Truth in Lending Act
If you are a Maryland lawyer looking to get into the foreclosure defense field, or a practicing lawyer already handling cases in
this area, this seminar should be of significant value to you.
Learn the latest tips, tricks and strategies; and obtain copies of foreclosure materials used against lenders and servicers by
experts in the field. The goal of this seminar is to help you better understand the legal issues facing your clients, and help you more
effectively advocate on their behalf.
The seminar will cover the following topics:
- How to Scrutinize Loan Documents for RESPA and TILA Compliance Violations
- Loan Rescission under the Truth in Lending Act
- How to Detect a Predatory Loan
- Understanding the Mortgage Securitization Process
- Securitization Parties and the Requisite Chain of Title
- Credit Default Swaps
- Everything You Need to Know about Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS)
- Detecting Fraudulent Assignments of Mortgage/Deed of Trust
- Detecting False Affidavits of Note Ownership or Lost Note
- How to Spot a False and/or Defective Allonge
- Produce the Note Theory
Cost: $1,495.00 ($1,349.00 if reserved before November 1, 2010)
Date: Friday November 12, 2010
Time: 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM
For reservations contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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This is proof positive that the outcome of your case depends entirely on the judge’s disposition and sensibilities. When there is clear and convincing evidence of predatory lending and fraud, the court can use its equitable powers to remediate the inequities.
In Re McGee v. Gregory Funding LLC, Dist. Court, D. Oregon 2010, on September 22, 2005 Plaintiff refinanced his home for $174,900 at 7.54% with a one year balloon payment of $175,999.66. Defendant received $9,800 as a loan origination fee and Plaintiff signed an option to extend the loan for an additional fee of $6980. TILA and HOEPA disclosures were not provided at settlement and the balloon rider was never signed by Plaintiff.
The following year Plaintiff tried obtaining a conventional loan but since Defendant did not report the payment history on Plaintiffs loan, he could not qualify for a refinance with any other lender. As such Plaintiff had to extend his loan with Defendant for another year and in the process ended up paying Defendant additional $9500 in fees. Again no material disclosures were provided.
On December 19, 2007 Plaintiff entered in to a third transaction with Defendant by signing an amendment for $216,216 at 7.54% that included advances for property taxes, legal fees and a modification fee totaling $14,320.68. Again Defendant failed to provide disclosures.
Plaintiff filed for bankruptcy protection in the District of Oregon on September 22, 2008, which was confirmed on April 16, 2009. The Bankruptcy Court ordered relief from the automatic stay on September 2, 2009.
Plaintiff filed a motion for temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction (“TRO/PI”). The court granted plaintiff’s motion for a TRO on November 10, 2010, prohibiting defendants from executing its proposed sale of plaintiff’s property on the Multnomah County Courthouse steps scheduled November 10, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.
Judge Ann Aiken found it troubling that Plaintiff was charged a total of $36, 418.81 in loan origination fees for three transactions over a four-year period, stating that considering the FHA recently announced a limitation of loan origination fees charged to borrowers as no more than 1% of the loan amount, Plaintiff’s loan fees of 5% and 7%, even considering the increased risk associated with a sub-prime loan, runs counter to 12 C.F.R. section 226.23(f)’s comment that fees must be bona fide and reasonable.
The court stated that HOEPA rescission does not have a statute of limitations subject to tolling, but a statute of repose that creates a substantive right not subject to tolling. Notwithstanding the foregoing the judge held that pursuant to King v. State of California, 784 F.2d 910.915 (9th Cir. 1986, cert denied, 486 U.S. 802 (1987), there was authority to allow Plaintiff to rescind the first transaction under the doctrine of equitable tolling. “Pursuant to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in King, supra, it is permissible for district courts to evaluate specific claims of fraudulent concealment and equitable tolling to determine if the general rule would be unjust or frustrate the purpose of the Act”. The court found those circumstances existed here and therefore warranted tolling.
Finally to overcome Plaintiffs inability to obtain new financing for tender purposes, the court ordered Defendant to file an amended proof of claim with the bankruptcy court using the tender amount as the secured debt payable at 7.547% interest over 30 years.
In re: James P. McGee, Plaintiff,
GREGORY FUNDING, LLC, an Oregon limited liability company, and RANDAL SUTHERLIN, Defendants.
Civil No. 09-1258-AA.
United States District Court, D. Oregon.
February 20, 2010.
Tami F. Bishop, M. Caroline Cantrell, M. Caroline Cantrell & Assoc. PC, Portland, Oregon, Attorneys for Debtor/Plaintiff.
Kathryn P. Salyer, Farleigh Wada Witt, Portland, Oregon, Attorney for Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
ANN AIKEN, District Judge.
Plaintiff filed a motion for temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction (“TRO/PI”). The court granted plaintiff’s motion for a TRO on November 10, 2010, prohibiting defendants from executing its proposed sale of plaintiff’s property on the Multnomah County Courthouse steps scheduled November 10, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. On November 23, 2010, the date scheduled to hear plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the parties elected to forego oral argument and submit the matter to the court on the briefs. Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction is granted.
Plaintiff brings this action for injunctive relief, actual damages, statutory damages, attorney fees and costs against defendants for violation of the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. sections 1601 et seq. and 1640(a) (“TILA”), among others.
Plaintiff, an African-American male, alleges this is a “residential predatory lending case” arising from a “fraudulent” home mortgage refinance transaction originated by defendant Gregory Funding, LLC with defendant Randal Sutherlin as the loan interviewer. Defendants originated a series of three loan transactions with plaintiff signed on September 12, 2005, September 26, 2006, and December 19, 2007. Plaintiff alleges those loans “stripped plaintiff of his home equity and put him at risk of losing his home.” Plaintiff alleges that he failed to receive accurate, material disclosures required by TILA and the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 (“HOEPA”) at the closing of both his second and third loans. As a result, plaintiff exercised his right to rescind the 2006 and 2007 loans under TILA, and filed the action at bar to enforce those rights.
Plaintiff filed for bankruptcy protection in the District of Oregon on September 22, 2008, which was confirmed on April 16, 2008. The Bankruptcy Court ordered relief from the automatic stay on September 2, 2009.
In September 2005, plaintiff contacted defendant Gregory Funding, LLC (“Gregory”) to request information regarding refinancing his home. At that time there was a pending foreclosure sale on plaintiff’s home. Plaintiff had recently started a new job. Defendant Sutherlin visited plaintiff’s home to discuss refinancing and spent about fifteen minutes with plaintiff. Later that day, Sutherlin phoned plaintiff to inform him that the loan was approved and the closing would take place within a couple of weeks. Plaintiff was not asked to provide tax returns, pay stubs, or complete a credit application at any point during the refinance. There is no record of a real estate appraisal completed at any point to determine the value of plaintiff’s home. On September 12, 2005, plaintiff signed the closing documents and refinanced his home for $174,900 at 7.54% interest with a one-year balloon payment of $175,999.66. A fixed rate balloon note was signed setting forth 12 principal and interest payments of $1,100 with the first payment due November 1, 2005, and a late payment fee of $55. Defendant Gregory received $9,800 as a loan origination fee from the transaction. Plaintiff signed an option to extend the loan for a fee of $6,980. The loan maturity date was October 1, 2006.
The material disclosures required by HOEPA for a high cost loan were not provided to plaintiff prior to or at the closing. Plaintiff did not sign and receive his two copies of his right to cancel under TILA and the balloon rider to the deed of trust was unsigned at closing.
In August 2006, plaintiff began shopping for a conventional loan; however, due to defendant Gregory not reporting the payment history on plaintiff’s loan, he was unable to qualify for a refinance with another lender. Plaintiff therefore entered into a second loan transaction with defendants on September 21, 2006. Plaintiff signed a document titled First Amendment to Promissory Note at defendants’ office on September 21, 2006. The transaction was for $184,400 at 7.54% interest with a one-year balloon payment of $185,559.72. The first amendment set forth 12 principal and interest payments of $1,159.72 and a late payment fee of $57.99 with the first payment due November 1, 2006. Defendant Gregory received $9,500 as a loan fee from the transaction. The loan maturity date was October 1, 2007. Again, the material disclosures required by HOEPA for a high cost loan were not provided to plaintiff prior to or at the closing including the HUD H-8 form (explaining a limited right to cancel for same lender refinancing).
Plaintiff made the November and December 2006 and January 2007, payments and did not make another payment until November 2007. He made a payment of $2,500 on November 15, 2007, and another payment of $3,500 on November 29, 2007. On December 1, 2007, plaintiff was an estimated $6,177.26 in arrears. In early December 2007, plaintiff discussed his refinancing options with defendant Sutherlin. On December 19, 2007, plaintiff believed he was entering into a 30-year principle and interest conventional mortgage when he entered into the third loan transaction with defendants.
Plaintiff alleges that Sutherlin failed to inform him that the loan was an interest only loan with a balloon payment due in 30 years of an amount higher than the original loan amount. Plaintiff was not asked to provide proof of his income or ability to repay the loan prior to signing the second amendment. This transaction was for $216,216 at 7.54% interest with a loan maturity date of December 31, 2007 under the second amendment to the note. According to the second amendment, Gregory advanced an additional $21,406.46 to borrower as 1) property insurance ($450); 2) property taxes (46,223.23); 3) lender attorney fees ($360); 4) one-day interest ($52.55); and 5) extension and modification fee ($14,320.68). The first amendment was $14,400 plus $21,406.46 in lender advances under the second amendment for a total of $205,806.46. The second amendment is for an explained difference of $10,409.54. Plaintiff was not provided a good faith estimate prior to closing or a HUD statement at closing detailing the loan fees and costs paid to defendant. The additional loan fee under the second amendment was $16,216. Gregory advanced all but $1,895.32 of the fee. Plaintiff paid the balance at closing of the second transaction.
Again, defendants failed to provide any material disclosures required by HOEPA for a high cost loan including the HUD H-8 form. The limited right to cancel provided on the H-8 form for same lender refinancing was not provided to plaintiff when he signed the first amendment to the promissory note. Plaintiff did not make any payments under the second amendment to the note. Defendant charged plaintiff $30,906.46 in fees for the 2006 and 2008 loans and an additional $9,840 for the original loan in 2005, for a total of $40,746.46 in fees for the three transactions. Plaintiff alleges these fees are excessive and unreasonable. Further, plaintiff alleges that defendants’ actions in refinancing plaintiff’s loan three times within a two year period without regard to the best interest of plaintiff establishes an egregious pattern or practice of making loans in violation of 12 C.F.R. section 226.32.
Gregory set a foreclosure sale date for September 23, 2008, in the interior foyer of the Multnomah County Courthouse. Plaintiff filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 13 on September 22, 2008.
The sale of plaintiff’s home was held on October 27, 2009, with defendant as the sole bidder. Defendant now moves to execute its proposed sale of plaintiff’s home.
The party seeking a preliminary injunction must demonstrate that he is (1) likely to succeed on the merits; (2) likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) the balance of equities tips in his favor; and (4) an injunction is in the public interest. Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 129 S. Ct. 365, 374 (2008).
