Ortiz v. Accredited Home Lenders

Posted on December 5, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Loan Modification, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , |

ERNESTO ORTIZ; ARACELI ORTIZ, Plaintiffs, v. ACCREDITED HOME LENDERS, INC.; LINCE HOME LOANS; CHASE HOME FINANCE, LLC; U.S. BANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION, TRUSTEE FOR JP MORGAN ACQUISITION TRUST-2006 ACC; and DOES 1 through 100, inclusive, Defendants.

CASE NO. 09 CV 0461 JM (CAB)

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

Doc. No. 7

On February 6, 2009, Plaintiffs Ernesto and Araceli Ortiz (“Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Diego, raising claims arising out of a mortgage loan transaction. (Doc. No. 1, Exh. 1.) On March 9, 2009, Defendants Chase Home Finance, LLC (“Chase”) and U.S. Bank National Association (“U.S. Bank”) removed the action to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiffs  [*1162]  filed a First Amended Complaint on April 21, 2009, naming only U.S. Bank as a defendant and  [**2] dropping Chase, Accredited Home Lenders, Inc., and Lince Home Loans from the pleadings. (Doc. No. 4, “FAC.”) Pending before the court is a motion by Chase and U.S Bank to dismiss the FAC for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 7, “Mot.”) Because Chase is no longer a party in this matter, the court construes the motion as having been brought only by U.S. Bank. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. (Doc. No. 12, “Opp’n.”) U.S. Bank submitted a responsive reply. (Doc. No. 14, “Reply.”) Pursuant to Civ.L.R. 7.1(d), the matter was taken under submission by the court on June 22, 2009. (Doc. No. 12.)

For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS the motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs purchased their home at 4442 Via La Jolla, Oceanside, California (the “Property”) in January 2006. (FAC P 3; Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 1 (“DOT”) at 1.) The loan was secured by a Deed of Trust on the Property, which was recorded around January 10, 2006. (DOT at 1.) Plaintiffs obtained the loan through a broker “who received kickbacks from the originating lender.” (FAC P 4.) U.S. Bank avers that it is the assignee of the original creditor, Accredited Home  [**3] Lenders, Inc. (FAC P 5; Mot. at 2, 4.) Chase is the loan servicer. (Mot. at 4.) A Notice of Default was recorded on the Property on June 30, 2008, showing the loan in arrears by $ 14,293,08. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 2.) On October 3, 2008, a Notice of Trustee’s Sale was recorded on the Property. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 4.) From the parties’ submissions, it appears no foreclosure sale has yet taken place.

Plaintiffs assert causes of action under Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq. (“TILA”), the Perata Mortgage Relief Act, Cal. Civil Code § 2923.5, the Foreign Language Contract Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1632, the California Unfair Business Practices Act, Cal. Bus. Prof. Code § 17200 et seq., and to quiet title in the Property. Plaintiffs seek rescission, restitution, statutory and actual damages, injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and costs, and judgments to void the security interest in the Property and to quiet title.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standards

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of the pleadings. De La Cruz v. Tormey, 582 F.2d 45, 48 (9th Cir. 1978). [HN2] In evaluating the motion, the court must construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to  the plaintiff, accepting as true all material allegations in the complaint and any reasonable inferences drawn therefrom. See, e.g., Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2003).  While Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper only in “extraordinary” cases, the complaint’s “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level….” U.S. v. Redwood City, 640 F.2d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 1981); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 US 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). The court should grant 12(b)(6) relief only if the complaint lacks either a “cognizable legal theory” or facts sufficient to support a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

In testing the complaint’s legal adequacy, the court may consider material properly submitted as part of the complaint or subject to judicial notice. Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 763 (9th Cir. 2007). Furthermore, under the “incorporation by reference” doctrine, the court may consider documents “whose contents are alleged in a complaint and whose authenticity [*1163]  no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the [plaintiff’s] pleading.” Janas v. McCracken (In re Silicon Graphics Inc. Sec. Litig.), 183 F.3d 970, 986 (9th Cir. 1999) [**5] (internal quotation marks omitted). A court may consider matters of public record on a motion to dismiss, and doing so “does not convert a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to one for summary judgment.” Mack v. South Bay Beer Distributors, 798 F.2d 1279, 1282 (9th Cir. 1986), abrogated on other grounds by Astoria Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass’n v. Solimino, 501 U.S. 104, 111, 111 S. Ct. 2166, 115 L. Ed. 2d 96 (1991). To this end, the court may consider the Deed of Trust, Notice of Default, Substitution of Trustee, and Notice of Trustee’s Sale, as sought by U.S. Bank in their Request for Judicial Notice. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exhs. 1-4.)

