Missouri Land Title Association Asks State S.C. to Hear Case Impacting Cost to Access Records

January 11, 2011

The Missouri Land Title Association (MLTA) asked the state’s Supreme Court to hear a case that could cost the title insurance industry millions of dollars a year to purchase recorded documents and maintain title plants.

The MLTA filed an Application for Transfer to the Supreme Court after an appeals court rejected its appeal regarding a 2009 decision in Webster County whether or not a title company can buy previously recorded documents from the Recorder of Deeds without application of the "Missouri Sunshine law." This law provides that the cost for purchasing documents would be limited as directed by this statute. The court ruled that recorders were not limited by the "Missouri Sunshine Law," but could charge up to their statutory fee under the recorder's statute of $2 for the first page and $1 for every other page even for bulk sales of documents. This would allow recorders to make a profit off these sales.

MLTA attorney John Coghlan, with the Kansas City-based law firm Lathrop & Gage, said this has a huge impact on costs for title agents, adding that it’s like “double taxation.”

“The case is saying there is nothing in the statutes that says recorders can’t be profit centers,” he said. “There is a plant law in this state and people have significant investments in plants that must be updated daily. “

Individual counties are charging different amounts, with some charging cost, but Coghlan guaranties counties will “charge up to the max if they can.”

If MLTA’s application for transfer is accepted, it may take two or three months before the Missouri’s Supreme Court hears the case. MLTA is also pursuing a legislative remedy that would confirm bulk sales of documents by a recorder's office are covered under the "Missouri Sunshine law."

“Several title companies may all want to ban together and buy one county and then share the documents,” Coghlan said.

As an example of how this could impact the industry in Missouri, Jackson County charges $250 for a month’s worth of documents on a disk. This represents the cost to produce the disk. Under the Sunshine Law, the county is only allowed to recover costs (not entitled to a profit). If this decision is allowed to stand, it would be possible for the recorder to decide to charge up to the statutory limit. There are roughly 11,000 documents, averaging three pages per document, filed in the county per month. If the county decides to charge $1 per page, it would cost $33,000 per month compared to $250.

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or [email protected].