“Under either formulation, the moving party must demonstrate a significant threat of irreparable injury. . . .” Id. “A plaintiff must do more than merely allege imminent harm sufficient to establish standing; a plaintiff must demonstrate immediate threatened injury as a prerequisite to preliminary injunctive relief.” Caribbean Marine Services Co. v. Baldridge, 844 F.2d 668, 674 (9th Cir. 1988) (emphasis in original). “Speculative injury does not constitute irreparable injury.” Goldie’s Book Store v. Super. Ct. of State of Cal., 739 F.2d 466, 472 (9th Cir. 1984). If the party seeking the injunction cannot demonstrate irreparable injury, then the district court need not address the merits and may deny the motion for an injunction. Oakland Tribune, Inc. v. Chronicle Pub. Co., 762 F.2d 1374, 1376 (9th Cir. 1985).
Defendants assert that plaintiff is not entitled to enjoin the foreclosure sale because (1) the issue is moot because the foreclosure sale was completed by delivery and recording of a Trustee’s Deed, prior to this court’s entry of the TRO on November 10, 2009; and (2) plaintiff’s preliminary injunction claim fails on the merits because plaintiff’s rescission claim is time barred.
Moot, Not Likely to Succeed on Merits and No Irreparable Harm
Defendants argue plaintiff’s claim for injunction is moot. The property at issue was sold at a foreclosure sale on October 27, 2009, and a Trustee’s Deed was recorded on November 6, 2009. This court entered a TRO on November 10, 2009. Justiciability requires the existence of an actual case or controversy. Plaintiff must meet the “case or controversy” requirements at all stages of the litigation and “not merely at the time” the lawsuit is instituted. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 125 (1973). A case becomes moot “if, at some time after the institution of the action, the parties no longer have a legally cognizable stake in the outcome.” Goodwin v. C.N.J., Inc., 436 F.3d 44, 49 (1st Cir. 2006).
Defendants also argue that plaintiff is not likely to succeed on the merits. Plaintiff agrees that the only claim supporting his motion for injunction is the rescission claim under TILA. Pursuant to 15 U.S.C. section 1635(f), “an obligor’s right of rescission . . . expires three years after the date of consummation of the transaction, . . . notwithstanding the fact that the information and forms required under this section or any other disclosures required under this chapter have not been delivered to the obligor.” Section 1635(f) represents an absolute limitation on rescission actions which bars any claim filed more than three years after consummation of the transaction. Miguel v. Country Funding Corp., 309 F.3d 1161 (9th Cir. 2002). This remains true regardless of a foreclosure. 15 U.S.C. section 1635(I); Beach v. Ocwen Federal Bank, 523 U.S. 410, 417-18 (1998).
The loan to plaintiff occurred on September 12, 2005. Defendants argue that any right to rescind that loan, including the trust deed given to secure it, timed out as of September 11, 2008.
Finally, defendants argue that there is no irreparable harm to plaintiff. Defendants assert that plaintiff will not suffer irreparable harm and instead will suffer only monetary injury. Monetary injury is not normally considered irreparable. LA Mem’l Coliseum Comm’n v. NFL, 634 F.2d 1197, 1202 (9th Cir. 1980). Defendants assert that the foreclosure is complete, therefore, the only possible remedy remaining is monetary damages.
I disagree and grant plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction. There is no dispute that the right of rescission on subsequent transactions applies only to the extent that the lender advances new funds to the obligor. 12 C.F.R. 226.23(f)(2). That section provides as follows:
(f) Exempt Transactions. The right to rescind does not apply to the following:
(2) A refinancing or consolidation by the same creditor of an extension of credit already secured by the consumer’s principal dwelling. The right of rescission shall apply, however, to the extent the new amount financed exceeds the unpaid principal balance, any earned unpaid finance charge on the existing debt, and amounts attributed solely to the costs of the refinancing or consolidation.
Therefore, for purposes of rescission, a new advance does not include amounts solely attributed to the cost of refinancing, including finance charges on the new transaction such as an extension fee.
Defendants argue that the only additional “credit” advanced in the first extension was for the extension fee, which is a finance charge and not part of the “amount financed” for purposes of Regulation Z.
Similarly, defendants argue that the Second Amendment also did not include any advances which gave rise to the right of rescission. In the second extension, $6,673.23 was advanced to pay insurance premiums and property taxes both due. Defendants assert that these amounts are considered advances to protect the collateral, and could have been made by defendants under the existing trust deed without further action by plaintiff. Therefore, defendants assert, these amounts would also be considered part of the “costs” of refinancing. Further, the second extension included advances for $360 in attorney’s fees, $52.55 in prepaid interest, and $14,320.68 toward the extension fee. Defendants assert that all of these amounts are finance charges for the purposes of Regulation Z, and therefore, excluded from the amount financed in determining whether “new funds” have been advanced for rescission purposes.
Section 1635(e)(2), however, provides an express exemption for a “refinancing or consolidation (with no new advances) of the principal balance then due and any accrued and unpaid finance charges of an existing extension of credit by the same creditor secured by an interest in the same property.” 12 C.F.R. section 226.23(f). The regulation states that the right to rescind applies “to the extent the new amount financed exceeds the unpaid principal balance, any earned unpaid finance charge on the existing debt, and amount attributed solely to the costs of refinancing or consolidation.” Here, plaintiff’s refinancing of his original loan (second transaction) with defendant was exempt from rescission, except “to the extent the new amount financed exceeded the unpaid principal balance, any earned unpaid finance charge on the existing debt, and amounts attributed solely to the costs of refinancing or consolidation.” The second transaction signed on September 21, 2006, was for $184,400 and included $9,500 as an additional amount paid to defendants. The amount financed, $184,400, exceeded the balance of the first loan ($174,900); therefore, plaintiff had a right to rescind the second transaction (the First Amendment to the Promissory Note). Similarly, the third transaction also falls under the exemption as it was for the amount of $216,216 with finance charges of $17,078.81. The amount financed, $216,216 exceeded the balance of the second transaction ($184,400), and therefore plaintiff had a right to rescind the third transaction.
While true that section 1635(e)(2) limits a rescission of a refinance with no new advances, the Board’s regulation clearly states that new amounts financed that exceed the unpaid principal balance, any earned unpaid finance charge on the existing debt, and amounts attributed solely to the costs of refinancing or consolidation are rescindable under the TILA. The Board’s construction of section 1635(d)(2) is entitled to deference. See Household Credit Services, Inc. v. Pfennig, 541 U.S. 232 (2004) (recognizing the Board and its staff are designed by Congress as the primary source of interpretation of truth-in-lending law). Therefore, pursuant to section 12 C.F.R. 226.23(f)(2), the refinancing exemption applies to the additional amounts financed and renders both the second and third transactions subject to rescission under 15 U.S.C. section 1635.
Moreover, Official Staff Comment 4 to 12 C.F.R. section 226.23(f), holds that for purposes of the right of rescission, generally “a new advance does not include amounts attributed solely to the costs of refinancing[,]” however, those fees allocated to the borrower must be “bona fide and reasonable in nature.” Plaintiff paid lender fees in the amount of 5.63% of the loan amount in his first transaction with defendants. In his second transaction, he paid 5.15% of the loan amount in lender fees; and finally, in his third transaction, plaintiff paid 7.9% of the loan amount in lender fees. Plaintiff was charged a total of $36,418.81 in loan origination fees for three transactions. In a little over four years, from September 12, 2005, to October 27, 2009, plaintiff’s debt to defendants increased from $174,900 to $253,945.92, or $79,045.92. Given that the Federal Housing Administration (“FHA”) recently announced a limitation on loan origination fees charged to a borrower as no more than 1% of the loan, plaintiff’s loan fees of 5% and 7%, even considering the increased risk associated with a sub-prime loan, seems “unreasonable,” and runs counter to section 226.23(f)’s comment that borrower fees must be “bona fide and reasonable.”
Finally, due to the lack of disclosures including a Good Faith Estimate of costs, it is difficult to discern whether the fees paid by plaintiff were bona fide and reasonable real estate related fees that are nonrescindable as a new advance, or a finance charge that is rescindable under 15 U.S.C. section 1635; 12 C.F.R. section 226.23(f)(2). Given these circumstances, the court will construe the statute in the light most favorable to plaintiff, deeming the fees unreasonable finance charges, and therefore allowing plaintiff to rescind the second and third loan transactions.
The Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act, (“HOEPA”), an amendment to TILA, created a special class of regulated closed end loans made at high annual percentage rates or with excessive costs and fees. HOEPA prohibits balloon payments and early financing unless it is in the best interests of the borrower. The lender is required to verify the borrower’s ability to repay the loan before extending credit. 15 U.S.C. section 1639. Mandatory compliance for creditors began on October 1, 2002, and if creditors fail to comply with the HOEPA required disclosures and prohibitions, the consequence is rescission under section 1635. HOEPA rescission does not have a statute of limitations subject to tolling, but a statute of repose that creates a substantive right not subject to tolling. TILA section 130(e).
Further, home equity loans that exceed either an APR trigger of 8% or a points and fees trigger of 8% are subject to additional consumer protections, including: three day advance disclosures regarding the high cost of the loan; and prohibitions on abusive loan terms and creditor practices. As calculated by plaintiff, the September 12, 2005, transaction has an APR rate spread of 9.06% and a 6.45% points and fees. The second transaction from September 21, 2006, has an APR rate spread of 8.021% and 5.43% points and fees. The final transaction from December 19, 2009 has an APR rate spread of 4.475% and 8.12% points and fees. All three transactions fall under HOEPA as high rate loans that required additional disclosures to plaintiff not less than three business days before closing the loan. Plaintiff maintains the required disclosures were never provided to him by defendants.
Besides regulating the cost of a home loan, HOEPA prohibits balloon payments, early refinancing also knows as “loan flipping,” and making unaffordable loans without verifying the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. All three transactions at issue here contained balloon payments in violation of HOEPA. The first two transactions contained a term of five years or less along with a balloon payment.
HOEPA and TILA. provide the authority for this court to allow plaintiff to rescind both the second and third transactions with defendant. Pursuant to King v. State of California, 784 F.2d 910, 915 (9th Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 802 (1987), this court also has authority to allow plaintiff to rescind the first transaction under the doctrine of equitable tolling. King held, “the doctrine of equitable tolling may, in the appropriate circumstances, suspend the limitations period until the borrower discovers or had reasonable opportunity to discover the fraud or nondisclosures that form the basis of the TILA action[.]” Pursuant to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in King, supra, it is permissible for district courts to evaluate specific claims of fraudulent concealment and equitable tolling to determine if the general rule would be unjust or frustrate the purpose of the Act. I find those circumstances exist here and therefore adjust the Limitations period accordingly to allow plaintiff to rescind the first transaction.
Finally, defendants argue that regardless of plaintiff’s ability to rescind the transactions, plaintiff is still not likely to succeed on the merits of his recession claim because plaintiff is unable to repay the loan proceeds. Plaintiff’s loan has been in default status for several years. He obtained protection of the bankruptcy court and then defaulted on the Loan post-petition, thus causing the bankruptcy court to order relief from the stay. The burden of proof that plaintiff can repay the loan proceeds rests with plaintiff, without such a showing, plaintiff cannot prove that he is likely to succeed on the merits. See Yamamoto v. Bank of New York, 329 F.3d 1167, 1172 (9th Cir. 2003)(when lender contests notice of rescission, the security interest is not extinguished upon giving the notice and instead occurs only when the court so orders, and upon terms the court deems just, including conditioning rescission on the repayment of the loan proceeds).
