No bar to attorneys’ fees under TILA

Posted on September 15, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Legislation, Mortgage Audit, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , |

A car buyer whose damages under the Truth in Lending Act were slashed by the Supreme Court is nevertheless entitled to attorneys’ fees for that portion of his otherwise “successful action,” the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held.

The decision affirms a fee award of more than $80,000 to Bradley Nigh, who claimed Koons Buick Pontiac GM Inc. pressured him into signing multiple loan documents and purchasing an “alarm silencer” he hadn’t ordered.A federal jury in Alexandria, Va., awarded Nigh about $25,000, or twice the financing charges he had paid, in May 2001.

Koons appealed to the 4th Circuit, which affirmed, and then to the Supreme Court, which likewise affirmed on liability but capped the TILA damages at $1,000.Koons appealed again after the U.S. District Court awarded Nigh fees on remand. Last week, the 4th Circuit affirmed. Despite the cap, the 4th Circuit said, Nigh brought a “successful action” under TILA, receiving the maximum amount allowed by the federal law.

Congress, which set the $1,000 cap, likewise included the fee-shifting provisions because it believes it is in the best interest of society for big companies to act honestly, Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the appeals court; but unless the injured consumer has hope of having his costs covered by the guilty defendant, he will never bring the case.

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Melfi v. WMC Mortg. Corp

Posted on June 28, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Mortgage Audit, Refinance, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Melfi v. WMC Mortg. Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1454 (D.R.I., Jan. 9, 2009)



COUNSEL: Christopher M. Lefebvre with whom Claude F. Lefebvre and Christopher M. Lefebvre, P.C. were on brief for appellant.

Jeffrey S. Patterson with whom David E. Fialkow and Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP were on brief for appellees, Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, N.A. and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

JUDGES: Before Boudin, Hansen, * and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

Of the Eighth Circuit, sitting by designation.



BOUDIN, Circuit Judge. In April 2006, Joseph Melfi refinanced his home mortgage with WMC Mortgage Corporation (“WMC”). At the closing, Melfi received from WMC a notice of his right to rescind the transaction. The notice is required for such a transaction by the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a) (2006). Assuming that the notice complies with TILA, a borrower is given three “business days” to rescind the transaction; otherwise, the period is much longer. Id. The question in this case is whether the notice given Melfi adequately complied.

The three-day period aims “to give the consumer the opportunity to reconsider any transaction which would  [*2]  have the serious consequence of encumbering the title to his [or her] home.” S. Rep. No. 96-368, at 28 (1979), reprinted in 1980 U.S.C.C.A.N. 236, 264. Under TILA, the requirements for the notice are established by the Federal Reserve Board (“the Board”) in its Regulation Z. 12 C.F.R. § 226.23 (2007). Failure to provide proper notice extends to three years the borrower’s deadline to rescind. Id. § 226.23 (a)(3).

About 20 months after the closing, Melfi attempted to rescind the transaction. The incentives for a borrower to do so may be substantial where a new loan is available, especially if rates have fallen or substantial interest has been paid during the period of the original loan. “When a consumer rescinds a transaction . . . the consumer shall not be liable for any amount, including any finance charge” and “the creditor shall return any money or property that has been given to anyone in connection with the transaction . . . .” 12 C.F.R. 226.23(d)(1), (2).

Melfi argued that the notice of his right to cancel was deficient because it left blank the spaces for the date of the transaction (although the date was stamped on the top right corner of the notice) and the actual deadline to  [*3]  rescind. WMC and co-defendants Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo (the loan’s trustee and servicer, respectively) refused to allow the rescission, and Melfi then brought this action in the federal district court in Rhode Island.

The district court, following our decision in Palmer v. Champion Mortgage, 465 F.3d 24 (1st Cir. 2006), asked whether a borrower of average intelligence would be confused by the Notice. Melfi v. WMC Mortgage Corp., No. 08-024ML, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1454, 2009 WL 64338, at *1 (D.R.I. Jan. 9, 2009). The court ruled that even if the omissions in the notice were violations, they were at most technical violations that did not give rise to an extended rescission period because the notice was clear and conspicuous despite the omissions, and it dismissed Melfi’s complaint. 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1454, [WL] at *3.

Melfi now appeals. Our review is de novo, accepting all of the well-pleaded facts in the complaint as true and drawing reasonable inferences in favor of Melfi. Andrew Robinson Int’l, Inc. v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 547 F.3d 48, 51 (1st Cir. 2008). We may consider materials incorporated in the complaint (here, the notice Melfi received) and also facts subject to judicial notice. In re Colonial Mortgage Bankers Corp., 324 F.3d 12, 14 (1st Cir. 2003).

TILA  [*4]  provides that “[t]he creditor shall clearly and conspicuously disclose, in accordance with regulations of the Board, to any obligor [here, Melfi] in a transaction subject to this section the rights of the obligor under this section.” 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a). Regulation Z says what the notice of the right to cancel must clearly and conspicuously disclose; pertinently, the regulation requires that the notice include “[t]he date the rescission period expires.” 12 C.F.R. § 226.23(b)(1)(v). The Board has created a model form; a creditor must provide either the model form or a “substantially similar notice.” 12 C.F.R. § 226.23(b)(2). The use of the model form insulates the creditor from most insufficient disclosure claims. 15 U.S.C. § 1604(b). WMC gave Melfi the model form, but the spaces left for the date of the transaction and the date of the rescission deadline were not filled in. The form Melfi received had the date of the transaction stamped at its top (but it was not so designated) and then read in part:

You are entering into a transaction that will result in a mortgage/lien/security interest on your home. You have a legal right under federal law to cancel this transaction, without cost,  [*5]  within THREE BUSINESS DAYS from whichever of the following events occurs LAST:

(1) The date of the transaction, which is ; or

(2) The date you receive your Truth in Lending disclosures; or

(3) The date you received this notice of your right to cancel.

. . . .


If you decide to cancel this transaction, you may do so by notifying us in writing. . . .

You may use any written statement that is signed and dated by you and states your intention to cancel and/or you may use this notice by dating and signing below. Keep one copy of this notice because it contains important information about your rights.

If you cancel by mail or telegram, you must send the notice no later than MIDNIGHT of (or MIDNIGHT of the THIRD BUSINESS DAY following the latest of the three events listed above). If you send or deliver your written notice to cancel some other way, it must be delivered to the above address no later than that time.

. . . .

Melfi’s argument is straightforward. Regulation Z requires in substance the deadline for rescission be provided; one of the three measuring dates–the date of the transaction–was left blank (the other two are described but have no blanks); and therefore the notice  [*6]  was deficient and Melfi has three years to rescind. A number of district court cases, along with two circuit court opinions, support Melfi’s position, n1 although one of the circuit cases also involved more serious substantive flaws.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -1

E.g., Semar v. Platte Valley Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 791 F.2d 699, 702-03 (9th Cir. 1986); Williamson v. Lafferty, 698 F.2d 767, 768-69 (5th Cir. 1983); Johnson v. Chase Manhattan Bank, USA N.A., No. 07-526, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50569, 2007 WL 2033833, at *3 (E.D. Pa. July 11, 2007); Reynolds v. D & N Bank, 792 F. Supp. 1035, 1038 (E.D. Mich. 1992).
– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The circuit cases are now elderly and may be in tension with later TILA amendments, but the statements that “technical” violations of TILA are fatal has been echoed in other cases. This circuit took a notably different approach in Palmer to determining whether arguable flaws compromised effective disclosure process. See also Santos-Rodriguez v. Doral Mortgage Corp., 485 F.3d 12, 17 (1st Cir. 2007). Following Palmer, district court decisions in this circuit concluded that failing to fill in a blank did not automatically trigger a right to rescind. n2

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – Footnotes – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -2

Bonney v. Wash. Mut. Bank, 596 F. Supp. 2d 173 (D. Mass. 2009); Megitt v. Indymac Bank, F.S.B., 547 F. Supp. 2d 56 (D. Mass. 2008);  [*7]  Carye v. Long Beach Mortgage Co., 470 F. Supp. 2d 3 (D. Mass. 2007).
– – – – – – – – – – – – End Footnotes- – – – – – – – – – – – – –

In Palmer, the plaintiff received a notice of her right to cancel that followed the Federal Reserve’s model form but the form was not received until after the rescission deadline listed on the notice. 465 F.3d at 27. Nonetheless, Palmer held that the notice “was crystal clear” because it included (as in the Federal Reserve’s model form) the alternative deadline (not given as a date but solely in descriptive form) of three business days following the date the notice was received, so the plaintiff still knew that she had three days to act. Id. at 29.

Palmer did not involve the blank date problem. Palmer, 465 F.3d at 29. But the principle on which Palmer rests is broader than the precise facts: technical deficiencies do not matter if the borrower receives a notice that effectively gives him notice as to the final date for rescission and has the three full days to act. Our test is whether any reasonable person, in reading the form provided in this case, would so understand it. Here, the omitted dates made no difference.

The date that Melfi closed on the loan can hardly have been unknown to him and was in fact hand stamped  [*8]  or typed on the form given to him. From that date, it is easy enough to count three days; completing the blank avoids only the risk created by the fact that Saturday counts as a business day under Board regulations, 12 C.F.R. § 226.2(a)(6), and the borrower might think otherwise. Lafferty, 698 F.2d at 769 n.3 (“[T]he precise purpose of requiring the creditor to fill in the date [of the rescission deadline] is to prevent the customer from having to calculate three business days”).

Nor does completing the blank necessarily tell the borrower how long he has to rescind. Where after the closing the borrower is mailed either the notice or certain other required information, the three days runs not from the transaction date but from the last date when the borrower receives the notice and other required documents. Melfi himself says he was given the form on the date of the closing and does not claim that there was any pertinent delay in giving him the other required disclosures. So the blanks in no way misled Melfi in this case.

So the argument for allowing Melfi to extend his deadline from three days to three years depends on this premise: that any flaw or deviation should be penalized automatically  [*9]  in order to deter such errors in the future. If Congress had made such a determination as a matter of policy, a court would respect that determination; possibly, this would also be so if the Board had made the same determination. See Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837, 844, 104 S. Ct. 2778, 81 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1984). Melfi argues at length that we owe such deference to the Board.

The answer is that there is no evidence in TILA or any Board regulation that either Congress or the Board intended to render the form a nullity because of an uncompleted blank in the form or similar flaw where, as here, it could not possibly have caused Melfi to think that he had months in order to rescind. The central purpose of the disclosure–the short notice period for rescission at will–was plain despite the blanks. Melfi’s argument assumes, rather than establishes, that a penalty was intended.

Some cases finding a blank notice form to be grounds for rescission even though harmless were decided under an earlier version of TILA. In 1995, Congress added a new subsection to TILA, titled “Limitation on Rescission Liability.” It provided that a borrower could not rescind “solely from the form of written notice  [*10]  used by the creditor . . . if the creditor provided the [borrower] the appropriate form of written notice published and adopted by the Board . . . .” Truth in Lending Act Amendments of 1995, Pub L. No. 104-29, § 5, 109 Stat. 271, 274 (1995) (codified at 15 U.S.C. § 1635(h)).

