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Properly Filed Lis Pendens Notices Do Not Slander Title

Lesson. The filing of a lis pendens notice to protect one’s unrecorded interest in real estate will not give rise to liability for slander of title provided there was a basis for filing the notice.

Case cite. RCM v. 2007 East Meadows, 118 N.E.3d 756 (Ind. Ct. 2019)

Legal issue. Whether a lis pendens notice, filed by the buyer during litigation about a real estate purchase agreement, constituted slander of title.

Vital facts. The dispute in RCM involved a purchase agreement for a $9MM apartment complex located in Indianapolis. Lawsuits in both Texas and Indiana were filed relating to an alleged breach of the agreement, alleged fraud and an earnest money claim. The buyer filed lis pendens notices in Indiana for the pending Texas and Indiana lawsuits. Following the dismissal of the Texas case, and while the seller was negotiating with a third party for the sale of the property, the seller in the Indiana action asserted a slander of title claim against the buyer for not releasing the lis pendens notice.

Procedural history. After a bench trial, the seller prevailed on the underlying claims associated with the purchase agreement and the earnest money, but the trial court found in favor of the buyer on seller’s slander of title claim. Seller appealed.

Key rules. Ind. Code 32-30-11-3 spells out the requirements for a lis pendens notice in Indiana.

Parties with a claim to title of real estate under a contract for the real estate’s purchase “ha[ve] the kind of interest that requires filing a lis pendens notice under the statute to protect third parties.”

Indiana law is settled that “statements made in a properly-filed lis pendens notice are absolutely privileged … and defendants who file such a notice may not be held liable for slander of title.”

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Policy/rationale. Seller contended that buyer slandered seller’s title to the real estate by filing a lis pendens notice when buyer knew it would not be able to perform under the purchase agreement. (Seller also claimed that buyer had waived the privilege defense, but the Court rejected the claim on procedural grounds.)

Lis pendens notices “provide machinery whereby a person with an in rem claim to property which is not otherwise recorded [like a purchase agreement] may put his claim upon the public records, so that third persons dealing with the [seller] … will have constructive notice of it.”

The Court reasoned that, since both parties had filed lawsuits regarding their interests in the real estate subject to the purchase agreement, buyer was actually “required” by law to file a lis pendens notice. It follows that the buyer’s notice was proper and therefore absolutely privileged.

Related postsYour Source For Indiana Lis Pendens Law
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I represent parties in real estate-related 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.


Indiana Has Two Statutes Of Limitations For Promissory Notes

This follows-up my last post, Indiana Court of Appeals Adopts Reasonableness Test For Promissory Note Statute of Limitations, where there was cliffhanger about an alternative statute of limitations that may have altered the outcome of the lender's case, which was dismissed based upon the expiration of the six-year statute of limitations.

Statute #1.  The subject of my previous post, the Alialy decision, hinged solely on the Court's application of the statute of limitations located under Title 34, which involves civil procedure.  Specifically, Ind. Code 34-11-2-9 “Promissory notes, bills of exchange, or written contracts for payment of money” simply states:

An action upon promissory notes … must be commenced within six (6) years after the cause of action accrues….

As summarized in my post, the Alialy opinion arguably - depending upon one's interpretation - holds that, even if notes have optional acceleration clauses, under IC 34-11-2-9 the "cause of action accrues" within six years of the last payment or, alternatively, six years after acceleration if the lender accelerated the note within six years of the last payment.  (This is my current read on the outcome, not the expressed conclusion of the Court.)

Statute #2.  On appeal, the lender in Alialy asked the Court to look at the statute of limitations under Indiana's Uniform Commercial Code governing negotiable instruments, which include promissory notes.  Ind. Code 26-1-3.1-118 “Statute of limitations” reads:

… an action to enforce the obligation of a party to pay a note payable at a definite time must be commenced within six (6) years after the due date or dates stated in the note or, if a due date is accelerated, within six (6) years after the accelerated due date.

The Court never entertained the merits of the lender's argument but instead determined that the theory had been waived on procedural grounds.  So, we are left to wonder whether the UCC's statute of limitations may have changed the result in Alialy.  

Wondering. I have not taken a deep dive into the UCC question or researched the case law interpreting Section 118.  I also will not pretend to know what lender's counsel's theory was.  Again, unfortunately the Court did not address the merits.  My best guess is that the lender wanted to seize on the expanded language in the UCC's statute of limitations that provides "if a due date is accelerated, within six (6) years after the accelerated due date."  That terminology, which seems to spell out when the cause of action accrues, does not exist in IC 34-11-2-9.  Under the UCC, therefore, the lender's acceleration date, and not the date of the last payment, may control when the clock on the six years starts ticking.  Because the difference between the two statutes is quite subtle, it's difficult to say whether that reasoning would have carried the day in a scenario like Alialy.  We may need to wait for a future appellate opinion.    

