The Georgia Court of Appeals recently affirmed summary judgment for a title insurance company in a dispute regarding an easement’s beneficiaries, holding that the insured released any claims against the title insurer and could not bring a later suit, even for claims assigned to it by another party. See ALR Oglethorpe, LLC v. Fid. Nat'l Title Ins. Co., 863 S.E.2d 568 (Ga. Ct. App. 2021). In the dispute, which involved many lawsuits over many years, ALR Oglethorpe (“ALR”) purchased parcels of property with the intention of creating a mixed-use development. ALR’s law firm, Coleman Talley, asked the title insurance company to prepare a title commitment for the properties. The resulting title commitment revealed the existence of an access easement across one of the tracts but failed to identify all of the parties benefitted by the easement. Coleman Talley then drafted an agreement to terminate the easement. However, only the parties who were identified in the title commitment signed the termination. The sale closed on May 15, 2006, but in December 2007, a third party who had not signed the termination notified ALR that it also was a beneficiary of the easement. ALR made a claim under the title policy. The title insurance company resolved the claim by purchasing various properties in a series of transactions in order to give the third party alternate access in exchange for the third party releasing its easement rights. The title insurance company and ALR then entered into an agreement entitled “Release, Settlement Agreement and Covenant Not to Sue” (the “Agreement”). ALR later brought a lawsuit against Coleman Talley, who settled the matter and assigned its contribution and indemnification claims to ALR. ALR then brought another lawsuit against the title insurer, among others, pursuant to these assigned claims.
The trial court granted summary judgment for the title insurance company, holding that the Agreement bars ALR’s claims against it. ALR appealed, arguing that it is asserting Coleman Talley’s claims, and not its own, and that the Agreement only released its own claims. The Court of Appeals disagreed with ALR, finding that the Agreement contained broad language in which ALR expressly released the title company “from any and all liability for any and all claims . . . arising out of or relating in any way to the released claims . . . ” The Agreement defined “released claims” as “any claims or other matters . . . arising out of or in connection with the [p]olicy [c]laims,” which it defined as “any claims or matters arising out of the [e]asement.” ALR expressly agreed that it would not participate in or institute “any suit or action, at law or in equity” against the title company in order to effectuate the parties’ “wish to resolve any and all claims by [ALR] against [the title company] . . . relating in any way to the [e]asement.” The Court held that this and other language in the Agreement showed the parties’ intent to encompass not only ALR’s claims, but the claims assigned to ALR.