Read literally, this safe harbor may not be available to WMC because, while it used the Board’s form of notice, it did not properly fill in the blanks. But the TILA amendments were aimed in general to guard against widespread rescissions for minor violations. McKenna v. First Horizon Loan Corp., 475 F.3d 418, 424 (1st Cir. 2007). To this extent, Congress has now leaned against a penalty approach and, perhaps, weakened the present force of the older case law favoring extension of the rescission deadline.

In any event, in the absence of some direction from Congress or the Board to impose a penalty, we see no policy basis for such a result. Where, as here, the Board’s form was used and a reasonable borrower cannot have been misled, allowing a windfall and imposing a penalty serves no purpose and, further, is at odds with the general approach already taken by this court in Palmer.


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Homeowners should be suing lenders!

Posted on June 26, 2009. Filed under: Foreclosure Defense, Fraud, Loan Modification, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Homeowners, welcome to Paradise Lost, the fate of millions of financially strapped boomers. A simultaneous loss of life savings, job income and foreclosure has many of them wondering, “Whose America is this, anyway? The bankers got bonuses to defraud us, and our industries and economy are in the pits. We worked for decades to live the American dream, and now we are out of work, saddled with debt and thrown out on the streets! What retirement? When I’m too old to enjoy it? More like I’m living a nightmare.”

You might be quite inclined to agree. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel, even for those that have already been foreclosed and evicted from their precious homes.

Although lately, while it feels like we are in the same boat as a third world country, we still have a little document on our side called The United States Constitution, which states, among other things that, “Citizens of the United States shall not be deprived of life, liberty or prosperity without due process of law.”

Now, there’s a mouthful. So don’t despair! And don’t get left out in the cold! Baby, it’s warm inside!

Homeowners, listen up! It is time to begin a reversal of your misfortune by gearing up and waging your mortgage war. Even if you have wearily given up your keys and angrily moved out, there are legal remedies that can make you whole. Your lender has broken so many laws that you may end up with more money than you had in cash and equity in your home!

And, no, this is not a pipe dream. But it is the repossession of your American dream. And the statute of limitation is greater than three years if your lender committed fraud.

How to tell if you are a victim of illegal foreclosure and unlawful eviction? Read on. Hint: you are in good company. Your platoon is millions strong.

If you have an adjustable rate mortgage and your loan has been securitized, there is a high probability that the securitization was done illegally. Further, if you have been defrauded by a predatory lender or broker, it’s time to fight back and go to court.

I recently asked Ohio attorney Dan McCookey, an expert in foreclosure defense and offense, what traumatized and victimized homeowners can do even after they have lost their homes, and find themselves figuratively and literally, out on the street. He provided some strategic counsel and laid out two hopeful options for now homeless homeowners:

Option #1: the “void judgment defense.” Your attorney files a motion to set aside the judgment, as the court never had proper jurisdiction to begin with.

What does this mean to you? If your loan was securitized, your lender sold your note and quite profitably, retained the mortgage servicing rights. When your note was sold, your lender gave up its legal ownership of your note and was paid in full for your loan, and then some. Therefore, your lender had no legal standing to foreclose! And no matter how many times your servicer was acquired, it has no right to foreclose!

In fact, your lender is not considered by the Court, a “true party of interest” or a “holder in due course.” Since the Court’s jurisdiction was never evoked, any and all proceedings found by the Court are void. That right is given to the current holder of the note. If only your lender could remotely identify whom that is.

Your lender has no idea where your original note currently is, as it traveled the globe, during its metamorphosis from a secured interest in your property to a mere shadow of its former self. The poor thing was sliced and diced multiple times by the depositor and a series of trustees, each earning profits and fees along the way.


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TILA – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Posted on February 19, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Loan Modification, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Fraud, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending, RESPA, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , |

Pamela D. Simmons

Ten years ago, I represented the borrower in a case that stemmed from a title company’s failure to secure a loan on all of the borrower’s land. (The title company had listed only one of several parcels of land and the lender was unable to non-judicially foreclose on the property as a result.) The complaint had already been filed, and listed among the many causes of action was one entitled “Violation of Reg Z.” One day an attorney for one of the defendants asked me: “What is this Reg Z? I’ve never even heard of it.” So began my love affair with the Federal Truth in Lending Act.

Most attorneys know the Federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA) as the group of laws requiring certain disclosures about the cost of borrowing money. You have seen the disclosures every time you have received a new credit card. Many readers may also be aware that consumers who are borrowing against their homes have a three-day right to cancel the transaction—another feature of TILA. However, few real estate attorneys know that TILA’s right to cancel can last for as long as three years after the loan is made. Moreover, under certain circumstances, TILA can govern individual lenders making a first loan secured by residential property. And even fewer practitioners know that the cost of rescission to the lender is all of the interest, fees, costs, and any other charges not directly for the benefit of the borrower.

I have personally seen the loss to the lender exceed $280,000. In this article I will discuss the history of TILA, describe rescission (its most important provision), and offer some tips on avoiding its pitfalls and attorney malpractice.

TILA – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

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Homeowners’ rallying cry: Produce the note

Posted on February 19, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Fraud, Mortgage Law, right to rescind | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla. – Kathy Lovelace lost her job and was about to lose her house, too. But then she made a seemingly simple request of the bank: Show me the original mortgage paperwork. And just like that, the foreclosure proceedings came to a standstill.

Lovelace and other homeowners around the country are managing to stave off foreclosure by employing a strategy that goes to the heart of the whole nationwide mess.

During the real estate frenzy of the past decade, mortgages were sold and resold, bundled into securities and peddled to investors. In many cases, the original note signed by the homeowner was lost, stored away in a distant warehouse or destroyed.

Persuading a judge to compel production of hard-to-find or nonexistent documents can, at the very least, delay foreclosure, buying the homeowner some time and turning up the pressure on the lender to renegotiate the mortgage.

“I’m going to hang on for dear life until they can prove to me it belongs to them,” said Lovelace, a 50-year-old divorced mother who owns a $200,000 home in Zephyrhills, near Tampa. “I’ll try everything I can because it’s all I have left.”

In interviews with The Associated Press, lawyers, homeowners and advocates outlined the produce-the-note strategy. Exactly how many homeowners have employed it is unknown. Nor is it clear how successful it has been; some judges are more sympathetic than others.

More than 2.3 million homeowners faced foreclosure proceedings last year and millions more are in danger of losing their homes. On Wednesday, President Obama will unveil a plan to spend at least $50 billion to help homeowners fend off foreclosure.

via Homeowners’ rallying cry: Produce the note|NewsChannel 8.

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Gilroy v. Ameriquest Mortgage Co. (Predatory Lending)

Posted on January 19, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Gilroy v. Ameriquest Mortgage Co., No. 07-cv-074-JD (D.N.H. 07/23/2007)