Plaintiff represents to this court that he intends to modify his current bankruptcy plan to make monthly adequate protection payments toward tender through his Chapter 13 plan in a manner similar to making payments on secured personal property under 11 U.S.C. section 11326. The tender, including the interest rate of 7.547%, would be amortized over 30 years. Defendant would file an amended proof of claim using the tender amounts as the secured debt. Brian Lynch, the Chapter 13 trustee, is agreeable to working with plaintiff in putting together a proposal to pay the tender requirement. A comparative market analysis of the property estimates the property’s current value ranging from $200,000 to $225,000 considering the economy, sales, and market trends. Plaintiff is currently residing in his home with his children. He intends to make a monthly payment through his chapter 13 bankruptcy plan as adequate protection to defendants. Plaintiff has current homeowner’s insurance and he will be responsible for maintaining the property taxes with the county. Further, I find that plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm if he and his children are rendered homeless by the sale of his home. I find that plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits, he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of the injunction; the balance of equities tip in his favor; and an injunction is in the public interest.
Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction (doc. 5) is granted. Defendants’ motion to strike plaintiff’s exhibits (doc. 27) is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Every day I get calls from attorneys or people facing foreclosure asking about my services as a forensic loan auditor and expert witness. Generally the callers are reasonably well informed about my work and know what they can and cannot expect from an audit. But yesterday a nice lady from Ohio called and asked for information on a frozen loan audit! And increasingly I am getting calls from people who begin by asking what I charge, immediately followed by how many pages long my audits are! Maybe I am getting a little sensitive as I am nearing my 49th birthday but I become irritated when I am made to feel like a server at a fast food joint. Not that there is anything wrong with being a server, but what would be an appropriate response to such a dumb question? Today’s special is all you can read for $299 and a bag of chips at no extra cost. Will that be for here or to go?
What is this fascination with size and quantity that drives the average consumer? He wants a McMansion, a Big Mac, an Extra Large Latte, a Jumbo Dog, a Super Sized Pizza, and a Voluminous Frozen Audit. Or is it forensic? Who cares, as long as you get a lot of pages and one of them money back guarantees. Oh yes, we love a money back guarantee. But seriously, why would someone facing foreclosure or having difficulty making mortgage payments care about the size of an audit? Are they calling five auditors and going with the cheapest who offers the most words for the money? Is that how you hire a professional these days?
Of course, I can’t place the entire blame on consumers who are simply trying to find the most affordable solution for perhaps the biggest problem they have had to face – losing their home. Understandably they are trying to find a method to measure the value of such an esoteric service as a forensic loan audit, which no one had even heard about until a few months ago. You can’t blame them for wanting to shop and compare products before buying and parting with their hard earned money. It is the service providers who are misleading the public and selling them a thick pile of worthless junk packaged as a forensic loan audit with a guarantee that if no violations are discovered a refund will be issued with no questions asked. I wonder how many refunds on these fake audits have been issued.
There are even law firms now peddling these audits for up to $2500 a pop but delivering nothing more than a standardized list of technical violations with some added legalese and fictitious causes of action thrown in for good measure (such as Rescission and Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, none of which are valid or independent causes of action but they sound good). After all, how can you justify charging $2500 for a template audit, if you don’t embellish it with a few Latin words no one can pronounce or omit citations to inapposite case law inserted to fill space for lack of meaningful research.
This industry has been flooded with unprofessional ex loan officers and underemployed ambulance chasing lawyers who have setup shop as auditors with cheap copycat websites and a subscription to compliance software, representing themselves as experts offering hope to distressed homeowners, who in their desperation for keeping their homes and stopping foreclosure are easy prey.
What these unsavory characters are selling is essentially overpriced data entry and a template report purporting to be a legal analysis of the homeowner’s rights and remedies for alleged violations of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), Fair Credit Reporting Act, Predatory Lending, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Negligence, Fraud and Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices to name a few. After completion of the audit the borrower is usually encouraged to demand a response from the lender via a Qualified Written Request (QWR), which the auditor/lawyer sometimes offers to draft and submit as an added bonus with the assurance that as soon as the lender is served with their masterfully prepared QWR and sees the auditor’s impressive findings, its lawyers begin trembling with fear of being sued and offer to settle for pennies on the dollar. All that for $399 and a money back guarantee! How can anyone turn down such an offer? Yes please, I will have one audit and a bag of chips to munch on while laying back on my couch watching the bank get on its knees and beg for my forgiveness. I want to watch them grovel before they rescind my predatory loan and hand over the deed to my house free and clear. After all this is America.
Of course the reality is markedly different than what is purported by these overenthusiastic yet incompetent advocates. I have seen hundreds of audits and they all have one thing in common – they are worthless. First, many of the so called violations these audits uncover, such as failure to issue a good faith estimate within three days of application, or failure to issue a HUD-1 one day prior to settlement, provide for no private right of action, so their only value may lie in establishing a pattern and practice of misrepresentation, deception or on rare occasions fraud. But even if sufficient facts exist for allegations of broker or loan officer misconduct, liability for such conduct ordinarily remains with the original tortfeasor and not the assignee of the loan, who in all likelihood is a holder in due course, unless you can show, for example, that the holder had notice of your claims prior to purchasing the Note or that the Note was not properly negotiated or for various reasons it does not qualify as a negotiable instrument.
As mentioned ordinarily the holder in due course is not liable for disputes or claims you may have against the originator or mortgage broker who sold you the loan unless certain conditions pursuant to HOEPA have been met, or the TILA violation is apparent on the face of the loan documents, or you are using the claim as a defense in a collection action, or if you can state with particularity facts that would make the note and mortgage void under other legal theories. Some courts, however, have held that you cannot use certain claims in nature of recoupment in non judicial foreclosure proceedings in states such as California, while, on the other hand, a West Virginia court has said: “Securitization model – a system wherein parties that provide the money for loans and drive the entire origination process from afar and behind the scenes – does nothing to abolish the basic right of a borrower to assert a defense to the enforcement of a fraudulent loan, regardless of whether it was induced by another party involved in the origination of the loan transaction, be it a broker, appraiser, closing agent, or another”. Generally a fraudulent loan is not enforceable regardless of the holder in due course status of the party with the right to enforce. The trick is in providing sufficient facts to prove fraud, which, under normal circumstances is not an easy task to accomplish.
A popular finding proffered by some practitioners is an alleged violation of fiduciary duty by the lender. In general, however, a lender does not owe a fiduciary duty to a borrower. “A commercial lender is entitled to pursue its own economic interests in a loan transaction. This right is inconsistent with the obligations of a fiduciary which require that the fiduciary knowingly agree to subordinate its interests to act on behalf of and for the benefit of another.” Nymark v. Heart Fed. Savings & Loan Assn., 231 Cal. App. 3d 1089, 1093 n.1, 283 Cal. Rptr. 53 (1991). “[A]bsent special circumstances . . . a loan transaction is at arm’s length and there is no fiduciary relationship between the borrower and lender.” Oaks Management Corporation v. Superior Court, 145 Cal. App. 4th 453, 466, 51 Cal. Rptr. 3d 561 (2006).
Determining the existence of a fiduciary relationship involves a highly individualized inquiry into whether the facts of a given transaction establish that there has been a special confidence reposed in one who, in equity and good conscience, is bound to act in good faith and with due regard to the interests of the one reposing the confidence. Mulligan v. Choice Mortg. Corp. USA, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13248 (D.N.H. Aug. 11, 1998).
As such, an audit must inquire in to the circumstances surrounding the borrower’s initial introduction to and meeting with the lender’s agent and the content of all verbal and written communications between them. It is important for the auditor to determine the level and extent of trust and confidence reposed by borrower in the lender’s agent. A lender may owe to a borrower a duty of care sounding in negligence when the lender’s activities exceed those of a conventional lender. For example if it can be shown the appraisal was intended to induce borrower to enter into the loan transaction or to assure him that his collateral was sound the lender may have a duty to exercise due care in preparing the appraisal. See Wagner v. Benson, 101 Cal. App. 3d 27, 35, 161 Cal. Rptr. 516 (1980) (“Liability to a borrower for negligence arises only when the lender actively participates in the financed enterprise beyond the domain of the usual money lender.”).
A lender may be secondarily liable through the actions of a mortgage broker, who may have a fiduciary duty to its borrower-client, but only if there is an agency relationship between the lender and the broker. See Plata v. Long Beach Mortg. Co., 2005 U.S. Dist. Lexis 38807, at *23 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 13, 2005); Keen v. American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100803, 2009 WL 3380454, at *21 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 21, 2009).
Therefore, the audit must propound sufficient facts to establish an agency relationship between lender and broker. An agency relationship exists where a principal authorizes an agent to represent and bind the principal. Although lenders offer the brokers incentives to act in ways that further their interests, there needs to be a showing that a lender gave the broker authority to represent or bind it, or that a lender took some action that would have given borrower the impression that such a relationship existed. I have yet to see an audit that provided facts for such a conclusion but instead they are filled with conclusory allegations unsupported by facts. It is not enough to merely state that lender is vicariously liable through the broker or that broker is lender’s authorized agent without specific facts to support such conclusions.
Under the conspiracy theory a party may be vicariously liable for another’s tort in a civil conspiracy where the plaintiff shows “(1) formation and operation of the conspiracy and (2) damage resulting to plaintiff (3) from a wrongful act done in furtherance of the common design.” Rusheen v. Cohen, 37 Cal. 4th 1048, 1062, 39 Cal. Rptr. 3d 516, 128 P.3d 713 (2006) (citing Doctors’ Co. v. Superior Court, 49 Cal.3d 39, 44, 260 Cal. Rptr. 183, 775 P.2d 508 (1989)), see also Applied Equipment Corp. v. Litton Saudi Arabia Ltd., 7 Cal. 4th 503, 511, 28 Cal. Rptr. 2d 475, 869 P.2d 454 (1994). The California Supreme Court has held that even when these elements are shown, however, a conspirator cannot be liable unless he personally owed the duty that was breached. Applied Equipment, 7 Cal. 4th at 511, 514.
Civil conspiracy “cannot create a duty . . . . [i]t allows tort recovery only against a party who already owes the duty.” Courts have specifically held that civil conspiracy cannot impose liability for breach of fiduciary duty on a party that does not already owe such a duty. Everest Investors 8 v. Whitehall Real Estate Ltd. Partnership XI, 100 Cal. App. 4th 1102, 1107, 123 Cal. Rptr. 2d 297 (2002) (citing Doctors’ Co., 49 Cal. 3d at 41-42, 44 and Applied Equipment, 7 Cal. 4th at 510-512).
Thus, civil conspiracy allows imposition of vicarious liability on a party who owes a tort duty, but who did not personally breach that duty. Doctors’ Co., 49 Cal. 3d at 44 (A party may be liable “irrespective of whether or not he was a direct actor and regardless of the degree of his activity.”).
