Category Archives: Episode

Season 3, Episode 1

Co-hosts Mike O’Donnell and Bethany Abele kicked off the third season of Title Nerds by welcoming special guest Bushnell Nielsen, author of the well-regarded treatise Title and Escrow Claims Guide, which Mike and Bethany noted they and every title insurance attorney in the country regularly refer to. Bush provided tips on finding and working with expert consultants for title insurance cases, from hiring to trial.

He gives his insight on when you should find the expert, asking specific questions to discern if the expert knows what you need the expert to know, how to work with an expert on his report and testimony and addressing the other side’s expert, and other procedural tips.

Mike then interviewed Kevin Hakansson, an associate in our Title Insurance practice, about Pillai v. Scalia, 103 Mass. App. Ct. 1122 (2024), a case at the intersection of family law, real estate and joint tenancy. Title to the property at the center of the case originated in joint tenancy between three parties, but questions arose after a divorce, a death, a resale and a refinancing, at which point a possible title defect was uncovered. Kevin explains the facts of the case that resulted in the Appeals Court determining that the surrounding circumstances demonstrated that joint tenancy was what parties’ intent dictated.

Season 2, Episode 6

Special guest Anton Tonev, co-founder of Inspect HOA, joined us for our final episode of Season 2 of Title Nerds. Drawing from his own experience as a member of an HOA, he built this business for real estate professionals and buyers who need to deal with homeowners associations. With 400,000 HOAs in the U.S. and no central database of HOAs, his business has established a niche service, including, to assist buyers, attorneys, lenders and escrow officers. He and his team work with clients on several thousand closings a month.

Anton shared examples of scenarios in which Inspect HOA has been able to assist buyers and others in avoiding problems with the rules and regulations that HOAs try to enforce, particularly with regard to leasing out properties.  Mike explored ways that Inspect HOA assists escrow officers and attorneys with avoiding issues during closing transactions when there may be violations or special assessments.  Anton suggested that by automating work, such as how his company has been able to do, it allows clients to be more efficient and productive and minimize errors and mistakes, thereby speeding up the closing process for all parties.

Mike then interviewed Thomas Persico, our newest associate in our Title Insurance practice, about WW3 Ventures v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon, Nos. A23A0719, A23A0720, 2023 Ga. App. LEXIS 536 (Ct. App. Nov. 3, 2023), wherein the Georgia Court of Appeals addresses how constructive and inquiry notice related to a recorded security deed not properly witnessed.

Season 2, Episode 5

Forensic title expert Joe Grabas was our special guest for Episode 5 of our second season of Title Nerds, joining co-hosts Mike O’Donnell and Bethany Abele.  Joe is a certified title professional, and the Director and Chief Instructor of the Grabas Institute for Continuing Education.  He is also the author of “Owning New Jersey: Historic Tales of War, Property Disputes & the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Mike asked Joe to talk about tidelands issues, a particular concern in New Jersey since the State of New Jersey has rights to the land not only currently flowed by the tide, but formerly flowed by the tide, creating unique challenges for homeowners who may not see any apparent water anywhere near the site; the State of New Jersey may still claim ownership of a large share of that property.  Joe emphasized the importance of always ordering a wetlands survey and a land survey upfront when contemplating the purchase of any property, as both a title issue and a regulatory issue.  Joe also discussed how the NJDEP handles bulkhead bumpouts for waterfront development, another thorny issue, as well as how hearings before the Tidelands Bureau, which considers applications for tidelands grants, are conducted.

Bethany then interviewed Jim Mazewski, an associate in our Title Insurance practice, about Hillary Developer, LLC v Security Title Guarantee Corporation of Baltimore in the New York Appellate Division, 2nd Department, a published decision at 219 A.D. 3d 815 (2023).  Jim explains the complicated details of the case, wherein a Defendant sold property to Hillary Developer under an alternate name, which property had already been sold to a different buyer at a sheriff’s sale to satisfy a judgment.  Hillary Developer later filed suit against three parties including Security Title, which had issued Hillary a title insurance policy, alleging that it had not been informed of the judgment’s existence.  Security Title then brought claims against its issuing agent, SSS Settlement, for fraudulent concealment and prima facie tort, alleging intentional harm and malice.  SSS Settlement moved for dismissal of the claims, which was denied by the trial court but reversed and dismissed on appeal.