[2] Civil No. 07-cv-074-JD
[3] 2007.DNH.0000541
[4] July 23, 2007
[6] The opinion of the court was delivered by: James R. Muirhead United States Magistrate Judge
[8] Pro se plaintiff Rosemary A. Gilroy brings this diversity action against Ameriquest Mortgage Company (“Ameriquest”) and AMC Mortgage Services, Inc. (“AMC”), alleging that defendants engaged in predatory lending activities in violation of New Hampshire state law (document no. 1). The complaint is before me for preliminary review to determine, among other things, whether plaintiff has properly invoked the subject matter jurisdiction of this court. See United States District Court of the District of New Hampshire Local Rules (“LR”) 4.3(d)(1)(B)(I). For the reasons stated below, I order the complaint served on the defendants.
[9] Standard of Review
[10] In reviewing a pro se complaint, this court must construe the pleading liberally. See Ayala Serrano v. Gonzalez, 909 F.2d 8, 15 (1st Cir. 1990)(following Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) and construing pro se pleadings liberally in favor of that party). At this preliminary stage of review, all factual assertions made by plaintiff and inferences reasonably drawn therefrom must be accepted as true. See Aulson v. Blanchard, 83 F.3d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1996)(explaining that all well-pleaded factual averments, not bald assertions, must be accepted as true). This review ensures that pro se pleadings are given fair and meaningful consideration. See Eveland v. Director of CIA, 843 F.2d 46, 49 (1st Cir. 1988). I apply this standard in reviewing plaintiff’s complaint.
[11] Background
[12] Plaintiff resides at 107 Ponemah Road, Unit 1, Amherst, New Hampshire. Ameriquest allegedly is a mortgage company located in the State of Delaware with its principal place of business in Orange, California, and AMC is a debt servicing corporation located in the State of California with its principal place of business in Orange, California. This action arises out of defendants’ alleged predatory lending practices in connection with plaintiff’s purchase and subsequent refinance of five commercial condominiums located at 107 Ponemah Road, Amherst, New Hampshire (“Units 1-5”). Plaintiff purchased the premises on March 1, 2000 with the intent of receiving rental income to support a $600,000 mortgage. Subsequently, she converted Unit 1 from a commercial condominium to a residential condominium, where she has resided since May 1, 2000. Unable to lease the remaining condominiums, plaintiff decided to convert them to residential condominiums. She received zoning approval for the site plan review in March 2004.
[13] In order to complete the conversion, plaintiff refinanced the premises with Ameriquest. In July 2004, Ameriquest refinanced Units 1, 2 and 4 in the amount of $790,000, thereby increasing her mortgage in the amount of approximately $190,000.*fn2
[14] Plaintiff repeatedly advised Ameriquest that she did not want to encumber her residence, Unit 1, and that she was unwilling and unable to repay the increased mortgage amount. As a condition of the refinance, however, Ameriquest allegedly insisted on including Unit 1 in the refinance and increasing plaintiff’s mortgage amount. By including Unit 1, Ameriquest allegedly charged her $15,000 in additional points and closing costs. Further, by refinancing three condominiums instead of two, Ameriquest allegedly forced plaintiff to incur an additional debt of approximately $65,000. At all relevant times, Ameriquest allegedly knew that plaintiff’s sole source of income was $697.00 per month (or $9,000 per year) in social security benefits and that her low income was insufficient to support the debt.
[15] According to plaintiff, Ameriquest provided mortgages to her with the sole intention of foreclosing on her property and acquiring $500,000 that she had invested in the property prior to refinancing with Ameriquest. From July 2004 through March 2007, plaintiff allegedly paid in interest to Ameriquest, or owed in arrears, the sum of $225,000. She alleges that as a result of Ameriquest’s predatory lending practices, she will lose $500,000 that she had invested in her property. Plaintiff further alleges that Ameriquest increased her mortgage payments to an amount greater than that required to successfully complete the conversion of her property, thereby unnecessarily increasing her mortgage and interest payments. According to plaintiff, Ameriquest “repeated the same illegal actions in March 2005,” when it again refinanced Unit 2 in the amount of $375,000, thereby increasing her total indebtedness to $937,000.
[16] When plaintiff contacted another mortgage company in 2005 to refinance Units 3 and 5, the lender refused on the basis that the units were encumbered and plaintiff was unable to provide clear title. Plaintiff then refinanced Units 3 and 5 with Ameriquest in October 2005, at which point Ameriquest allegedly increased her original mortgage of $600,000 to $1,114,000, an increase of more than $500,000. Because of Ameriquest’s practices in excessively financing plaintiff’s property, she allegedly was unable to obtain additional financing in 2006 and “lost equity and cash in the approximate amount of $200,000 in carrying costs.” As a result, plaintiff was unable to complete the improvements required for an occupancy certificate and therefore unable to sell the condominiums. Because of Ameriquest’s alleged predatory lending practices, plaintiff is in danger of losing her equity in her property, amounting to approximately $1,200,000.
[17] Plaintiff now brings the instant complaint, alleging that defendants’ actions violate New Hampshire state law. She alleges the following theories of recovery: (1) fraud; (2) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (3) unfair debt collection practices; and (4) unfair and deceptive lending practices.*fn3 She seeks, among other things, $937,000 in damages, plus treble damages and attorneys’ fees and costs. She also seeks reimbursement or wavier of all arrears paid and/or owed to the defendants.
[18] Discussion
[19] I. Diversity Jurisdiction
[20] A party seeking relief in district court must at least plead facts which bring the suit within the court’s jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(1)(requiring a plaintiff to set forth in the complaint “a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court’s jurisdiction depends”). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff has properly invoked diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
[21] To establish diversity jurisdiction, a complaint must allege complete diversity of citizenship between plaintiff and defendants as well as an amount in controversy in excess of $75,000, exclusive of interests and costs. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See also Straughn v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 170 F. Supp. 2d 133, 146 (D.N.H. 2000)(citations omitted). “Diversity jurisdiction exists only when there is complete diversity, that is, when no plaintiff is a citizen of the same state as any defendant.” Gabriel v. Preble, 396 F.3d 10, 13 (1st Cir. 2005). “For diversity purposes, a corporation is a citizen of both the state where it is incorporated and the ‘State where it has its principal place of business.'” Diaz-Rodriguez v. Pep Boys Corp., 410 F.3d 56, 58 (1st Cir. 2005)(citing 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)).
[22] Here, plaintiff alleges that she is a resident of New Hampshire. She further alleges that Ameriquest is a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Orange, California, and AMC is a California corporation with its principal place of business in Orange, California. Accordingly, she has alleged diversity of citizenship between the parties. Plaintiff also alleges an amount in controversy in excess of $937,000, therefore, the amount in controversy exceeds the minimum required for diversity jurisdiction. I conclude, therefore, that plaintiff has pled diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332.
[23] II. State Law Claims
[24] A. Fraud
[25] Plaintiff alleges that Ameriquest and AMC’s predatory lending practices constitute fraud under New Hampshire law (Count 1). Defendants’ actions allegedly caused, or will cause, her to lose $500,000 in cash that she had invested into her property prior to financing the property with Ameriquest in July 2004 (Count 4). Plaintiff further alleges that as a result of defendants’ actions, she is at risk of losing “hundreds of thousands of dollars of accumulated equity” that she accrued as a result of the condominium conversion.
[26] To establish fraud under New Hampshire law, “a plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a representation with knowledge of its falsity or with conscious indifference to its truth with the intention to cause another to rely upon it.” Snierson v. Scruton, 145 N.H. 73, 76, 761 A.2d 1046, 1049 (2000)(citations omitted). A plaintiff must also establish justifiable reliance. Id. “A plaintiff cannot allege fraud in general terms, but must specifically allege the essential details of the fraud and the facts of the defendants’ fraudulent conduct.” Id.
[27] Here, the complaint alleges that Ameriquest committed fraud by:
[28] * providing plaintiff with three mortgages on Units 1, 2 and 4 in July 2004 in the amount of $794,000;
[29] * refinancing Unit 2 in March 2005, thereby increasing plaintiff’s indebtedness to $949,000;
[30] * refinancing Unit 2 as plaintiff’s residence when she resided in Unit 1;
[31] * completing plaintiff’s mortgage application to falsely state her income as $9000 per month rather than $675 per month;
[32] * subsequently refinancing plaintiff’s two remaining unencumbered condominiums, Units 3 and 5, on or about October 2005, thereby increasing her original mortgage of $600,000 to $1,114,000, an increase of more than $500,000;
[33] * providing the aforementioned mortgages to plaintiff while knowing that she lacked the requisite income to support the debt and lacked the experience to convert commercial property;
[34] * financing plaintiff’s premises, consisting of five condominiums, when Ameriquest’s license permitted the company to mortgage properties with no more than three condominiums;
[35] * illegally causing a cloud to appear on the title to plaintiff’s premises when it financed her premises in July 2004 and March 2005;
[36] * illegally encumbering plaintiff’s premises, Units 1-5;
[37] * employing Advent Appraisal Company to appraise plaintiff’s property and provide fraudulent appraisals that were in excess of market value;
[38] * causing plaintiff to rely of the fraudulent appraisals and preventing her from selling the condominiums at a time when market values were at an historic high; and
[39] * charging plaintiff excessively high interest rates with regard to Unit 1, plaintiff’s residence, when residential mortgage rates were at an historic low.
[40] The complaint further alleges that AMC committed fraud by:
[41] * placing plaintiff at risk of foreclosure by initially financing her premises as described above, subsequently refinancing Unit 2 and collecting escalated interest payments from her;
[42] * escalating plaintiff’s mortgage payments, thereby causing her to use the cash she had received from refinancing to pay AMC interest payments in order avoid going into arrears;
[43] * causing plaintiff to pay AMC $150,000 in interest payments from July 2004 through February 2006;
[44] * causing plaintiff to incur a debt of $340,000 in order to obtain only $64,000 in cash for purposes of completing the condominium conversions and improvements;
[45] * financing plaintiff’s premises, consisting of five condominiums, when AMC’s license permitted the company to mortgage properties with no more than three condominiums;
[46] * financing plaintiff’s premises in July 2004 and March 2005, when Advent Appraisal Services informed AMC and Ameriquest that the premises were vacant;
[47] * charging plaintiff excessive closing costs;
[48] * providing mortgages to plaintiff with the sole intention of foreclosing on her property and obtaining $500,000 that she had invested in the property; and
[49] * providing mortgages to plaintiff and obligating her to pay $7500 or nearly 100% in interest payments.
[50] Based on the foregoing and accepting plaintiff’s allegations as true, I conclude that she has alleged the elements of fraud under New Hampshire law by specifically alleging the essential details of the fraud and the facts surrounding defendants’ alleged fraudulent actions. In addition, plaintiff has alleged reasonable reliance on defendants’ alleged misrepresentations. Accordingly, for purposes of preliminary review, I conclude that plaintiff has stated cognizable state law claims for fraud against Ameriquest and AMC.
[51] B. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
[52] Plaintiff alleges that Ameriquest intentionally inflicted emotional distress on her by subjecting her to predatory lending practices and causing her to experience emotional distress and related physical harm (Count 3).
[53] “The New Hampshire Supreme Court has adopted the provisions of section 46 of the Restatement (Second) of Torts and recognized that ‘one who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for that emotional distress.'” Amatucci v. Hamilton, Civil No. 05-cv-259-SM, 2007 WL 1825177 at *6 (D.N.H. June 25, 2007)(quoting Konefal v. Hollis/Brookline Coop. Sch. Dist., 143 N.H. 256, 260, 723 A.2d 30, 33 (1998)). A plaintiff must “point to conduct on the part of the defendant that is ‘so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.'” Id. (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46, cmt.d.).
[54] Here, plaintiff alleges that Ameriquest’s predatory lending practices caused her to experience emotional and physical harm, including three strokes that required hospitalization, and related leg pain, an inability to walk, memory problems and high blood pressure. To the extent she alleges that defendant’s actions were extreme and outrageous and caused her emotional distress and related physical harm, I conclude that plaintiff has stated a cognizable state law claim against Ameriquest.
[55] C. Unfair Collection Practices
[56] Plaintiff alleges that Ameriquest harassed her by repeatedly telephoning her to collect late mortgage payments (Count 5). Construed liberally, the complaint alleges a violation of New Hampshire’s Unfair Collection Practices Act, RSA Ch. 358-C (1995 & Supp. 2006).
[57] RSA-C:3, I(a) provides that “any debt collection or attempt to collect a debt shall be deemed unfair, deceptive or unreasonable” where the debt collector “[c]ommunicates or attempts to communicate with the debtor, orally or in writing” by “causing a telephone to ring or engaging any person in telephone conversation repeatedly or continuously or at unusual times or at times to be inconvenient with the intent to abuse or harass any person at the called number.”
[58] Here, plaintiff alleges that Ameriquest repeatedly harassed her to collect late mortgage payments. Construed liberally, the complaint alleges that Ameriquest attempted to collect payments in an unfair, deceptive and unreasonable manner. For purposes of preliminary review, I conclude that plaintiff has stated a cognizable state law claim against Ameriquest based on unfair debt collection practices.
[59] D. Unfair and Deceptive Lending Practices
[60] Plaintiff alleges that Ameriquest and AMC engaged in a pattern of unfair and deceptive practices in violation of the New Hampshire Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”), N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. (“RSA”) Ch. 358-A (1995 & Supp. 2006) (Count 6 ).
[61] “RSA 358-A:2 declares it ‘unlawful for any person to use any unfair method of competition or any unfair or deceptive act or practice in the conduct of any trade or commerce in this state.'”
[62] Hughes v. DiSalvo, 143 N.H. 576, 577, 729 A.2d 422, 424 (1999). The CPA defines trade and commerce:
[63] “Trade” and “commerce” shall include the advertising, offering for sale, sale, or distribution of any services and any property, tangible or intangible, real, personal or mixed, and any other article, commodity, or thing of value wherever situate, and shall include any trade or commerce directly or indirectly affecting people of this state.
[64] Id. “A practice is unfair if (1) it is ‘within at least the penumbra of some common-law, statutory, or other established concept of unfairness,’ (2) ‘it is immoral, unethical, oppressive, or unscrupulous,’ or (3) it causes substantial injury to consumers.'” Chroniak v. Golden Inv. Corp., 983 F.2d 1140, 1146 (1st Cir. 1993).
[65] Here, plaintiff alleges that Ameriquest and AMC violated the CPA by engaging in predatory lending practices, as described more fully above, when it mortgaged and refinanced her property. Specifically, she alleges that defendants’ actions were “deceptive, willful, fraudulent, [in bad faith and used] unfair and illegal practices against the plaintiff.” For purposes of preliminary review, I conclude that plaintiff has stated cognizable state law claims under the CPA against Ameriquest and AMC.
[66] Conclusion
[67] For the reasons stated above, I conclude that plaintiff has invoked this court’s subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, I order the complaint to be served on defendants Ameriquest and AMC. See LR 4.3(d)(1)(B)(iii).
[68] As plaintiff has completed a summons form for each defendant, the Clerk’s Office shall issue the summonses against the defendants and forward to the United States Marshal for the District of New Hampshire (“U.S. Marshal’s Office”) the summonses, copies of the complaint (document no. 1) and this order. Upon receipt of the necessary documentation, the U.S. Marshal’s Office shall effect service upon the defendants. See id.; Fed. R. Civ. P. 4.(c)(2) and (h).
[69] Defendants are instructed to answer or otherwise plead within twenty days of service. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(1)(A).
[70] Plaintiff is instructed that all future pleadings, written motions, notices, or similar papers shall be served directly on the defendants by delivering or mailing the materials to them or their attorney(s), pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 5(b).

