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Indiana Lis Pendens Notice Deemed Discharged Despite Pending Appeal Of The Discharge Order

Lesson. If a trial court discharges (releases) a lis pendens notice in a final appealable order, an appeal of the underlying decision does not resurrect the notice or extend the filer’s lis pendens rights pending the outcome of the appeal.

Case cite. Knapp v. Wright, 76 N.E.3d 900 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017).

Legal issue. Whether the release of the lis pendens notice was premature because the court’s order was subject to an appeal.

Vital facts. Knapp was a dispute between the Wrights and the Knapps surrounding the enforceability of a land contract. The trial court entered a preliminary order granting the Wrights possession of the subject real estate. The Knapps responded by filing a lis pendens notice (LPN) asserting an ownership interest in a portion of the real estate based upon the land contract.

Procedural history. The Wrights filed an emergency motion to discharge the LPN because the trial court had already determined that the Knapps had no rights to the property under the land contract. The trial court wen on to hold an evidentiary hearing on the matter of damages and awarded the Wrights monetary relief. In the second order, the trial court stated that its ruling was a final, appealable judgment with respect to the real estate. The court’s order also granted the Wrights’ emergency motion to discharge the LPN and expressly authorized them to sell the real estate free and clear of the LPN. The Knapps appealed.

Key rules. The Indiana Supreme Court has described the doctrine of lis pendens as being:

fundamentally about notice. The term lis pendens itself means “pending suit,” and it refers specifically to “the jurisdiction, power, or control which a court acquires over property” involved in a pending real estate action. Any successor in interest to real estate is deemed to take notice of a pending action involving title to that real estate and is subject to its outcome. The judgment in the pending lawsuit binds all successors in interest, regardless of whether a successor was a party to the litigation. The doctrine’s purpose is to protect the finality of court judgments by discouraging purchases of contested real estate.

Ind. Code 32-30-11 is Indiana’s lis pendens statute. Section 7 states in pertinent part:

Upon the final determination of any suit brought:

(1) for the purposes described in section 2 or 3 of this chapter; and
(2) adversely to the party seeking to enforce a lien upon, right to, or interest in the real estate;

the court rendering the judgment shall order the proper clerk to enter in the lis pendens record a satisfaction of the lien, right, or interest sought to be enforced against the real estate. When the entry is made, the real estate is forever discharged from the lien, right, or interest.

Holding. The Knapps essentially claimed that the LPN should not have been removed pending the outcome of their appeal. The Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed and affirmed the trial court.

Policy/rationale. The trial court’s final appealable judgment disposed of all issues concerning title to the subject real estate. The Court of Appeals reasoned that the judgment constituted a “final determination” under the above statute that mandated the clerk to enter in the lis pendens record a satisfaction of the defendants’ interests they sought to enforce. The fact that the Knapps “intended to appeal … did not render the … final appealable judgment any less of a ‘final determination’ of their suit within the meaning of the statute.” Based upon the language in the statute and a 2003 case interpreting the operative words “final determination,” the Court concluded that the LPN was extinguished regardless of pending appellate rights. While I understand the Knapps’ position (what if the land contract ruling was reversed on appeal?), the language in the statute handcuffed the courts from extending the lis pendens in this instance.

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I frequently represent judgment creditors and lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, entangled in lien priority and title claim disputes. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.

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