If you have any comments or insights on the issue, please submit a post below or email me.  I would be curious as to others' thoughts.  To confirm, the question is not whether the statute is six years.  The question is - in cases of optional acceleration, when does the cause of action accrue or, in other words, when does the clock starts ticking on the six years.

NOTE:  The Alialy case currently is before the Indiana Supreme Court on the lender's appeal.  Thus the opinion of the Indiana Court of Appeals that is the subject of this post has been vacated.  Once our Supreme Court rules on this issue, I will update my blog.  I expect an opinion during the first half of 2020, at which point some of the questions raised in my two posts about Alialy should be answered.  

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I represent parties in disputes arising out of loans. 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.

  
 

 


Indiana Court of Appeals Adopts Reasonableness Test For Promissory Note Statute of Limitations

Lesson. To be absolutely safe, in Indiana a lender’s suit to enforce a promissory note should be filed within six years of the borrower’s last payment. At a minimum, assuming the note has an optional acceleration clause, the debt should be formally accelerated within six years, and it would be advisable to file suit within a period of time thereafter that is reasonable under the circumstances.

    NOTE:  This case currently is before the Indiana Supreme Court on the lender's appeal.  Thus the opinion of the Indiana Court of Appeals that is the subject of this post has been vacated.  Once our Supreme Court rules on this issue, I will update my blog.  I expect an opinion during the first half of 2020.  

Case cite. Collins Asset Group v. Alialy, 115 N.E.3d 1275 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018), rehearing, Collins Asset Group v. Alialy, 121 N.E.3d 579 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019)

Legal issue. Whether the statute of limitations barred a lender’s action to enforce a promissory note.

Vital facts. Borrower signed a 25-year promissory note on June 29, 2007 that was secured by a junior mortgage. After the senior lender filed a mortgage foreclosure action, Borrower stopped paying on the junior note. Borrower’s last payment was July 28, 2008. Plaintiff Lender, an assignee (successor-in-interest) of the junior mortgage loan, accelerated the promissory note (declared the note due and payable in full) on October 24, 2016 and filed suit seeking to collect the accelerated debt on April 26, 2017. It does not appear that the action sought to foreclosure the junior mortgage but simply sought a money judgment under the note. Significantly, the note contained an “optional acceleration clause,” meaning Lender had the right to declare the entire debt due and payable after default.

Procedural history. The trial court granted Borrower’s motion to dismiss based upon the statute of limitations at Indiana Code 34-11-2-9. Lender appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Key rules. I.C. 34-11-2-9 says that actions under promissory notes for payment of money “must be commenced within six (6) years after the cause of action accrues.” Indiana case law holds that “an action to recover a debt must be commenced within six years of the last payment.”

However, Indiana common law further provides that, if the installment contract contains an optional acceleration clause, then the statute of limitations to collect the debt “does not begin to run immediately upon the debtor’s default.” Rather, the statute begins to run “only when the creditor exercises the optional acceleration clause.”

Here’s the rub: the Court in Alialy cited to a 2010 Indiana Court of Appeals opinion for the proposition that lenders should not be permitted to wait an “unreasonable amount of time to invoke an optional acceleration clause” following a default: “a party is not at liberty to stave off operation of the statute of limitations inordinately by failing to make a demand.”

Holding. The Court affirmed the order dismissing the case.

Policy/rationale. Here is how the Court rationalized its conclusion:

[Lender’s] acceleration option was exercised a full two years after [its] cause of action was barred by the statute of limitation. As [Lender’s] attempt to exercise the acceleration clause did not prevent the six-year statute of limitation from taking effect and expiring, [Lender’s] acceleration clause cannot be given effect and its Complaint is barred.”

Respectfully, I’m not convinced that the Court’s logic was sound, but I can understand the result.

What is the takeaway from Alialy, which seems to establish some kind of potentially-challenging (for creditors) reasonableness standard for certain statute of limitations scenarios? Besides the basic idea that lenders should act sooner, it seems to me that the outcome in Alialy could have been avoided had Lender accelerated the debt within six years of the default (non-payment). Even if Lender did not file suit at that time, Lender would have taken at least some action against Borrower to enforce the note. So, for example, if Lender had accelerated by July 2014, instead of waiting until October 2016, Lender’s April 2017 suit may have survived.

(Lender sought to apply a different statute of limitations under Indiana’s version of the UCC at I.C. 26-1-3.1-118. The Court determined that Lender had waived the argument. I will study that statute further and may post about it later.)

Related posts.

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I represent parties in disputes arising out of loans. 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.