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 )
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 )
MARLA LYNN SWANSON, Plaintiff, vs. EMC MORTGAGE CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.
CASE NO. CV F 09-1507 LJO DLB
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
October 29, 2009, Decided
October 29, 2009, Filed
COUNSEL: For Marla Lynn Swanson, Plaintiff: Sharon L. Lapin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Attorney At Law, San Rafael, CA.
For EMC Mortgage Corporation, Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc., Defendants: S. Christopher Yoo, LEAD ATTORNEY, Adorno Yoss Alvarado and Smith, Santa Ana, CA.
For Robert E. Weiss INC, Defendant: Cris A Klingerman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Robert E. Weiss, Inc., Covina, CA.
For Brokerleon Inc. DBA: A-ONE Home Loans, Leon Turner Jr., Shantae Michelle Curran, Defendants: SUSAN L. MOORE, LEAD ATTORNEY, Pascuzzi, Moore & Stoker, Attorneys At Law, Apc, Fresno, CA.
JUDGES: Lawrence J. O’Neill, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
OPINION BY: Lawrence J. O’Neill
ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’ F.R.Civ.P. 12 MOTION TO DISMISS
Defendants EMC Mortgage Corporation (“EMC”) and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) seek to dismiss as meritless and insufficiently plead plaintiff Marla Lynn Swanson’s (“Ms. Swanson’s”) claims arising from a loan, default and mortgage on Ms. Swanson’s Sanger residence (“property”). Ms. Swanson filed no papers to oppose dismissal of her claims against EMC and MERS. This Court considered EMC and MERS’ F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the record and VACATES the November [*2] 10, 2009 hearing, pursuant to Local Rule 78-230(h). For the reasons discussed below, this Court DISMISSES this action against EMC and MERS.
Ms. Swanson’s Loan And Default
Ms. Swanson obtained a $ 308,000 loan from defendant Community Lending, Inc. (“Community Lending”) and which was secured by a deed of trust (“DOT”) encumbering the property and recorded on July 14, 2006. 1 The DOT identifies Ms. Swanson as borrower, Community Lending as lender, Stewart Title of California as Trustee, and MERS as beneficiary.
1 All documents pertaining to Ms. Swanson’s loan and default were recorded with the Fresno County Recorder.
Defendant Robert E. Weiss, Inc. (“Weiss”) was substituted as DOT trustee by a substitution of trustee recorded on February 24, 2009.
A Notice of Default and Election to Sell under Deed of Trust was recorded on February 24, 2009 and indicates that Ms. Swanson was $ 9,804.68 in arrears on her loan as of February 23, 2009.
A second Notice of Default and Election to Sell under Deed of Trust was recorded on March 5, 2009 and indicates that Ms. Swanson was $ 11,984.68 in arrears on her loan as of March 4, 2009.
Ms. Swanson’s Claims
On August 25, 2009, Ms. Swanson filed her complaint [*3] (“complaint”) to allege federal and California statutory and common law claims. 2 The complaint appears to challenge EMC and/or MERS’ standing to initiate non-judicial foreclosure of the property. The complaint alleges on information and belief “that no legal transfer of the Mortgage Note, Deed of Trust or any other interest in Plaintiff’s Property was effected that gave any of the Defendants the right to be named a trustee, mortgagee, beneficiary or an authorized agent of trustee, mortgagee or beneficiary of Plaintiff’s Mortgage Note, Deed of Trust or any other interest in Plaintiff’s Property.” The complaint further alleges that “Defendants . . . are not the real parties in interest because they are not the legal trustee, mortgagee or beneficiary, nor are they authorized agents of the trustee, mortgagee or beneficiary, nor are they in possession of the Note, or holders of the Note, or non-holders of the Note entitled to payment . . . . Therefore, Defendants instituted foreclosure proceedings against Plaintiff’s Property without rights under the law.”
2 The complaint pursues claims against Ms. Swanson’s mortgage brokers. Such claims are not subject to EMC and MERS’ motion to dismiss.
The [*4] complaint alleges six claims against EMS and/or MERS which this Court will address below and seeks an injunction against foreclosure, general, statutory and punitive damages, and attorney fees.
F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) Standards
EMC and MERS attack the claims against them as meritless, barred by law and lacking supporting facts. EMC and MERS characterize the allegations against them as “conclusory and boilerplate.”
“A trial court may dismiss a claim sua sponte under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). . . . Such dismissal may be made without notice where the claimant cannot possibly win relief.” Omar v. Sea-Land Service, Inc., 813 F.2d 986, 991 (9th Cir. 1987); see Wong v. Bell, 642 F.2d 359, 361-362 (9th Cir. 1981). Sua sponte dismissal may be made before process is served on defendants. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324, 109 S. Ct. 1827, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338 (1989) (dismissals under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) are often made sua sponte); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1226 (9th Cir. 1984) (court may dismiss frivolous in forma pauperis action sua sponte prior to service of process on defendants).
A F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is a challenge to the sufficiency of the pleadings set forth in the complaint. “When a federal [*5] court reviews the sufficiency of a complaint, before the reception of any evidence either by affidavit or admissions, its task is necessarily a limited one. The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S. Ct. 1683, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90 (1974); Gilligan v. Jamco Development Corp., 108 F.3d 246, 249 (9th Cir. 1997). A F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper where there is either a “lack of a cognizable legal theory” or “the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990); Graehling v. Village of Lombard, Ill., 58 F.3d 295, 297 (7th Cir. 1995).
In resolving a F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion, the court must: (1) construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff; (2) accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true; and (3) determine whether plaintiff can prove any set of facts to support a claim that would merit relief. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-338 (9th Cir. 1996). Nonetheless, a court is “free to ignore legal conclusions, unsupported conclusions, [*6] unwarranted inferences and sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.” Farm Credit Services v. American State Bank, 339 F.3d 764, 767 (8th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). A court need not permit an attempt to amend a complaint if “it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by allegation of other facts.” Cook, Perkiss and Liehe, Inc. v. N. Cal. Collection Serv. Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007) (internal citations omitted). Moreover, a court “will dismiss any claim that, even when construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, fails to plead sufficiently all required elements of a cause of action.” Student Loan Marketing Ass’n v. Hanes, 181 F.R.D. 629, 634 (S.D. Cal. 1998). In practice, “a complaint . . . must contain either direct or inferential allegations [*7] respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562, 127 S.Ct. at 1969 (quoting Car Carriers, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 745 F.2d 1101, 1106 (7th Cir. 1984)).
In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, U.S. , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009), the U.S. Supreme Court recently explained:
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” . . . A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.
. . . Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. (Citation omitted.)
