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Fidelity National Title Insurance Co. v. Radford

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

April 9, 2015

FIDELITY NATIONAL TITLE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
FRANKLIN R. RADFORD, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MICHAEL F. URBANSKI, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on the motion of defendants Franklin Radford and Mary Radford (the "Radfords") for a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(e). Dkt. No. 6. For the reasons set forth below, the Radfords' motion will be DENIED.

I.

This case involves the transfer of a real estate deed containing an invalid easement. In a complaint filed on January 14, 2015, plaintiff Fidelity National Title Insurance Company ("Fidelity") alleges that the Radfords conveyed certain real property located in Roanoke County, Virginia, to J. Jeffrey Tinaglia and Mitzi G. Tinaglia (collectively, the "Tinaglias") pursuant to a general warranty deed dated July 20, 2010 (the "Tinaglia Deed"). Compl., Dkt. No. 1, at ¶ 8. Fidelity issued a title insurance policy in connection with this real estate transaction. The Tinaglia Deed contained the following language purporting to create an access easement:

OVER AND ACROSS NEW BEASLEY TRAIL, LINN COVE COURT AND MASON'S CREST TRAIL, EXCEPTED FOR THE BENEFIT OF NEW TRACT 3 FROM THE DEED DATED JANUARY 5, 2009 AND RECORDED IN THE CLERK'S OFFICE OF THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ROANOKE COUNTY, VIRGINIA, AS INSTRUMENT # XXXXXXXXX.

Id. at ¶ 9. The easement described in the Tinaglia Deed (the "Easement") is located within the Mason's Crest Planned Residential Development (the "Development") adjacent to the Tinaglias' real property. The complaint in this case alleges the Development was approved through a Master Plan created by the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors on February 24, 2004. This Master Plan showed all approved easements and did not contain the Easement described in the Tinaglia Deed.

Rather, the Easement at issue first appeared in land records in 2009, when Radford & Company[1] deeded the Development to Mason's Crest Master Association, Inc. In doing so, Radford & Company attempted to carve out and reserve the Easement for itself and its successors and assigns. As the complaint alleges, however, revisions to the Master Plan may only be made pursuant to Roanoke County zoning ordinance procedures, and no such revisions were made regarding the Easement prior to the conveyance of the property to the Tinaglias. In any event, Radford & Company never assigned, transferred, or conveyed its interest in the purported Easement to the Radfords, grantors of the Tinaglia Deed.

Fidelity alleges that in 2012, the Tinaglias realized the Easement did not exist and demanded coverage under Fidelity's title insurance policy. Fidelity sought a determination by the Roanoke County Zoning Administrator regarding the Easement's validity. The Zoning Administrator ruled that the creation of the Easement was in violation of the Development's Master Plan and voided the Easement. Fidelity claims that it compensated the Tinaglias "for the loss of the value of the Easement" and "expended $106, 282.68 in order to resolve the Claim." Id. at ¶¶ 22-23.

Fidelity, as the Tinaglias' subrogee, now brings this action against the Radfords, alleging breach of warranty (Count I) and, in the alternative, unjust enrichment (Count II). Fidelity seeks damages in the amount of $106, 282.68.

In response, the Radfords move for a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(e). The Radfords assert that the complaint fails to sufficiently explain how the requested damages were calculated, identify the causal connection between the alleged defects in the Tinaglia Deed and the requested damages, and attach the underlying real estate contract. Fidelity opposes the motion. The issues have been fully briefed and are ripe for adjudication.[2]

II.

Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a court to grant a motion for a more definite statement if a pleading "is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). Rule 12(e) "must be read in conjunction with Rule 8, which establishes the general rules for pleading." Hodgson v. Va. Baptist Hosp., Inc., 482 F.2d 821, 822 (4th Cir. 1973). Rule 8 requires a complaint to contain three elements: (1) a statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends, (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (3) a demand for relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a); Hodgson, 482 F.2d at 822.

Courts tend to disfavor motions for a more definite statement and only grant them if a defendant cannot frame a response to the complaint. See Blizzard v. Dalton, 876 F.Supp. 95, 100 (E.D. Va. 1995) (citing Hodgson, 482 F.2d at 824). Indeed, a court should deny the motion "when the complaint conforms to Rule 8(a) and it is neither so vague nor so ambiguous that the defendant cannot reasonably be required to answer." Hodgson, 482 F.2d at ...


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