Opinion Footnotes

[72] *fn1 This court notes that Ameriquest is a defendant to five actions and six potential tag-along actions pending in seven district courts and alleging predatory lending practices by Ameriquest, or a related entity, in the solicitation and closing of residential mortgage transactions. See In re Ameriquest Mortg. Co. Mortg. Lending Practices Litig., 408 F. Supp. 2d 1354 (J.P.M.L. 2005).
[73] *fn2 Without providing specific dates, plaintiff alleges that Ameriquest employed Advent Appraisal Company to appraise Units 1, 2 and 4 and provide quotes that exceeded the market value of the property.
[74] *fn3 In addition, plaintiff broadly alleges that defendants discriminated against her on the basis of marital status and age, however, she fails to identify any federal or state law basis for her claims (Count 2). It is unclear whether she intends to allege a violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1691, et seq., making it unlawful for a creditor to discriminate against any applicant, with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or marital status, or age.


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Darling v. Indymac Bank (TILA Audit)

Posted on January 19, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending, RESPA, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act, Yield Spread Premium | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Darling v. Indymac Bank, F.S.B., No. 06-123-B-W (D.Me. 12/03/2007)

[2] Civ. No. 06-123-B-W
[3] 2007.DME.0000264
[4] December 3, 2007
[6] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Margaret J. Kravchuk U.S. Magistrate Judge
[8] The plaintiffs, Joseph and Roxanne Darling, have designated TJ Henderson, a consumer advocate and self-styled “auditor” of consumer mortgage loans, to offer expert testimony to the effect that, among other things, the Darlings “are unsophisticated borrowers [who] had no idea what was taking place” with a loan issued by defendant IndyMac Bank and brokered by co-defendant Western Thrift & Loan, that the loan in question was fraudulent and predatory due to the way in which the defendants made, or failed to make, required disclosures in various closing documents and other communications, and that these circumstances give rise to “a continuing right to rescind the loan transaction.” (Aff. of TJ Henderson ¶¶ 1-3, Doc. No. 18-2.) In addition to these opinions, Mr. Henderson would testify that the defendants’ conduct violated a number of state and federal laws. (Id. ¶ 3.) The defendants ask the Court to exclude any such testimony on the grounds that the opinions impermissibly intrude upon the Court’s duty to instruct on the law, the designated expert is not qualified to testify about the standard of care that applies to mortgage lenders and brokers, the opinions impermissibly and unhelpfully characterize the plaintiffs’ mental capacity, and the designation fails to fully comply with Rule 26(a)(2)(B). (Mot. to Exclude, Doc. No. 18.) The motion is GRANTED IN PART.
[9] Background
[10] The Darlings assert that they have filed their lawsuit under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1601 et seq.*fn1 (“TILA”) in order to rescind a consumer credit transaction, void the IndyMac Bank’s security interest in their home, and recover statutory damages, fees and costs based on alleged violations of the TILA and Regulation Z, 12 C.F.R. § 226. They have joined the mortgage loan broker Western Thrift & Loan as an additional defendant to pursue claims of unfair and deceptive business practices, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation arising from statements allegedly made by a Western agent*fn2 in order to induce a closing on the mortgage loan. (Am. Compl., Doc. No. 3.)
[11] Discovery in this case has essentially proceeded without incident. There have been two limited extensions to date and discovery remains open until December 31 for the limited purpose of conducting certain depositions. On June 12, 2007, the Darlings timely designated TJ Henderson as an expert witness. According to Mr. Henderson’s resume, he appears to be someone who has made a career out of consumer advocacy related to the TILA. He does not appear to have a law degree, though his resume includes as relevant experience the “practice of law” in certain county courts in the State of Washington. Mr. Henderson also reports years of unspecified education in consumer protection law and recent professional experience as an auditor (presumably unlicensed as no licenses are disclosed) who has worked to combat predatory lending on behalf of companies named Co3m, Premier Mortgage Auditing, Consumer Guardian, and Advocates for Justice. Mr. Henderson identifies his current position as president for Consumer Guardian and also as someone who provides paralegal services, including mortgage auditing services. Business tools at his disposal include West Law and a consumer library made available by the National Consumer Law Center. (See TJ Henderson Resume, Doc. No. 18-2 at 4-5.)
[12] The Darlings also attached to their disclosure an affidavit prepared by TJ Henderson in support of their claims. (TJ Henderson Aff, Doc. No. 18-2 at 6-10.) The affidavit recites a number of legal conclusions or characterizations concerning the Darlings and their mortgage transaction. These include the following statements:
[13] 1. That the Darlings “are unsophisticated borrowers” (id. ¶ 2);
[14] 2. That, “based upon my audit and study of the [closing] documents . . ., the Darlings had no idea what was taking place with the loan or that they could reasonably determine what the loan cost or finance charge would consist of,” which is described as an “unreasonable tactic” (id.);
[15] 3. That the HUD-1 statement issued by IndyMac was “deceiving” because of the way it characterized a yield spread premium paid to Western as a “Broker Comp.” to be paid from the Darlings funds at closing and because of the location on the form where this reference was made (id.);
[16] 4. That a second group of disclosure forms were issued without including a new notice of the Darlings’ right to cancel (id.);
[17] 5. That these and other irregularities or misstatements give rise to “a continuing right to rescind the loan transaction” (id.);
[18] 6. That due to his training and experience TJ Henderson was able to perform a “proper audit” which disclosed the following additional violations of law:
[19] a. failure to make all disclosures required by the TILA, including a failure to disclose the existence of yield spread premium (YSP) or to explain its significance and a failure to make disclosures required by 12 C.F.R. §§ 226.17, 226.18 and 226.19;
[20] b. an overstatement of the loan’s annual percentage rate, referencing 12 C.F.R. § 226.22;
[21] c. an understatement of the loan’s finance charge, referencing 12 C.F.R. § 226.18(d)(1)(i);
[22] d. failure to inform the Darlings where to find the appropriate contract documents and clause for information about non-payment, default, and the lender’s right to accelerate payments, referencing 12 C.F.R. § 226.18(p); and
[23] e. failure to provide the required HUD booklet on loans, referencing 12 U.S.C. § 2406 et seq.
[24] (id. ¶ 3);
[25] 7. That, in his opinion, “this loan is fraudulent and consists of unjust enrichment and is predatory in nature (id. ¶ 3(i)); and, finally;
[26] 8. That these violations expose the lender to severe penalties, which he then characterizes (id. ¶ 5).
[27] Discussion
[28] Western challenges TJ Henderson’s proposed testimony on Rule 26 and Rule 702 grounds. (Mot. to Exclude, Doc. No. 18.) I address the Civil Rules issue first and then turn to the evidentiary challenge.
[29] A. Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Evidence
[30] Western argues that Mr. Henderson’s testimony should be excluded because it “consists almost entirely of unsupported legal conclusions that merely advocate the positions of his retainers,” without articulating any industry standards or other reasons in support of his conclusions. (Mot. to Exclude at 12.) Western also notes that the Darlings failed to disclose the expert compensation they are providing to Mr. Henderson. (Id.) Rule 26 and the Court’s scheduling order require that an expert disclosure set forth a “complete statement of all opinions . . . and the basis and reasons therefor.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(B); Scheduling Order at 2, Doc. No. 13. Both the Rule and the scheduling order also call for a disclosure of, among other things, the compensation to be paid to the expert for his or her work and testimony.
[31] In regard to Mr. Henderson’s compensation, the Darlings report that they made no disclosure because they had engaged and paid Mr. Henderson to conduct an audit of their mortgage loan prior to commencing this litigation, that no fee has been requested for the Henderson affidavit that comprises Mr. Henderson’s “report” because it is just a restatement of his audit, and that the defendants have not deposed Mr. Henderson so there has been no occasion to determine what compensation he would require for services as an expert witness. (Pl.’s Opposition at 4, Doc. No. 23.) Although this manner of proceeding is unorthodox, I can discern no prejudice to the defendants from the mere fact that they do not yet know what, if any, compensation Mr. Henderson will receive for his litigation-related services. This failure of disclosure does not independently warrant the exclusion of Mr. Henderson’s opinions. The Darlings are required, however, to make a supplemental disclosure setting forth the terms of Mr. Henderson’s compensation as soon as they are established, or by the close of discovery, whichever occurs sooner.
[32] The second aspect of Western’s Rule 26 argument is that Mr. Henderson’s opinions should be excluded because the Darlings have not, in Western’s view, disclosed the basis and reasons for the opinions, only “unsupported legal conclusions.” (Mot. to Exclude at 12.) I conclude that this issue is best addressed as an evidentiary matter under Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, rather than as a disclosure matter under Rule 26. The Darlings have made a disclosure of Mr. Henderson’s opinions and the reasons he offers for them. To the extent the Darlings are able to demonstrate that the basis and reasons they offer satisfy the standards of Rule 702 they will to that same extent meet the disclosure requirement of Rule 26.
[33] B. Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence
[34] Pursuant to Rule 702 of the Federal Rules of Evidence: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.
[35] In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993), the Supreme Court discussed the gate-keeping role federal judges play under Rule 702 in screening unreliable expert opinion from introduction in evidence. Id. at 597. That role is “to ensure that an expert’s testimony ‘both rests on a reliable foundation and is relevant to the task at hand.'” United States v. Mooney, 315 F.3d 54, 62 (1st Cir. 2002). The proponent of the expert opinion must demonstrate its reliability, but need not prove that the opinion is correct. Id. at 63. “Once a trial judge determines the reliability of the expert’s methodology and the validity of his reasoning, the expert should be permitted to testify as to inferences and conclusions he draws from it and any flaws in his opinion may be exposed through cross-examination or competing expert testimony.” Brown v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 402 F. Supp. 2d 303, 308 (D. Me. 2005). “Vigorous cross examination, presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction on the burden of proof are the traditional and appropriate means of attacking shaky but admissible evidence.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 596. It has been said that, ultimately, the Court must determine simply whether “the testimony of the expert would be helpful to the jury in resolving a fact in issue.” Cipollone v. Yale Indus. Prods., 202 F.3d 376, 380 (1st Cir. 2000).
[36] 1. Legal conclusions cannot be countenanced, but testimony concerning regulatory compliance should be facilitated rather than barred where regulatory compliance is at the heart of the case and the plaintiffs are not independently qualified to discuss the regulatory framework.
[37] Western’s overarching theme is that the proposed opinion testimony is riddled with statements of legal standards and legal conclusions that are not really opinions at all. (Mot. to Exclude, passim.) It is the Court’s duty, naturally, to instruct the jury*fn3 concerning the applicable legal standards that govern this action. Nieves-Villanueva v. Soto-Rivera, 133 F.3d 92, 99-100 (1st Cir. 1997). It will fall to the fact witnesses to provide the jury with evidence of the facts and circumstances that gave rise to this action. The question, then, is whether Mr. Henderson, by dint of his mortgage auditing experience and any specialized knowledge he possesses, might be able to help the jury better understand the evidence to determine a fact in issue. Id. at 100. The Darlings assert in their opposition that Mr. Henderson will be able to articulate “various improprieties with the loan/mortgage transaction and documentation,” listing his observations that certain required documentation was missing and that the APR and finance charge calculations were erroneous. (Pls.’ Opposition at 1-2.) However, they acknowledge the appearance of a problem, noting, “if and to the extent that Mr. Henderson has gone beyond those factual observations and opined that same represent violation(s) of law, his testimony can be easily limited/prescribed at trial to conform to an appropriate scope.” (Id. at 2.) I fail to understand why this particular problem should not be addressed ahead of trial. Mr. Henderson should not be permitted to take the witness stand and simply state such things as “this loan is fraudulent and consists of unjust enrichment and is predatory in nature.” (TJ Henderson Aff. ¶ 3(i).) However, in fairness, it does not appear likely that that would be the extent of his testimony. Although Mr. Henderson’s affidavit is peppered with recitations of legal conclusions, his material opinions are really quite straightforward: (1) certain required TILA disclosures and/or documents were missing and (2) certain required disclosures were false. He is able to draw the first conclusion based on an audit of the closing documents. He has articulated which documents were missing. He is able to draw the second conclusion based on independent calculations. It is not difficult to conclude that the typical layperson would be unable to review a set of mortgage loan closing documents to assess whether a particular, required document was present or not. Nor is it difficult to imagine that the typical layperson would not be familiar with calculating finance charges and annual percentage rates. In other words, there does not appear to be anything inherently wrong with having an expert state that certain required documents were missing from the closing documents of a transaction or that certain calculations were erroneous, without straying into the territory of legal conclusions such as that the loan is “unjust” or “predatory,” or that it gives rise to liability or justifies any particular remedy. Thus, I conclude that the “legal conclusion” argument for exclusion does not entirely undermine Mr. Henderson’s audit or his opinions as to regulatory compliance. It does, however, call for a limitation to be placed on Mr. Henderson’s testimony. There is no reason apparent in this case why Mr. Henderson should need to tell the jury what the penalties of noncompliance are, what remedies are appropriate (such as contract rescission, which is an equitable remedy reserved to the Court, in any event), that the circumstances demonstrate unjust enrichment, predatory lending or fraud. Those particular opinions are hereby excluded on the ground that they are inappropriate legal conclusions and, as such, would not really help the jury make sense of the facts.
[38] There remains the matter of how to best address testimony to the effect that certain conduct was “in violation of TILA” or other federal or state laws and regulations. The issue of how to handle testimony concerning regulatory compliance is not as easy to resolve as either party suggests. In this case, although an expert might need to speak in terms of the TILA’s regulatory framework in order to discuss regulatory compliance, that is not necessarily the same thing as instructing the jury on issues of law or merely reciting legal conclusions. On the other hand, for testimony about noncompliance to have meaning there is a need to convey to the fact finder that there exists a regulatory framework that mandates compliance. Probably the most appropriate way to handle a situation like this one is not to preclude the testimony altogether, but to provide the jury with preliminary instructions concerning the regulatory framework and require the expert to couch his compliance testimony in terms of the Court’s instructions on the law, rather than in terms of his private characterizations of the law. See, e.g., United States v. Caputo, 382 F. Supp. 2d 1045, 1053 (N.D. Ill. 2005) (taking this approach in a criminal case involving FDA regulatory “enforcement policies”). Alternatively, the Court could leave for trial the task of drawing the “fine” distinction between proper expert testimony and legal conclusions, to avoid setting an over-exacting standard in a case that appears to turn almost entirely on regulatory compliance. See, e.g., TC Sys. Inc. v. Town of Colonie, 213 F. Supp. 2d 171, 181-82 (N.D. N.Y. 2002) (“[T]he Court is reluctant to preclude all testimony regarding FCC criteria at this early stage. If a proper foundation is laid and Kravtin can establish a nexus between the FCC criteria and the facts here, her testimony may be appropriate.”).
[39] 2. The Darlings’ expert disclosure is sufficient to qualify Mr. Henderson to testify about regulatory compliance matters, but not about the customs and practices of mortgage loan brokers and lenders.
[40] Western’s next argument is that Henderson should not be permitted to testify about any deviation from customary practice because he is not a broker with experience in mortgage lending or any professional license in that commercial practice area. (Mot. to Exclude at 9-10.) The Darlings respond that it is “premature” for the Court to conclude that Mr. Henderson lacks the qualifications “to render opinions describing the applicable yield rate, actual and stated percentage interest rates and the presence of hidden and undisclosed charges.” (Pls.’ Opposition at 3.) They say that they are not required to retain a “blue-ribbon practitioner,” quoting United States v. Malone, 453 F.3d 68, 71 (1st Cir 2006). (Id. at 3-4.) They do not expand upon the qualifications set forth in Mr. Henderson’s resume and affidavit.
[41] Based on a review of the expert disclosure materials, Mr. Henderson has been obtaining education in law and consumer protection since 1989, practiced law for five years in certain county courts in Washington, participated in at least eight seminars and workshops on the TILA between 2002 and 2006, and has been active with four “companies” in organized efforts to combat predatory lending. The companies in question are Co3m, Premier Mortgage Auditing, Advocates for Justice, and Consumer Guardian. Henderson is currently the president and owner of Consumer Guardian. Mr. Henderson’s affidavit indicates that he has been “in the mortgage auditing business for 9 years and legal industry for the past 15 years.” (TJ Henderson Aff. at 1.) Henderson’s affidavit does not otherwise elaborate on any of the qualifications sketched out in his resume, such as by better describing the work performed by the companies he has worked for or the type of legal work he used to perform in Washington.
[42] An expert’s qualifications, like other issues addressed to the admissibility of an expert’s opinions, “should be established by a preponderance of proof.” Daubert, 509 U.S. at 592 n.10. The proponent of the challenged evidence carries the burden of proof. The proponent must not assume that an evidentiary hearing will be held; the Court has the discretion to decide the motion on briefs and with reference to expert reports, depositions and affidavits on record. United States v. Diaz, 300 F.3d 66, 73-74 (1st Cir. 2002).
[43] The trouble here is that the Darlings have designated an unconventional expert and given short shrift to Western’s arguments that their designee has questionable qualifications. The fact that Mr. Henderson is an unconventional expert is not a bar in itself, but there needs to be some reassurance here that Mr. Henderson’s specific training and experience make him a suitable person to educate the jury about issues of fact. Instead, the Darlings rest on Mr. Henderson’s resume and affidavit and casually argue that the record does not in its present state prove he is not qualified, partly because Western has not deposed Mr. Henderson. (Pls.’ Opposition at 3.) I conclude on this record that Mr. Henderson’s qualifications to address the specific issue flagged here by Western, i.e., the customs and practices of mortgage lenders and brokers, are not adequately established. That does not mean, however, that Mr. Henderson is unqualified to serve as an expert witness regarding compliance with the TILA regulatory framework and related consumer law. Mr. Henderson has made a practice of educating himself on consumer law matters, including the requirements of the TILA, and he has worked for several years consulting with borrowers to determine whether the mortgage loans they have entered into have complied with that law and others. Thus, he appears to be suited to the task of helping to shepherd the Darlings’ regulatory compliance claims through the trial process, provided he does so within appropriate parameters set by the Court to prevent him from purporting to state the law to the jury.*fn4 He may not, however, speak to what is customary practice among mortgage lenders and brokers, only to what is required by the regulatory framework.
[44] 3. Mr. Henderson’s views concerning the Darlings’ relative sophistication and their understanding of the terms of the loan are unreliable and unhelpful and must be excluded.
[45] Western challenges Mr. Henderson’s basis and qualifications to offer opinions about the Darlings’ level of sophistication or their level of knowledge about the terms of the transaction they entered into. (Mot. to Exclude at 11.) The Darlings do not even attempt to preserve these facets of their expert disclosure. As there is no apparent basis to support a finding that Mr. Henderson is qualified to testify-or possesses specialized knowledge enabling him to testify-about the Darlings’ level of sophistication or their understanding of the loan’s terms, these opinions are excluded. Mr. Henderson may discuss what he considers to be noncompliant disclosures without having to opine that the Darlings were actually misled.
[46] Conclusion
[47] For the reasons stated above, Western’s motion to exclude the testimony of TJ Henderson is GRANTED, IN PART. Mr. Henderson is precluded from testifying about the penalties and remedies available in cases of regulatory noncompliance. He is also precluded from testifying that the circumstances of this case demonstrate unjust enrichment, predatory lending or fraud. Additionally, Mr. Henderson is precluded from testifying about the customary practices observed by mortgage lenders and brokers. Finally, Mr. Henderson is precluded from characterizing the Darlings’ level of sophistication or their level of knowledge about the terms of the transaction they entered into.
[49] Any objections to this Order shall be filed in accordance with Fed.R.Civ. P. 72. So Ordered.