For a F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion, a court generally cannot consider material outside the complaint. Van Winkle v. Allstate Ins. Co., 290 F.Supp.2d 1158, 1162, n. 2 (C.D. Cal. 2003). Nonetheless, a court may consider exhibits submitted with the complaint. Van Winkle, 290 F.Supp.2d at 1162, n. 2. In addition, a “court may consider evidence on which the complaint ‘necessarily [*8] relies’ if: (1) the complaint refers to the document; (2) the document is central to the plaintiff’s claim; and (3) no party questions the authenticity of the copy attached to the 12(b)(6) motion.” Marder v. Lopez, 450 F.3d 445, 448 (9th Cir. 2006). A court may treat such a document as “part of the complaint, and thus may assume that its contents are true for purposes of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir.2003). Such consideration prevents “plaintiffs from surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion by deliberately omitting reference to documents upon which their claims are based.” Parrino v. FHP, Inc., 146 F.3d 699, 706 (9th Cir. 1998). 3 A “court may disregard allegations in the complaint if contradicted by facts established by exhibits attached to the complaint.” Sumner Peck Ranch v. Bureau of Reclamation, 823 F.Supp. 715, 720 (E.D. Cal. 1993) (citing Durning v. First Boston Corp., 815 F.2d 1265, 1267 (9th Cir.1987)). Moreover, “judicial notice may be taken of a fact to show that a complaint does not state a cause of action.” Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Metropolitan Engravers, Ltd., 245 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1956); see Estate of Blue v. County of Los Angeles, 120 F.3d 982, 984 (9th Cir. 1997). [*9] A court properly may take judicial notice of matters of public record outside the pleadings'” and consider them for purposes of the motion to dismiss. Mir v. Little Co. of Mary Hosp., 844 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). As such, this Court may consider plaintiffs’ pertinent loan and foreclosure documents.
3 “We have extended the ‘incorporation by reference’ doctrine to situations in which the plaintiff’s claim depends on the contents of a document, the defendant attaches the document to its motion to dismiss, and the parties do not dispute the authenticity of the document, even though the plaintiff does not explicitly allege the contents of that document in the complaint.” Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1076 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Parrino, 146 F.3d at 706).
Rosenthal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act
The complaint’s second claim attempts to allege EMC’s violation of California’s Rosenthal Fair Debtor Collection Practices Act (“RFDCPA”), Cal. Civ. Code, §§ 1788, et seq. The claim alleges that “Defendants are debt collectors within the meaning of the Rosenthal Act in that they regularly, in the course of their business, on behalf of themselves or others, engage in the [*10] collection of debt.”
EMC and MERS challenge the claim in that the complaint “does not properly allege that EMC is a debt collector within the meaning of the RFDCPA.”
The RFDCPA’s purpose is “to prohibit debt collectors from engaging in unfair or deceptive practices in the collection of consumer debts and to require debtors to act fairly in entering into and honoring such debts.” Cal. Civ. Code, § 1788.1(b). The RFDCPA defines “debt collector” as “any person who, in the ordinary course of business, regularly, on behalf of himself or herself or others, engages in debt collection.” Cal. Civ. Code, § 1788.2(c).
EMC and MERS argue that the RFDCPA does not prevent a creditor to enforce its security interest under a deed of trust because foreclosing on property does not support a claim under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq. EMC and MERS note that as a loan servicer, EMC is an authorized agent of the DOT beneficiary to enforce the beneficiary’s security interest under the DOT.
EMC and MERS further fault the RFDCPA claim’s failure to allege facts to support EMC’s RFDCPA violation in that the claim conclusively alleges that “Defendants” “threatened [*11] to take actions not permitted by law, including . . . collecting on a debt not owed to the Defendants, making false reports to credit reporting agencies, foreclosing upon a void security interest, foreclosing upon a Note of which they were not in possession nor otherwise entitled to payment, falsely stating the amount of a debt, increasing the amount of a debt by including amounts that are not permitted by law or contract, and using unfair and unconscionable means in an attempt to collect a debt.”
EMC and MERS cite to no conclusive authority that non-judicial foreclosure is not debt collection under the RFDCPA. However, “foreclosing on the property pursuant to a deed of trust is not the collection of a debt within the meaning of the FDCPA.” Hulse v. Ocwen Federal Bank, FSB, 195 F.Supp.2d 1188, 1204 (D. Or. 2002). As the fellow district court in Hulse, 195 F.Supp.2d at 1204, explained:
Foreclosing on a trust deed is distinct from the collection of the obligation to pay money. The FDCPA is intended to curtail objectionable acts occurring in the process of collecting funds from a debtor. But, foreclosing on a trust deed is an entirely different path. Payment of funds is not the object of [*12] the foreclosure action. Rather, the lender is foreclosing its interest in the property.
. . . Foreclosure by the trustee is not the enforcement of the obligation because it is not an attempt to collect funds from the debtor.
Logic suggests that non-judicial foreclosure is not a debt collector’s act under California Civil Code section 1788.2(c). Like the FDCPA, the RFDCPA seeks to prohibit debt collection abuses. A foreclosure action does not address payment of funds. The complaint is void of facts that EMC sought to enforce Ms. Swanson’s obligation by collecting funds from her. The RFDCPA claim’s recitation of alleged wrongs fails to substantiate RFDCPA wrongdoing to warrant the claim’s dismissal against EMC and MERS.
The complaint’s (third) negligence claim alleges that EMC and MERS “owed a duty to Plaintiff to perform acts in such a manner as to not cause Plaintiff harm.” The claim alleges “Defendants breached their duty of care to the Plaintiff when they failed to maintain the original Mortgage Note, failed to properly create original documents, failed to make the required disclosures to the Plaintiff and instituted foreclosure proceedings wrongfully.” The claim further alleges [*13] that EMC and MERS “breached their duty of care to the Plaintiff when they took payments to which they were not entitled, charged fees they were not entitled to charge, and made or otherwise authorized negative reporting of Plaintiff’s creditworthiness to various credit bureaus wrongfully.”
EMC and MERS characterize the claim’s duty “theory” as a “common law duty of care.” EMC and MERS fault the claim’s “conclusory allegations” lacking details as to how EMC and MERS breached such a duty. EMC and MERS note their absence of a lender-borrower relationship with Ms. Swanson and an independent duty “to perform acts in such a manner as to not cause Plaintiff harm.”
“The elements of a cause of action for negligence are (1) a legal duty to use reasonable care, (2) breach of that duty, and (3) proximate [or legal] cause between the breach and (4) the plaintiff’s injury.” Mendoza v. City of Los Angeles, 66 Cal.App.4th 1333, 1339, 78 Cal.Rptr.2d 525 (1998) (citation omitted). “The existence of a duty of care owed by a defendant to a plaintiff is a prerequisite to establishing a claim for negligence.” Nymark v. Heart Fed. Savings & Loan Assn., 231 Cal.App.3d 1089, 1095, 283 Cal.Rptr. 53 (1991). “The [*14] existence of a legal duty to use reasonable care in a particular factual situation is a question of law for the court to decide.” Vasquez v. Residential Investments, Inc., 118 Cal.App.4th 269, 278, 12 Cal.Rptr.3d 846 (2004) (citation omitted).
“The ‘legal duty’ of care may be of two general types: (a) the duty of a person to use ordinary care in activities from which harm might reasonably be anticipated [, or] (b) [a]n affirmative duty where the person occupies a particular relationship to others. . . . In the first situation, he is not liable unless he is actively careless; in the second, he may be liable for failure to act affirmatively to prevent harm.” McGettigan v. Bay Area Rapid Transit Dist., 57 Cal.App.4th 1011, 1016-1017, 67 Cal.Rptr.2d 516 (1997).