Jim said the important takeaway from this case is that, when pleading a fraudulent concealment claim based on a failure to disclose information, it is necessary to identify the specific duty imposing the obligation to make that disclosure.

Season 2, Episode 4

Our special guest for Episode 4 of our second season of Title Nerds was land title attorney Lance Pomerantz of Land Title Law.  An attorney who provides expert consultant services to the title insurance and real estate industry, Lance shared some very interesting war stories from his “accidental career.”  He has researched land grants back to the Royal Charter, as well as underwater land grants and title disputes involving numerous New York beachfront properties.

Co-host Michael O’Donnell asked Lance about some of the thorniest chains of title Lance has been involved in, some of which had him sounding more like a gritty Harrison Ford character than a land title attorney!

Co-host Bethany Abele then interviewed Kevin Hakansson, an associate in our Title Insurance practice, about Davis v. Reverse Mortgage Solutions, (No. 2:20-cv-632-CWB, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42496 (M.D. Ala. Mar. 14, 2023)).  In Davis, two parcels of land, one with a house and the other with the surrounding yard and pool, were merged into a single tax parcel, which passed to the Plaintiff upon her father’s death.  The father had applied for a reverse mortgage three years before his death, and it was not discovered until later that the metes and bounds description for the reverse mortgage only contained the description of the second parcel of property, and not the parcel with the house.

Consistent with the metes and bounds description, the Foreclosure Deed encompassed only the non-residence portion of the property.  The Plaintiff subsequently asserted ownership to the first parcel with the house and filed suit seeking a declaration of ownership.

Ultimately, the federal court granted summary judgment to the Plaintiff, who asserted claims for reformation of both the mortgage and a subsequent foreclosure deed on the grounds of a mutual mistake.  The Court noted that it was “authorized to reform real estate documents in circumstances where—due to a mutual mistake—the executed documents fail to reflect the true intentions of the parties.” It relied upon precedent issued in Federal Land Bank of New Orleans v. Williams, a case in which the Alabama Supreme Court granted reformation of a mortgage when a survey discovered that the mortgage did not properly describe the parcel on which the borrower resided.

Bethany and Kevin agreed that the Court got this right, taking a common-sense approach to determining whether the reverse mortgage should be reformed.  The Court looked to the circumstances and documentation to find that the parties were all aware that the parcel of property with the house was intended to be encumbered.

Season 2, Episode 3

Surveyor Keith Ludwig, PLS was the special guest for this episode of Title Nerds, in which he discussed with co-hosts Mike O’Donnell and Bethany Abele his experience of over 42 years in the industry.  With a specialty in researching ancient deeds and surveys, Keith shared some of the more fascinating matters he has encountered while conducting land surveys, including serving as a surveyor for a defendant in Atlantic County where title had gone back and forth between the same two families numerous times over 200 years.  He noted that a major misconception about surveyors is that it is their responsibility to determine if a particular easement or covenant affects the property in question.  That is not true.  The surveyor can only state where the easement/covenant lies physically, but cannot advise whether it affects the property; that is the responsibility of the attorney to determine.

Keith noted the importance of looking back at mother deeds when preparing boundary surveys, no matter how much time had gone by, and also discussed the interesting issue of streams and tidelands as boundary lines, when the water flow may have shifted.

Mike and Bethany were interested to hear how surveying has changed during the course of Keith’s career, with GPS revolutionizing modern surveying procedures.

