American Title Insurance Company ("American Title") appeals from the nonfinal order granting partial summary judgment in favor of Robert and Elizabeth Carter ("the Carters") arising out of a third party complaint the Carters filed against American Title after American Title refused to defend them in a boundary dispute.
The facts of this case are generally uncontested. In June of 1987, the Carters purchased title insurance from American Title when they bought a parcel of land located in the southwest quarter of the southwest quarter of section 20, township 21 south, range 30 east. The insurance policy that American Title issued to the Carters states in pertinent part:
Schedule B of the policy delineates certain types of losses that are excluded from coverage. It states in relevant part:
After purchasing the property, the Carters had Robert Gabioud, a professional land surveyor, perform a boundary survey. Based on Gabioud's survey, the Carters erected a fence on what they believed to be their eastern boundary line. In 1991, the Carters' neighbor to the east, Eugene Calabrese ("Calabrese") had William Hart perform a survey. Hart concluded that the Carters' fence encroached 26.5 feet on Calabrese's property.
When the Carters refused to move their fence, Calabrese filed a complaint against the Carters alleging encroachment and seeking to recover possession of the land enclosed by the fence, as well as damages, costs, and attorney's fees. The Carters made a formal demand on American Title to defend them in Calabrese's ejectment action. American Title refused to defend them, and the Carters filed a third party complaint against their predecessors in interest and American Title. In Count III of their complaint, the Carters alleged that American Title insured them against loss and damage for circumstances as alleged in Calabrese's complaint and that American Title had breached the title insurance policy by failing to defend them in Calabrese's suit.
American Title answered, stating that it had denied coverage because Calabrese's lawsuit was not a covered claim under the policy for two reasons. First, Calabrese's claim did not seek to recover any lands described in the Carter's deed, and alternatively, the claim was not covered because of the survey exception in Schedule B of the policy. Thereafter, both parties filed motions for summary judgment on the issue of American Title's duty to defend the Carters in the ejectment action.
On appeal, American Title asserts that the trial court's order should be reversed for two reasons. First, American Title contends that the lawsuit Calabrese filed is not a covered claim under the Carters' title insurance policy. Second, it asserts that the trial court improperly based its order on an estoppel theory, which was beyond the scope of the pleadings.
American Title argues that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment for the Carters because the outcome of the case does not affect the title to the Carters' property. American Title points out that it is undisputed that the legal descriptions of the Carters' and Calabrese's property do not overlap: Calabrese's parcel is bounded on the west by the quarter/quarter section line separating the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter, while the Carters' parcel is bounded by the southwest quarter of the southwest quarter. In essence, the quarter/quarter section line is the common boundary between the two parcels; the question in Calabrese's suit is where "on the ground" that line should be drawn. American Title maintains that such an issue does not pertain to title, but is merely a boundary dispute not covered in the policy.
While no Florida case law is on point, we find Walker Rogge, Inc. v. Chelsea Title & Guaranty Co., 116 N.J. 517, 562 A.2d 208 (1989), disagreed with on other grounds by Bank of California, N.A. v. First Am. Title Ins. Co., 826 P.2d 1126 (Alaska 1992) instructive. In that case, the plaintiff contracted to purchase land comprising "19 acres, more or less." Id. 562 A.2d at 210. The price was based on the number of acres and was to be adjusted in accordance with a survey. The plaintiff had purchased a title insurance policy that excluded from coverage, "[e]ncroachments, overlaps, boundary line disputes and other matters which could be disclosed by an accurate survey and inspection of the premises." Id. at 212. Although the purchaser ordered a survey, when he had not received it by the closing, the purchaser relied on an earlier survey. Six years later, a survey revealed that the land was actually only 12.43 acres. The purchaser then sued the title insurance company and the original surveyor, alleging, inter alia, that the shortage in acreage "was an insurable loss under the policy...." Id. at 213. The trial court found that title to the property had not vested as described in the policy, that the shortage constituted a defect in title, and that the title was unmarketable. Although the appellate court affirmed that determination, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed. The court reasoned:
Id. at 217.
In the present case, like the plaintiff in Walker Rogge, the defect about which the Carters are complaining would not have been disclosed by the public records. In addition, like the deed to the conveyed property in Walker Rogge, the legal description in the Carters' deed does not delineate the quantity of land being conveyed. We agree with the court in Walker Rogge that title insurance is not a valid substitute for a survey. If the Carters wished to insure against a defect that a correct survey would show, they could have sought to have the exclusion deleted before buying the policy; essentially, the Carters are asking the court to write them an insurance policy superior to the one they purchased. Such action would be improper. See Walker Rogge, 562 A.2d at 214 ("[C]ourts should not write for the insured a better policy of insurance than the one purchased.").
The trial court also found that the Carters relied on American Title to advise them about the sufficiency of the title policy, and therefore, American Title was estopped from relying on the policy's survey exception.
REVERSED and REMANDED with INSTRUCTIONS.
W. SHARP and GRIFFIN, JJ., concur.