EMC and MERS correctly note the absence of an actionable duty between a lender and borrower in that loan transactions are arms-length and do not invoke fiduciary duties. Absent “special circumstances” a loan transaction “is at arms-length and there is no fiduciary relationship between the borrower and lender.” Oaks Management Corp. v. Superior Court, 145 Cal.App.4th 453, 466, 51 Cal.Rptr.3d 561 (2006); see Downey v. Humphreys, 102 Cal. App. 2d 323, 332, 227 P.2d 484 (1951) [*15] (“A debt is not a trust and there is not a fiduciary relation between debtor and creditor as such.”) Moreover, a lender “owes no duty of care to the [borrowers] in approving their loan. 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.'” Wagner v. Benson, 101 Cal.App.3d 27, 35, 161 Cal.Rptr. 516 (1980) (citing several cases). “[A]s a general rule, a financial institution owes no duty of care to a borrower when the institution’s involvement in the loan transaction does not exceed the scope of its conventional role as a mere lender of money.” Nymark, 231 Cal.App.3d at 1096, 283 Cal.Rptr. 53.
“Public policy does not impose upon the Bank absolute liability for the hardships which may befall the [borrower] it finances.” Wagner, 101 Cal.App.3d at 34, 161 Cal.Rptr. 516. The success of a borrower’s investment “is not a benefit of the loan agreement which the Bank is under a duty to protect.” Wagner, 101 Cal.App.3d at 34, 161 Cal.Rptr. 516 (lender lacked duty to disclose “any information it may have had”).
The complaint alleges no facts of EMC and MERS’ cognizable duty to Ms. Swanson [*16] to support a negligence claim. “No such duty exists” for a lender “to determine the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. . . . The lender’s efforts to determine the creditworthiness and ability to repay by a borrower are for the lender’s protection, not the borrower’s.” Renteria v. United States, 452 F. Supp. 2d 910, 922-923 (D. Ariz. 2006) (borrowers “had to rely on their own judgment and risk assessment to determine whether or not to accept the loan”). Ms. Swanson’s purported claims arise from her failure to pay her loan and subsequent initiation of foreclosure of the property. The complaint further lacks facts of special circumstances to impose duties on EMC and MERS in that the complaint depicts an arms-length home loan transaction, nothing more. The complaint fails to substantiate a special lending relationship with EMC and MERS or an actionable breach of duty to warrant dismissal of the negligence claim.
Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act
The complaint alleges that on June 10, 2009, a Qualified Written Request (“QWR”) under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), 12 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq., was mailed to EMC and included a demand to rescind the loan under the Truth [*17] in Lending Act (“TILA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1601, et seq. The complaint further alleges that “EMC has yet to properly respond to this Request.” The complaint’s fourth claim alleges that “EMC violated RESPA, 12 U.S.C. § 2605(e)(3), 4 by failing and refusing to provide a proper written explanation or response to Plaintiff’s QWR.”
4 12 U.S.C. § 2605(e)(2) addresses response to a QWR and provides:
Not later than 60 days (excluding legal public holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays) after the receipt from any borrower of any qualified written request under paragraph (1) and, if applicable, before taking any action with respect to the inquiry of the borrower, the servicer shall–
(A) make appropriate corrections in the account of the borrower, including the crediting of any late charges or penalties, and transmit to the borrower a written notification of such correction (which shall include the name and telephone number of a representative of the servicer who can provide assistance to the borrower);
(B) after conducting an investigation, provide the borrower with a written explanation or clarification that includes–
(i) to the extent applicable, a statement of the reasons for which the servicer believes [*18] the account of the borrower is correct as determined by the servicer; and
(ii) the name and telephone number of an individual employed by, or the office or department of, the servicer who can provide assistance to the borrower; or
(C) after conducting an investigation, provide the borrower with a written explanation or clarification that includes–
(i) information requested by the borrower or an explanation of why the information requested is unavailable or cannot be obtained by the servicer; and
(ii) the name and telephone number of an individual employed by, or the office or department of, the servicer who can provide assistance to the borrower.
No Private Right Of Action For Disclosure Violations
EMC and MERS argue that to the extent the RESPA claim seeks to recover for disclosure violations, the claim is a barred in the absence of a private right of action.
RESPA’s purpose is to “curb abusive settlement practices in the real estate industry. Such amorphous goals, however, do not translate into a legislative intent to create a private right of action.” Bloom v. Martin, 865 F.Supp. 1377, 1385 (N.D. Cal. 1994), aff’d, 77 F.3d 318 (1996). “The structure of RESPA’s various statutory provisions [*19] indicates that Congress did not intend to create a private right of action for disclosure violations under 12 U.S.C. § 2603 . . . Congress did not intend to provide a private remedy . . .” Bloom, 865 F.Supp. at 1384.
EMC and MERS correctly point out the absence of a private right of action for RESPA disclosure violations to doom the RESPA claim to the extent it is based on disclosure violations.
Absence Of Pecuniary Loss
EMC and MERS further fault the RESPA claim’s failure to allege pecuniary loss.
“Whoever fails to comply with this section shall be liable to the borrower . . . [for] any actual damages to the borrower as a result of the failure . . .” 12 U.S.C. § 2605(f)(1)(A). “However, alleging a breach of RESPA duties alone does not state a claim under RESPA. Plaintiffs must, at a minimum, also allege that the breach resulted in actual damages.” Hutchinson v. Delaware Sav. Bank FSB, 410 F.Supp.2d 374, 383 (D. N.J. 2006).
The RESPA claim fails to allege pecuniary loss from EMC’s alleged failure to respond to Ms. Swanson’s QWR. Such omission is fatal to the claim given its mere reliance on a RESPA violation without more.
The complaint’s (sixth) fraud claim alleges that “EMC misrepresented [*20] to Plaintiff that EMC has the right to collect monies from Plaintiff on its behalf or on behalf of others when Defendant EMC had no legal right to collect such monies.” The claim further alleges that “MERS misrepresented to Plaintiff on the Deed of Trust that it is a qualified beneficiary with the ability to assign or transfer the Deed of Trust and/or the Note and/or substitute trustees under the Deed of Trust. Further, Defendant MERS misrepresented that it followed the applicable legal requirements to transfer the Note and Deed of Trust to subsequent beneficiaries.”
Absence Of Particularity
EMC and MERS challenge the fraud claim’s failure to satisfy F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) requirements to allege fraud with particularity.
The elements of a California fraud claim are: (1) misrepresentation (false representation, concealment or nondisclosure); (2) knowledge of the falsity (or “scienter”); (3) intent to defraud, i.e., to induce reliance; (4) justifiable reliance; and (5) resulting damage. Lazar v. Superior Court, 12 Cal.4th 631, 638, 49 Cal.Rptr.2d 377, 909 P.2d 981 (1996). The same elements comprise a cause of action for negligent misrepresentation, except there is no requirement of intent to induce reliance. [*21] Cadlo v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 125 Cal. App. 4th 513, 519, 23 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1, 23 Cal.Rtpr.3d 1 (2004).
