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Mississippi Valley Title Ins. Co. v. Thompson

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

June 19, 2014

MISSISSIPPI VALLEY TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY, WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., OLD REPUBLIC NATIONAL TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
J. GARRISON THOMPSON, Defendant-Appellant

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama. D. C. Docket No. 2:11-cv-00538-WS-C.

For Mississippi Valley Title Insurance Company, OLD REPUBLIC NATIONAL TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Plaintiffs - Appellees: Charles C. Simpson III, Lawrence Jean Seiter, Johnstone Adams Bailey Gordon & Harris, LLC, Mobile, AL.

For J. Garrison Thompson, Defendant - Appellant: James Brian Rossler, Rossler Law Firm, LLC, Mobile, AL; Larry William Harper, Porterfield Harper Mills Motlow & Ireland PA, Birmingham, AL; Philip Henry Pitts, Law Offices of Pitts Pitts & Williams, Selma, AL.

For Service: Charles J. Fleming, Fleming & Chavers, Mobile, AL; B. Kincey Green Jr., Allen S. Reeves, Law Office of Allen S. Reeves, Selma, AL.

For Alabama State Bar: ames Anthony McLain, Alabama State Bar, Montgomery, AL.

For Alabama Defense Lawyers Association: James Anthony McLain, Alabama State Bar, Montgomery, AL.

Before TJOFLAT, Circuit Judge, and MOORE[*] and SCHLESINGER,[**] District Judges.

OPINION

Page 1331

SCHLESINGER, District Judge:

This appeal presents a relatively simple question, but one that the Alabama Supreme Court is best-equipped to answer: Does an " attorney agent" who works under contract for a title insurance company provide a " legal service" within the meaning of Ala. Code § 6-5-574, when he performs a title search, analyzes documents in the chain of title, forms an unwritten opinion on the status of title based on those documents, and then issues a commitment to insure or an insurance policy based on his unwritten opinion? The District Court answered this question in the negative and, therefore, did not subject this action to Alabama's statute of limitations for " legal service liability actions against . . . legal service provider[s]" found within Ala. Code § 6-5-574. The District Court then granted summary judgment to Plaintiff-Appellee Mississippi Valley Title Insurance Co. and its affiliate, Old Republic National Title Insurance Co. (collectively " Mississippi Valley" ). Defendant-Appellant J. Garrison Thompson (" Thompson" ) argues that the District Court erred, and that it should have granted summary judgment in his favor because Mississippi Valley's action against him was time-barred by Ala. Code § 6-5-574. He was, he argues, providing a legal service in his capacity as " attorney agent" for Mississippi Valley.

After careful review of Alabama court decisions interpreting the meaning of " legal service" both in connection with and apart from Ala. Code § 6-5-574, we conclude that this appeal presents an issue of first impression that the Alabama Supreme Court is best-suited to resolve. We therefore certify the question to the Alabama Supreme Court.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Thompson is an attorney who practices law in Alabama. In February 2000, Mississippi Valley and Thompson entered into an agreement that appointed him an " attorney agent" authorized to issue title insurance commitments and ...


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