The Butler Rebate refers to a Florida Supreme Court decision in 2000, Chicago Title Insurance Co., et al., Appellants, vs. S. Clark Butler, et al., Appellees. [October 19, 2000] Corrected Opinion PER CURIAM, which gave title insurance agents in Florida the ability to negotiate, or otherwise rebate, the portion of the split title insurance premium retained by them (70% agents/30% underwriter).
In essence, the Butler ruling declares certain anti-rebate statutes in Florida to be unconstitutional to the extent they prohibit a Florida title insurance agent from rebating a portion of the risk rate premium retained by the agent for services rendered (i.e., “Primary Title Services”) in connection with the issuance of title insurance policies. See Sec. 627.7711(b) Fla. Stat. Entitlement to any portion of the promulgated rate strictly depends on performance of these primary title services, or as HUD puts it, “core title services”.
HUD’s 1996 statement of policy (Title Insurance Practices In Florida) expresses the viewpoint that title insurance agents in Florida must perform all necessary core title services in order to qualify for the exemption under section 8(c)(1)(B). Payments of a fee by a title company (underwriter) to its duly appointed agent can only be made for services actually performed in the issuance of a policy of title insurance.
“Thus, as applied to practices in Florida, for a title insurance agent to be able to retain the maximum agency portion of the risk premium payment allowed under Florida law, the title insurance agent must actually perform “core title services,”.
“Core title services” are those basic services that a title insurance agent must actually perform for the payments from or retention of the title insurance premium to qualify for RESPA’s section 8(c)(1)(B) exemption for “payments by a title company to its duly appointed agent for services actually performed in the issuance of a policy of title insurance.” In performing core title services, the title insurance agent must be liable to his/her title insurance company for any negligence in performing the services. In considering liability, HUD will examine the following type of indicia: the provisions of the agency contract, whether the agent has errors and omissions insurance or malpractice insurance, whether a contract provision regarding an agent’s liability for a loss is ever enforced, whether an agent is financially viable to pay a claim, and other factors the Secretary may consider relevant. “Core title services” mean the following in Florida:
a. The examination and evaluation, based on relevant law and title insurance underwriting principles and guidelines, of the title evidence (as defined below) to determine the insurability of the title being examined, and what items to include and/or exclude in any title commitment and policy to be issued.
b. The preparation and issuance of the title commitment, or other document, that discloses the status of the title as it is proposed to be insured, identifies the conditions that must be met before the policy will be issued, and obligates the insurer to issue a policy of title insurance if such conditions are met.
c. The clearance of underwriting objections and the taking of those steps that are needed to satisfy any conditions to the issuance of the policies.
d. The preparation and issuance of the policy or policies of title insurance.
e. The handling of the closing or settlement, when it is customary for title insurance agents to provide such services and when the agent’s compensation for such services is customarily part of the payment or retention from the insurer.
Other states (New York) stressing the need to perform Core Title Services: http://www.benchmarkta.com/news_items/NYSLTA_Partridge.pdf (New York State Land Title Association Guest Columnist. By Jean Partridge, Chief Counsel and Managing Member Benchmark Title Agency, LLC)
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Laufer, J. and Norelli, N. (2010).
“For these reasons, we declare the anti-rebate statutes, as they relate to a title agent’s ability to negotiate his or her share of the risk premium, to be unconstitutional.” Chicago Title Insurance Co., et al., Appellants, vs. S. Clark Butler, et al., Appellees. [October 19, 2000] Corrected Opinion PER CURIAM
Within the past several years, there have been a series of Florida reissue rate class action settlements involving title insurance underwriters that appear to be consistent with the decision in S. Clark Butler vs Florida Department of Insurance. The consistency factor, however, lies in the fact that the settlement agreements themselves exclude overcharges, if any, with respect to the portion of the title insurance premium retained by the issuing agents. This portion (usually 70% of the risk rate premium) is for services rendered with respect to the agencies performance of primary title services. See Sec. 627.7711, Fla. Stat.; Sec. 626.841, Fla. Stat.
Primary title services” means determining insurability in accordance with sound underwriting practices based upon evaluation of a reasonable title search or a search of the records of a Uniform Commercial Code filing office and such other information as may be necessary, determination and clearance of underwriting objections and requirements to eliminate risk, preparation and issuance of a title insurance commitment setting forth the requirements to insure, and preparation and issuance of the policy. Such services do not include closing services or title searches, for which a separate charge or separate charges may be made.
