County must return payments stolen by employee, SC rules
Justice William Ray Price, Jr.
JEFFERSON CITY -- A title company is entitled to a refund of money stolen by an employee of the county deeds recorder, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled today.
In Investors Title Co. vs. Janice Hammonds, Recorder of Deeds for St. Louis County (no. SC87669) the Supreme Court affirmed a trial court finding granting Investors Title three years' worth of refunds for overpayments.
The case centered around an employee in the St. Louis County Recorder's office, who routinely overcharged Investors Title for the amount due the office on each transaction and pocketed the difference. The scheme continued unnoticed for six years until 2001.
Investors Title originally sued for $727,000, representing the overpayments stolen over a statute-limited five years. The original trial court jury settled on a three-year amount of $499,391 and with interest the total award to Investors Title was $643,092.
The County appealed the decision and award on five separate grounds, most notably that no written contract between the two existed as required by statute. But the Supreme Court upheld the trial court's decision to award Investors Title the overpayments.
"Since the County obtained money from Investors to which it was not entitled, the law compels its return," wrote Justice William Ray Price Jr. in the court's opinion. "The County's obligation in this regard is implied in law."
The relevant section of the statute, Price added, "will not preclude the return of money [to Investors Title] that the County was never authorized to collect."