“[T]o establish a cause of action for fraud a plaintiff must plead and prove in full, factually and specifically, all of the elements of the cause of action. Conrad v. Bank of America, 45 Cal.App.4th 133, 156, 53 Cal.Rptr.2d 336 (1996). There must be a showing “that the defendant thereby intended to induce the plaintiff to act to his detriment in reliance upon the false representation” and “that the plaintiff actually and justifiably relied upon the defendant’s misrepresentation in acting to his detriment.” Conrad, 45 Cal.App.4th at 157, 53 Cal.Rptr.2d 336.
F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) requires a party to “state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud.” 5 In the Ninth Circuit, “claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation must meet Rule 9(b)‘s particularity requirements.” Neilson v. Union Bank of California, N.A., 290 F.Supp.2d 1101, 1141 (C.D. Cal. 2003). A court may dismiss a claim grounded in fraud when its allegations fail to satisfy F.R.Civ.P. 9(b)‘s heightened pleading requirements. Vess, 317 F.3d at 1107. A motion to dismiss a claim “grounded in fraud” under F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) for failure to [*22] plead with particularity is the “functional equivalent” of a F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Vess, 317 F.3d at 1107. As a counter-balance, F.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) requires from a pleading “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
5 F.R.Civ.P. 9(b)‘s particularity requirement applies to state law causes of action: “[W]hile a federal court will examine state law to determine whether the elements of fraud have been pled sufficiently to state a cause of action, the Rule 9(b) requirement that the circumstances of the fraud must be stated with particularity is a federally imposed rule.” Vess v. Ciba-Geigy Corp. USA, 317 F.3d 1097, 1103 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Hayduk v. Lanna, 775 F.2d 441, 443 (1st Cir. 1995)(italics in original)).
F.R.Civ.P. 9(b)‘s heightened pleading standard “is not an invitation to disregard Rule 8‘s requirement of simplicity, directness, and clarity” and “has among its purposes the avoidance of unnecessary discovery.” McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 1996). F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) requires “specific” allegations of fraud “to give defendants notice of the particular misconduct which is [*23] alleged to constitute the fraud charged so that they can defend against the charge and not just deny that they have done anything wrong.” Semegen v. Weidner, 780 F.2d 727, 731 (9th Cir. 1985). “A pleading is sufficient under Rule 9(b) if it identifies the circumstances constituting fraud so that the defendant can prepare an adequate answer from the allegations.” Neubronner v. Milken, 6 F.3d 666, 671-672 (9th Cir. 1993) (internal quotations omitted; citing Gottreich v. San Francisco Investment Corp., 552 F.2d 866, 866 (9th Cir. 1997)). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:
Rule 9(b) requires particularized allegations of the circumstances constituting fraud. The time, place and content of an alleged misrepresentation may identify the statement or the omission complained of, but these circumstances do not “constitute” fraud. The statement in question must be false to be fraudulent. Accordingly, our cases have consistently required that circumstances indicating falseness be set forth. . . . [W]e [have] observed that plaintiff must include statements regarding the time, place, and nature of the alleged fraudulent activities, and that “mere conclusory allegations of fraud are [*24] insufficient.” . . . The plaintiff must set forth what is false or misleading about a statement, and why it is false. In other words, the plaintiff must set forth an explanation as to why the statement or omission complained of was false or misleading. . . .
In certain cases, to be sure, the requisite particularity might be supplied with great simplicity.
In Re Glenfed, Inc. Securities Litigation, 42 F.3d 1541, 1547-1548 (9th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (italics in original) superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Marksman Partners, L.P. v. Chantal Pharm. Corp., 927 F.Supp. 1297 (C.D. Cal. 1996); see Cooper v. Pickett, 137 F.3d 616, 627 (9th Cir. 1997) (fraud allegations must be accompanied by “the who, what, when, where, and how” of the misconduct charged); Neubronner, 6 F.3d at 672 (“The complaint must specify facts as the times, dates, places, benefits received and other details of the alleged fraudulent activity.”)
As to multiple fraud defendants, a plaintiff “must provide each and every defendant with enough information to enable them ‘to know what misrepresentations are attributable to them and what fraudulent conduct they are charged with.'” Pegasus Holdings v. Veterinary Centers of America, Inc., 38 F.Supp.2d 1158, 1163 (C.D. Ca. 1998) [*25] (quoting In re Worlds of Wonder Sec. Litig., 694 F.Supp. 1427, 1433 (N.D. Ca. 1988)). “Rule 9(b) does not allow a complaint to merely lump multiple defendants together but ‘require[s] plaintiffs to differentiate their allegations when suing more than one defendant . . . and inform each defendant separately of the allegations surrounding his alleged participation in the fraud.'” Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 764-765 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Haskin v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 995 F.Supp. 1437, 1439 (M.D. Fla. 1998)). “In the context of a fraud suit involving multiple defendants, a plaintiff must, at a minimum, ‘identif[y] the role of [each] defendant in the alleged fraudulent scheme.” Swartz, 476 F.3d at 765 (quoting Moore v. Kayport Package Express, Inc., 885 F.2d 531, 541 (9th Cir. 1989)).
Moreover, in a fraud action against a corporation, a plaintiff must “allege the names of the persons who made the allegedly fraudulent representations, their authority to speak, to whom they spoke, what they said or wrote, and when it was said or written.” Tarmann v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. 2 Cal.App.4th 153, 157, 2 Cal.Rptr.2d 861 (1991).
The complaint is severely lacking and fails [*26] to satisfy F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) “who, what, when, where and how” requirements as to EMC, MERS and the other defendants. The complaint makes no effort to allege names of the persons who made the allegedly fraudulent representations, their authority to speak, to whom they spoke, what they said or wrote, and when it was said or written. The complaint fails to substantiate the circumstances alleging falseness attributable to EMC or MERS. The complaint lacks facts to support each fraud element. The fraud claim’s deficiencies are so severe to suggest no potential improvement from an attempt to amend.
MERS California License
The fraud claim disputes that MERS is a qualified DOT beneficiary. Ms. Swanson appears to base such notion on grounds that MERS is not qualified to conduct business in California. The complaint alleges that “MERS was not registered to do business in California.”
MERS contends that “its activities pursuant to the DOT are not considered instrastate business that will require it to be licensed in California.” MERS points to California Corporations Code section 191(c)(7) which provides that a “foreign corporation shall not be considered to be transacting instrastate business” by “[c]reating [*27] evidences of debt or mortgage, liens or security interests on real or personal property.” California Corporations Code section 191(d)(3) exempts from doing “business in the state” the “enforcement of any loans by trustee’s sale.” Moreover, a foreign corporation does not transact instrastate business by “defending any action or suit.”
MERS demonstrates that it was qualified to conduct California business to defeat a fraud claim to the effect MERS was not.
DOT Beneficiary Authority
The fraud claim disputes that MERS has authority to pursue non-judicial foreclosure. MERS notes that the DOT names MERS as a beneficiary to defeat the complaint’s attempt to allege that MERS lacks a right to foreclose.