The Butler case suggests that any attempt to bind title insurance agents in a reissue rate consumer class action lawsuit filed against a title insurance underwriter in Florida that alleges a premium overcharge could be problematic, especially in regard to satisfying the elements needed for class certification. Real estate transactions involving a Butler-negotiated rebate present individualized issues of peculiar matter (i.e., private contractual interactions between the policy issuing agent and the consumer) with respect to the portion of the premium charged for the performance of these primary title services. This fact alone could undermine class claims in any class action lawsuit brought that insist on an attempt to bind portions of the title insurance premium charged for the performance of primary title services.
As a result of Butler, Florida title insurance rates are promulgated with respect to the underwriter’s portion of the total premium charge and negotiable with respect to the agents portion. For example, assume a situation where a consumer is given a Butler rebate and the transaction calls for the consumer to be given a reissue credit. If the consumer doesn’t receive it, the premium charged to the consumer could still fall below the rate permitted pursuant to the Florida promulgated rate scheme, but only to the extent of the agencies portion. In Florida, the agencies’ portion can be as high as 70% of the total risk rate premium set forth in the F.A.C. The underwriter, however, in a situation identical to the one quoted above would still collect from the consumer a premium (based on a 70% /30% split) in excess of what the regulations permit an industry to charge, which would constitute an unjust enrichment.
Finally, the Butler case delineates terms for a negotiated marketplace between title insurance agents and consumers with respect to the charge for the performance of primary title services. Essentially, these are private contracts between consumers and title insurance agents. The inescapable conclusion is that these transactions involve individual issues of peculiar matter with respect to the portion of the title insurance premium retained by the issuing agent.
Disclaimer: Information on this Web site should in no way be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, you may wish to consult an attorney.
In November 2003, attorneys for Edward and Annette Hawley (”Plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit against American Pioneer Title Insurance Company (”American Pioneer”) in Broward County, Florida, alleging that they were overcharged by a American Pioneer agent for a loan policy issued in connection with a refinance transaction.
The lawsuit was titled Edward and Annette Hawly, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated v. American Pioneer Title Insurance Company, Case Number 03-016234 (11). Plaintiffs sought certification of their lawsuit as a statewide class action. Lawsuits making similar allegations have been filed against every major title insurance underwriter in Florida.
- Hawley v. American Pioneer Title Insurance Company, In the 17th Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida, Case No.: CA-03-016234 (11) (class action settlement approved based on overcharges for title insurance).
- Thula v. Lawyers Title Insurance Corporation, In the 17th Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida, Case No.: 04-05324 (11) (class action settlement approved based on overcharges for title insurance).
- Devick v. Attorney’s Title Insurance Fund, In the 17th Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida, Case No.: 04-06633 (08) (class action settlement approved based on overcharges for title insurance).
- Rhodes v. Old Republic National Title Insurance Company, In the 15th Judicial Circuit in and for Palm Beach County, Florida, Case No.: 50 2004 CA 004073 XXXX MB (class action settlement approved based on overcharges for title insurance). Old Republic National Title Bulletin to all Florida offices.
- Evans v. Stewart Title Guaranty Company, In the 17th Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida, Case No.: 04-06630-05 (class action settlement approved based on overcharges for title insurance). Stewart Bulletin to all Florida issuing offices.
Pending Florida title insurance reissue rate class action cases:
Case Number (Local): 2007-15721-CA-01
Case Number (State): 13-2007-CA-15721-0000-01
Filing Date: 05/25/2007
Judicial Section: 27
Related Items: Commonwealth Land Title Ins. Co. v. Higgins, 975 So. 2d 1169 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). Reversal of class action discovery order requiring production of over 300,000 title agent closing files. Play Video
Holding: The District Court of Appeal, Van Nortwick, J., held that the precertification discovery would be unduly burdensome. Relief Granted. Kahn, J., dissented and filed opinion. See Link
|Case Name:||HIGGINS VS COMMONWEALTH LAND|
|Current Judge:||Brian J Davis|
|Case Type:||OTHER CIRCUIT CIVIL|
|Filing Date:||9/21/2004||Status Date:||9/21/2004|
Related Items: First American Title Insurance Company v. Vincent V. Raffone. Petition for Writ of Certiorari (Fla. 1st DCA 2008). Play Video
|RAFFONE VS FIRST AMERICAN|
|Current Judge:||Brian J Davis|
|Case Type:||CONTRACT & INDEBTEDNESS|
|Filing Date:||2/23/2004||Status Date:||2/23/2004|
Carmen J. Grosso v Fidelity National Title Insurance Company of New York, In the 17th Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida.
|Broward County Case Number: CACE04013548||State Reporting Number: 062004CA013548AXXXCE|
|Court Type: Civil Division - Circuit Court||Case Type: Contract Indebtedness|
|Incident Date: N/A||Filing Date: 08/25/2004|
|Court Location: Central Courthouse||Case Status: Open|