Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Oh, and Legal Stuff

The Iowa Supreme Court put up two opinions last Friday.

STEWART REALTY v. SISSON Factual background: the property owner wanted to sell a retail business, but didn't want word to get out it was for sale in case it impacted the business in the meantime. He orally agreed with the broker to pay 10% if the property sold. The broker contacted a few potential buyers, and gave one of them financial details about the business. A while later, he heard that this buyer had bought the business straight from the property owner. The broker called the property owner to ask for his cut, but didn't get it. He sued, claiming they had an oral contract. The property owner responded by claiming an oral listing contract is illegal. So the issue became whether an oral agreement between a property owner and a real estate broker for the broker sell the owner's property without actually listing it constitutes a “listing agreement” within the meaning of a real estate commission rule requiring such agreements to be in writing. The Court went into excruciating detail about the difference between a listing broker and a selling broker, to come up with the conclusion that "An agreement that provides the property is not to be “listed” is not a “listing agreement.” However, in remanding for further proceedings, the opinion specifically noted Iowa law also requires brokerage agreements to be in writing . . . something which hadn't been raised yet by the defense. So the parties apparently get to go around yet another mulberry bush before they get done with this case.

ESTATE OF SEROVY v. SEROVY decides that the authorization under Iowa Code section 249A.5(2) for Medicaid to foreclose on a home owned jointly by a mother and her daughter and son-in-law for medical debts incurred by the mother prior to her death does not violate the constitution. However, it notes that the interest which can be sold is limited to the mother's one-third of the property. The alternative proposed by the Court:
We modify the district court’s order so as to limit the property that may be sold by the personal representative to the one-third joint interest owned by Mary immediately prior to her death.

As an alternative to a sale of property to satisfy the Medicaid-reimbursement claim, the probate court established a buyout figure. In describing that figure in their argument on appeal, Allan and Pearl suggest that the figure was the amount of the Medicaid-reimbursement claim plus accumulated interest. In reading the probate court’s order it appears to us that the figure was the court’s valuation of Mary’s one-third interest in the property immediately prior to her death. We are satisfied that any buyout figure that the Estate Recovery Program can be made to accept in lieu of a sale of the property must require payment of its claim plus all accumulated interest. Of course, the parties are free to negotiate an alternative buyout figure that would avoid the sale of Mary’s interest in the property.

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