgage was senior in priority. Further, since the lender made the buyer a party to the foreclosure action, thereby giving him the opportunity to assert his junior interest in the real estate, the trial court’s foreclosure decree was conclusive as to the buyer. The Court affirmed the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the lender accordingly. Moral: Don’t Forget To Record.
Different outcome. While Lunsford appears to be a straight forward case, the Court of Appeals actually reached the opposite result in the 2007 Pramco opinion I discussed here. The Pramco Court leaned on principles of equity and focused on, among other things, the amount of payments that the land contract buyer had made before the lender’s foreclosure suit. The Pramco opinion was much more factually involved, while the land contract facts in Lunsford really were not addressed. Note that the prevailing land contract buyer in Pramco was represented by counsel, whereas the losing buyer in Lunsford was pro se.