Mills v. Standard Title Ins. Co.

Decision Date05 May 1977
Docket NumberNo. 75-690,75-690
Citation568 P.2d 79,39 Colo.App. 261
PartiesWalter Bevan MILLS and Bonnie Roberts Mills, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. STANDARD TITLE INSURANCE CO., an Arizona Corporation, and Denver Abstract Co., a Colorado Corp., d/b/a Titles, Incorporated, Defendants and Third-Party Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. The ESTATE of Charles Dale CROSBY, a/k/a Charles D. Crosby, and Richard Mark Crosby and Alan Woods, IV, Co-administrators of the Estate of Charles D. Crosby, Third-Party Defendants. . II
CourtColorado Court of Appeals

Rodden & Marshall, Marilyn S. Bonner, Paul B. Rodden, Denver, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Dawson, Nagel, Sherman & Howard, Raymond Turner, Denver, for defendants and third-party plaintiffs-appellees Standard Title Insurance Co., and Denver Abstract Co.

PIERCE, Judge.

Plaintiffs, Walter and Bonnie Mills, appeal from a judgment in favor of defendant, Standard Title Insurance Company (Standard), in a slander of title action. We affirm.

The Mills and Charles Crosby were involved in a dispute over the ownership of certain mortgaged real property which had been subjected to a foreclosure sale. Both wished to redeem. In order to finance his redemption, Crosby sought a title commitment from Standard, requesting that the commitment be issued without reflecting the existence of the Mills' right of redemption. Such a commitment was subsequently issued by Standard through its Colorado agent, Denver Abstract Company, but only upon execution by Crosby of an agreement expressly indemnifying Standard from any liability resulting from issuance of the commitment. Crosby was thereafter successful in procuring a mortgage agreement which provided the funds necessary for redemption. The Mills then sued Crosby and the new mortgagee. After Crosby's death, and in the course of settlement of that litigation, the Mills executed a general release in favor of Crosby's estate.

The Mills subsequently brought this action against Standard premised on the theory that issuance of the commitment constituted disparagement of title resulting in damage to the Mills insofar as it enabled Crosby to obtain financing for redemption. Standard brought in Crosby's estate based on the indemnification agreement. Trial was to the court. The court found that Crosby and Standard were joint tortfeasors and that the release in favor of Crosby's estate was a complete defense to the present action. We uphold the trial court's judgment on this basis, without reaching the issue of whether the tort of slander of title occurred.

I.

The Mills' first contention is that the trial court erred in finding that Standard and Crosby were joint tortfeasors, arguing that Crosby was not an active participant in issuance of the title commitment, see Miller v. Singer, 131 Colo. 112, 279 P.2d 846 (1955) and did not owe to the Mills the same duty as did Standard. We reject this contention.

Crosby actively participated in procuring the title commitment. Without his participation the commitment would not have been issued. Both Crosby and Standard owed the same duty to the Mills: not to maliciously utter slanderous false statements damaging to the Mills' property interest. McNichols v. Conejos-K Corp., 29 Colo.App. 205, 482 P.2d 432 (1971). See also Colorado Real Estate & Development, Inc. v. Sternberg, 164 Colo. 184, 433 P.2d 341 (1967). The issuance of the commitment was not a separate and independent act. It was the consequence of concerted activity by both Standard and Crosby. Cf. Sanchez v. George Irvin Chevrolet Co., 31 Colo.App. 320, 502 P.2d 87 (1972). If a tort was committed, they were jointly and severally liable for damages to the Mills. Miller v. Singer, supra.

The Mills argue that Standard's duty differed because of its status as an insurer, citing Union Mutual Life Co. v. Bailey, 99 Colo. 570, 64 P.2d 1267 (1937), and they urge that public policy prevents alteration of this duty through an indemnification agreement. However, it was the Mills' execution of the release in favor of Crosby's estate, and not the existence of the indemnification agreement, which the trial court found freed Standard from liability. Hence, no public policy considerations were involved. See Union Mutual Life Co. v. Bailey, supra.

II.

The Mills next challenge the court...

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  • Mills v. Standard Title Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Colorado Supreme Court
    • April 24, 1978
    ...in favor of the defendant, Standard Title Insurance Company (Standard), in a slander of title action. The court of appeals, Colo.App., 568 P.2d 79, affirmed and the Mills petitioned for a writ of certiorari which we granted. We now The Mills and Charles Crosby were involved in a dispute ove......

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