“Financing or refinancing of real property is generally accomplished in California through a deed of trust. The borrower (trustor) executes a promissory note and deed of trust, thereby transferring an interest in the property to the lender (beneficiary) as security for repayment of the loan.” Bartold v. Glendale Federal Bank, 81 Cal.App.4th 816, 821, 97 Cal.Rptr.2d 226 (2000). A deed of trust “entitles the lender to reach some asset of the debtor if the note is not paid.” Alliance Mortgage Co. v. Rothwell, 10 Cal.4th 1226, 1235, 44 Cal.Rptr.2d 352, 900 P.2d 601 (1995). [*28] If a borrower defaults on a loan and the deed of trust contains a power of sale clause, the lender may non-judicially foreclose. See McDonald v. Smoke Creek Live Stock Co., 209 Cal. 231, 236-237, 286 P. 693 (1930).
Under California Civil Code section 2924(a)(1), a “trustee, mortgagee or beneficiary or any of their authorized agents” may conduct the foreclosure process. Under California Civil Code section 2924(b)(4), a “person authorized to record the notice of default or the notice of sale” includes “an agent for the mortgagee or beneficiary, an agent of the named trustee, any person designated in an executed substitution of trustee, or an agent of that substituted trustee.” “Upon default by the trustor, the beneficiary may declare a default and proceed with a nonjudicial foreclosure sale.” Moeller, 25 Cal.App.4th at 830, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 777.
“If the trustee’s deed recites that all statutory notice requirements and procedures required by law for the conduct of the foreclosure have been satisfied, a rebuttable presumption arises that the sale has been conducted regularly and properly.” Nguyen v. Calhoun, 105 Cal.App.4th 428, 440, 129 Cal.Rptr.2d 436 (2003). The California Court of Appeal [*29] has explained non-judicial foreclosure under California Civil Code sections 2924-2924l:
The comprehensive statutory framework established to govern nonjudicial foreclosure sales is intended to be exhaustive. . . . It includes a myriad of rules relating to notice and right to cure. It would be inconsistent with the comprehensive and exhaustive statutory scheme regulating nonjudicial foreclosures to incorporate another unrelated cure provision into statutory nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings.
Moeller v. Lien, 25 Cal.App.4th 822, 834, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 777 (1994).
MERS correctly notes that as DOT beneficiary, MERS is empowered to commence foreclosure proceedings, including causing the trustee to execute a notice of default to start foreclosure. The DOT contains a power of sale to authorize non-judicial foreclosure. MERS demonstrates that it is a qualified DOT beneficiary to defeat a fraud claim to the effect it is not.
In short, the fraud claim’s severe deficiencies warrant its dismissal without leave to amend.
Unfair Business Practices
The complaint’s seventh claim alleges EMC and MERS’ acts “constitute unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent business practices, as defined in California Business and Professions Code § 17200 et seq. [*30] (Unfair Competition Law [‘UCL’]).”
EMC and MERS contend that Ms. Swanson lacks standing to pursue a UCL claim.
California Business and Professions Code section 17204 limits standing to bring a UCL claim to specified public officials and a private person “who has suffered injury in fact and has lost money or property as a result of the unfair competition.”
Business and Professions Codesection 17203 addresses UCL relief and provides in pertinent part:
Any person who engages, has engaged, or proposes to engage in unfair competition may be enjoined in any court of competent jurisdiction. The court may make such orders or judgments . . . as may be necessary to restore to any person in interest any money or property, real or personal, which may have been acquired by means of such unfair competition. (Bold added.)
EMC and MERS correctly note the complaint’s absence of facts of Ms. Swanson’s money or property allegedly lost due to a UCL violation. The UCL claim offers an insufficient, bare allegation that “Plaintiff has suffered various damages and injuries according to proof at trial.” The complaint lacks sufficient allegations of Ms. Swanson’s standing to warrant dismissal of the UCL [*31] claim.
Unfair, Fraudulent Or Deceptive Business Practices
EMC and MERS take issue with the complaint’s attempt to allege an illegal business practice under the UCL.
The UCL prohibits “unlawful” practices “forbidden by law, be it civil or criminal, federal, state, or municipal, statutory, regulatory, or court-made.” Saunders v. Superior Court, 27 Cal. App. 4th 832, 838, 33 Cal. Rptr. 2d 438 (1999). According to the California Supreme Court, the UCL “borrows” violations of other laws and treats them as unlawful practices independently actionable under the UCL. Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.4th 377, 383, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730 (1992).
“Unfair” under the UCL “means conduct that threatens an incipient violation of an antitrust law, or violates the policy or spirit of one of those laws because its effects are comparable to or the same as a violation of the law, or otherwise significantly threatens or harms competition.” Cel-Tech Communications, Inc. v. Los Angeles Cellular Telephone Co., 20 Cal. 4th 163, 187, 83 Cal. Rptr. 2d 548, 973 P.2d 527 (1999).
The “fraudulent” prong under the UCL requires a plaintiff to “show deception to some members of the public, or harm to the public interest,” Watson Laboratories, Inc. v. Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 1099, 1121 (C.D. Ca. 2001), [*32] or to allege that “members of the public are likely to be deceived.” Medical Instrument, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41411, 2005 WL 1926673, at *5.
“The California Supreme Court has held that ‘something more than a single transaction,’ either on-going wrongful business conduct or a pattern of wrongful business conduct, must be alleged in order to state a cause of action under the Unfair Business Practices Act.” Newman v. Checkrite California, 912 F.Supp. 1354, 1375 (E.D. Ca. 1995). “The use of the phrase ‘business practice’ in section 17200 indicates that the statute is directed at ongoing wrongful conduct.” Hewlett v. Squaw Valley Ski Corp., 54 Cal.App.4th 499, 519, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 118 (1997). “[T]he ‘practice’ requirement envisions something more than a single transaction . . .; it contemplates a ‘pattern of conduct’ [citation], ‘on-going . . . conduct’ [citation], ‘a pattern of behavior’ [citation], or ‘a course of conduct.’ . . .” State of California ex rel. Van de Kamp v. Texaco, Inc., 46 Cal.3d 1147, 1169-1170, 252 Cal.Rptr. 221, 762 P.2d 385 (1988).
“A plaintiff alleging unfair business practices under these statutes [UCL] must state with reasonable particularity the facts supporting the statutory elements of the violation.” Khoury v. Maly’s of California, Inc., 14 Cal.App.4th 612, 619, 17 Cal.Rptr.2d 708 (1993).
EMC [*33] and MERS are correct that the complaint is “insufficient to establish that Defendants engaged in any ‘unfair’ business practices within the meaning of section 17200.” The complaint lacks reasonable particularity of facts to support an UCL claim. The claim’s bare mention of “unlawful, unfair and/or fraudulent business practices” provides not the slightest inference that Ms. Swanson has a viable UCL claim. The complaint points to no predicate violation of law. Similar to the fraud claim, the UCL claim lacks particularity of fraudulent circumstances, such as a misrepresentation, for a UCL claim. The complaint lacks allegations of ongoing wrongful business conduct or a pattern of such conduct. The UCL claim lacks facts to hint at a wrong subject to the UCL to warrant the claim’s dismissal.
