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Schwartz v. Lawyers Title Insurance Co.

June 18, 2010

MITCHELL SCHWARTZ, ET AL., PLAINTIFF,
v.
LAWYERS TITLE INSURANCE CO., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Slomsky, J.

MEMORANDUM

Currently before the Court is Defendant Lawyers Title Insurance Company's Motion to Stay Proceedings Pending a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in White v. Conestoga Title Ins. Co., 30 EAP 2010 (Pa.) (Doc. No. 41). On June 7, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition to the Motion to Stay (Doc. No. 43). On June 10, 2010, Defendant filed a Reply in Support of the Motion (Doc. No. 44). Additionally, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Subsequent Authority (Doc. No. 45) and Defendant filed a Notice of Subsequent Authority (Doc. No. 46). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion to Stay.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Court's January 14, 2010 Opinion

This case arises from an alleged fraudulent scheme in which Defendant Lawyers Title Insurance Company ("Lawyers"), through various title agents, misrepresented the amount of money due and owing for title insurance.*fn1 The crux of Plaintiffs' allegations is that Defendant overcharged thousands of Pennsylvania homeowners who purchased title insurance by charging a default "basic" rate of insurance rather than a special discounted "reissue" or "refinance" rate, which applied to the kind of title insurance required of a homeowner as part of a mortgage transaction. Through this alleged scheme, Defendant received considerable revenue to which it was not entitled.

Plaintiffs allege that Defendant engaged in a scheme as part of an ongoing racketeering enterprise in violation of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c) (2000) ("RICO"). Additionally, Plaintiffs claim Defendant employed unfair or deceptive acts prohibited by the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices Act and Consumer Protection Law, 73 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 201-1, et seq. ("UTPCPL"). Plaintiffs also assert claims of fraudulent misrepresentation, negligence, and unjust enrichment, which stem from the RICO and UTPCPL counts.

On January 14, 2010, the Court issued an Order and Opinion denying Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 31). As a threshold matter in the Motion to Dismiss, Defendant argued that the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this case because § 910-44(b) of the Pennsylvania Title Insurance Companies Act, 40 P.S. § 910, et seq. (1999) ("TICA"), provides an exclusive statutory remedy which must be pursued first by any person aggrieved by the application of the title insurer's rating system.*fn2 Citing recent developments in Pennsylvania appellate law, the Court disagreed with Defendant's argument and ruled that § 910-44(b) does not bar Plaintiffs from pursuing a private right of action before exhausting administrative remedies.

Specifically, the Court explained that in a diversity of citizenship jurisdiction case, the Court must apply the substantive law of Pennsylvania. Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court had not yet determined whether § 910-44(b) creates an exclusive remedy that must be exhausted by Plaintiffs before filing a case, the Court was required to predict how the Supreme Court would rule on this issue.

On October 2, 2009, the Pennsylvania Superior Court decided White v. Conestoga Title Ins. Co., 982 A.2d 997 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2009), which addressed the same jurisdiction issue raised in the Motion to Dismiss. In White, the Superior Court reversed the trial court's dismissal of plaintiff's claim for failure to exhaust administrative remedies under § 910-44(b). As explained in more detail in the Court's January 14, 2010 Opinion, the Superior Court concluded that neither TICA nor the Unfair Insurance Practices Act, 40 P.S. § 1171.1, et seq. (1999), was intended to provide an exclusive administrative remedy. Consequently, this Court found that it had subject matter jurisdiction over the present case.

After finding that Plaintiffs stated a valid RICO claim to survive the Motion to Dismiss, the Court turned to the issue of whether the McCarran-Ferguson Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1012 (2009), preempted Plaintiffs' RICO claim. Defendant argued that applying federal law in this case would directly interfere with § 910-44(b) of TICA, a state insurance law which Defendant argued provides an exclusive administrative remedy when a party is overcharged for title insurance. The Court was not persuaded by Defendant's argument and explained: "[I]n light of the Pennsylvania Superior Court's White decision, the current TICA landscape is clear: § 910-44(b) does not create an exclusive administrative remedy which would preclude Plaintiffs from filing this private right of action in federal court. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint presents no conflict with state law that is pre-empted by the McCarran-Ferguson Act." (Doc. No. 31, at 32).

B. Pennsylvania Supreme Court

On May 19, 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted defendant Conestoga's Petition for Allowance of Appeal in White. The Order granting review recites the question presented as follows:

In reversing the Common Pleas Court's dismissal of this action for lack of jurisdiction by reason of the administrative remedy provided by the TICA at 40 P.S. § 910-44(b), did the Superior Court err by holding that the statutory and decisional rule that adequate administrative remedies are exclusive does not apply to consumer class actions?

Upon the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's issuance of this Order granting review, Defendant filed forthwith the Motion to ...


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