A recent RESPA litigation ruling by the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio sparked headlines this week when they overturned a district court ruling denying class certification in the Erik C. Carter, et. al., United States of America v. Welles Bowen Realty, Inc. et al lawsuit. No. 07-3965.
The issue at dispute is whether a Section 8 claim of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act violation gives consumers "standing even if the consumer does not allege an above-market race charge for services, i.e. an 'overcharge.'" The district court previously held that because the defendants did not over charge the consumers they didn't suffer an injury but the appellate court has overturned the district courts decision.
Welles-Bowen Title Agency is a joint venture affiliated business arrangement, owned by Welles-Bowen Realty, Inc. and Chicago Title Insurance Company--a Fidelity subsidiary. The alleged problem with the relationship however appears to be that Welles-Bowen Title Agency did not really perform any settlement work, review title, or even conduct the closings. However, Chicago Title gave Welles-Bowen Realty, Inc. seventy percent (70%) of the fees and title policy money generated. If the allegations are true then this relationship would appear to be an illegal sham affiliated business arrangement under federal RESPA guidelines. There are other issues at play as well, such as the State of Ohio's affiliated business arrangement ownership and profit requirements but those were not addressed in this appellate decision.
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REAL ESTATE SETTLEMENT PROCEDURES ACT (RESPA) LITIGATION UPDATE