Mike then interviewed Riker Danzig’s newest associate on our Title Insurance team, Kori Pruett, who provided an overview of a New York case involving AirBNBs.  In West Mountain Assets LLC v. Dobkowski, the New York Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs, who were using their home as an AirBNB, were violating a deed restriction limiting use to “single family residential purposes” only.  The plaintiff had brought a suit for alleged interference with its tenants’ (various AirBNB clients) free use of the property, claiming that the defendant neighbors were interfering with use of the road servicing both properties.

Defendants counterclaimed for a declaration that the plaintiff’s use of the property for short-term rentals violated the deed restrictions, which stipulated the property could only be used for single family residential purposes, could not be used for commercial activity, and could not be used for “noxious, dangerous, offensive or unduly noisy activity of any nature.”  Defendants also counterclaimed for adverse possession of a portion of the road parcel.

Kori explained that the defendants were granted summary judgment on the first counterclaim, with the Court holding that the “transient living” nature of AirBNB tenants fell outside the scope of a single-family residential use.  The adverse possession claim was dismissed.

Kori cautioned that this case demonstrates that property owners need to pay attention to any deed restrictions before renting out their home as an AirBNB or VRBO type of rental.

Season 2, Episode 2

For our second episode of the new season, Title Nerds co-hosts Mike O’Donnell and Bethany Abele interviewed Steve Gottheim, General Counsel of the American Land Title Association (“ALTA”).  Steve discussed some of the primary issues of concern to ALTA and its members, including housing recession possibilities, public policy issues around increased access to affordable housing and, generating the most conversation, real estate and wire fraud.  Steve noted that ALTA is deeply involved in providing education and assistance to title insurance and real estate professionals to help avoid scams and to identify money laundering scenarios.  In addition, ALTA provides a host of educational materials about avoiding wire fraud for consumers and real estate agents.  Steve also touched on the proliferation of title monitoring services, and the need for home buyers to consider enhanced homeowners policies with title insurance fraud protection.

Bethany then interviewed Riker Danzig associate Jim Mazewski about the complex title insurance coverage matter Findlay v Chicago Title Ins. Co., 2022 IL App (1st) 210889 (2022).  Therein, the Illinois Appellate Court, First Division, adopted the reasoning of other outside jurisdictions and held that title insurance claims were exempt from Illinois’ “complete defense rule,” which requires that an insurer provide a defense on all claims raised against an insured even if only one of the claims is covered.

In this matter, landlocked homeowners were able for years to easily access the Lake Michigan beach via  a beach easement across a portion of a neighboring lot, Lot 5.  However, when Lot 5 was purchased by a new owner, the new owner objected to neighbors cutting across his property and filed a lawsuit to prevent them from doing so.  The landlocked homeowners sought a declaratory judgment, implying that an ingress-egress easement existed on Lot 5.  The new owner of Lot 5 won that suit, and then sued Chicago Title, which had received claims from both parties to the first lawsuit as they were both insured by Chicago Title.  The plaintiff’s suit against Chicago Title alleged conflict of interest, failing to provide coverage for all counts of the earlier litigation, and failing to approve of the plaintiff’s retention of a new attorney. Failing at trial on all claims, the plaintiff appealed.

In a decision in line with a growing body of caselaw, the appellate court found title insurance companies are not subject to the “complete defense rule.”  The Court also found that Chicago Title had the right to select counsel of its choosing, not the insured’s.   Tune in to the podcast for an in-depth discussion of the Appellate Court’s consideration of the plaintiff’s claims leading to the decision.

Season 2, Episode 1

Title Nerds is excited to begin its second season of exploring title insurance and real estate litigation issues that Riker Danzig attorneys see in our practice.  In this first episode of the new season, co-hosts Mike O’Donnell and Bethany Abele enjoyed drawing on insights from one of our esteemed Of Counsel, New Jersey title insurance guru Vince Sharkey.  Vince provided entertaining conversation about his journey into and through the title insurance world, and some of the significant cases and challenges in his practice, including recommendations for lawyers who represent title insurance companies as to how to effectively approach cases and work well with clients.

