Slander of title. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Markle.
Robinson & Blazer, John E. Robinson, Gregory H. Blazer, for appellant.
McCalla Raymer, Mindi C. Robinson, Kent E. Altom, Steven J. Flynn, Brett C. Giordano, RCO Legal, Lori L. McGowan, for appellees.
In a previous action to quiet title, John M. Veatch (" Veatch" or the " Veatch Estate" ), acting as the administrator of his father's estate, successfully established that someone had forged two deeds in order to transfer estate property to a person who used the property to secure a $187,700 loan. The trial court's decision to quiet title was [331 Ga.App. 598] affirmed by the Supreme Court. Aurora Loan Svcs. v. Veatch, 288 Ga. 808, 809 (710 S.E.2d 744) (2011). While the quiet title action was pending, Aurora Loan Services, LLC, with the assistance of McCalla Raymer, LLC, recorded in the Fulton County property records an assignment to Aurora of the secured party's interest in the $187,700 loan. After the Supreme Court upheld the decision to quiet title to the property in the estate, Veatch sued Aurora and McCalla, asserting that by recording the assignment, they had slandered the title of the real property and wrongfully interfered with the estate's property rights. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants, and Veatch appeals. We affirm because Veatch has failed to present any evidence to establish special damages.
" Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Walker v. Gwinnett Hosp. System, 263 Ga.App. 554, 555 (588 S.E.2d 441) (2003) (citations and punctuation omitted). A trial court's grant of summary judgment is reviewed de novo on appeal, construing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Ethridge v. Davis, 243 Ga.App. 11, 12 (530 S.E.2d 477) (2000). " If there is no evidence sufficient to create a genuine issue as to any essential element of plaintiff's
claim, that claim tumbles like a house of cards. All of the other disputes of fact are rendered immaterial." Lau's Corp. v. Haskins, 261 Ga. 491 (405 S.E.2d 474) (1991) (citation omitted).
The facts, supplemented as shown, are set out in the Supreme Court's decision affirming the trial court's order striking the two forged deeds from the Fulton County Records and quieting title to the property in the estate:
Elsie Veatch owned the subject property until her death in 1974; her sole heir was Raymond Wesley Veatch, Jr., Veatch's father, who died on March 20, 2006. After his death, two forged deeds were recorded in the Fulton County deed records, purporting to convey title to the property to Antonio Simpson. One forged deed was styled " Quitclaim Deed," purportedly executed on May 19, 2006 by Elsie Veatch, who had then been dead for 32 years; this purported deed was recorded on October 17, 2006. The other purported deed was styled " Executors Deed," and was purportedly executed by Raymond Wesley Veatch, Jr., on March 15, 2006, a date on which he lay in a coma; it was recorded on November 6, 2006. After these forged deeds were executed and recorded, a warranty deed purportedly from Antonio Simpson to Darryl Matthews was recorded on November 8, 2006. [In May 2007,] Matthews then executed a security deed in favor of [331 Ga.App. 599] [MERS as the nominee of] First Magnus Financial Corporation in connection with a loan for $187,500. [On November 1, 2007, t]he security deed was ... assigned to Aurora[, but the assignment was not recorded until April 9, 2009].
[Meanwhile, o]n September 5, 2007, after Veatch discovered activity on the property and applied for, and was granted, letters of administration of the estate of Raymond Wesley Veatch, Jr., he filed in the Fulton County land records an affidavit stating that the Executor's and Quitclaim deeds were false. [On September 18, 2008, h]e then filed in the superior court [a] petition to quiet title [seeking to cancel the two forged deeds, the deed to Matthews, and the MERS security deed; Veatch also filed a lis pendens regarding the subject property]. OCGA § 23-3-40 et seq. [Although Aurora initially was not named as a party to the quiet title action, Aurora was added as a defendant on April 1, 2009; nine days later, Aurora recorded the assignment of the security deed from MERS, which was drafted by McCalla.] The trial court appointed a Special Master who concluded that Aurora was a bona fide purchaser for value. See Roop Grocery Co. v. Gentry, 195 Ga. 736, 745 (1) (25 S.E.2d 705) (1943). However, the trial court disagreed, finding that there was record notice that the forged deeds were fraudulent, and that in any event, a forged deed is a nullity and cannot convey title.
Aurora Loan Svcs., 288 Ga. at 808-809. On March 18, 2011, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision quieting title in the estate on the ground that a forged deed is a nullity and therefore the trial court did not err by quieting title to the property in the estate unencumbered by the security deed held by Aurora. Id. After the Supreme Court's decision, Veatch sold the subject property for $18,000.
One year later, Veatch filed suit against Aurora and McCalla alleging slander of title and interference with property rights, seeking damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees and expenses. Veatch alleged that as a result of the defendants' actions, Veatch was unable to convey clear title to the property from 2007 through when the Supreme Court affirmed the decision to quiet title and that the defendants therefore should be liable for the loss in value of the property during that time. Veatch moved for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, and the defendants moved for ...