B. Analysis

A. Truth in Lending Act

Plaintiffs allege U.S. Bank failed to properly disclose material loan terms, including applicable finance charges, interest rate, and total payments as required by 15 U.S.C. § 1632. (FAC PP 7, 14.) In particular, Plaintiffs offer that the loan documents contained an “inaccurate calculation of the amount financed,” “misleading disclosures regarding the…variable rate nature of the loan” and “the application of a prepayment penalty,” and also failed “to disclose the index rate from which the payment was calculated and selection of historical index values.” (FAC P 13.) In addition,  Plaintiffs contend these violations are “obvious on the face of the loans [sic] documents.” (FAC P 13.) Plaintiffs argue that since “Defendant has initiated foreclosure proceedings in an attempt to collect the debt,” they may seek remedies for the TILA violations through “recoupment or setoff.” (FAC P 14.) Notably, Plaintiffs’ FAC does not specify whether they are requesting damages, rescission, or both under TILA, although their general request for statutory damages does cite TILA’s § 1640(a). (FAC at 7.)

U.S. Bank first asks the court to dismiss Plaintiffs’ TILA claim by arguing it is “so summarily pled that it does not ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level …'” (Mot. at 3.) The court disagrees. Plaintiffs have set out several ways in which the disclosure documents were deficient. In addition, by stating the violations were apparent on the face of the loan documents, they have alleged assignee liability for U.S. Bank. See 15 U.S.C. § 1641(a)(assignee liability lies “only if the violation…is apparent on the face of the disclosure statement….”). The court concludes Plaintiffs have adequately pled the substance of their TILA claim.

However, as U.S. Bank argues, Plaintiffs’ TILA claim is procedurally barred. To the extent Plaintiffs recite a claim for rescission, such is precluded by the applicable three-year statute of limitations. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(f) “Any claim for rescission must be brought within three years of consummation of the transaction or upon the sale of the property, whichever occurs first…”). According to the loan documents, the loan closed in December 2005 or January 2006. (DOT at 1.) The instant suit was not filed until February 6, 2009, outside the allowable three-year period. (Doc. No. 1, Exh. 1.) In addition,  “residential mortgage transactions” are excluded from the right of rescission. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(e). A “residential mortgage transaction” is defined by 15 U.S.C. § 1602(w) to include “a mortgage, deed of trust, … or equivalent consensual security interest…created…against the consumer’s dwelling to finance the acquisition…of such dwelling.” Thus, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for rescission under TILA.

As for Plaintiffs’ request for damages, they acknowledge such claims are normally subject to a one-year statute of limitations, typically running from the date of loan execution. See 15 U.S.C. §1640(e) any claim under this provision must be made “within one year from the date of the occurrence of the violation.”). However, as mentioned above, Plaintiffs attempt to circumvent the limitations period by characterizing their claim as one for “recoupment or setoff.” Plaintiffs rely on 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e), which provides:

This subsection does not bar a person from asserting a violation of this subchapter in an action to collect the debt which was brought more than one year from the date of the occurrence of the violation as a matter of defense by recoupment or set-off in such action, except as otherwise provided by State law.

Generally, “a defendant’s right to plead ‘recoupment,’ a ‘defense arising out of some feature of the transaction upon which the plaintiff’s action is grounded,’ … survives the expiration” of the limitations period. Beach v. Ocwen Fed. Bank, 523 U.S. 410, 415, 118 S. Ct. 1408, 140 L. Ed. 2d 566 (1998) (quoting Rothensies v. Elec. Storage Battery Co., 329 U.S. 296, 299, 67 S. Ct. 271, 91 L. Ed. 296, 1947-1 C.B. 109 (1946) (internal citation omitted)). Plaintiffs also correctly observe the Supreme Court has confirmed recoupment claims survive TILA’s statute of limitations. Id. at 418. To avoid dismissal at this stage, Plaintiffs must show that “(1) the TILA violation and the debt are products of the same transaction, (2) the debtor asserts the claim as a defense, and (3) the main action is timely.” Moor v. Travelers Ins. Co., 784 F.2d 632, 634 (5th Cir. 1986) (citing In re Smith, 737 F.2d 1549, 1553 (11th Cir. 1984)) (emphasis added).