Participation in a joint venture with a broker or other party in a predatory lending context gives rise to liability for such claims under a claim of joint venture. See Short v. Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, N.A., 401 F. Supp. 2d 549, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28612, available in 2005 WL 3091873, at 14-15 (S.D.W.Va. Nov. 18, 2005); see also generally Armor v. Lantz, 207 W. Va. 672, 677-78, 535 S.E.2d 737, 742-43 (2000); Sipple v. Starr, 205 W. Va. 717, 725, 520 S.E.2d 884, 892 (1999); Price v. Halstead, 177 W.Va. 592, 594, 355 S.E.2d 380, 384 (1987).
Similarly, if one party is directing or exercising control over loan origination in the circumstance of securitized lending, it is a factual question as to whether there is a principal/agency relationship sufficient to impose such liability on all the participants. See Short v. Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, N.A., supra, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28612, 2005 WL 3091873, at 14-15; England v. MG Investments, Inc., 93 F. Supp. 2d 718, 723 (S.D.W.Va. 2000); Arnold, 204 W.Va. at 240, 511 S.E.2d at 865.
An audit must inquire in to the relationships between parties involved in the joint venture and determine the level of control exercised by one party over another. Again, it is not sufficient to merely recite legal conclusions such as “Crooked Funding LLC controlled Scam Brokers Inc.”.
Fraud and Deceit
In most jurisdictions, “[t]he elements of fraud, which give rise to the tort action for deceit, are (a) misrepresentation (false representation, concealment, or nondisclosure); (b) knowledge of falsity (or scienter); (c) intent to defraud, i.e., to induce reliance; (d) justifiable reliance; and (e) resulting damage.” Small v. Fritz Companies, Inc., 30 Cal. 4th 167, 173, 132 Cal. Rptr. 2d 490, 65 P.3d 1255 (2003).
To prove mail fraud, as an example, the auditor must propound facts with particularity as follows:
Johnny Crookland, Crooked Broker’s President, misrepresented his intention to get borrowers the best rate available at their initial meeting in March 2006. The audit should also contain the date and content of all mailings and communications between the Crooked Broker and the borrowers through which the broker with the aid of a warehouse lender (Scam Fundings LLC) effectuated its scheme to defraud: (1) direct mail advertisement from Crooked Broker showing a teaser interest rate of 6.75% with zero broker fees or points (2) a “good faith estimate” of the loan terms mailed by Crooked Broker on March 26 which did not mention anything about a $5,890 fee for origination, (3) the first (rejected) loan document, with an interest rate of 7% which included a $ 5,890 fee, presented to the borrowers on April 13 at the first closing (though presumably mailed or faxed from the warehouse lender’s office in New York shortly before that date) (4) borrowers refusal to sign the closing documents because of the unauthorized fee that appeared on the HUD-1 on closing day, (5) a second good faith estimate mailed by Crooked Broker on April 16, showing 7% interest but this time without the unauthorized fee; and the second (accepted) loan document, which was presented in Baltimore on April 19 but at a higher rate of 7.125% and now subject to a yield spread premium that was never disclosed or explained as to how it may impact total finance charges over the length of the loan. (6) Crooked Broker’s statement in response to borrowers’ inquiry about the yield spread premium that it was standard practice and paid by lender with no impact on total finance charges payable by borrowers.
Show Me the Note
The template audits invariably omit a detailed inquiry in to the securitization process after the loan was funded by the Originator and sold to investors through securitization. Often the only theory proffered by incompetent auditors revolves around the “show me the note” defense, which has been shot down by almost every court in every jurisdiction because it lacks merit. A lost note affidavit can easily overcome this argument, so by itself as a foreclosure defense strategy this does nothing but cast doubt on a borrower’s credibility.
A skilled auditor will carefully examine all documents including the Note, Mortgage/DOT, Mortgage/DOT Assignment, Note Endorsement/Allonge, Notice of Default and the Pooling and Servicing Agreement to determine the identity of all parties involved in the chain of securitization and their respective interests in the Note and Mortgage.
Once settlement occurs the Note and Mortgage are normally transferred to a document custodian (e.g. Wells Fargo), while numerous book entries record their movement through the securitization chain which normally begins with the Originator (e.g. Mason Mortgage) who then sells them to an aggregator (e.g. Countrywide Home Loans) who then sells them with a thousand other loans to a Depositor (e.g. Asset Securities Inc.) who then deposits them with a Trustee (e.g Wells Fargo) for the benefit of the securitization trust (e.g Asset Securities Trust IV-290989 – 2003) which issues securities backed with the pool of mortgages (MBS). The trustee also selects a Servicer (e.g Countrywide Home Loans) to collect borrower payments and process foreclosures/short sales on behalf of the investors who own the MBS.
When there is default and in order to effectuate foreclosure, the Servicer asks the document custodian for the collateral file that pursuant to the PSA should contain the original Note indorsed by the Originator (e.g. Mason Mortgage), usually in blank thereby converting it in to a bearer instrument, and the Mortgage/DOT with an executed assignment either already recorded or in recordable form. Usually this is where everything can fall apart for the secured party attempting to foreclose and where the best defense opportunities may be uncovered by a skilled examiner. Without giving away too much proprietary information here is a list of some questions a diligent auditor should be asking:
- Was the execution of the Mortgage/DOT by the borrower properly witnessed and acknowledged?
- Was the Note legally negotiated and formally transferred from the Originator to the Aggregator, from the Aggregator to the Depositor and from the Depositor to the Trustee?
- Was the Note indorsed by an authorized agent of its holder before each transfer?
- Is the Indorsement evidenced by an Allonge while there is room for an Indorsement on the original Note?
- Was the Note negotiated to its current holder prior to the date of default?
- Did the Mortgage travel with the Note through the chain of securitization?
- Is the Mortgage held by MERS?
- Has the Mortgage assignment been properly recorded?
- Was the Mortgage and Note assigned to the Trustee by MERS?
- Was MERS authorized or allowed to assign the Mortgage?
- Who signed the assignment on behalf of MERS?
MERS and Splitting the DOT from the Note
The practical effect of splitting the deed of trust from the promissory note is to make it impossible for the holder of the note to foreclose, unless the holder of the deed of trust is the agent of the holder of the note. Without the agency relationship, the person holding only the note lacks the power to foreclose in the event of default. The person holding only the deed of trust will never experience default because only the holder of the note is entitled to payment of the underlying obligation. The mortgage loan becomes ineffectual when the note holder did not also hold the deed of trust.” Bellistri v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 284 S.W.3d 619, 623 (Mo. App. 2009).
Some courts have found that, because MERS is not the original holder of the promissory note and because there is no evidence that the original holder of the note authorized MERS to transfer the note, the language of the assignment purporting to transfer the promissory note is ineffective. “MERS never held the promissory note, thus its assignment of the deed of trust to Ocwen separate from the note had no force.” 284 S.W.3d at 624; see also In re Wilhelm, 407 B.R. 392 (Bankr. D. Idaho 2009) (standard mortgage note language does not expressly or implicitly authorize MERS to transfer the note); In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511, 517 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008) (“[I]f FHM has transferred the note, MERS is no longer an authorized agent of the holder unless it has a separate agency contract with the new undisclosed principal. MERS presents no evidence as to who owns the note, or of any authorization to act on behalf of the present owner.”); Saxon Mortgage Services, Inc. v. Hillery, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100056, 2008 WL 5170180 (N.D. Cal. 2008) (unpublished opinion) (“[F]or there to be a valid assignment, there must be more than just assignment of the deed alone; the note must also be assigned. . . . MERS purportedly assigned both the deed of trust and the promissory note. . . . However, there is no evidence of record that establishes that MERS either held the promissory note or was given the authority . . . to assign the note.”).
IN CONCLUSION, the value of a forensic loan audit lies not in its word count, size or thickness but rather in the knowledge and expertise of the individual performing the work and examining the documents. Many of the worthless template audits produced by scammers consist of more than 100 pages of garbage and pointless recitations of statutes you can find online or in any library. Moreover, finding a technical violation in loan documents is a virtual certainty, so a money back guarantee is merely a marketing gimmick offered by unscrupulous con artists to gain your trust and to distract you from what really counts. If you are worried about word count and a money back guarantee you are missing the point. And if you are looking for the least expensive audit advertised on the web, you will certainly get what you pay for. An authentic audit done right takes at least 3 hours to complete (a more detailed analysis can take over 8 hours) and a skilled auditor charges between $250 to $300 per hour, so do the math.
Remember an audit is merely a tool that should be handled with care by a seasoned attorney. It does not magically stop foreclosure while you lay back on the couch with a bag of chips. A lengthy template audit attached to a lengthy QWR sent to a lender’s loss mitigation department will most likely end up in the trash. The best way to measure the quality and value of an auditor’s work, short of a referral, is by picking up the phone, speaking to him and making sure he knows what he is talking about. Surround yourself with smart and skilled advocates and you will be a step or two ahead of the bank trying to take your home away. That I can guarantee.
Dean Mostofi, President
National Loan Audits
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For the past couple of years, it has become a fairly common practice for lenders and servicers to employ forensic loan audits on pools of mortgages, with the goal of uncovering patterns of noncompliance with federal and local regulations, the presence of fraud and/or the testing of high fee violations. Unfortunately, for these same lenders, the practice of forensic loan auditing has slipped over to the consumer side of the market and is now being used against the lenders themselves.
Homeowners, many of whom are facing foreclosures, have begun hiring forensic loan auditors to review their loan documents, and if violations are found, they are hiring attorneys to bring their case against the lenders. What do they hope to gain? At the very least, the homeowners are trying to forestall a foreclosure, push for a loan modification or, at the end of continuum, try to get the loan rescinded.
“The forensic loan review as we know it today came about two years ago, when the mortgage market started to melt down,” explains Jeffrey Taylor, co-founder and managing director for Orlando-based Digital Risk LLC. “The idea of the forensic review was to look for a breach of representations and warranties so the investor or servicer could put the loan back to the originator. This is when you had all the big banks reviewing nonperforming assets to see if there was any fraud material or breaches so as to put them back to the entity that sold the loan.”
Originally, and still today, most forensic loan reviews are done by institutions on nonconforming assets. Starting in about 2008, the concept morphed into a kind of consumer protection program. Forensic loan auditing companies have since sprouted up like weeds, and many advisors are now advocating the program as a best practice and the first step before bringing a lawsuit against the lender to get a “bad” mortgage rescinded or force a loan modification.
“Every constituent along the way is looking for their own get-out-of-jail-free card,” observes Frank Pallotta, a principal with Loan Value Group LLC of Rumson, N.J. “I’ve been seeing this for the last two years. It started with banks that bought loans from small correspondents, and when those loans were going down, they would look for anything in the loan documentss to put it back to the person they bought the loan from. Fannie and Freddie are doing it, too. Now you have borrowers going to the banks to see if they have all their documents in place; they want their own get-out-of-jail-free card.”
In some regards, lenders should be worried, as a swarm of potential lawsuits could fly in their direction. These might not always be hefty lawsuits, considering they mostly represent individual loan amounts, but they are annoying and the fees to defend the institution from these efforts can mount up very quickly. In addition, if homeowners are successful in the bids to rescind a loan, the lender has to pay back all closing costs and finance charges.