Opinion Footnotes

[50] *fn1 Components of the Truth in Lending Act are distributed throughout the United States Code. The sections cited here, as cited by the Darlings in their pleadings, refer to the TILA’s consumer credit cost disclosure provisions.
[51] *fn2 The Darlings originally named the agent as an additional defendant but have since voluntarily dismissed the claims against him. (Voluntary Dismissal, Doc. No. 17.)
[52] *fn3 Because the Darlings’ plea for relief requests more than equitable remedies, there is a legal component to their TILA claim that is properly submitted to a jury in light of their jury demand. See Franklin v. Hartland Mortgage Ctrs., Inc., No. 01 C 2041, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24238 (N.D. Ill. June 18, 2001) (order on motion to strike jury demand) (concluding in a TILA action that the plaintiff had the right to have his claim for statutory damages submitted to the jury and quoting Beacon Theaters, Inc. v. Westover, 359 U.S. 500, 510 (1959)) (“[W]hen legal and equitable claims are joined in one action, absent exceptional circumstances, a litigant has a right to have the issues common to the legal and equitable claims tried first to a jury”)). Additionally, the claims against Western are traditional tort claims appropriately tried to a jury.
[53] *fn4 In its reply, Western argues for the first time that Mr. Henderson’s percentage rate calculations and finance charge calculations should be excluded because there are merely factual matters for which no expert testimony is needed or which should be presented by an accountant. (Def.’s Reply at 1, Doc. No. 24.) I disagree with Western’s contentions. Mr. Henderson discloses that performing these calculations is part of his auditing function and it seems plain that the average layperson is not accustomed to computing annual percentage rates or even finance charges. Having someone other than the plaintiffs articulate the process is apt to save time at trial and prove beneficial to the jury.