Next, Bethany interviewed associate Kevin Hakansson about a case decided on June 9, 2022 by the NJ Supreme Court, Sullivan v. Max Spann Real Estate & Auction Co., 2022 N.J. LEXIS 512.  In the case, the Supreme Court decided that the mandatory three-day attorney review clause that must be included in contracts for sale of residential real estate is not required in absolute auction sales.  The case arose from the auction of property in Bernardsville, NJ, after which the successful bidder was not able to satisfy her obligations under the contract and did not purchase the property, spurring a suit by the seller against the bidder and the realtor who conducted the auction.  At trial and on appeal, the court found for the plaintiff, holding that “a private real estate auction sale is not the consumer type contract contemplated in [State Bar Ass’n], and therefore, the three-day attorney review period is not required in such a sale.”  With the Supreme Court’s affirmation, this is a case that attorneys and real estate professionals need to note before their clients participate in an absolute auction sale.  Listen in for more details and analysis.

Season 1, Episode 9

Title Nerds co-hosts Mike O’Donnell and Bethany Abele welcomed two partners from our Environmental Practice In Episode 9, Alexa Richman-La Londe and Steve Senior.  Alexa and Steve discussed the hot real estate market in New Jersey for commercial/industrial properties, which are frequently environmentally impaired and require remediation.  This led to an interesting conversation about the use and mechanics of NJDEP’s Deed Notices that get recorded in land records, including a case where a property owner refused to consent to a Deed Notice (Cozzoli Machine Company v. Crown Real Estate Holdings, Inc., Docket No. A-1733-19, App. Div., Dec. 7, 2021).  The discussion led into other environmental documents that show up in title searches (including, other deed restrictions, conservation easements and liens), and the potential obligations of sellers and/or lenders to disclose environmental reports.

Next, Mike interviewed counsel Jorge Sanchez about a case recently heard in the Appellate Division and approved for publication, Woodmont Props. v. Twp. of Westampton, 2022 N.J. Super. LEXIS 13, *2 (N.J. App. Div. Feb. 7, 2022).  In this published case, the appeals court affirmed the dismissal of a potential purchaser’s claim for a constructive trust as to foreclosed land, finding that the potential purchaser’s claim could not be sustained because a foreclosure and sheriff’s sale extinguished any unrecorded contractual right to purchase the property.  The plaintiff, Woodmont had contracted to purchase a piece of land.  The contract required that the seller not encumber the Property more than 80% of its value.  Woodmont did not record the contract in the County Clerk’s Office.  The following week, the seller gave a mortgage on the land to TD Bank to secure a loan, encumbering the property.  The seller defaulted on the loan prior to closing with Woodmont, and TD Bank sought foreclosure of the property.  Woodmont did not intervene. While the foreclosure was pending, Woodmont entered into a redevelopment agreement with the Township of Westampton, which was terminated by Westampton when Woodmont failed to secure title to the land.  The property was eventually sold to TD Bank at a Sheriff’s Sale.  Woodmont subsequently filed suit against Westampton and TD Bank, among others, alleging tortious interference and a breach of the redevelopment agreement.  Central to the claim was that the TD mortgage lien was more than 80% of the property’s value.  The case was dismissed, and Woodmont appealed.  On appeal, the appeals court found that the claims against Westampton failed because the redevelopment agreement was conditioned on Woodmont having title to the property, which it did not.  As to TD Bank, the Court first found that even if TD Bank knew of the Woodmount contract, it still had a right to foreclose and need not name Woodmont as the contract was not recorded.  To rule otherwise would run contrary to N.J.S.A. 2A:50-30, prior case law.  The Court warned that those who did not record their interests ran the risk of their property interest being terminated without being named as defendants in a foreclosure.  However, the court did find that Woodmont could have a viable claim against TD Bank for tortiously interfering with its contractual rights with the seller if it indeed knew of the contract .

