Moreno v. First International Title, Inc., is a case that illustrates the very important point that you should always make sure you understand what you are signing when buying property. In that case, Victoria Moreno (“Moreno”) purchased property encumbered with liens and code violations. Prior to closing, she was given several documents explicitly disclosing each of the code violations and liens, and indicating the amount necessary to cure, which was approximately $64,000.00. She also signed a Hold Harmless document, which had attached the list disclosing all the violations and lien information. The closing occurred a few days later. Moreno admits that she did sign all the documents, even though she does not speak or read English, and made no attempt to have anyone explain the documents to her.
Months later, Miami-Dade County assessed Moreno for the outstanding violations, and she sued First International Title, Inc. (“FIT”), the closing agent for the sale, claiming that FIT breached its fiduciary duty to clearly communicate the allegedly “latent defects” of the additions built without proper permits that affected the value of the house. FIT moved for summary judgement, the trial court granted the motion, and the appellate court affirmed.
The appellate court stated that the record did not reflect any facts that indicated that Moreno was fraudulently induced to sign the documents, was purposely or negligently misinformed, or was in any way prevented from reading or inquiring about the documents. The documents clearly set forth the violations and Moreno had an opportunity to read through them. The court supported its decision by citing a series of prior cases that that all stand for the proposition that failure to read or understand a contract is not a defense where the person was not prevented from reading it and was given a full opportunity to read it.