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Smith v. Encore Credit Corp. (TILA/HOEPA/RESPA)

Posted on January 19, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Legislation, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending, RESPA, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Smith v. Encore Credit Corp., No. 4:08 CV 1462 (N.D.Ohio 12/09/2008)

[2] Case No. 4:08 CV 1462
[3] 2008.NOH.0001120
[4] December 9, 2008
[6] The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Dan Aaron Polster
[8] After LaSalle Bank National Association (“LaSalle”) obtained a judgment entry of foreclosure on the residence of Plaintiffs Ronald J. and Nancy L. Smith in state court, the Smiths filed this action alleging four federal law claims and seven state law claims against persons and entities related to the underlying refinancing mortgage loan transaction (“the Loan”) other than LaSalle. The Smiths seek a declaration that the Loan was illegal, rescission of the Loan, an injunction against the foreclosure sale of their residence, and damages. Defendants have filed the following motions, which have been fully briefed and are ripe for review:
[9] *Motion of Defendant Bear Stearns Residential Mortgage Corporation to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint (ECF No. 11);
[10] *Motion of Defendants Motion Financial and Ellyn Klein Grober to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint (ECF No. 14);
[11] *Motion of Defendant Sand Canyon Corporation F/K/A Option One Mortgage Corporation to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint (ECF No. 16); and
[12] *Defendant Encore Credit Corporation’s Motion to Dismiss the Complaint of Donald J. Smith and Nancy L. Smith (ECF No. 19).
[13] For the reasons articulated below, the Motions are GRANTED IN PART, the federal law claims (Counts I through IV) are dismissed with prejudice, and the state law claims (Counts V through XI) are dismissed without prejudice.
[14] I.
[15] In January 2004, the Smiths had several discussions over the telephone with agents of Defendant Motion Financial (“Motion”) concerning a possible refinancing of the mortgage on their home. (ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶ 13.) The Smiths “directed Defendant Motion to extract equity from their home for the purpose of paying credit cards and other personal loans due to a deteriorating income stream versus prior year and also to be able to fund the March, 2004 mortgage payments.” (Id.) The Smiths “believed that the best way to accomplish this would be through a fix-rate loan at the lowest interest rate for which [they] qualified and with a monthly payment plan which [they] could afford given their financial situation as to income and expenses.” (Id.) On January 7, 2004, Defendant Ellyn Klein Grober allegedly represented to the Smiths that they qualified for a fixed rate mortgage loan in the principal amount of $528,500. (Id. ¶ 14.) Grober prepared a Uniform Residential Loan Application indicating that the Smiths were applying for a fixed rate loan, which the Smiths executed on January 9, 2004. (Id.) Grober also provided the Smiths with an early Truth In Lending Statement setting forth the fixed rate mortgage loan. In February 2004, Grober informed the Smiths that the fixed rate loan they initially qualified for would not provide a sufficient loan-to-value ratio to enable them to obtain a cash-out refinance program. (Compl. ¶ 17.) Grober told them that the only loan program available to them to obtain a cash-out refinance would be a program with a two-year fixed rate and an adjustable rate every six months thereafter that required an appraised value of the property of $630,000. (Id.) Grober arranged for an appraisal that valued the residence at $570,000 — insufficient to provide cash to the Smiths. (Id. ¶ 20.) She arranged a second appraisal which valued the residence at $630,000 — sufficient to provide a cash payout. (Id. ¶ 22.) With less than two weeks remaining before the Smiths would default on numerous obligations (including, presumably, their March 2004 mortgage payment), the Smiths “agreed to proceed with the closing on the adjustable rate mortgage.” (Compl. ¶ 23.) On March 5, 2004, Defendants Motion and Encore Credit Corporation (“Encore”) executed the refinancing Loan with the Smiths. (Id. ¶ 24.) The Smiths allege that the Loan, which was the result of predatory lending practices, “was sold to a securities firm” immediately after the closing and, within the Loan year, “ended up as collateral for Bear Stearns Asset-Backed Securities LLC Asset-Backed Certificates Series 2004-HES.” (Id. ¶ 28(g).)
[16] The Smiths subsequently defaulted on the loan and, on October 18, 2005, LaSalle, as Trustee for Certificate Holders of Bear Stearns Asset-Backed Securities LLC Asset-Backed Certificates Series 2004-HES (“LaSalle”), filed a foreclosure action against the Smiths and others in the Court of Common Pleas for Mahoning County, Ohio, in Case No. 2005-CV-3869 (“the Foreclosure Case”). (Compl. ¶ 49.) Nancy Smith filed an answer on December 29, 2005, and Ronald Smith filed an answer on January 10, 2006.
[17] After an evidentiary hearing, the state court granted LaSalle’s motion for summary and default judgment, and entered judgment against the Smiths on January 12, 2007. (ECF No. 12-2 at 1.) The state court decreed that if the amount then due on the loan was not fully paid within three days of the judgment, the right of the Smiths in the property “shall be foreclosed and [ ] an order of sale may be issued to the Mahoning County Sheriff, directing him to appraise, advertise in a paper of general circulation within the County and sell said premises as upon execution and according to law free and clear of the interest of all parties to this action.” (Id. at 4.)
[18] In August 2007, LaSalle filed a motion to withdraw the order of sale scheduled for August 7, 2007 upon the representation that Ronald Smith had filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding on August 3, 2007. The court granted LaSalle’s request to have the order of sale returned by the sheriff unexecuted and granted leave to LaSalle to file an alias order of sale. On October 15, 2007, the state court granted LaSalle’s request to vacate the bankruptcy stay, reinstate the case to the active docket and for leave to continue with the prosecution of the case.
[19] On June 17, 2008, the Smiths filed this case in federal court asserting a laundry list of state and federal claims against Defendants Grober, Motion, Encore, Bear Stearns Residential Mortgage Corporation (“BSRMC”) and Option One Mortgage Corporation (which is alleged to be in an agency relationship with Encore, Compl. ¶ 4) for their predatory lending practices.*fn1 Specifically, the Smiths allege claims for violation of the Homeowners Equity Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1639, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act , 12 U.S.C. § 2601, the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1605, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681, the Ohio Consumer Protection Act, O.R.C. Chapter 1345, the Ohio Mortgage Brokers Act , O.R.C. Chapter 1322, and the Ohio Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act, O.R.C. § 2929.32. They also allege claims of fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and civil conspiracy. The Smiths ask this Court to treat the Complaint as a “Notice of Rescission” and declare the refinancing transaction illegal and void in the first instance, rescind the Loan, and enjoin the foreclosure sale of their home. They seek damages as well.
[20] On July 21, 2008, Defendant BSRMC filed the first motion to dismiss, followed by the other pending motions to dismiss. Defendants all argue that the Court lacks the jurisdiction to granted the requested declaratory and injunctive relief based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the Anti-Injunction Act, that the Court should abstain from adjudicating the case based on Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), and that issue preclusion bars adjudication of the alleged claims. They argue, in the alternative, that most of the claims are time-barred and all of them fail to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Having reviewed the motions, the briefs and the record, the Court is prepared to issue its ruling.
[21] II.
[22] Defendants move for dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants make a facial attack on the subject matter jurisdiction of this Court. In reviewing a facial attack, a trial court takes the allegations in the complaint as true, which is a similar safeguard employed under 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Ohio Nat’l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990); see also Nat’l Ass’n of Minority Contractors v. Martinez, 248 F.Supp.2d 679, 681 (S.D. Ohio 2002) (applying standard).
[23] When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the complaint liberally in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 677 (6th Cir. 1998). The Court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, — U.S. —, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, — U.S. —, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (citations omitted)). See also, NicSand, Inc. v. 3M Co., 507 F.3d 442, 449 (6th Cir. 2007) (en banc) (viewing a complaint “through the prism of Rule 12(b)(6) [requires] us to accept all of its allegations and all reasonable inferences from them as true”) (citing Mich. Paytel Joint Venture v. City of Detroit, 287 F.3d 527, 533 (6th Cir. 2002)). When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must “determine whether the plaintiff can prove a set of facts in support of its claims that would entitle it to relief.” Daubenmire v. City of Columbus, 507 F.3d 383, (6th Cir. Nov. 6, 2007) (quoting Bovee v. Coopers & Lybrand C.P.A., 272 F.3d 356, 360 (6th Cir. 2001)). In order to preclude dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations which comprise all of the essential, material elements necessary to sustain a claim for relief under some viable legal theory. Lewis v. ACB Bus. Serv., Inc., 135 F.3d 389, 406 (6th Cir. 1998).
[24] III.
[25] Defendants argue that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims and grant the requested relief based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, issue preclusion, the Anti-Injunction Act, and the Younger abstention doctrine. The Court will address each argument in turn.
[26] A. Rooker-Feldman
[27] First, Defendants argue that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits this federal district court from granting the Smith’s request for declaratory and injunctive relief (i.e., declaring the refinancing Loan illegal and void, and enjoining the foreclosure sale of their residence). The Smiths disagree.
[28] The Rooker-Feldman doctrine stands for the proposition that federal district courts generally lack subject matter jurisdiction to review state court judgments. It derives from two Supreme Court decisions: Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983) and Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923).
[29] For years, a standard employed by the Sixth Circuit in determining whether Rooker-Feldman barred federal court adjudication of claims was whether the claims in the federal case were “inextricably intertwined” with claims previously asserted in a state court proceeding. See, e.g., Tropf v. Fidelity Nat’l Title Ins. Co., 289 F.3d 929, 937-38 (6th Cir. 2002); Kafele v. Lerner, Sampson & Rothfuss, LPA, 161 Fed. Appx. 487, 489-90 (citing Catz v. Chalker, 142 F.3d 279, 293 (6th Cir. 1998)). “Where federal relief [could] only be predicated upon a conviction that the state court [was] wrong,” the federal claims were determined to be inextricably intertwined with the state court claims and thus barred by Rooker-Feldman from adjudication in federal court. Id.
[30] After various circuits adopted differing interpretations regarding the breadth of Rooker-Feldman, the Supreme Court recently took the opportunity to clarify the doctrine’s limited scope. In re Hamilton, 540 F.3d 367-371 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005)).
[31] The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, we hold today, is confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by state court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.
[32] Id. (quoting Exxon, 544 U.S. at 284).
[33] Following Exxon, the Sixth Circuit further refined the doctrine, distinguishing between plaintiffs who bring an impermissible attack on a state court judgment, in which case Rooker-Feldman does apply — and plaintiffs who assert independent claims before the district court, in which case Rooker-Feldman does not apply. Pittman v. Cuyahoga County Dep’t of Children & Family Serv., 241 Fed. Appx. 285, 287 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing McCormick v. Braverman, 451 F.3d 382, 393 (6th Cir. 2006)). The Sixth Circuit stated that the pertinent inquiry is whether the “source of the injury” upon which a plaintiff bases his federal claim is the state court judgment:
[34] If the source of the injury is the state court decision, then the Rooker-Feldman doctrine would prevent the district court from asserting jurisdiction. If there is some other source of injury, such as a third party’s actions, then the plaintiff asserts an independent claim.
[35] McCormick, 451 F.3d at 394-95. Thus, the Sixth Circuit concluded that jurisdiction is proper if a plaintiff presents an independent claim in federal court, “albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was a party.” Id. (quoting GASH Assocs. v. Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726, 728 (7th Cir. 1993)). In fact, the Sixth Circuit recently reversed a ruling that Rooker-Feldman barred claims (including a request for rescission of a mortgage loan) brought by a mortgagor against individuals involved in state mortgage foreclosure proceedings where the source of injury was the defendants’ conduct preceding the foreclosure decree. Brown v. First Nationwide Mortg. Corp., 206 Fed. Appx. 436 (6th Cir. 2006). See also Lawrence v. Welch, 531 F.3d 364, 369 (6th Cir. 2008) (holding that claims that certain defendants committed fraud and misrepresentation in a state probate proceeding did not allege an injury caused by state court judgment and were not barred by Rooker-Feldman; however, claims that the probate court’s order of receivership violated the plaintiff’s constitutional rights were barred because “the count alleges that the state court order itself was illegal and harmed plaintiff”); Pittman, 241 Fed. Appx. at 288 (holding that claims of improper conduct by employees of a family services agency were not barred by Rooker-Feldman because their actions were independent from a juvenile court’s custody decision; plaintiff did not seek reversal of the custody order); Loriz v. Connaughton, 233 Fed. Appx. 469, 474-75 (6th Cir. 2007) (holding that a landowners’ claims challenging a zoning decision as unconstitutional were barred by Rooker-Feldman).
[36] Here, the Smiths allege that Defendants violated the Homeowner Equity Protection Act (“HOEPA“), 15 U.S.C. § 1639, by charging excessive fees, expenses and costs exceeding 10% of the financed amount (Count 1); Defendants violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), 12 U.S.C. § 2601, by accepting charges for services not performed (Count 2); Defendants violated the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1605, by failing to disclose certain charges associated with the Loan (Count 3); Defendants violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1681s-2(b), by failing to undertake an investigation of disputed credit information (Count 4); Defendants violated the Ohio Consumer Protection Act, O.R.C. § 1345.01 by failing to disclose, altering and misrepresenting material terms of the Loan (Count 5); Defendants Motion and Grober violated the Ohio Mortgage Brokers Act by misrepresenting and concealing the knowledge that the Smiths would not qualify for the loan after the first two years; Defendants fraudulently misrepresented the Loan terms (Count 7); Defendants breached their fiduciary duty to the Smiths (Count 8); Defendants enjoyed unjust enrichment by their unlawful conduct (Count 9); Defendants engaged in a civil conspiracy (Count 10); and Defendants violated the Ohio RICO statute, O.R.C. § 2929.32, by their fraudulent conduct (Count 11). These are all independent claims against third parties where the source of injury is not the state court foreclosure judgment itself but the alleged conduct of these particular parties leading up to and encompassing the refinancing transaction. Because the source of injury is not the state court judgment, Rooker-Feldman does not bar adjudication of these claims in federal court.*fn2
[37] B. Issue Preclusion
[38] Next, Defendants argue that issue preclusion prevents the Smiths from seeking a declaration that the Loan was illegal and void, rescission of the Loan, and termination of the Loan documents. The Full Faith and Credit Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1738, requires federal courts to give state court judgments the same preclusive effect that the state would afford such judgment. McCormick, 451 F.3d at 397 (citing Exxon, 125 S.Ct. at 1527). Ohio’s doctrine of issue preclusion, also known as collateral estoppel, holds that a party asserting issue preclusion has the burden of establishing the following elements:
[39] (1) the party against whom estoppel is sought was a party or in privity with a party to the prior action;
[40] (2) there was a final judgment on the merits in the previous case after a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue;
[41] (3) the issue must have been admitted or actually tried and decided and must be necessary to the final judgment; and
[42] (4) the issue must have been identical to the issue involved in the prior suit.
