CINCINNATI, Aug. 4, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- American Homeland Title Agency, Inc. ("AHT") has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Commissioner of the Indiana Department of Insurance ("IDOI"). The lawsuit was filed by attorney Joshua Adam Engel of Engel & Martin, LLC in the United States District Court in Cincinnati, Ohio.
In the lawsuit, AHT alleges that the Indiana title insurance laws and regulations have been selectively enforced in violation of the United States Constitution by IDOI Commissioner Stephen Robertson. According to the Complaint, IDOI told AHT, "If you guys were not writing this (title insurance) business in Indiana, people in Indiana would be writing it." This is unconstitutional discrimination against out-of-state title companies in favor of in-state title companies.
As the result of an audit in January 2015 performed by IDOI, AHT was accused by IDOI of making errors in handling Indiana real estate transactions. Throughout the audit process, IDOI failed to follow Indiana state law. IDOI did not allow AHT the opportunity to receive and to rebut the findings of the audit. AHT decided to settle with the State of Indiana rather than risk the entire company on a protracted legal fight. AHT compensated consumers, paid a hefty fine, and agreed to not compete for Indiana business.
Since the settlement, AHT has learned that IDOI has targeted other out-of-state title companies for aggressive enforcement in order to protect in-state Indiana businesses. Through the first five months of 2015:
- 83% of all $10,000.00+ fines against title insurance companies by IDOI have been against out-of-state title companies;
- 63% of all enforcement actions have been against out-of-state title companies;
- 100% of press releases touting enforcement by IDOI have been against Cincinnati Ohio area title companies;
- Almost all enforcement actions against Ohio title insurance companies have been for multiple violations while all actions against Indiana title companies have been for single violations; and
- Fines against out-of-state title companies under IDOI's most popular fine have averaged over 1100% higher as opposed to what IDOI assesses against in-state title companies.
It appears that the IDOI Commissioner has been targeting out-of-state title insurance companies for vigorous enforcement to protect Indiana businesses from competition. Approximately two months after settlement with AHT, IDOI issued a press release which contained false statements. It became clear Indiana was willing to put the West Chester, Ohio company out of business. It was at this point in time that AHT decided to file its federal lawsuit.
Many Cincinnati area title companies have decided that it is too risky to continue to do business in Indiana. A few other major Cincinnati area title companies have made a business decision to cease doing business in Indiana for fear of being targeted next by IDOI. An Indiana real estate broker, Andrew Lohmiller stated,
"In light of recent events, it has become very hard for me to find a settlement agent for our clients who is still operating in Indiana along with our neighboring states. As such, we have seen time added to some consumer's transactions and the overall consumer experience degrade a bit. For the sake of Southeast Indiana home buyers and sellers, I hope that the IDOI will make amends with Cincinnati based title companies and welcome their business back to our state."
John Yonas, AHT's President, said, "I am aware that several major companies in the Cincinnati area have voluntarily ceased doing business in Indiana as a direct result of the fear of aggressive and selective enforcement by IDOI. These businesses fear that an enforcement action will cause harm to the reputation, goodwill, and business relationships of these companies in Ohio as it has for AHT."
Engel, who has significant experience in civil rights litigation, said, "IDOI must be aware that their unlawful and discriminatory actions in Indiana are likely to cause, and have caused, harm to companies in Ohio."
AHT hopes to be able to proceed with its federal lawsuit. John Yonas stated, "Taking on the government is never easy. I am a small business guy with limited resources. I have a duty to look out for the well-being of my family and my employees. I will see this lawsuit through as long as I have the ability to do so."
SOURCE American Homeland Title Agency, Inc.