U.S. Bank suggests Plaintiffs’ TILA claim is not sufficiently related to the underlying mortgage debt so as to qualify as a recoupment. (Mot. at 6-7.) The court disagrees with this argument, and other courts have reached the same conclusion. See Moor, 784 F.2d at 634 (plaintiff’s use of recoupment claims under TILA failed on the second and third prongs only); Williams v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 504 F.Supp.2d 176, 188 (S.D. Tex. 2007) (where plaintiff “received a loan secured by a deed of trust on his property and later defaulted on the mortgage payments to the lender,” he “satisfie[d] the first element of the In re Smith test….”). Plaintiffs’ default and U.S. Bank’s attempts to foreclose on the Property representing the security interest for the underlying loan each flow from the same contractual transaction. The authority relied on by U.S. Bank, Aetna Fin. Co. v. Pasquali, 128 Ariz. 471, 626 P.2d 1103 (Ariz. App. 1981), is unpersuasive.  Not only does Aetna Finance recognize the split among courts on this issue, the decision is not binding on this court, and was reached before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Beach, supra. Aetna Fin., 128 Ariz. at 473,

Nevertheless, the deficiencies in Plaintiffs’ claim become apparent upon examination under the second and third prongs of the In re Smith test. Section 1640(e) of TILA makes recoupment available only as a “defense” in an “action to collect a debt.” Plaintiffs essentially argue that U.S. Bank’s initiation of non-judicial foreclosure proceedings paves the path for their recoupment claim. (FAC P 14; Opp’n at 3.) Plaintiffs cite to In re Botelho, 195 B.R. 558, 563 (Bkrtcy. D. Mass. 1996), suggesting the court there allowed TILA recoupment claims to counter a non-judicial foreclosure. In Botelho, lender Citicorp apparently initiated non-judicial foreclosure proceedings, Id. at 561 fn. 1, and thereafter entered the plaintiff’s Chapter 13 proceedings by filing a Proof of Claim. Id. at 561. The plaintiff then filed an adversary complaint before the same bankruptcy court in which she advanced her TILA-recoupment theory. Id. at 561-62. The Botelho court evaluated the validity of the  recoupment claim, taking both of Citicorp’s actions into account – the foreclosure as well as the filing of a proof of claim. Id. at 563. The court did not determine whether the non-judicial foreclosure, on its own, would have allowed the plaintiff to satisfy the three prongs of the In re Smith test.

On the other hand, the court finds U.S. Bank’s argument on this point persuasive: non-judicial foreclosures are not “actions” as contemplated by TILA. First, § 1640(e) itself defines an “action” as a court proceeding. 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e) (“Any action…may be brought in any United States district court, or in any other court of competent jurisdiction…”). Turning to California law, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 726 indicates an “action for the recovery of any debt or the enforcement of any right secured by mortgage upon real property” results in a judgment from the court directing the sale of the property and distributing the resulting funds. Further, Code § 22 defines an “action” as “an ordinary proceeding in a court of justice by  which one party prosecutes another for the declaration, enforcement, or protection of a right, the redress or prevention of a wrong, or the punishment of a public offense.” Neither of these state law provisions addresses the extra-judicial exercise of a right of sale under a deed of trust, which is governed by Cal. Civ. Code § 2924, et seq. Unlike the situation in Botelho, U.S. Bank has done nothing to bring a review its efforts to foreclose before this court. As Plaintiffs concede, “U.S. Bank has not filed a civil lawsuit and nothing has been placed before the court” which would require the court to “examine the nature and extent of the lender’s claims….” (Opp’n at 4.) “When the debtor hales [sic] the creditor into court…, the claim by the debtor is affirmative rather than defensive.” Moor, 784 F.2d at 634; see also, Amaro v. Option One Mortgage Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. 2855, 2009 WL 103302, at *3 (C.D. Cal., Jan. 14, 2009) (rejecting plaintiff’s argument that recoupment is a defense to a non-judicial foreclosure and holding “Plaintiff’s affirmative use of the claim is improper and exceeds the scope of the TILA exception….”).