[43] Dye v. City of Warren, 367 F. Supp. 2d 1175, 1184-85 (N.D. Ohio 2005); see also, Knott v. Sullivan, 418 F.3d 561, 568 (6th Cir. 2005); State ex rel. Stacy v. Batavia Local Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 779 N.E.2d 216, 219 (Ohio 2002) (“[T]hat a fact or a point that was actually and directly at issue in a previous action, and was passed upon and determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, may not be drawn into question in a subsequent action between the same parties or their privies, whether the cause of action in the two actions be identical or different.”). Issue preclusion cannot be invoked because similar issues were previously litigated and decided; rather, the same issue must have been actually litigated and decided. See Thompson v. Wing, 637 N.E.2d 917 (Ohio 1994); Goodson v. McDonough Power Equip., Inc., 443 N.E.2d 978, 987 (Ohio 1983) (“Collateral estoppel precludes relitigation only when the identical issue was actually decided in the former case.”).
[44] Defendants argue that issue preclusion is proper because the issue of the Loan’s validity was actually litigated and decided in the Foreclosure case when the state court determined that LaSalle was owed money on the note in connection with the Loan. Defendants reason that the Smiths’ claims are precluded since the previous and present issues both encompass the broad topic of the Loan’s validity. The Smiths counter that the issues in the Complaint were not “passed upon or determined” by the Mahoning County Court. Instead, the issues raised here deal with fraud, violations of federal lending laws, violations of the Ohio Consumer Practices Act, violations of the Ohio RICO Act and conspiracy, all of which are distinct from the question of the Loan’s validity.
[45] Based on case law, the Court cannot apply the broad application of the term “issue” that is espoused by Defendants to the claims in this case. The Court finds that Defendants have failed to show that the claims in the Complaint are identical to issues actually litigated and decided by the Mahoning County Court in the Foreclosure case.
[46] C. Younger Abstention
[47] Defendants argue that the Court must abstain from adjudicating this case based on Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Under the abstention doctrine articulated in Younger, “when state proceedings are pending, principles of federalism dictate that the constitutional claims should be raised and decided in state court without interference by the federal courts.” Doscher v. Menifee Circuit Court, 75 Fed. Appx. 996, 997 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 17 (1987)). “[O]nly exceptional circumstances justify a federal court’s refusal to decide a case in deference to the States.” Leatherworks P’ship v. Boccia, 245 Fed. Appx. 311, 317 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing New Orleans Pub. Servs., Inc. v. Council of the City of New Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 368 (1989)). In order for a federal district court to abstain from hearing a claim pursuant to Younger, it must find that (1) there is an ongoing state judicial proceeding, (2) the proceeding implicates important state interests, and (3) there is an adequate opportunity in the state proceeding to raise constitutional challenges. Id. (citing Middlesex County Ethics Comm’n v. Garden State Bar Ass’n, 457 U.S. 423 (1982)). The court should proceed deliberately “to ensure that abstention remains ‘the exception, not the rule.'” Id. (quoting New Orleans, 491 U.S. at 359, in turn quoting Hawaii Hous. Auth. v. Midkiff, 467 U.S. 229, 236 (1984)). Because the Smiths have not raised any constitutional challenges to the foreclosure judgment, Younger does not require this Court to abstain from adjudicating the claims before it.
[48] D. Anti-Injunction Act
[49] Defendants argue that the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, prohibits the Court from issuing the requested injunctive relief. The Court agrees.
[50] The Anti-Injunction Act states, in full, that “[a] court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.”
[51] 28 U.S.C. § 2283. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that the Act creates “an absolute prohibition against enjoining state court proceedings, unless the injunction falls within one of the three specifically defined exceptions.” Atlantic Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Bhd. of Locomotive Eng’rs, 398 U.S. 281, 286-87 (1970). The three exceptions are: (1) where Congress expressly authorizes, (2) where necessary in aid of the court’s jurisdiction, or (3) where necessary to protect or effectuate the court’s judgments. Martingale LLC v. City of Louisville, 361 F.3d 297, 302 (6th Cir. 2004); see 28 U.S.C. § 2283. Once the Anti-Injunction Act defense is raised, the party pursuing the injunction bears the burden of establishing that the injunction falls within one of the exceptions. See id.
[52] The Smiths contend that the Court can enjoin the foreclosure sale because the Ohio RICO statute expressly authorizes injunctive relief. (ECF No. 20, at 5-6.) To qualify as an “expressly authorized” exception to the Anti-Injunction Act, the test is “whether an Act of Congress, clearly creating a federal right or remedy enforceable in a federal court of equity, could be given its intended scope only by the stay of a state court proceeding.” Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 238 (1972); see also, Atlantic Coast Line R.R., 398 U.S. at 297 (“Any doubts as to the propriety of a federal injunction. . . should be resolved in favor of permitting the state courts to proceed . . .”). The Ohio RICO statute permits an injunction, but the statute was not “expressly authorized” by an Act of Congress. Therefore, it does not fall within any exception to the Anti-Injunction Act.
[53] Thus, to the extent that the Smiths are asking the federal district court to stay the Foreclosure case, the request is moot because the state court has stayed the Foreclosure case pending the adjudication of claims presented in this federal case. To the extent that the Smiths are asking the federal district court to enjoin the foreclosure sale ordered by the state court, the federal district court is barred from providing that relief by the Anti-Injunction Act.
[54] IV.
[55] Defendants argue that all the federal claims and most of the state law claims are time-barred. The Court finds that all the federal claims are barred by the relevant statutes of limitations for the following reasons.
[56] A. HOEPA (Count I) and TILA (Count III)
[57] Count I alleges that “Defendants”*fn3 engaged in predatory lending practices, charged “excessive fees, expenses and costs which exceeded more than 10% of the amount financed” and failed to make required disclosures to the Smiths no later than 3 days prior to closing in violation of HOEPA, 15 U.S.C. § 1639. Count III alleges that Defendants failed to disclose certain charges incident to the extension of credit to the Smiths that were associated with the loan transaction on the Truth in Lending Statement and calculated the annual percentage rate based upon improperly calculated, undisclosed or inconsistent amounts — all in violation of TILA statutes and regulations.
[58] The TILA is a federal consumer protection statute intended to promote the informed use of credit by requiring certain uniform disclosures from creditors. In re Community Bank of Northern Virginia, 418 F.3d 277, 303-04 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing15 U.S.C. § 1607, as implemented by Regulation Z, 12 C.F.R. §§ 226.1 et seq.) Creditors who make loans secured by a borrower’s principal dwelling are required to provide borrowers with disclosures such as the annual percentage rate, the finance charge, the amount financed, the total payments, and the payment schedule. Id. at 304 (citing 12 C.F.R. § 226.23) (quotations omitted). The HOEPA, enacted as an amendment to the TILA, creates a special class of regulated loans that are made at higher interest rates or with excessive costs and fees. Id. These loans are not only subject to the restriction on terms commonly used by predatory lenders to manipulate the cost of the loans, but are also subject to special disclosure requirements. Id. (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1639). Under 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e), TILA and HOEPA must be brought “within one year from the date of the occurrence of the violation.”
[59] Defendants argue that the HOEPA and TILA claims are barred by the relevant one-year statute of limitations. These claims, which are based on the failure of Defendants to disclose certain material information leading up to or at the time the Loan transaction was entered, accrued no later than the closing date of March 5, 2004. As such, the claims expired one year later on March 5, 2005.
[60] Rather than address the many and varied claims independently, the Smiths generally assert that Defendants’ pattern “during the life of the mortgage loan, of defrauding the Smiths including failing to credit payments made, incorrectly calculating interest on the accounts and failing to accurately debit fees” entitles all of their claims to equitable tolling. Putting aside for the moment the dubious question of whether accounting errors fall within the ambit of TILA or HOEPA (or RESPA or FCRA for that matter), it is true that the HOEPA and TILA limitations statute may be subject to equitable tolling. Borg v. Chase Manhattan Bank USA, NA, 247 Fed. Appx. 627, 633 (6th Cir. 2007). When equitable tolling is applied, the one-year period begins to run when the borrower discovers or had reasonable opportunity to discover the fraudulent concealment of charges. Id. (citing Jones v. TransOhio Sav. Ass’n, 747 F.2d 1037, 1041 (6th Cir. 1984)). The Smiths argue that there was no practical way for them to know about the alleged fraudulent concealment of charges prior to being sued for foreclosure. Giving the Smiths every benefit of the doubt (i.e., assuming that the statute was tolled until the foreclosure action was commenced on October 18, 2005 or until Nancy Smith filed her answer on December 29, 2005 and Ronald Smith filed his answer on January 10, 2006), the Smiths still had until October 18, 2006 (or December 29, 2006 or January 10, 2007) to file their TILA and HOEPA claims against the appropriate entities and failed to do so.
[61] Moreover, “[a]n obligor’s right of rescission shall expire three years after the date of consummation of the transaction or upon the sale of the property, whichever occurs first.”
[62] 15 U.S.C. § 1635(f). The Supreme Court has interpreted this section to be an absolute three-year bar to claims for rescission under TILA or HOEPA. Beach v. Ocwen Fed. Bank, 523 U.S. 410, 411-12 (1998) (holding that “§ 1635(f) completely extinguishes the right of rescission at the end of the 3-year period.”). Accordingly, the Smiths’ right to rescission of the refinancing loan under TILA and HOEPA was absolutely statutorily extinguished on March 5, 2007.
[63] The Court notes in passing that nothing prevented the Smiths from adding these Defendants to their foreclosure case and bringing these claims (or any of the other claims) against them in the course of those proceedings. See, e.g., 15 U.S.C. § 1536(f). For all these reasons, Counts I and III are barred by the statute of limitations.
[64] B. RESPA (Count II)
[65] Count II alleges that Defendants’ conduct in accepting charges for settlement services not rendered violates 12 U.S.C. § 2607 of the RESPA, and seek an amount equal to three times the amount of charges paid for “settlement services” under § 2607(d)(2). Among the abusive practices Congress sought to eliminate through the enactment of RESPA was the unlawful payment of referral fees, kickbacks and other unearned fees. Sosa v. Chase Manhattan Mortg. Corp., 348 F.3d 979, 981 (11th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted); see also 12 U.S.C. §§ 2601(b), 2607. Claims for violations of § 2607 of the RESPA must be brought within 1 year of the violation. 12 U.S.C. § 2614. There is no dispute that this claim accrued on March 5, 2004 and that it expired on March 5, 2005. The Smiths acknowledge that the Sixth Circuit has yet to decide whether equitable tolling applies to claims brought under § 2607 of the RESPA. See, e.g., Egerer v. Woodland Realty, Inc., No. 1:06 CV 789, 2007 WL 3467263 at *4 (W.D. Mich. Nov. 13, 2007). Even assuming that equitable tolling applies, it would fail here for the same reasons set forth respecting the TILA and HOEPA claims. Accordingly, Count II is time-barred.
[66] C. FCRA (Count IV)
[67] In Count IV, the Smiths assert that “Defendants wrongfully, improperly, and illegally reported negative information as to the Smiths to one or more credit reporting agencies” and that the Smiths are thereby entitled to maintain a private cause of action against Defendants pursuant to § 1681s-2(b). Compl. ¶¶ 73, 74. The Smiths claim that they are entitled to recover damages for Defendants’ alleged negligent non-compliance with the FCRA under § 1681o, and punitive damages for Defendants’ alleged willful noncompliance with the FCRA under § 1681(n)(a)(2). Id. ¶¶ 75, 76.
[68] Congress enacted the FCRA as part of the Consumer Credit Protection Act “to ensure fair and accurate credit reporting, promote efficiency in the banking system, and protect consumer privacy.” Safeco Ins. Co. of Am. v. Burr, 127 S.Ct. 2201 (2007) (citing 84 Stat. 1128, 15 U.S.C. § 1681 and TRW Inc. v. Andrews, 534 U.S. 19 (2001)). The Sixth Circuit has explained that the FCRA is aimed at protecting consumers from inaccurate information in consumer reports and establishing credit reporting procedures that utilize correct, relevant, up-to-date information in a confidential and responsible manner. Jones v. Federated Fin. Reserve Corp., 144 F.3d 961, 965 (6th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).
[69] Under § 1681s-2(b), those who furnish information to credit reporting agencies have the obligation to undertake an investigation upon receipt of notice of dispute regarding credit information that they had previously furnished. Defendants contend that a claim for violation of § 1681s-2(b) is time-barred by the relevant statute of limitations. Furthermore, Defendants argue that the Smiths have failed to state a claim under § 1681s-2(b).
[70] Violations of the FCRA may be brought no later than the earlier of (1) two years after the date of discovery by the plaintiff that is the basis for such liability or (2) five years after the date on which the violation that is the basis for such liability occurs. 15 U.S.C. § 1681p. The Smiths have not alleged the date on which any alleged § 1681s-2(b) violation occurred. Indeed, any claims based violations of the FCRA prior to June 17, 2006 are time-barred.
[71] Furthermore, this claim fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted for two reasons. First, it’s not entirely clear in the Sixth Circuit whether a consumer has a private cause of action against a furnisher of information under § 1681s-2(b). Compare Downs v. Clayton Homes, Inc., 88 Fed. Appx. 851, 853 (6th Cir. 2004) (“If it is assumed that a private right of action exists under § 1681s-2(b), . . . “) and Zamos v. Asset Acceptance, LLC, 423 F.Supp.2d 777 (N.D. Ohio 2006) (“[D]isputes currently exist among the courts as to whether the FCRA creates a private cause of action for a consumer against a furnisher of credit information.”) with Bach v. First Union Nat’l Bank, 149 Fed. Appx. 354, 359-60 (6th Cir. 2005) (“While a consumer cannot bring a private cause of action for a violation of a furnisher’s duty to report truthful information, a consumer may recover damages for . . . violation of . . . § 1681s-2(b)(A)-(D).”) and Sweitzer v. Am. Express Centurion Bank, 554 F.Supp.2d 788, 794 (noting that “[t]he majority consensus among the courts that have addressed the issue is that . . . § 1681s-2(b) created a private right of action by a consumer against a data furnisher,” and declining to follow the minority view espoused in Zamos).
[72] Second, assuming for the moment that there is such cause of action, the Smiths have not alleged that they notified a credit reporting agency that (1) they had a dispute over inaccurate information on their credit report that was furnished to the agency by any of the Defendants, (2) the agency notified Defendants of the dispute, and (3) Defendants failed to undertake an investigation of the dispute. The Smiths assert only that “Defendants” negligently or willfully furnished inaccurate information to the credit reporting agencies. These allegations are insufficient to state a claim for relief, if there is such a thing, under § 1681s-2(b).
[73] For all these reasons, Count IV is dismissed.
[74] V.
[75] The Smiths filed this case in federal court based on the Court’s federal question jurisdiction over the four federal claims, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over the seven state-law claims, 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Compl. ¶¶ 8, 10. Because the Court has dismissed the federal claims, the Court declines to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3); see also United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726 (1966) (“[I]f the federal claims are dismissed before trial, . . . the state claims should be dismissed as well.”); Experimental Holdings, Inc. v. Farris, 503 F.3d 514, 521 (6th Cir. 2007) (“Generally, once a federal court has dismissed a plaintiff’s federal law claim, it should not reach state law claims.”) Thus, the state-law claims (Counts V through XI) are hereby dismissed without prejudice.
[76] VI.
[77] In summary, the Court GRANTS IN PART the pending Motions as follows. The Court grants the pending Motions with respect to Counts I through IV and dismisses those claims with prejudice for reasons set forth in Section III. The Court dismisses without prejudice Counts V through XI for the reason articulated in Section IV. The Court also notes that, if the federal claims were not dismissed, the Court would be unable to grant the Smiths’ request to enjoin the foreclosure sale of their home as ordered by the state court by the federal Anti-Injunction Act.
[79] Dan Aaron Polster United States District Judge