The industry should also be concerned because experts in mortgage loan rescissions say it is very hard for a bank to mount an effective defense against people who can prove that their loan contained violations.
“It is extremely difficult for lenders to defend against a lawsuit when they face a bona fide rescission claim,” says Seth Leventhal, an attorney with Fafinski Mark & Johnson PA in Eden Prairie, Minn., who often works with banks.
Additionally, in this age of securitization, many banks don’t own the loans they originated, but, says Leventhal, this is not a defense. “If they don’t own the loan anymore, they are going to have to get in touch with the servicer who does,” he says.
On the other hand, the homeowner’s cost to arrange a loan audit and hire an attorney can be prohibitive, so there is some balance.
Jon Maddux, principal and founder of Carlsbad, Calif.-based You Walk Away LLC, started one of the first companies offering forensic home loan audits for homeowners back in January 2008.
“We found that about 80% of the loans we audited had some type of violation,” he says. “And we thought it was going to be a great new tactic to help the distressed homeowner.”
However, it wasn’t. Homeowners would take the audit findings to their lender or servicer, only to find themselves pretty much as ignored as they were before they made the investment in the audit.
“We found lenders weren’t really reacting to an audit,” says Maddux, adding that lenders and servicers would only react to lawsuits based on audit information.
An audit by itself is not some magical way to make everything go away; it’s just the beginning, adds Dean Mostofi, the founder of National Loan Audits in Rockville, Md.
“Borrowers who contact lenders with an audit don’t get too far,” he says. “It’s in their best interest to go in with an attorney.”
The problem is, Mostofi states, that the first point of contact is the loss mitigation department, and “those people typically have no idea what you are talking about. To get past them sometimes requires lawsuits.”
The forensic loan audit lets the homeowner know if the closing documents contain any violations of the Truth In Lending Act (TILA) and Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), or if there was any kind of fraud or misrepresentation.
“We go through the important documents – in particular, the applications – TILA disclosure, Department of Housing and Urban Development forms, the note, etc., making sure that everything was disclosed properly to the borrower and that borrowers knew what they were getting into,” says Mostofi. “We also look at the borrower’s income to see if everything was properly disclosed. If the lender didn’t care about the borrower’s income, then we look further for other signs that it might be a predatory loan.”
According to August Blass, CEO and president of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based National Loan Auditors, a forensic loan audit is a thorough risk assessment audit performed by professionals who have industry and legal qualifications to review loan documents and portfolios for potential compliance or underwriting violations, and provide an informative, accurate loan auditing report detailing errors or misrepresentations.
Some elements of a forensic loan audit, says Blass, should include: a compliance analysis report based on data from the actual file; post-closing underwriting review and analysis; and summary of applicable statutes, prevailing case law and action steps that the attorney or loss mitigation group may chose to act upon.
TILA’s statute of limitations extends back three years, so most people who end up on their lender’s doorsteps are people who financed or refinanced during the boom period of 2005 through early 2007. If serious violations are discovered, the borrower can move to have the mortgage rescinded.
Not everyone appreciates the efforts of the forensic loan auditors working the homeowner side of the business.
“It began with a bunch of entrepreneurial, ex-mortgage brokers who learned how to game the system the first time, then started offering services to consumers to teach them the game,” Digital Risk’s Taylor says.
A year ago, most people didn’t know what a forensic audit was, but “now almost everyone knows,” says Mostofi. “The problem that we are having is that the banks are coming back and telling borrowers that everyone who is offering some kind of service to help them is a crook because they are charging a fee.”
Indeed, fees for a forensic audit often fall into the $2,000 to $5,000 range – but a hefty sum for someone facing foreclosure.
This could all be a desperate attempt to get a loan rescinded, but in regard to loan rescissions, there’s bad news and good news.
“Yes, it’s tough for lenders to defend themselves,” says James Thompson, an attorney in the Chicago office of Jenner & Block LLP who represents banks and finance companies. But, he adds, there is an exception: the plaintiff in this kind of lawsuit has to essentially buy back the loan, which means the plaintive (borrower) has to get new financing.
“The borrower has to be able to repay the amount he borrowed,” explains Thompson. “If the property is underwater, as many of these are, the borrower can’t go out and get a replacement mortgage that would give him the entire amount he would need to repay the lender.”
In some court cases, as part of the initial lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to prove that he or she is capable of getting a refinancing. What happens if the court grants a rescission but the consumer can’t find financing? Oddly, no one knows, because court cases haven’t gotten that far.
“Every one of these cases gets resolved,” says Thompson. “The borrowers are struggling to get the attention of the overworked loan servicers, who are scrambling with as many loan modifications and workouts they can come up with. You can get to the head of the line sometimes if you show up with an attorney and forensic loan examination, saying, ‘Here is a TILA violation; we want to rescind.’”
“I don’t see very many of these litigating,” National Loan Auditors’ Blass concurs. “It brings the settlement offer to the table a little faster. It’s not as if the lender would not have brought an offer to the table without the audit. It just seems to fast-track the process a little bit more.”
Forensic loan audits expose mistakes and unscrupulous lending practices that will assist the borrower in negotiation efforts, Blass adds. “Federal-, state- or county-specific lending violations and the legal guidelines for remedy, can pave the way to successful and expedient modification.”
Perhaps, the bigger nightmare of all is not the lawsuits brought by individual homeowners, but the big law firms finding all these individuals and bringing them together for a class action suit.
“The plaintiff bar is as active as ever. They have these big dragnets, trying to capture all the misdeeds of mortgage bankers, going after them with class-action lawsuits,” says David Lykken, president of Mortgage Banking Solutions in Austin, Texas.
This just aggravates the situation, adds Lykken. “I have not seen one class-action lawsuit bring about any positive change. Punitive damages just drain the cash-out of already cash-strapped companies.”
Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer based in Mesa, Ariz., and author of “After The Fall: Opportunities & Strategies for Real Estate Investing in the Coming Decade,” published by John Wiley & Sons.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
ERNESTO ORTIZ; ARACELI ORTIZ, Plaintiffs, v. ACCREDITED HOME LENDERS, INC.; LINCE HOME LOANS; CHASE HOME FINANCE, LLC; U.S. BANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION, TRUSTEE FOR JP MORGAN ACQUISITION TRUST-2006 ACC; and DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.
CASE NO. 09 CV 0461 JM (CAB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS
Doc. No. 7
On February 6, 2009, Plaintiffs Ernesto and Araceli Ortiz (“Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Diego, raising claims arising out of a mortgage loan transaction. (Doc. No. 1, Exh. 1.) On March 9, 2009, Defendants Chase Home Finance, LLC (“Chase”) and U.S. Bank National Association (“U.S. Bank”) removed the action to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiffs [*1162] filed a First Amended Complaint on April 21, 2009, naming only U.S. Bank as a defendant and [**2] dropping Chase, Accredited Home Lenders, Inc., and Lince Home Loans from the pleadings. (Doc. No. 4, “FAC.”) Pending before the court is a motion by Chase and U.S Bank to dismiss the FAC for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 7, “Mot.”) Because Chase is no longer a party in this matter, the court construes the motion as having been brought only by U.S. Bank. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. (Doc. No. 12, “Opp’n.”) U.S. Bank submitted a responsive reply. (Doc. No. 14, “Reply.”) Pursuant to Civ.L.R. 7.1(d), the matter was taken under submission by the court on June 22, 2009. (Doc. No. 12.)
For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS the motion to dismiss.
Plaintiffs purchased their home at 4442 Via La Jolla, Oceanside, California (the “Property”) in January 2006. (FAC P 3; Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 1 (“DOT”) at 1.) The loan was secured by a Deed of Trust on the Property, which was recorded around January 10, 2006. (DOT at 1.) Plaintiffs obtained the loan through a broker “who received kickbacks from the originating lender.” (FAC P 4.) U.S. Bank avers that it is the assignee of the original creditor, Accredited Home [**3] Lenders, Inc. (FAC P 5; Mot. at 2, 4.) Chase is the loan servicer. (Mot. at 4.) A Notice of Default was recorded on the Property on June 30, 2008, showing the loan in arrears by $ 14,293,08. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 2.) On October 3, 2008, a Notice of Trustee’s Sale was recorded on the Property. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 4.) From the parties’ submissions, it appears no foreclosure sale has yet taken place.
Plaintiffs assert causes of action under Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq. (“TILA”), the Perata Mortgage Relief Act, Cal. Civil Code § 2923.5, the Foreign Language Contract Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1632, the California Unfair Business Practices Act, Cal. Bus. Prof. Code § 17200 et seq., and to quiet title in the Property. Plaintiffs seek rescission, restitution, statutory and actual damages, injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and costs, and judgments to void the security interest in the Property and to quiet title.
A. Legal Standards
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of the pleadings. De La Cruz v. Tormey, 582 F.2d 45, 48 (9th Cir. 1978). [HN2] In evaluating the motion, the court must construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting as true all material allegations in the complaint and any reasonable inferences drawn therefrom. See, e.g., Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2003). While Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper only in “extraordinary” cases, the complaint’s “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level….” U.S. v. Redwood City, 640 F.2d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 1981); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 US 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). The court should grant 12(b)(6) relief only if the complaint lacks either a “cognizable legal theory” or facts sufficient to support a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
In testing the complaint’s legal adequacy, the court may consider material properly submitted as part of the complaint or subject to judicial notice. Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 763 (9th Cir. 2007). Furthermore, under the “incorporation by reference” doctrine, the court may consider documents “whose contents are alleged in a complaint and whose authenticity [*1163] no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the [plaintiff's] pleading.” Janas v. McCracken (In re Silicon Graphics Inc. Sec. Litig.), 183 F.3d 970, 986 (9th Cir. 1999) [**5] (internal quotation marks omitted). A court may consider matters of public record on a motion to dismiss, and doing so “does not convert a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to one for summary judgment.” Mack v. South Bay Beer Distributors, 798 F.2d 1279, 1282 (9th Cir. 1986), abrogated on other grounds by Astoria Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass’n v. Solimino, 501 U.S. 104, 111, 111 S. Ct. 2166, 115 L. Ed. 2d 96 (1991). To this end, the court may consider the Deed of Trust, Notice of Default, Substitution of Trustee, and Notice of Trustee’s Sale, as sought by U.S. Bank in their Request for Judicial Notice. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exhs. 1-4.)
A. Truth in Lending Act
Plaintiffs allege U.S. Bank failed to properly disclose material loan terms, including applicable finance charges, interest rate, and total payments as required by 15 U.S.C. § 1632. (FAC PP 7, 14.) In particular, Plaintiffs offer that the loan documents contained an “inaccurate calculation of the amount financed,” “misleading disclosures regarding the…variable rate nature of the loan” and “the application of a prepayment penalty,” and also failed “to disclose the index rate from which the payment was calculated and selection of historical index values.” (FAC P 13.) In addition, Plaintiffs contend these violations are “obvious on the face of the loans [sic] documents.” (FAC P 13.) Plaintiffs argue that since “Defendant has initiated foreclosure proceedings in an attempt to collect the debt,” they may seek remedies for the TILA violations through “recoupment or setoff.” (FAC P 14.) Notably, Plaintiffs’ FAC does not specify whether they are requesting damages, rescission, or both under TILA, although their general request for statutory damages does cite TILA’s § 1640(a). (FAC at 7.)