The court recognizes that U.S. Bank’s choice of remedy under California law effectively  denies Plaintiffs the opportunity to assert a recoupment defense. This result does not run afoul of TILA. As other courts have noted, TILA contemplates such restrictions by allowing recoupment only to the extent allowed under state law. 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e); Joseph v. Newport Shores Mortgage, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8199, 2006 WL 418293, at *2 fn. 1 (N.D. Ga., Feb. 21, 2006). The court concludes TILA’s one-year statute of limitations under § 1635(f) bars Plaintiffs’ TILA claim.

In sum, U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss the TILA claim is granted, and Plaintiffs’ TILA claims are dismissed with prejudice.

B. Perata Mortgage Relief Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5

Plaintiffs’ second cause of action arises under the Perata Mortgage Relief Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5. Plaintiffs argue U.S. Bank is liable for monetary damages under this provision because it “failed and refused to explore” “alternatives to the drastic remedy of foreclosure, such as loan modifications” before initiating foreclosure proceedings. (FAC PP 17-18.) Furthermore, Plaintiffs allege U.S. Bank violated Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5(c) by failing to include with the notice of sale a declaration that it contacted the borrower to explore such options. (Opp’n at  6.)

Section 2923.5(a)(2) requires a “mortgagee, beneficiary or authorized agent” to “contact the borrower in person or by telephone in order to assess the borrower’s [*1166]  financial situation and explore options for the borrower to avoid foreclosure.” For a lender which had recorded a notice of default prior to the effective date of the statute, as is the case here, § 2923.5(c) imposes a duty to attempt to negotiate with a borrower before recording a notice of sale. These provisions cover loans initiated between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007. Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5(h)(3), (i).

U.S. Bank’s primary argument is that Plaintiffs’ claim should be dismissed because neither § 2923.5 nor its legislative history clearly indicate an intent to create a private right of action. (Mot. at 8.) Plaintiffs counter that such a conclusion is unsupported by the legislative history; the California legislature would not have enacted this “urgency” legislation, intended to curb high foreclosure rates in the state, without any accompanying enforcement mechanism. (Opp’n at 5.) The court agrees with Plaintiffs. While the Ninth Circuit has yet to address this issue, the court found no decision from this circuit  [**15] where a § 2923.5 claim had been dismissed on the basis advanced by U.S. Bank. See, e.g. Gentsch v. Ownit Mortgage Solutions Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45163, 2009 WL 1390843, at *6 (E.D. Cal., May 14, 2009)(addressing merits of claim); Lee v. First Franklin Fin. Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44461, 2009 WL 1371740, at *1 (E.D. Cal., May 15, 2009) (addressing evidentiary support for claim).

On the other hand, the statute does not require a lender to actually modify a defaulting borrower’s loan but rather requires only contacts or attempted contacts in a good faith effort to prevent foreclosure. Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5(a)(2). Plaintiffs allege only that U.S. Bank “failed and refused to explore such alternatives” but do not allege whether they were contacted or not. (FAC P 18.) Plaintiffs’ use of the phrase “refused to explore,” combined with the “Declaration of Compliance” accompanying the Notice of Trustee’s Sale, imply Plaintiffs were contacted as required by the statute. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 4 at 3.) Because Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5, U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss is granted. Plaintiffs’ claim is dismissed without prejudice.

C. Foreign Language Contract Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 et seq.

Plaintiffs  assert “the contract and loan obligation was [sic] negotiated in Spanish,” and thus, they were entitled, under Cal. Civ. Code § 1632, to receive loan documents in Spanish rather than in English. (FAC P 21-24.) Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 provides, in relevant part:

Any person engaged in a trade or business who negotiates primarily in Spanish, Chines, Tagalog, Vietnamese, or Korean, orally or in writing, in the course of entering into any of the following, shall deliver to the other party to the contract or agreement and prior to the execution thereof, a translation of the contract or agreement in the language in which the contract or agreement was negotiated, which includes a translation of every term and condition in that contract or agreement.

Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(b).

