Title Defect Renders Collateral Useless; Bank Unable to Cover Losses from Loan Default

A recent Nebraska Supreme Court decision illustrates why individuals should always seek advice of counsel before entering into a financial agreement. In Foundation One v. Svoboda, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s ruling that a Bank could not recover vehicles pledged as collateral to secure a loan because a gap in title indicated the Borrower did not own the vehicles. 303 Neb. 624, ___ N.W.2d ___ (2019).

Foundation One loaned $200,000 to Jason Svoboda upon Svoboda pledging two Mack trucks as collateral to secure the loan. In order to maintain the priority of its claim to the vehicles the Bank paid $85,141.40 to remove several preexisting liens on the truck titles. When the Svoboda defaulted on the loan, the Bank repossessed both trucks, eventually selling one for $95,000. Before the Bank could sell the second truck, however, the legal owner intervened in the case.

The trial to determine the legal owner of the trucks brought some startling facts to light. Prior to obtaining the loan, and unbeknownst to the Bank, Svoboda had engaged in a scheme to fraudulently transfer title from the legal owner, Lehr, Inc., back to Svoboda, to use the trucks as collateral for his loan. This scheme left a gap in the trucks’ chain of title. Lehr, Inc. presented evidence at trial showing that the trucks were, at all relevant times, the legal property of Lehr, Inc., and not Svoboda.

The jury verdict ordered the Bank to return the truck remaining in its possession, and to pay an additional $95,000 to Lehr (the amount the Bank received for the sale of the other truck). The jury verdict left the Bank with the full $200,000 amount of the loan, less any payments made before the Borrower’s default. Reviewing the case on appeal, the Nebraska Supreme Court commented that the Bank is required to show a clear chain of title from any previous owners of the trucks to the Borrower, and from the Borrower to the Bank. Id. at 633, ___ N.W.2d at ___. Ultimately, the Bank could not claim an interest in either truck because “the evidence, on its face, . . . showed a break in the chain of ownership between Lehr and [the Borrower] and did not show clear title in [the Bank].” Id.

If the Bank had conducted a more thorough investigation regarding the vehicles offered by Svoboda, it would have avoided the loss in question.

Personal Assets are Not Protected If Corporate Formalities Are Not Followed

A recent Nebraska Supreme Court case illustrates the need for your business to comply with basic corporate formalities to protect yourself from personal liability.  In Thomas Grady Photography v. Amazing Vapor, the Nebraska Supreme Court held that a business owner must disclose his or her capacity as an agent of a corporation to escape personal liability for contracts made. 301 Neb. 401 (2018). Grady Photography filed suit against Amazing Vapor, MCJC Companies, Manuel Calderon, and Thomas Anderson for breach of contract for failing to pay on two contracts for photography services.  The court ultimately held that Anderson was individually liable for breach of both oral contracts because Anderson did not inform Grady of the corporate status of Amazing Vapor throughout the entirety of their business relationship. 

Erickson | Sederstrom’s attorneys have significant experience working with entities of all sizes to ensure that their corporate structure protects them from personal liability.  If you have any questions about whether your entity is in fact protecting you from personal liability or if you need assistance in forming a corporation, limited liability company or other entity to protect your personal assets, attorneys Paul Heimann, Bill Foley, Andrew Collins and Michelle Elkin would be happy help. 

Bitcoins and the Law

Last year Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies went “mainstream” with regular financial reporting of prices and tales of fortunes made or lost.  This has prompted many ordinary investors to try their hand at cryptocurrency investing.  This has fed an ever widening set of cryptocurrency products being offered to consumers and businesses alike.  These products range from Wall Street backed crypto currency exchanges like to initial coin offerings (“ICOs”) now being used by start-ups to attempt to bypass the regulations that normally apply to the capital-raising process.
The sheer exuberance surrounding cryptocurrencies and the often inaccurate depiction of cryptocurrencies as not subject to ordinary laws is fertile ground for fraudsters and high-risk unsound investment schemes.   For example, numerous market players still promote their ICOs as not subject to state or federal securities regulation despite convincing and sound conclusions to the contrary.  In fact, use of an ICO may very well expose the entity (and its individual managers) using it as a capital-raising device to potential civil and criminal charges, sanctions, and personal liability to individual investors.  
Due diligence requires that before you or your business involves yourself in any crypto currency undertaking that you consult with competent and experienced business counsel so you can fully understand the true risk of the undertaking.  Investors who have already lost money in a crypto currency scheme should also exercise due diligence by consulting with counsel because, under existing law, those who involved them in the scheme may be personally obligated to repay for the lost investment.