The complaint’s tenth claim appears to fault EMC and MERS for failure “to suspend the foreclosure action to allow the Plaintiff to be considered for alternative foreclosure prevention options.” The wrongful foreclosure claim references absence of “possession of the Note,” failure “to properly record and give proper notice of the Notice of Default,” and “failure to comply with the statutory [*34] requirements [to deny] Plaintiff the opportunity to exercise her statutory rights.”
EMC and MERS criticize the wrongful foreclosure claim as premature in that the property has not been foreclosed upon. EMC and MERS point to the absence of recording a trustee’s deed upon sale.
EMC and MERS are correct that in the absence of a foreclosure sale, they cannot be liable for “wrongful foreclosure.” Moreover, “a trustee or mortgagee may be liable to the trustor or mortgagor for damages sustained where there has been an illegal, fraudulent or wilfully oppressive sale of property under a power of sale contained in a mortgage or deed of trust.” Munger v. Moore, 11 Cal.App.3d 1, 7, 89 Cal.Rptr. 323 (1970). The complaint lacks facts of EMC and/or MERS’ alleged illegal or fraudulent activity to impose tort liability based on their conduct in connection with foreclosure of the property.
The wrongful foreclosure claim gives rise to no cognizable claim. It fails with Ms. Swanson’ other claims. Ms. Swanson’s attempt to manufacture a claim based on “possession of the Note” fails.
“Under Civil Code section 2924, no party needs to physically possess the promissory note.” Sicairos v. NDEX West, LLC, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11223, 2009 WL 385855, *3 (S.D. Cal. 2009) [*35] (citing Cal. Civ. Code, § 2924(a)(1)). Rather, “[t]he foreclosure process is commenced by the recording of a notice of default and election to sell by the trustee.” Moeller, 25 Cal.App.4th at 830, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 777. An “allegation that the trustee did not have the original note or had not received it is insufficient to render the foreclosure proceeding invalid.” Neal v. Juarez, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98068, 2007 WL 2140640, *8 (S.D. Cal. 2007).
The wrongful foreclosure claim is illogical to warrant its dismissal.
Attempt At Amendment And Malice
Ms. Swanson’s claims against EMC and MERS are insufficiently pled and barred as a matter of law. Ms. Swanson is unable to cure her claims by allegation of other facts and thus is not granted an attempt to amend.
Moreover, this Court is concerned that Ms. Swanson has brought this action in absence of good faith and that Ms. Swanson exploits the court system solely for delay or to vex EMC and MERS. The test for maliciousness is a subjective one and requires the court to “determine the . . . good faith of the applicant.” Kinney v. Plymouth Rock Squab Co., 236 U.S. 43, 46, 35 S. Ct. 236, 59 L. Ed. 457 (1915); see Wright v. Newsome, 795 F.2d 964, 968, n. 1 (11th Cir. 1986); cf. Glick v. Gutbrod, 782 F.2d 754, 757 (7th Cir. 1986) [*36] (court has inherent power to dismiss case demonstrating “clear pattern of abuse of judicial process”). A lack of good faith or malice also can be inferred from a complaint containing untrue material allegations of fact or false statements made with intent to deceive the court. See Horsey v. Asher, 741 F.2d 209, 212 (8th Cir. 1984). An attempt to vex or delay provides further grounds to dismiss this action against EMC and MERS.
CONCLUSION AND ORDER
For the reasons discussed above, this Court:
1. DISMISSES with prejudice this action against EMS and MERS; and
2. DIRECTS the clerk to enter judgment against plaintiff Marla Lynn Swanson and in favor of defendants EMC Mortgage Corporation and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. in that there is no just reason to delay to enter such judgment given that Ms. Swanson’s claims against defendants EMC Mortgage Corporation and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. are clear and distinct from claims against the other defendants. See F.R.Civ.P. 54(b).
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: October 29, 2009
/s/ Lawrence J. O’Neill
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGERead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
In bankruptcy and government takeovers of financial institutions, missing collateral is a major obstacle for trustees and regulators to overcome. The missing assignment problem is an extension of not carelessness or sloppiness as many have claimed, but of overt acts of fraud.
Skilled attorneys and forensic accounting experts could expose this fraud and as such, the effects and implications are more far reaching than a borrower, simply having their debt extinguished. Debt extinguishment or dismissal of foreclosure actions could be obtained if it can be shown that the entity filing the foreclosure:
• Does not own the note;
• Made false representations to the court in pleadings;
• Does not have proper authority to foreclose;
• Does not have possession of the note; and/or
• All indispensable parties (the actual owners) are not before the
court or represented in the pending foreclosure action.
To circumvent these issues, mortgage servicers and the secondary market have created and maintained a number of practices and procedures. MERS was briefly discussed and will be the sole subject of a major fraud report in the future.
Another common trade practice is to create pre-dated, backdated, and fraudulent assignments of mortgages and endorsements before or after the fact to support the allegations being made by the foreclosing party. Foreclosing parties are most often the servicer or MERS acting on the servicer’s behalf, not the owners of the actual promissory note. Often, they assist in concealing known frauds and abuses by originators, prior servicers, and mortgage brokers from both the borrowers and investors by the utilization of concealing the true chain of ownership of a borrower’s loan.
By PAM MARTENS
The financial tsunami unleashed by Wall Street’s esurient alchemy of spinning toxic home mortgages into triple-A bonds, a process known as securitization, has set off its second round of financial tremors.
After leaving mortgage investors, bank shareholders, and pension fiduciaries awash in losses and a large chunk of Wall Street feeding at the public trough, the full threat of this vast securitization machine and its unseen masters who push the levers behind a tightly drawn curtain is playing out in courtrooms across America.
Three plain talking judges, in state courts in Massachusetts and Kansas, and a Federal Court in Ohio, have drilled down to the “straw man” aspect of securitization. The judges’ decisions have raised serious questions as to the legality of hundreds of thousands of foreclosures that have transpired as well as the legal standing of the subsequent purchasers of those homes, who are more and more frequently the Wall Street banks themselves.
Adding to the chaos, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has made rule changes that will force hundreds of billions of dollars of these securitizations back onto the Wall Street banks balance sheets, necessitating the need to raise capital just as the unseemly courtroom dramas are playing out.
The problems grew out of the steps required to structure a mortgage securitization. In order to meet the test of an arm’s length transaction, pass muster with regulators, conform to accounting rules and to qualify as an actual sale of the securities in order to be removed from the bank’s balance sheet, the mortgages get transferred a number of times before being sold to investors. Typically, the original lender (or a sponsor who has purchased the mortgages in the secondary market) will transfer the mortgages to a limited purpose entity called a depositor. The depositor will then transfer the mortgages to a trust which sells certificates to investors based on the various risk-rated tranches of the mortgage pool. (Theoretically, the lower rated tranches were to absorb the losses of defaults first with the top triple-A tiers being safe. In reality, many of the triple-A tiers have received ratings downgrades along with all the other tranches.)