U.S. Bank argues this claim must be dismissed because Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(b)(2) specifically excludes loans secured by real property. (Mot. at 8.) Plaintiffs allege their loan falls within the exception outlined in § 1632(b)(4), which effectively recaptures any “loan or extension of credit for use primarily for personal, family or household purposes where the loan or extension of credit is subject to the provision of Article  7 (commencing with Section 10240) of Chapter 3 of Part I of Division 4 of the Business and Professions Code ….” (FAC P 21; Opp’n at 7.) The Article 7 loans referenced here are those secured by real property which [*1167]  were negotiated by a real estate broker. 1 See Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 10240. For the purposes of § 1632(b)(4), a “real estate broker” is one who “solicits borrowers, or causes borrowers to be solicited, through express or implied representations that the broker will act as an agent in arranging a loan, but in fact makes the loan to the borrower from funds belonging to the broker.” Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 10240(b). To take advantage of this exception with respect to U.S. Bank, Plaintiffs must allege U.S. Bank either acted as the real estate broker or had a principal-agent relationship with the broker who negotiated their loan. See Alvara v. Aurora Loan Serv., Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50365, 2009 WL 1689640, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Jun. 16, 2009), and references cited therein (noting “several courts have rejected the proposition that defendants are immune from this statute simply because they are not themselves brokers, so long as the defendant has an agency relationship with a broker or was acting as a  [**18] broker.”). Although Plaintiffs mention in passing a “broker” was involved in the transaction (FAC P 4), they fail to allege U.S. Bank acted in either capacity described above.

Although U.S. Bank correctly notes the authorities cited by Plaintiffs are all unreported cases, the court agrees with the conclusions set forth in those cases. See Munoz v. International Home Capital Corp., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26362, 2004 WL 3086907, at *9 (N.D. Cal. 2004); Ruiz v. Decision One Mortgage Co., LLC, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54571, 2006 WL 2067072, at *5 (N.D. Cal. 2006).

Nevertheless, Plaintiffs argue they are not limited to remedies against the original broker, but may seek rescission of the contract through the assignee of the loan. Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(k). Section 1632(k) allows for rescission for violations of the statute and also provides, “When the contract for a consumer credit sale or consumer lease which has been sold and assigned to a financial institution is rescinded pursuant to this subdivision, the consumer shall make restitution to and have restitution made by the person with whom he or she made the contract, and shall give notice of rescission to the assignee.Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(k) (emphasis added). There are two problems with Plaintiffs’  theory. First, it is not clear to this court that Plaintiffs’ loan qualifies as a “consumer credit sale or consumer lease.” Second, the court interprets this provision not as a mechanism to impose liability for a violation of § 1632 on U.S. Bank as an assignee, but simply as a mechanism to provide notice to that assignee after recovering restitution from the broker.

The mechanics of contract rescission are governed by Cal. Civ. Code § 1691, which requires a plaintiff to give notice of rescission to the other party and to return, or offer to return, all proceeds he received from the transaction. Plaintiffs’ complaint does satisfy these two requirements. Cal. Civ. Code § 1691 (“When notice of rescission has not otherwise been given or an offer to restore the benefits received under the contract has not otherwise been made, the service of a pleading…that seeks relief based on rescission shall be deemed to be such notice or offer or both.”). However, the court notes that if Plaintiffs were successful in their bid to rescind the contract, they would have to return the proceeds of the loan which they used to purchase their Property.

For these reasons discussed above, Plaintiffs have failed  to state a claim under Cal. Civ. Code § 1632. U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss is granted and Plaintiffs’ claim for violation of Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 is dismissed without prejudice.

D. Unfair Business Practices, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200

California’s unfair competition statute “prohibits any unfair competition, which means ‘any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent [*1168]  business act or practice.'” In re Pomona Valley Med. Group, 476 F.3d 665, 674 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, et seq.). “This tripartite test is disjunctive and the plaintiff need only allege one of the three theories to properly plead a claim under § 17200.” Med. Instrument Dev. Labs. v. Alcon Labs., 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41411, 2005 WL 1926673, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 10, 2005). “Virtually any law-state, federal or local-can serve as a predicate for a § 17200 claim.” State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Superior Court, 45 Cal.App.4th 1093, 1102-3, 53 Cal. Rptr. 2d 229 (1996). Plaintiffs assert their § 17200 “claim is entirely predicated upon their previous causes of action” under TILA and Cal. Civ. Code §§ 2923.5 and § 1632. (FAC PP 25-29; Opp’n at 9.)