U.S. Bank first asks the court to dismiss Plaintiffs’ TILA claim by arguing it is “so summarily pled that it does not ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level …’” (Mot. at 3.) The court disagrees. Plaintiffs have set out several ways in which the disclosure documents were deficient. In addition, by stating the violations were apparent on the face of the loan documents, they have alleged assignee liability for U.S. Bank. See 15 U.S.C. § 1641(a)(assignee liability lies “only if the violation…is apparent on the face of the disclosure statement….”). The court concludes Plaintiffs have adequately pled the substance of their TILA claim.
However, as U.S. Bank argues, Plaintiffs’ TILA claim is procedurally barred. To the extent Plaintiffs recite a claim for rescission, such is precluded by the applicable three-year statute of limitations. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(f) “Any claim for rescission must be brought within three years of consummation of the transaction or upon the sale of the property, whichever occurs first…”). According to the loan documents, the loan closed in December 2005 or January 2006. (DOT at 1.) The instant suit was not filed until February 6, 2009, outside the allowable three-year period. (Doc. No. 1, Exh. 1.) In addition, “residential mortgage transactions” are excluded from the right of rescission. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(e). A “residential mortgage transaction” is defined by 15 U.S.C. § 1602(w) to include “a mortgage, deed of trust, … or equivalent consensual security interest…created…against the consumer’s dwelling to finance the acquisition…of such dwelling.” Thus, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for rescission under TILA.
As for Plaintiffs’ request for damages, they acknowledge such claims are normally subject to a one-year statute of limitations, typically running from the date of loan execution. See 15 U.S.C. §1640(e) any claim under this provision must be made “within one year from the date of the occurrence of the violation.”). However, as mentioned above, Plaintiffs attempt to circumvent the limitations period by characterizing their claim as one for “recoupment or setoff.” Plaintiffs rely on 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e), which provides:
This subsection does not bar a person from asserting a violation of this subchapter in an action to collect the debt which was brought more than one year from the date of the occurrence of the violation as a matter of defense by recoupment or set-off in such action, except as otherwise provided by State law.
Generally, “a defendant’s right to plead ‘recoupment,’ a ‘defense arising out of some feature of the transaction upon which the plaintiff’s action is grounded,’ … survives the expiration” of the limitations period. Beach v. Ocwen Fed. Bank, 523 U.S. 410, 415, 118 S. Ct. 1408, 140 L. Ed. 2d 566 (1998) (quoting Rothensies v. Elec. Storage Battery Co., 329 U.S. 296, 299, 67 S. Ct. 271, 91 L. Ed. 296, 1947-1 C.B. 109 (1946) (internal citation omitted)). Plaintiffs also correctly observe the Supreme Court has confirmed recoupment claims survive TILA’s statute of limitations. Id. at 418. To avoid dismissal at this stage, Plaintiffs must show that “(1) the TILA violation and the debt are products of the same transaction, (2) the debtor asserts the claim as a defense, and (3) the main action is timely.” Moor v. Travelers Ins. Co., 784 F.2d 632, 634 (5th Cir. 1986) (citing In re Smith, 737 F.2d 1549, 1553 (11th Cir. 1984)) (emphasis added).
U.S. Bank suggests Plaintiffs’ TILA claim is not sufficiently related to the underlying mortgage debt so as to qualify as a recoupment. (Mot. at 6-7.) The court disagrees with this argument, and other courts have reached the same conclusion. See Moor, 784 F.2d at 634 (plaintiff’s use of recoupment claims under TILA failed on the second and third prongs only); Williams v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 504 F.Supp.2d 176, 188 (S.D. Tex. 2007) (where plaintiff “received a loan secured by a deed of trust on his property and later defaulted on the mortgage payments to the lender,” he “satisfie[d] the first element of the In re Smith test….”). Plaintiffs’ default and U.S. Bank’s attempts to foreclose on the Property representing the security interest for the underlying loan each flow from the same contractual transaction. The authority relied on by U.S. Bank, Aetna Fin. Co. v. Pasquali, 128 Ariz. 471, 626 P.2d 1103 (Ariz. App. 1981), is unpersuasive. Not only does Aetna Finance recognize the split among courts on this issue, the decision is not binding on this court, and was reached before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Beach, supra. Aetna Fin., 128 Ariz. at 473,
Nevertheless, the deficiencies in Plaintiffs’ claim become apparent upon examination under the second and third prongs of the In re Smith test. Section 1640(e) of TILA makes recoupment available only as a “defense” in an “action to collect a debt.” Plaintiffs essentially argue that U.S. Bank’s initiation of non-judicial foreclosure proceedings paves the path for their recoupment claim. (FAC P 14; Opp’n at 3.) Plaintiffs cite to In re Botelho, 195 B.R. 558, 563 (Bkrtcy. D. Mass. 1996), suggesting the court there allowed TILA recoupment claims to counter a non-judicial foreclosure. In Botelho, lender Citicorp apparently initiated non-judicial foreclosure proceedings, Id. at 561 fn. 1, and thereafter entered the plaintiff’s Chapter 13 proceedings by filing a Proof of Claim. Id. at 561. The plaintiff then filed an adversary complaint before the same bankruptcy court in which she advanced her TILA-recoupment theory. Id. at 561-62. The Botelho court evaluated the validity of the recoupment claim, taking both of Citicorp’s actions into account – the foreclosure as well as the filing of a proof of claim. Id. at 563. The court did not determine whether the non-judicial foreclosure, on its own, would have allowed the plaintiff to satisfy the three prongs of the In re Smith test.
On the other hand, the court finds U.S. Bank’s argument on this point persuasive: non-judicial foreclosures are not “actions” as contemplated by TILA. First, § 1640(e) itself defines an “action” as a court proceeding. 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e) (“Any action…may be brought in any United States district court, or in any other court of competent jurisdiction…”). Turning to California law, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 726 indicates an “action for the recovery of any debt or the enforcement of any right secured by mortgage upon real property” results in a judgment from the court directing the sale of the property and distributing the resulting funds. Further, Code § 22 defines an “action” as “an ordinary proceeding in a court of justice by which one party prosecutes another for the declaration, enforcement, or protection of a right, the redress or prevention of a wrong, or the punishment of a public offense.” Neither of these state law provisions addresses the extra-judicial exercise of a right of sale under a deed of trust, which is governed by Cal. Civ. Code § 2924, et seq. Unlike the situation in Botelho, U.S. Bank has done nothing to bring a review its efforts to foreclose before this court. As Plaintiffs concede, “U.S. Bank has not filed a civil lawsuit and nothing has been placed before the court” which would require the court to “examine the nature and extent of the lender’s claims….” (Opp’n at 4.) “When the debtor hales [sic] the creditor into court…, the claim by the debtor is affirmative rather than defensive.” Moor, 784 F.2d at 634; see also, Amaro v. Option One Mortgage Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. 2855, 2009 WL 103302, at *3 (C.D. Cal., Jan. 14, 2009) (rejecting plaintiff’s argument that recoupment is a defense to a non-judicial foreclosure and holding “Plaintiff’s affirmative use of the claim is improper and exceeds the scope of the TILA exception….”).
The court recognizes that U.S. Bank’s choice of remedy under California law effectively denies Plaintiffs the opportunity to assert a recoupment defense. This result does not run afoul of TILA. As other courts have noted, TILA contemplates such restrictions by allowing recoupment only to the extent allowed under state law. 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e); Joseph v. Newport Shores Mortgage, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8199, 2006 WL 418293, at *2 fn. 1 (N.D. Ga., Feb. 21, 2006). The court concludes TILA’s one-year statute of limitations under § 1635(f) bars Plaintiffs’ TILA claim.
In sum, U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss the TILA claim is granted, and Plaintiffs’ TILA claims are dismissed with prejudice.
B. Perata Mortgage Relief Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5
Plaintiffs’ second cause of action arises under the Perata Mortgage Relief Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5. Plaintiffs argue U.S. Bank is liable for monetary damages under this provision because it “failed and refused to explore” “alternatives to the drastic remedy of foreclosure, such as loan modifications” before initiating foreclosure proceedings. (FAC PP 17-18.) Furthermore, Plaintiffs allege U.S. Bank violated Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5(c) by failing to include with the notice of sale a declaration that it contacted the borrower to explore such options. (Opp’n at 6.)
Section 2923.5(a)(2) requires a “mortgagee, beneficiary or authorized agent” to “contact the borrower in person or by telephone in order to assess the borrower’s [*1166] financial situation and explore options for the borrower to avoid foreclosure.” For a lender which had recorded a notice of default prior to the effective date of the statute, as is the case here, § 2923.5(c) imposes a duty to attempt to negotiate with a borrower before recording a notice of sale. These provisions cover loans initiated between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007. Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5(h)(3), (i).
U.S. Bank’s primary argument is that Plaintiffs’ claim should be dismissed because neither § 2923.5 nor its legislative history clearly indicate an intent to create a private right of action. (Mot. at 8.) Plaintiffs counter that such a conclusion is unsupported by the legislative history; the California legislature would not have enacted this “urgency” legislation, intended to curb high foreclosure rates in the state, without any accompanying enforcement mechanism. (Opp’n at 5.) The court agrees with Plaintiffs. While the Ninth Circuit has yet to address this issue, the court found no decision from this circuit [**15] where a § 2923.5 claim had been dismissed on the basis advanced by U.S. Bank. See, e.g. Gentsch v. Ownit Mortgage Solutions Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45163, 2009 WL 1390843, at *6 (E.D. Cal., May 14, 2009)(addressing merits of claim); Lee v. First Franklin Fin. Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44461, 2009 WL 1371740, at *1 (E.D. Cal., May 15, 2009) (addressing evidentiary support for claim).
On the other hand, the statute does not require a lender to actually modify a defaulting borrower’s loan but rather requires only contacts or attempted contacts in a good faith effort to prevent foreclosure. Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5(a)(2). Plaintiffs allege only that U.S. Bank “failed and refused to explore such alternatives” but do not allege whether they were contacted or not. (FAC P 18.) Plaintiffs’ use of the phrase “refused to explore,” combined with the “Declaration of Compliance” accompanying the Notice of Trustee’s Sale, imply Plaintiffs were contacted as required by the statute. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 4 at 3.) Because Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5, U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss is granted. Plaintiffs’ claim is dismissed without prejudice.
C. Foreign Language Contract Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 et seq.
Plaintiffs assert “the contract and loan obligation was [sic] negotiated in Spanish,” and thus, they were entitled, under Cal. Civ. Code § 1632, to receive loan documents in Spanish rather than in English. (FAC P 21-24.) Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 provides, in relevant part:
Any person engaged in a trade or business who negotiates primarily in Spanish, Chines, Tagalog, Vietnamese, or Korean, orally or in writing, in the course of entering into any of the following, shall deliver to the other party to the contract or agreement and prior to the execution thereof, a translation of the contract or agreement in the language in which the contract or agreement was negotiated, which includes a translation of every term and condition in that contract or agreement.
Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(b).
U.S. Bank argues this claim must be dismissed because Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(b)(2) specifically excludes loans secured by real property. (Mot. at 8.) Plaintiffs allege their loan falls within the exception outlined in § 1632(b)(4), which effectively recaptures any “loan or extension of credit for use primarily for personal, family or household purposes where the loan or extension of credit is subject to the provision of Article 7 (commencing with Section 10240) of Chapter 3 of Part I of Division 4 of the Business and Professions Code ….” (FAC P 21; Opp’n at 7.) The Article 7 loans referenced here are those secured by real property which [*1167] were negotiated by a real estate broker. 1 See Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 10240. For the purposes of § 1632(b)(4), a “real estate broker” is one who “solicits borrowers, or causes borrowers to be solicited, through express or implied representations that the broker will act as an agent in arranging a loan, but in fact makes the loan to the borrower from funds belonging to the broker.” Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 10240(b). To take advantage of this exception with respect to U.S. Bank, Plaintiffs must allege U.S. Bank either acted as the real estate broker or had a principal-agent relationship with the broker who negotiated their loan. See Alvara v. Aurora Loan Serv., Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50365, 2009 WL 1689640, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Jun. 16, 2009), and references cited therein (noting “several courts have rejected the proposition that defendants are immune from this statute simply because they are not themselves brokers, so long as the defendant has an agency relationship with a broker or was acting as a [**18] broker.”). Although Plaintiffs mention in passing a “broker” was involved in the transaction (FAC P 4), they fail to allege U.S. Bank acted in either capacity described above.
Although U.S. Bank correctly notes the authorities cited by Plaintiffs are all unreported cases, the court agrees with the conclusions set forth in those cases. See Munoz v. International Home Capital Corp., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26362, 2004 WL 3086907, at *9 (N.D. Cal. 2004); Ruiz v. Decision One Mortgage Co., LLC, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54571, 2006 WL 2067072, at *5 (N.D. Cal. 2006).
Nevertheless, Plaintiffs argue they are not limited to remedies against the original broker, but may seek rescission of the contract through the assignee of the loan. Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(k). Section 1632(k) allows for rescission for violations of the statute and also provides, “When the contract for a consumer credit sale or consumer lease which has been sold and assigned to a financial institution is rescinded pursuant to this subdivision, the consumer shall make restitution to and have restitution made by the person with whom he or she made the contract, and shall give notice of rescission to the assignee.” Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(k) (emphasis added). There are two problems with Plaintiffs’ theory. First, it is not clear to this court that Plaintiffs’ loan qualifies as a “consumer credit sale or consumer lease.” Second, the court interprets this provision not as a mechanism to impose liability for a violation of § 1632 on U.S. Bank as an assignee, but simply as a mechanism to provide notice to that assignee after recovering restitution from the broker.
The mechanics of contract rescission are governed by Cal. Civ. Code § 1691, which requires a plaintiff to give notice of rescission to the other party and to return, or offer to return, all proceeds he received from the transaction. Plaintiffs’ complaint does satisfy these two requirements. Cal. Civ. Code § 1691 (“When notice of rescission has not otherwise been given or an offer to restore the benefits received under the contract has not otherwise been made, the service of a pleading…that seeks relief based on rescission shall be deemed to be such notice or offer or both.”). However, the court notes that if Plaintiffs were successful in their bid to rescind the contract, they would have to return the proceeds of the loan which they used to purchase their Property.
For these reasons discussed above, Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under Cal. Civ. Code § 1632. U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss is granted and Plaintiffs’ claim for violation of Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 is dismissed without prejudice.
D. Unfair Business Practices, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200
California’s unfair competition statute “prohibits any unfair competition, which means ‘any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent [*1168] business act or practice.’” In re Pomona Valley Med. Group, 476 F.3d 665, 674 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, et seq.). “This tripartite test is disjunctive and the plaintiff need only allege one of the three theories to properly plead a claim under § 17200.” Med. Instrument Dev. Labs. v. Alcon Labs., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41411, 2005 WL 1926673, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 10, 2005). “Virtually any law-state, federal or local-can serve as a predicate for a § 17200 claim.” State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Superior Court, 45 Cal.App.4th 1093, 1102-3, 53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 229 (1996). Plaintiffs assert their § 17200 “claim is entirely predicated upon their previous causes of action” under TILA and Cal. Civ. Code §§ 2923.5 and § 1632. (FAC PP 25-29; Opp’n at 9.)
U.S. Bank first contend Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue a § 17200 claim because they “do not allege what [**21] money or property they allegedly lost as a result of any purported violation.” (Mot. at 9.) The court finds Plaintiffs have satisfied the pleading standards on this issue by alleging they “relied, to their detriment,” on incomplete and inaccurate disclosures which led them to pay higher interest rates than they would have otherwise. (FAC P 9.) Such “losses” have been found sufficient to confer standing. See Aron v. U-Haul Co. of California, 143 Cal.App.4th 796, 802-3, 49 Cal. Rptr. 3d 555 (2006).
U.S. Bank next offers that Plaintiffs’ mere recitation of the statutory bases for this cause of action, without specific allegations of fact, fails to state a claim. (Mot. at 10.) Plaintiffs point out all the factual allegations in their complaint are incorporated by reference into their § 17200 claim. (FAC P 25; Opp’n at 9.) The court agrees there was no need for Plaintiffs to copy all the preceding paragraphs into this section when their claim expressly incorporates the allegations presented elsewhere in the complaint. Any argument by U.S. Bank that the pleadings failed to put them on notice of the premise behind Plaintiffs’ § 17200 claim would be somewhat disingenuous.
Nevertheless, all three of Plaintiffs’ predicate statutory claims have been dismissed for failure to state a claim. Without any surviving basis for the § 17200 claim, it too must be dismissed. U.S. Bank’s motion is therefore granted and Plaintiffs’ § 17200 claim is dismissed without prejudice.
E. Quiet Title
In their final cause of action, Plaintiffs seek to quiet title in the Property. (FAC PP 30-36.) In order to adequately allege a cause of action to quiet title, a plaintiff’s pleadings must include a description of “[t]he title of the plaintiff as to which a determination…is sought and the basis of the title…” and “[t]he adverse claims to the title of the plaintiff against which a determination is sought.” Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 761.020. A plaintiff is required to name the “specific adverse claims” that form the basis of the property dispute. See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 761.020, cmt. at P 3. Here, Plaintiffs allege the “Defendant claims an adverse interest in the Property owned by Plaintiffs,” but do not specify what that interest might be. (Mot. at 6-7.) Plaintiffs are still the owners of the Property. The recorded foreclosure Notices do not affect Plaintiffs’ title, ownership, or possession in the Property. U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss is therefore granted, and Plaintiffs’ cause of action to quiet title is dismissed without prejudice.
For the reasons set forth above, U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 7) is GRANTED. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ claim under TILA is DISMISSED with prejudice and Plaintiffs’ claims under Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5, [*1169] Cal. Civ. Code§ 1632, and Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, and their claim to quiet title are DISMISSED without prejudice.
The court grants Plaintiffs 30 days’ leave from the date of entry of this order to file a Second Amended Complaint which cures all the deficiencies noted above. Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint must be complete in itself without reference to the superseded pleading. Civil Local Rule 15.1.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: July 13, 2009
/s/ Jeffrey T. Miller
Hon. Jeffrey T. Miller
United States District JudgeRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
Fight Club entered popular culture in 1999 when director David Fincher adapted Chuck Palahniuk’s novel into a film that reflected the zeitgeist of modern America with its empty culture, obsession with aesthetic beauty, and slavish under and middle classes.
Warning: Decade-old spoiler coming up.
The film ends with the agents of “Project Mayhem,” protagonist Tyler Durden’s followers, destroying the headquarters of the major credit card companies with many tons of explosives. Durden’s theory is that without the records of debt, everyone gets a fresh start. They are no longer slaves to the banks, and they are free.
This concept resonated hugely with Americans, and not just the douche bag frat boys who taped Brad Pitt’s six-pack to their dorm walls. Citizens are working harder for less these days, and the American ennui originating from Reagan’s tyrannical reign of deregulation, union busting, and middle-class rape has now exploded into severe disillusionment and anger. Americans are being crushed by debt, can’t afford health care, and have less job security than ever.
Even the dimmest Americans know they’re getting screwed by Wall Street fat cats, and nothing could have made that reality clearer than the bailouts: $1 trillion dollars of taxpayer money that went to line the pockets of the guys and gals who crashed the economy.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, once the fat cats and credit card companies’ armies of Repo Men were through collecting the contents of the houses, they came back for the houses themselves. The banks tried to sell the old, familiar lie that “irresponsible people” i.e. “black people” went and got themselves into a mess they couldn’t dig themselves out of, which was almost always a lie. Subprime lenders issued mortgages in a predatory fashion, frequently lied, and used creative math to convince people they could afford mortgages with hidden, adjustable interest rates.
Those that can afford to play Capitalism: The Game prosper, while the rest of society suffers. Of course, those of us who don’t work for the Big 4 banks in the Too Big To Fail gang, wither and die. Today, The New York Times announced the 100th small bank failure of 2009. Don’t expect any mourning. The bank isn’t named “JPMorgan Chase.”
It’s projected that by 2012, there will be eight million home foreclosures in the United States. Lots of politicians are siding with the banks during the foreclosure epidemic, but a few brave souls are standing up to the Wall Street criminals.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
A car buyer whose damages under the Truth in Lending Act were slashed by the Supreme Court is nevertheless entitled to attorneys’ fees for that portion of his otherwise “successful action,” the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held.
The decision affirms a fee award of more than $80,000 to Bradley Nigh, who claimed Koons Buick Pontiac GM Inc. pressured him into signing multiple loan documents and purchasing an “alarm silencer” he hadn’t ordered.A federal jury in Alexandria, Va., awarded Nigh about $25,000, or twice the financing charges he had paid, in May 2001.
Koons appealed to the 4th Circuit, which affirmed, and then to the Supreme Court, which likewise affirmed on liability but capped the TILA damages at $1,000.Koons appealed again after the U.S. District Court awarded Nigh fees on remand. Last week, the 4th Circuit affirmed. Despite the cap, the 4th Circuit said, Nigh brought a “successful action” under TILA, receiving the maximum amount allowed by the federal law.
Congress, which set the $1,000 cap, likewise included the fee-shifting provisions because it believes it is in the best interest of society for big companies to act honestly, Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the appeals court; but unless the injured consumer has hope of having his costs covered by the guilty defendant, he will never bring the case.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Reporting from Washington — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states could enforce some of their consumer protection laws against national banks, a move that could lead to tougher oversight than federal regulators have provided in recent years.
The 5-4 decision in a case involving attempts by New York’s attorney general to enforce fair-lending laws was praised by consumer and civil rights groups, who have accused federal regulators of being lax in policing banks chartered by the federal government.
“This puts more consumer cops on the consumer crime beat,” said Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “The federal regulators have demonstrated they’re just having doughnuts in the coffee shop.”
Banking trade groups, however, warned that the ruling could lead to a confusing patchwork of enforcement levels in states that could cause national banks to offer fewer products, such as credit cards.