Season 1, Episode 8

In Episode 8 Riker Danzig welcomed two professionals from Qualia, a digital real estate closing platform that is changing the industry.  Lyman Hopper, a long-time title insurance pro, and Tim Calandro, a senior account executive, spoke with hosts Mike O’Donnell and Bethany Abele about why title and escrow companies are turning to digital platforms to better serve their clients.  They explained that, in addition to helping professionals be more effective and productive in accomplishing the numerous tasks associated with closings, the all-in-one platform can make the closing process less stressful by providing automated property data retrieval and personalized dashboards to track workflow.  They noted that both established title shops and start-ups are relying more and more on online portals.

Associate Desiree McDonald then joined the conversation to discuss A Flock of Seagirls LLC v. Walton County Florida, 7 F.4th 1072 (2021) (not to be confused with the popular ‘80s band A Flock of Seagulls). In A Flock of Seagirls, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida regarding an easement.   The strip of land in question was at the heart of eminent domain proceedings back in the ‘90s by the State of Florida, resulting in a public access easement allowing public pedestrian access along the beach on the Gulf of Mexico.  The easement’s stated purpose was to provide “a way of passage.”  The easement also contained an abandonment clause, which provided that the County would be deemed to have abandoned the easement if the County attempted to use the easement “for a purpose not specified therein.”  The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals had to consider whether the abandonment clause of the easement was triggered when Walton County created an Ordinance allowing the land to be used for recreational activity (such as sunbathing, picnicking, swimming, building sandcastles).  The Eleventh Circuit determined that the Ordinance constituted an abandonment of the easement, noting that “a way of passage” refers to a locomotive purpose, not a recreational purpose.  Further, it found that, under Florida law, the public’s right to full use of beaches was not boundless.  Therefore, the Court held that the easement was abandoned, protecting the adjacent beachfront property from unwelcome recreational activity.

Season 1, Episode 7

Episode 7 features one of Riker Danzig’s impressive retired judges, the Hon. Travis Francis, who was Assignment Judge for Middlesex County, Superior Court of New Jersey before joining Riker Danzig.  Judge Francis is now an active mediator and discovery master in the Firm’s Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice.   Co-Host Bethany Abele interviews Judge Francis about some of the intriguing title insurance and real estate cases that came before him when he was on the bench, including issues of quiet title, specific performance and adverse possession.  Co-Host Michael O’Donnell joins Bethany and Judge Francis in the discussion, which headed “into the weeds,” literally, as cases involving farmers and fences kept “cropping” up.  Keeping us on track, Judge Francis provides insights and best practices for counsel bringing title insurance cases, including guidance on pursuing orders to show cause and motions for relief to provide for a good experience with the deciding judge.

Next, Mike invites Riker Danzig attorney Kevin Hakansson to unpack the Cherry v. Ziad Hadaya case, 2021 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2571 (App. Div. Oct. 29, 2021), in which the NJ Appellate Division held that neighbors could enforce deed restrictions tracing back to a 1928 deed to prevent another neighbor from subdividing their property. In Cherry, Defendants owned a plot of land on Jefferson Road in Princeton that was originally part of a larger parcel conveyed in 1928. While the 1928 deed contained restrictions on the land regarding subdivision, the 2004 deed did not.  After the defendants received approval from the Planning Board in 2008 to subdivide its property into two lots, and later applied to subdivide the larger resulting lot into two more lots, the plaintiffs, who owned neighboring properties, filed a complaint seeking to void the 2008 subdivision and to enjoin further subdivision based on the 1928 deed restrictions relating primarily to the frontage of the lots.  The Chancery Court dismissed some neighbors’ claims for lack of standing as they were not in the chain of title of the 1928 deed.  But it granted summary judgment for the other plaintiffs whose properties were within the 1928 deed chain of title and ordered the Defendants to re-convey the plots back to their 2004 dimensions.  On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed, agreeing that enforcement of the 1928 deed restrictions was reasonable, and that plaintiffs in the chain of title were among those intended to be incorporated into the neighborhood scheme.