U.S. Bank first contend Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue a § 17200 claim because they “do not allege what  [**21] money or property they allegedly lost as a result of any purported violation.” (Mot. at 9.) The court finds Plaintiffs have satisfied the pleading standards on this issue by alleging they “relied, to their detriment,” on incomplete and inaccurate disclosures which led them to pay higher interest rates than they would have otherwise. (FAC P 9.) Such “losses” have been found sufficient to confer standing. See Aron v. U-Haul Co. of California, 143 Cal.App.4th 796, 802-3, 49 Cal. Rptr. 3d 555 (2006).

U.S. Bank next offers that Plaintiffs’ mere recitation of the statutory bases for this cause of action, without specific allegations of fact, fails to state a claim. (Mot. at 10.) Plaintiffs point out all the factual allegations in their complaint are incorporated by reference into their § 17200 claim. (FAC P 25; Opp’n at 9.) The court agrees there was no need for Plaintiffs to copy all the preceding paragraphs into this section when their claim expressly incorporates the allegations presented elsewhere in the complaint. Any argument by U.S. Bank that the pleadings failed to put them on notice of the premise behind Plaintiffs’ § 17200 claim would be somewhat disingenuous.

Nevertheless, all three of Plaintiffs’ predicate  statutory claims have been dismissed for failure to state a claim. Without any surviving basis for the § 17200 claim, it too must be dismissed. U.S. Bank’s motion is therefore granted and Plaintiffs’ § 17200 claim is dismissed without prejudice.

E. Quiet Title

In their final cause of action, Plaintiffs seek to quiet title in the Property. (FAC PP 30-36.) In order to adequately allege a cause of action to quiet title, a plaintiff’s pleadings must include a description of “[t]he title of the plaintiff as to which a determination…is sought and the basis of the title…” and “[t]he adverse claims to the title of the plaintiff against which a determination is sought.” Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 761.020. A plaintiff is required to name the “specific adverse claims” that form the basis of the property dispute. See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 761.020, cmt. at P 3. Here, Plaintiffs allege the “Defendant claims an adverse interest in the Property owned by Plaintiffs,” but do not specify what that interest might be. (Mot. at 6-7.) Plaintiffs are still the owners of the Property. The recorded foreclosure Notices do not affect Plaintiffs’ title, ownership, or possession in the Property. U.S. Bank’s motion to  dismiss is therefore granted, and Plaintiffs’ cause of action to quiet title is dismissed without prejudice.

III. CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth above, U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 7) is GRANTED. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ claim under TILA is DISMISSED with prejudice and Plaintiffs’ claims under Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5,  [*1169]  Cal. Civ. Code§ 1632, and Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, and their claim to quiet title are DISMISSED without prejudice.

The court grants Plaintiffs 30 days’ leave from the date of entry of this order to file a Second Amended Complaint which cures all the deficiencies noted above. Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint must be complete in itself without reference to the superseded pleading. Civil Local Rule 15.1.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: July 13, 2009

/s/ Jeffrey T. Miller

Hon. Jeffrey T. Miller

United States District Judge

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Indymac Bank F.S.B. v. Yano-Horoski

Posted on November 21, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Mortgage and Note voided, cancelled and nullified by the court because lender had acted in bad faith, refusing to negotiate a reasonable loan modification.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Indymac Bank F.S.B. v Yano-Horoski
2009 NY Slip Op 52333(U)
Decided on November 19, 2009
Supreme Court, Suffolk County
Spinner, J.
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.

Decided on November 19, 2009

Supreme Court, Suffolk County

Indymac Bank F.S.B., Plaintiff

against

Diana Yano-Horoski, Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota National Association as Trustee for Soundview Home Equity Loan Trust 2001-1 and Kimberly Horoski, Defendants.

2005-17926

Steven J. Baum P.C.

Attorney for Plaintiff

P.O. Box 1291

Buffalo, New York 14240

Diana Yano-Horoski

Defendant Pro Se

8 Oakland Street

East Patchogue, New York 11772-5767

Jeffrey Arlen Spinner, J.