“This will make it difficult to serve consumers in today’s high-tech, mobile society where people and bank services move constantly across state lines,” said Edward L. Yingling, president of the American Bankers Assn.
The ruling has limited effect because it applies only to a small number of state laws, such as those dealing with discrimination in lending practices, including predatory lending. Most other state laws affecting national banks are enforced by federal officials.
And it only affects the approximately 1,600 national banks, not the larger number of state banks that are subject to the laws of the states in which they’re chartered.
But it is significant because it reverses a trend of states losing legal battles with federal officials over banking regulatory oversight.
The case’s importance also could be amplified by President Obama’s recent proposal to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency that would allow states to enact and enforce tougher consumer protection laws than the federal government.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND. Hon. Mary M. Lisi, U.S. District Judge.
Melfi v. WMC Mortg. Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1454 (D.R.I., Jan. 9, 2009)
COUNSEL: Christopher M. Lefebvre with whom Claude F. Lefebvre and Christopher M. Lefebvre, P.C. were on brief for appellant.
Jeffrey S. Patterson with whom David E. Fialkow and Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP were on brief for appellees, Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, N.A. and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
JUDGES: Before Boudin, Hansen, * and Lipez, Circuit Judges.
Of the Eighth Circuit, sitting by designation.
OPINION BY: BOUDIN
BOUDIN, Circuit Judge. In April 2006, Joseph Melfi refinanced his home mortgage with WMC Mortgage Corporation (“WMC”). At the closing, Melfi received from WMC a notice of his right to rescind the transaction. The notice is required for such a transaction by the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a) (2006). Assuming that the notice complies with TILA, a borrower is given three “business days” to rescind the transaction; otherwise, the period is much longer. Id. The question in this case is whether the notice given Melfi adequately complied.
The three-day period aims “to give the consumer the opportunity to reconsider any transaction which would [*2] have the serious consequence of encumbering the title to his [or her] home.” S. Rep. No. 96-368, at 28 (1979), reprinted in 1980 U.S.C.C.A.N. 236, 264. Under TILA, the requirements for the notice are established by the Federal Reserve Board (“the Board”) in its Regulation Z. 12 C.F.R. § 226.23 (2007). Failure to provide proper notice extends to three years the borrower’s deadline to rescind. Id. § 226.23 (a)(3).
About 20 months after the closing, Melfi attempted to rescind the transaction. The incentives for a borrower to do so may be substantial where a new loan is available, especially if rates have fallen or substantial interest has been paid during the period of the original loan. “When a consumer rescinds a transaction . . . the consumer shall not be liable for any amount, including any finance charge” and “the creditor shall return any money or property that has been given to anyone in connection with the transaction . . . .” 12 C.F.R. 226.23(d)(1), (2).
Melfi argued that the notice of his right to cancel was deficient because it left blank the spaces for the date of the transaction (although the date was stamped on the top right corner of the notice) and the actual deadline to [*3] rescind. WMC and co-defendants Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo (the loan’s trustee and servicer, respectively) refused to allow the rescission, and Melfi then brought this action in the federal district court in Rhode Island.
The district court, following our decision in Palmer v. Champion Mortgage, 465 F.3d 24 (1st Cir. 2006), asked whether a borrower of average intelligence would be confused by the Notice. Melfi v. WMC Mortgage Corp., No. 08-024ML, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1454, 2009 WL 64338, at *1 (D.R.I. Jan. 9, 2009). The court ruled that even if the omissions in the notice were violations, they were at most technical violations that did not give rise to an extended rescission period because the notice was clear and conspicuous despite the omissions, and it dismissed Melfi’s complaint. 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1454, [WL] at *3.
Melfi now appeals. Our review is de novo, accepting all of the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and drawing reasonable inferences in favor of Melfi. Andrew Robinson Int’l, Inc. v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 547 F.3d 48, 51 (1st Cir. 2008). We may consider materials incorporated in the complaint (here, the notice Melfi received) and also facts subject to judicial notice. In re Colonial Mortgage Bankers Corp., 324 F.3d 12, 14 (1st Cir. 2003).
TILA [*4] provides that “[t]he creditor shall clearly and conspicuously disclose, in accordance with regulations of the Board, to any obligor [here, Melfi] in a transaction subject to this section the rights of the obligor under this section.” 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a). Regulation Z says what the notice of the right to cancel must clearly and conspicuously disclose; pertinently, the regulation requires that the notice include “[t]he date the rescission period expires.” 12 C.F.R. § 226.23(b)(1)(v). The Board has created a model form; a creditor must provide either the model form or a “substantially similar notice.” 12 C.F.R. § 226.23(b)(2). The use of the model form insulates the creditor from most insufficient disclosure claims. 15 U.S.C. § 1604(b). WMC gave Melfi the model form, but the spaces left for the date of the transaction and the date of the rescission deadline were not filled in. The form Melfi received had the date of the transaction stamped at its top (but it was not so designated) and then read in part:
You are entering into a transaction that will result in a mortgage/lien/security interest on your home. You have a legal right under federal law to cancel this transaction, without cost, [*5] within THREE BUSINESS DAYS from whichever of the following events occurs LAST:
(1) The date of the transaction, which is ; or
(2) The date you receive your Truth in Lending disclosures; or
(3) The date you received this notice of your right to cancel.
. . . .
HOW TO CANCEL
If you decide to cancel this transaction, you may do so by notifying us in writing. . . .
You may use any written statement that is signed and dated by you and states your intention to cancel and/or you may use this notice by dating and signing below. Keep one copy of this notice because it contains important information about your rights.
If you cancel by mail or telegram, you must send the notice no later than MIDNIGHT of (or MIDNIGHT of the THIRD BUSINESS DAY following the latest of the three events listed above). If you send or deliver your written notice to cancel some other way, it must be delivered to the above address no later than that time.
. . . .
Melfi’s argument is straightforward. Regulation Z requires in substance the deadline for rescission be provided; one of the three measuring dates–the date of the transaction–was left blank (the other two are described but have no blanks); and therefore the notice [*6] was deficient and Melfi has three years to rescind. A number of district court cases, along with two circuit court opinions, support Melfi’s position, n1 although one of the circuit cases also involved more serious substantive flaws.
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E.g., Semar v. Platte Valley Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 791 F.2d 699, 702-03 (9th Cir. 1986); Williamson v. Lafferty, 698 F.2d 767, 768-69 (5th Cir. 1983); Johnson v. Chase Manhattan Bank, USA N.A., No. 07-526, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50569, 2007 WL 2033833, at *3 (E.D. Pa. July 11, 2007); Reynolds v. D & N Bank, 792 F. Supp. 1035, 1038 (E.D. Mich. 1992).
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The circuit cases are now elderly and may be in tension with later TILA amendments, but the statements that “technical” violations of TILA are fatal has been echoed in other cases. This circuit took a notably different approach in Palmer to determining whether arguable flaws compromised effective disclosure process. See also Santos-Rodriguez v. Doral Mortgage Corp., 485 F.3d 12, 17 (1st Cir. 2007). Following Palmer, district court decisions in this circuit concluded that failing to fill in a blank did not automatically trigger a right to rescind. n2
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Bonney v. Wash. Mut. Bank, 596 F. Supp. 2d 173 (D. Mass. 2009); Megitt v. Indymac Bank, F.S.B., 547 F. Supp. 2d 56 (D. Mass. 2008); [*7] Carye v. Long Beach Mortgage Co., 470 F. Supp. 2d 3 (D. Mass. 2007).
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In Palmer, the plaintiff received a notice of her right to cancel that followed the Federal Reserve’s model form but the form was not received until after the rescission deadline listed on the notice. 465 F.3d at 27. Nonetheless, Palmer held that the notice “was crystal clear” because it included (as in the Federal Reserve’s model form) the alternative deadline (not given as a date but solely in descriptive form) of three business days following the date the notice was received, so the plaintiff still knew that she had three days to act. Id. at 29.
Palmer did not involve the blank date problem. Palmer, 465 F.3d at 29. But the principle on which Palmer rests is broader than the precise facts: technical deficiencies do not matter if the borrower receives a notice that effectively gives him notice as to the final date for rescission and has the three full days to act. Our test is whether any reasonable person, in reading the form provided in this case, would so understand it. Here, the omitted dates made no difference.
The date that Melfi closed on the loan can hardly have been unknown to him and was in fact hand stamped [*8] or typed on the form given to him. From that date, it is easy enough to count three days; completing the blank avoids only the risk created by the fact that Saturday counts as a business day under Board regulations, 12 C.F.R. § 226.2(a)(6), and the borrower might think otherwise. Lafferty, 698 F.2d at 769 n.3 (“[T]he precise purpose of requiring the creditor to fill in the date [of the rescission deadline] is to prevent the customer from having to calculate three business days”).
Nor does completing the blank necessarily tell the borrower how long he has to rescind. Where after the closing the borrower is mailed either the notice or certain other required information, the three days runs not from the transaction date but from the last date when the borrower receives the notice and other required documents. Melfi himself says he was given the form on the date of the closing and does not claim that there was any pertinent delay in giving him the other required disclosures. So the blanks in no way misled Melfi in this case.
So the argument for allowing Melfi to extend his deadline from three days to three years depends on this premise: that any flaw or deviation should be penalized automatically [*9] in order to deter such errors in the future. If Congress had made such a determination as a matter of policy, a court would respect that determination; possibly, this would also be so if the Board had made the same determination. See Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 844, 104 S. Ct. 2778, 81 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1984). Melfi argues at length that we owe such deference to the Board.
The answer is that there is no evidence in TILA or any Board regulation that either Congress or the Board intended to render the form a nullity because of an uncompleted blank in the form or similar flaw where, as here, it could not possibly have caused Melfi to think that he had months in order to rescind. The central purpose of the disclosure–the short notice period for rescission at will–was plain despite the blanks. Melfi’s argument assumes, rather than establishes, that a penalty was intended.
Some cases finding a blank notice form to be grounds for rescission even though harmless were decided under an earlier version of TILA. In 1995, Congress added a new subsection to TILA, titled “Limitation on Rescission Liability.” It provided that a borrower could not rescind “solely from the form of written notice [*10] used by the creditor . . . if the creditor provided the [borrower] the appropriate form of written notice published and adopted by the Board . . . .” Truth in Lending Act Amendments of 1995, Pub L. No. 104-29, § 5, 109 Stat. 271, 274 (1995) (codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1635(h)).
Read literally, this safe harbor may not be available to WMC because, while it used the Board’s form of notice, it did not properly fill in the blanks. But the TILA amendments were aimed in general to guard against widespread rescissions for minor violations. McKenna v. First Horizon Loan Corp., 475 F.3d 418, 424 (1st Cir. 2007). To this extent, Congress has now leaned against a penalty approach and, perhaps, weakened the present force of the older case law favoring extension of the rescission deadline.
In any event, in the absence of some direction from Congress or the Board to impose a penalty, we see no policy basis for such a result. Where, as here, the Board’s form was used and a reasonable borrower cannot have been misled, allowing a windfall and imposing a penalty serves no purpose and, further, is at odds with the general approach already taken by this court in Palmer.
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