Opinion Footnotes

[80] *fn1 The Court notes in passing that the Smiths defaulted on the Loan well before entering the adjustable rate portion of their refinancing program.
[81] *fn2 Given the limited scope of Rooker-Feldman, the Court is concerned that future plaintiffs may use the federal courts to collaterally attack state court judgments, as in this case. The Sixth Circuit acknowledged this problem, but noted that “this is an inevitable byproduct of the Supreme Court’s confining the scope of Rooker-Feldman in Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 284. . ..” Pittman, 241 Fed. Appx. at 289.
[82] *fn3 The Court takes this opportunity to mention that the Smiths’ referral to “Defendants” as targets of all their allegations and claims is unduly vague. It is difficult to determine, for instance, how BSMRC can be liable for failure to provide the proper truth-in-lending disclosures on March 5, 2004 or what role Option One Mortgage plays in this case at all.


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Forensic Loan Audit Uncovered TILA Disclosure Violations

Posted on January 18, 2009. Filed under: bankruptcy, Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Audit, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

By Lane Houk

The borrower in this case had foreclosure filed against them. After retaining an attorney for the foreclosure, the attorney advised them to have an audit of their loan closing file which revealed a material disclosure violation. It is important to note that a loan can ONLY be rescinded when:

  1. The loan is a refinance transaction;
  2. Funded in the last three years
  3. On the borrower’s primary residence;
  4. When a “material disclosure violation” is found

The term “material disclosure violation” is a very important component. Many people (including self-proclaimed experts in loan auditing) think that “any” violation of the Truth in Lending Act gives someone the right to rescind.  That is patently wrong. The four conditions above must be true in order for the borrower to have the possible “extended right to rescind” the loan transaction. There are only 4 potential “material disclosure violations.”

The borrower in this case was given an insufficient amount of the Notice of Right to Cancel. A borrower should receive two (2) copies of the Notice.

If a married couple is identifiable on a Universal Residential Application, then each consumer is entitled to rescind and must be given a copy of the TILA Disclosure Statement with all material information accurately and correctly disclosed, 15 U.S.C. § 1602(u); Reg. Z § 226.23(a)(3) n.48, and two (2) copies each of the rescission notice, 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a); Reg. Z § 226.23(b), irrespective of whether both are obligated on the note (or either, for that matter).

In this case, the borrowers were married and received only 2 copies total. Material disclosure violation. Thus they rescinded. The lender Option One obviously contested the matter.

Once the Consumer rescinds, the security interest arising by operation of law becomes void automatically. The promissory note is also voided since it is part of the same “transaction,” see i.e., 15 U.S.C. § 1635(b) and Reg. Z § 226.23(d)(1).]

This is powerful folks. This is a complete remedy to foreclosure. The mortgage is the security interest and it is the mortgage (and the mortgage only) that gives the lender the right to foreclose. In a rescission, the lender must void the mortgage within 20 days. If it does not, it is another violation of TILA.

After rescinding the loan the borrowers also filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The lender refused to rescind the loan. The borrowers filed an Adversary Proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court. Bottom line: The judge heard all arguments from both Plaintiff (borrower) and the Defendant (Option One). The judge found in favor of the borrower/plaintiff and determined that they had the right to rescind. Victory number one.

But a BIG ruling in this case was that since they had rescinded the loan, the loan became an “unsecured” debt since the mortgage was automatically voided as per TILA. Since the debt became “unsecured” it was able to be discharged through bankruptcy like any other type of unsecured debt such as a credit card debt.

The moral of the story: TILA Rescission is the most powerful remedy to foreclosure if/when the borrower has this remedy afforded to them. The key is to obtain a loan audit by a real expert.

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Rescission turns mortgage in to unsecured debt!

Posted on January 17, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Law, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The borrowers were married but received only 2 copies of the Right to Cancel notice five days after signing the closing documents for a refinance of their primary residence. Upon completion of a Forensic Loan Audit and the discovery of  “material disclosure violations” they rescinded the loan and filed for protection under chapter 13 of the bankruptcy code.

The lender refused to rescind the loan and the borrowers consequently filed an Adversary Proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court. The judge found in favor of the borrowers and determined that they had the right to rescind.

Since they had rescinded the loan, it was held by the court that the loan became an unsecured debt and the mortgage was automatically voided as per the TILA. Because the debt became “unsecured” it was able to be discharged through bankruptcy like any other type of unsecured debt such as a credit card debt.


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