This is an action wherein the Plaintiff claims foreclosure of a mortgage dated August 4, 2004 in the original principal amount of $ 292,500.00 recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County, New York in Liber 20826 of Mortgages at Page 285. The mortgage secures an adjustable rate note of the same amount with an initial interest rate of 10.375%. The mortgage encumbers real property commonly known as 8 Oakland Street, East Patchogue, Town of Brookhaven, New York and described as District 0200 Section 979.50 Block 05.00 Lot 001.000 on the Tax Map of Suffolk County. Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Summons, Verified Complaint and Notice of Pendency on July 27, 2005. The Notice of Pendency was extended by Order dated April 28, 2008 and a Judgment of Foreclosure & Sale was granted on January 12, 2009.

Thereafter and in accordance with the Laws of 2008, Ch. 472, Sec. 3-a and in view of the fact that the loan at issue was deemed to be “sub-prime” or “high cost” in nature, Defendant seasonably requested that the Court convene a settlement conference. That request was granted and a conference was commenced on February 24, 2009 which was continued five times in a series of unsuccessful attempts by the Court to obtain meaningful cooperation from Plaintiff. In view of Plaintiff’s intransigence in its continuing failure and refusal to cooperate, both with the Court and with Defendant’s multiple and reasonable requests, the Court directed that Plaintiff produce an officer of the bank at the adjourned conference scheduled for September 22, 2009.

At the conference held on September 22, 2009, Karen Dickinson, Regional Manager of [*2]Loss Mitigation for IndyMac Mortgage Services, division of OneWest Bank F.S.B. (“IndyMac”) appeared on behalf of Plaintiff. IndyMac purports to be the servicer of the loan for the benefit of Deutsche Bank who, it is claimed, is the owner and holder of the note and mortgage (though the record holder is IndyMac Bank F.S.B., an entity which no longer is in existence). At that conference, it was celeritously made clear to the Court that Plaintiff had no good faith intention whatsoever of resolving this matter in any manner other than a complete and forcible devolution of title from Defendant. Although IndyMac had prepared a two page document entitled “Mediation Yano-Horoski” which contained what purported to be a financial analysis, Ms. Dickinson’s affirmative statements made it abundantly clear that no form of mediation, resolution or settlement would be acceptable to Plaintiff. IndyMac asserts the total amount due it to be in excess of $ 525,000.00 and freely concedes that the property securing the loan is worth no more than $ 275,000.00. Although Ms. Dickinson insisted that Ms. Yano-Horoski had been offered a “Forbearance Agreement” in the recent past upon which she quickly defaulted, it was only after substantial prodding by the Court that Ms. Dickinson conceded, with great reluctance, that it had not been sent to Defendant until after its stated first payment due date and hence, Defendant could not have consummated it under any circumstances (Defendant, through Plaintiff’s duplicity, found herself to be in the unique and uncomfortable position of being placed in default of the “agreement” even before she had received it). Plaintiff flatly rejected an offer by Plaintiff’s daughter to purchase the house for its fair market value (a so-called “short sale”) with third party financing. Plaintiff refused to consider a loan modification utilizing any more than 25% of the income of Plaintiff’s husband and daughter (both of whom reside in the premises with her), the excuse being that “We can’t control what non-obligors do with their money” (the logical follow up to this statement is how does the bank control what the obligor does with her money?). The Court found IndyMac’s position to be deeply troubling, especially since a plethora of sub-prime loans in this County’s Foreclosure Conference Part have been successfully modified with the lender’s reliance upon the income of non-obligors who reside in the premises under foreclosure. The Plaintiff also summarily rejected an offer by both Plaintiff’s husband and daughter to voluntarily obligate themselves for payment upon the full indebtedness, thus committing their individual incomes expressly to the purpose of a loan modification. It should be noted here that Defendant did not even request any waiver or “forgiveness” of the indebtedness aside from some tinkering with the interest rate, just a modification of terms so as to enable her to repay the same. It was evident from Ms. Dickinson’s opprobrious demeanor and condescending attitude that no proffer by Defendant (short of consent to foreclosure and ejectment of Defendant and her family) would be acceptable to Plaintiff. Even a final and desperate offer of a deed in lieu of foreclosure was met with bland equivocation. In short, each and every proposal by Defendant, no matter how reasonable, was soundly rebuffed by Plaintiff. Viewed objectively, it is apparent that Plaintiff’s conduct in this matter falls within the definitions set forth in 22 NYCRR § 130-1.1( c)(2), which might well warrant the imposition of monetary sanctions.

