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Coleman v. Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

August 30, 2013

STEPHANIE COLEMAN AND JANELLE BOWMER, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
COMMONWEALTH LAND TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

OPINION

JOEL H. SLOMSKY, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

The matter before the Court arises from an alleged fraudulent scheme in which Defendant Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company ("Commonwealth Land"), through various title agents, misrepresented the amount of money due and owing for title insurance. According to Plaintiffs, unsuspecting homeowners who secured mortgages and paid for title insurance were defrauded through the pervasive scheme. On February 18, 2009, Plaintiffs commenced this action to recover the wrongfully obtained funds. On November 2, 2012, after a period of delay in this case, Plaintiffs eventually filed their Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") (Doc. No. 66).[1]

Currently before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Count One of the SAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 69). Count One alleges that Commonwealth Land violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c) (2000) ("RICO"), through the fraudulent scheme. On December 21, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a Response in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 71), and on January 18, 2013, Defendant filed a Reply (Doc. No. 77). On February 15, 2013, a hearing was held on the Motion to Dismiss, and on April 19, 2013, both parties filed supplemental briefs (Doc. Nos. 84, 85). This matter is now ripe for disposition. For reasons that follow, the Court will deny Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Count One of the SAC.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs allege that Commonwealth Land engaged in a pervasive pattern of overcharging for title insurance inconsistent with statutory rates. In this Court's original Opinion denying the Motion to Dismiss, the allegations were summarized as follows:

The Amended Complaint describes a scheme to defraud that begins when title insurance is applied for and ends when funds are disbursed to the title insurance company at settlement. The Amended Complaint alleges that the relationship between Commonwealth Land and each title agent is governed by an agency agreement. The agreement states the conditions under which the title agent is authorized to issue title insurance on behalf of Commonwealth Land. Title agents are authorized to act as settlement agents at closing, to conduct closings of refinance transactions on behalf of Defendant, to prepare relevant documents on behalf of Defendant, and to collect the premium for the benefit of Defendant. Plaintiffs assert that Defendant provides title closing software used by the title agents. As noted, this case charges that Defendant and its agents engaged in a fraudulent scheme by deliberately misrepresenting the correct amount of money due and owing for title insurance, misappropriating the overcharges, and failing to disclose to purchasers of title insurance that they were entitled to discounts if the property was refinanced and title insurance was purchased within ten years.

(Doc. No. 31 at 8.) (internal citations omitted.)

In the SAC, Plaintiffs bring two claims against Commonwealth Land. In Count One, Plaintiffs allege a RICO violation with mail and wire fraud as the predicate offenses. In Count Two, Plaintiffs claim Defendant employed unfair or deceptive acts prohibited by the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices Act and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL"). Defendant moves only to dismiss Count One, challenging in part whether the facts pled in the SAC establish a valid "enterprise" under 18 U.S.C. § 1961(4).

Plaintiffs assert that three alternative RICO enterprises were utilized in furtherance of the fraudulent claims. The first is a "hierarchical" enterprise, also referred to as a "pyramid" structure, which is described as follows:

With respect to Commonwealth, at all relevant times there has been and continues to be an association-in-fact enterprise within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. § 1961(4). This enterprise consists of at least Commonwealth and its Title Agents/settlement agents. At all relevant times this enterprise has been and continues to be engaged in selling title insurance, an activity that affected and continues to affect interstate commerce.

(Doc. No. 66 ¶ 58.) The second enterprise is comprised of multiple bilateral associations between Commonwealth Land and each of its title agents. The SAC describes this enterprise as follows:

In the alternative, Defendant has conducted the affairs of multiple bilateral association-in-fact RICO enterprises through a pattern of racketeering activity. The enterprises are the bilateral associations in fact of Defendant and each of its Pennsylvania title agents, including the title agents involved in Plaintiffs' transactions. The enterprises are governed by written agency agreements that make Defendant the principal, are intended to market title insurance in Pennsylvania, among other objects, and have the structure, continuity and purpose sufficient to constitute an enterprise under RICO. Defendant has conducted the affairs of these enterprises through the pattern of racketeering activity described elsewhere in this amended complaint, including knowingly providing the computer software, financial support and legal protection used to perpetrate the frauds on homeowners refinancing their mortgages.

(Id. ¶ 59.) Finally, the third enterprise is described as multiple single entity enterprises consisting only of the title agents themselves. This enterprise is describes in paragraph 60 of the SAC:

In the alternative, Defendant has conducted the affairs of multiple single entity RICO enterprises through a pattern of racketeering activity. The single entity enterprises are Defendant's Pennsylvania title agents, including the title agents involved in Plaintiffs' transactions. These enterprises are legal entities such as corporations, partnerships, sole proprietorships. Defendant controls these enterprises through written agency agreements that make Defendant the principal. Defendant conducts the affairs of these enterprises through the pattern of racketeering activity described elsewhere in the amended complaint, ...

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