Because of the expense, time and paperwork it would take to record each of the assignments of the thousands of mortgages in each securitization, Wall Street firms decided to just issue blank mortgage assignments all along the channel of transfers, skipping the actual physical recording of the mortgage at the county registry of deeds.
Astonishingly, representatives for the trusts have been foreclosing on homes across the country, evicting the families, then auctioning the homes, without a proper paper trail on the mortgage assignments or proof that they had legal standing. In some cases, the courts have allowed the representatives to foreclose and evict despite their admission that the original mortgage note is lost. (This raises the question as to whether these mortgage notes are really lost or might have been fraudulently used in multiple securitizations, a concern raised by some Wall Street veterans.)
But, at last, some astute judges have done more than take a cursory look and render a shrug. In a decision handed down on October 14, 2009, Judge Keith Long of the Massachusetts Land Court wrote:
“The blank mortgage assignments they possessed transferred nothing…in Massachusetts, a mortgage is a conveyance of land. Nothing is conveyed unless and until it is validly conveyed. The various agreements between the securitization entities stating that each had a right to an assignment of the mortgage are not themselves an assignment and they are certainly not in recordable form…The issues in this case are not merely problems with paperwork or a matter of dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Instead, they lie at the heart of the protections given to homeowners and borrowers by the Massachusetts legislature. To accept the plaintiffs’ arguments is to allow them to take someone’s home without any demonstrable right to do so, based upon the assumption that they ultimately will be able to show that they have that right and the further assumption that potential bidders will be undeterred by the lack of a demonstrable legal foundation for the sale and will nonetheless bid full value in the expectation that that foundation will ultimately be produced, even if it takes a year or more. The law recognizes the troubling nature of these assumptions, the harm caused if those assumptions prove erroneous, and commands otherwise.” [Italic emphasis in original.] (U.S. Bank National Association v. Ibanez/Wells Fargo v. Larace)
A month and a half before, on August 28, 2009, Judge Eric S. Rosen of the Kansas Supreme Court took an intensive look at a “straw man” some Wall Street firms had set up to handle the dirty work of foreclosure and serve as the “nominee” as the mortgages flipped between the various entities. Called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.) it’s a bankruptcy-remote subsidiary of MERSCORP, which in turn is owned by units of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, the Mortgage Bankers Association and assorted mortgage and title companies. According to the MERSCORP web site, these “shareholders played a critical role in the development of MERS. Through their capital support, MERS was able to fund expenses related to development and initial start-up.”
In recent years, MERS has become less of an electronic registration system and more of a serial defendant in courts across the land. In a May 2009 document titled “The Building Blocks of MERS,” the company concedes that “Recently there has been a wave of lawsuits filed by homeowners facing foreclosure which challenge MERS standing…” and then proceeds over the next 30 pages to describe the lawsuits state by state, putting a decidedly optimistic spin on the situation.
MERS doesn’t have a big roster of employees or lawyers running around the country foreclosing and defending itself in lawsuits. It simply deputizes employees of the banks and mortgage companies that use it as a nominee. It calls these deputies a “certifying officer.” Here’s how they explain this on their web site: “A certifying officer is an officer of the Member [mortgage company or bank] who is appointed a MERS officer by the Corporate Secretary of MERS by the issuance of a MERS Corporate Resolution. The Resolution authorizes the certifying officer to execute documents as a MERS officer.”
Kansas Supreme Court Judge Rosen wasn’t buying MERS’ story. In fact, Wall Street was probably not too happy to land before Judge Rosen. In January 2002, Judge Rosen had received the Martin Luther King “Living the Dream” Humanitarian Award; he previously served as Associate General Counsel for the Kansas Securities Commissioner, and as Assistant District Attorney in Shawnee County, Kansas. Judge Rosen wrote:
“The relationship that MERS has to Sovereign [Bank] is more akin to that of a straw man than to a party possessing all the rights given a buyer… What meaning is this court to attach to MERS’s designation as nominee for Millennia [Mortgage Corp.]? The parties appear to have defined the word in much the same way that the blind men of Indian legend described an elephant — their description depended on which part they were touching at any given time. Counsel for Sovereign stated to the trial court that MERS holds the mortgage ‘in street name, if you will, and our client the bank and other banks transfer these mortgages and rely on MERS to provide them with notice of foreclosures and what not.’ ” (Landmark National Bank v. Boyd A. Kesler)
Lawyers for homeowners see a darker agenda to MERS. Timothy McCandless, a California lawyer, wrote on his blog as follows:
“…all across the country, MERS now brings foreclosure proceedings in its own name — even though it is not the financial party in interest. This is problematic because MERS is not prepared for or equipped to provide responses to consumers’ discovery requests with respect to predatory lending claims and defenses. In effect, the securitization conduit attempts to use a faceless and seemingly innocent proxy with no knowledge of predatory origination or servicing behavior to do the dirty work of seizing the consumer’s home. While up against the wall of foreclosure, consumers that try to assert predatory lending defenses are often forced to join the party — usually an investment trust — that actually will benefit from the foreclosure. As a simple matter of logistics this can be difficult, since the investment trust is even more faceless and seemingly innocent than MERS itself. The investment trust has no customer service personnel and has probably not even retained counsel. Inquiries to the trustee — if it can be identified — are typically referred to the servicer, who will then direct counsel back to MERS. This pattern of non-response gives the securitization conduit significant leverage in forcing consumers out of their homes. The prospect of waging a protracted discovery battle with all of these well funded parties in hopes of uncovering evidence of predatory lending can be too daunting even for those victims who know such evidence exists. So imposing is this opaque corporate wall, that in a ‘vast’ number of foreclosures, MERS actually succeeds in foreclosing without producing the original note — the legal sine qua non of foreclosure — much less documentation that could support predatory lending defenses.”
One of the first judges to hand Wall Street a serious slap down was Christopher A. Boyko of U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio. In an opinion dated October 31, 2007, Judge Boyko dismissed 14 foreclosures that had been brought on behalf of investors in securitizations. Judge Boyko delivered the following harsh rebuke in a footnote:
“Plaintiff’s ‘Judge, you just don’t understand how things work,’ argument reveals a condescending mindset and quasi-monopolistic system where financial institutions have traditionally controlled, and still control, the foreclosure process…There is no doubt every decision made by a financial institution in the foreclosure is driven by money. And the legal work which flows from winning the financial institution’s favor is highly lucrative. There is nothing improper or wrong with financial institutions or law firms making a profit – to the contrary, they should be rewarded for sound business and legal practices. However, unchallenged by underfinanced opponents, the institutions worry less about jurisdictional requirements and more about maximizing returns. Unlike the focus of financial institutions, the federal courts must act as gatekeepers…” (In Re Foreclosure Cases)
While the illegal foreclosure filings, investor lawsuits over securitization improprieties, and predatory lending challenges play out in courts across the country, a few sentences buried deep in Citigroup’s 10Q filing for the quarter ended June 30, 2009 signals that we’ve seen merely a few warts on the head of the securitization monster thus far and the massive torso remains well hidden in murky water.
Citigroup tells us that the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has issued a new rule, SFAS No. 166, and this is going to have a significant impact on Citigroup’s Consolidated Financial Statements “as the Company will lose sales treatment for certain assets previously sold to QSPEs [Qualifying Special Purpose Entities], as well as for certain future sales, and for certain transfers of portions of assets that do not meet the definition of participating interests. Just when might we expect this new land mine to go off? “SFAS 166 is effective for fiscal years that begin after November 15, 2009.” There’s more bad news. The FASB has also issued SFAS 167 and, long story short, more of those off balance sheet assets are going to move back onto Citi’s books.
Bottom line says Citi:
“… the cumulative effect of adopting these new accounting standards as of January 1, 2010, based on financial information as of June 30, 2009, would result in an estimated aggregate after-tax charge to Retained earnings of approximately $8.3 billion, reflecting the net effect of an overall pretax charge to Retained earnings (primarily relating to the establishment of loan loss reserves and the reversal of residual interests held) of approximately $13.3 billion and the recognition of related deferred tax assets amounting to approximately $5.0 billion….” [Emphasis in original.]
I’m trying to imagine how the American taxpayer is going to be asked to put more money into Citigroup as it continues to bleed into infinity.
Citigroup is far from alone in financial hits that will be coming from the Qualifying Special Purpose Entities. Regulators are receiving letters from Citigroup and other Wall Street firms pressing hard to rethink when this change will take effect.
Putting aside for the moment the massive predatory lending frauds bundled into mortgage securitizations, inadequate debate has occurred on whether securitization of home mortgages (other than those of government sponsored enterprises) should be resuscitated or allowed to die a welcome death. If we understand the true function of Wall Street, to efficiently allocate capital, the answer must be a resounding no to this racket.
Trillions of dollars of bundled home mortgage loans and derivative side bets tied to those loans were being manufactured by Wall Street without any one asking the basic question: why is all this capital being invested in a dormant structure? Houses don’t think and innovate. Houses don’t spawn new technologies, patents, new industries. Houses don’t create the jobs of tomorrow.
Also, by acting as wholesale lenders to the unscrupulous mortgage firms (some in house at Wall Street firms), Wall Street was not responding to legitimate consumer demand, it was creating an artificial demand simply to create mortgage product to feed its securitization machine and generate big fees for itself. Now we see the aftermath of that inefficient allocation of capital: a massive glut of condos and homes pulling down asset prices in neighborhoods as well as in those ill-conceived securitizations whose triple-A ratings have been downgraded to junk.
There’s no doubt that one of the contributing factors to the depression of the 30s and the intractable unemployment today stem from a massive misallocation of capital to both bad ideas and fraud. Today’s Wall Street, it turns out, is just another straw man for a rigged wealth transfer system.
Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years; she has no security position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article other than that which the U.S. Treasury has thrust upon her and fellow Americans involuntarily through TARP. She writes on public interest issues from New Hampshire. She can be reached at email@example.comRead 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 landmark ruling in a recent Kansas Supreme Court case may have given millions of distressed homeowners the legal wedge they need to avoid foreclosure. In Landmark National Bank v. Kesler, 2009 Kan. LEXIS 834, the Kansas Supreme Court held that a nominee company called MERS has no right or standing to bring an action for foreclosure. MERS is an acronym for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, a private company that registers mortgages electronically and tracks changes in ownership. The significance of the holding is that if MERS has no standing to foreclose, then nobody has standing to foreclose — on 60 million mortgages. That is the number of American mortgages currently reported to be held by MERS. Over half of all new U.S. residential mortgage loans are registered with MERS and recorded in its name. Holdings of the Kansas Supreme Court are not binding on the rest of the country, but they are dicta of which other courts take note; and the reasoning behind the decision is sound.
Eliminating the “Straw Man” Shielding Lenders and Investors from Liability
The development of “electronic” mortgages managed by MERS went hand in hand with the “securitization” of mortgage loans — chopping them into pieces and selling them off to investors. In the heyday of mortgage securitizations, before investors got wise to their risks, lenders would slice up loans, bundle them into “financial products” called “collateralized debt obligations” (CDOs), ostensibly insure them against default by wrapping them in derivatives called “credit default swaps,” and sell them to pension funds, municipal funds, foreign investment funds, and so forth. There were many secured parties, and the pieces kept changing hands; but MERS supposedly kept track of all these changes electronically. MERS would register and record mortgage loans in its name, and it would bring foreclosure actions in its name. MERS not only facilitated the rapid turnover of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, but it has served as a sort of “corporate shield” that protects investors from claims by borrowers concerning predatory lending practices. California attorney Timothy McCandless describes the problem like this:Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
WASHINGTON — Billions of dollars that the government is spending to help financially pressed homeowners avert foreclosure are passing through — and enriching — companies accused of preying on the people they are supposed to help, an Associated Press investigation has found.The companies, known as mortgage servicers, collect monthly payments from homeowners and funnel the money to the banks or investors who hold the loans. As the link between borrowers and lenders, they’re in the best position to rework the terms of loans under the government’s$50 billion mortgage-modification program.The servicers are paid by the government if the changes keep home-owners from falling behind on payments for at least three months.But the industry has a checkered history. At least 30 servicers have been accused in lawsuits of harassing borrowers, imposing illegal fees and charging for unnecessary insurance policies. More recently, the companies also have been criticized for not helping homeowners quickly enough.The biggest players in the servicing industry — Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. — all face litigation.But the industry’s smaller players, which specialize in riskier subprime loans and loans already in default, face harsher accusations that they systematically abused borrowers.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
They are telling you to run away from loan modification companies who charge a fee. They are paying the politicians to introduce laws making it difficult for you to hire an attorney when negotiating a loan workout. They want you to contact them directly and without the assistance of an advocate. They are scaring you to think that anyone who charges a fee for helping you negotiate a loan modification must be a crook. They claim all mortgage professionals, lawyers and forensic loan examiners who charge a fee are scam artists. They say it should all be free because theoretically you can do all of it yourself.
Just like you can file your own taxes and represent yourself in court, you can also spend the time and effort to learn the ins and outs and nuances of negotiating a favorable loan modification with the same predatory bank that put you in the mess you are in. You can stay up all night and study law so you can go up against their high priced lawyers. You can take time off work and stay on the phone four hours a day trying to get through to their loss mitigation departments. You can re-send the same documents over and over again because mysteriously they keep losing your entire file more than once. That is right you can certainly do this all yourself.
And the reason why you should go to the negotiating table all alone and without any backup is because they want to protect you from the big bad lawyers, mortgage auditors and loan modification companies who have the nerve to charge a fee for helping you! Imagine that. People actually want to make a living while providing a valuable service. What a crime.
Is anyone with an IQ above 10 buying this nonsense? If you had a choice would you go to an IRS audit without a skilled CPA? Would you defend yourself in a criminal trial without the best lawyer money could buy? So why should negotiating with a bank be any different than negotiating with the IRS? Because bankers are more ethical than IRS agents? That must be it.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
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