On the Court’s own motion, a hearing was held on November 18, 2009 in order to explore the issues herein. At the hearing, Ms. Dickinson appeared as well as Mr. Horoski. IndyMac claimed a balance due, as of September 22, 2009 of $ 527,437.73 which included an escrow overdraft of $ 46,627.88 for taxes advanced since the date of default but did not include attorney’s fees and costs.. Plaintiff was unable to tell the Court the amount of the principal [*3]balance owed. Mr. Horoski advised the Court that according to two letters received from Plaintiff, the principal balance was said to be $ 285,381.70 as of February 9, 2009 and $ 283,992.48 as of August 10, 2009. Plaintiff stated was that Defendant must have made payments though it was conceded that in fact no payment had been made.Plaintiff insisted that it had remained in regular contact with Defendant in an effort to reach an amicable resolution, that it had extended two modification offers to Defendant which she did not accept and further, that due to her financial status she was not qualified for any modification, even under the Federal HAMP guidelines. Plaintiff denied that it had “singled out” Defendants, simply stating that her status was such that she fell outside applicable guidelines. All of these assertions were disputed by Defendant.

That having been said, the Court is greatly disturbed by Plaintiff’s assertions of the amount claimed to be due from Defendant. The Referee’s Report dated June 30, 2008, which has its genesis in a sworn affidavit by a representative of Plaintiff (presumably one with knowledge of the account), reflects a total amount due and owing of $ 392,983.42. The principal balance is reported to be $ 290,687.85 with interest computed at the rates of 10.375% from November 1, 2005 through August 31, 2006 ($ 25,118.62), 12.50% from September 1, 2006 to February 28, 2007 ($ 18,018.66), 12.375% from March 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008 ($ 39,126.39) and 11.375% from April 1, 2008 to June 24, 2008 ($ 7,700.24) totalling $ 89,963.91. Plaintiff also claims $ 20.00 in non-sufficient funds charges, $ 295.00 in property inspection fees and $ 12,016.66 for tax and insurance advances. The Judgment of Foreclosure & Sale dated January 12, 2009 was granted in the amount of $ 392,983.42 with interest at the contract rate from June 24, 2008 through January 12, 2009 and at the statutory rate thereafter plus attorney’s fees of $ 2,300.00 and a bill of costs in the amount of $ 1,705.00. Even computing the accrual of pre-judgment interest of $ 18,299.18 (using Plaintiff’s per diem rate in the Referee’s Report) together with post-judgment interest at a statutory 9% through November 19, 2009 (an additional $ 31,740.90), the application of simple addition yields a total amount due of $ 447,028.50. This figure is $ 80,409.23 less than the $ 527,437.73 asserted by Plaintiff to be due and owing from Defendant. The Court is astounded that Plaintiff now claims to be owed an escrow advance amount of $ 46,627.88 when, under oath, its officer swore that as of June 24, 2008 that amount was actually $ 34,611.22 less. Moreover, it now appears that the elusive principal balance is either $ 290,687.85, $ 285,381.70 or $ 283,992.48.

It is the province and indeed the obligation of the trial court to assess and to determine issues regarding credibility, Morgan v. McCaffrey 14 AD3d 670 (2nd Dept. 2005). In the matter before the Court, the pendulum of credibility swings heavily in favor of Defendant. When the conduct of Plaintiff in this proceeding is viewed in its entirety, it compels the Court to invoke the ancient and venerable principle of “Falsus in uno, falsus in omni” (Latin; “false in one, false in all”) upon Defendant which, after review, is wholly appropriate in the context presented, Deering v. Metcalf 74 NY 501 (1878). Regrettably, the Court has been unable to find even so much as a scintilla of good faith on the part of Plaintiff. Plaintiff comes before this Court with unclean hands yet has the insufferable temerity to demand equitable relief against Defendant.

The Court, over the course of some six substantive appearances in seven months, has been afforded more than ample opportunity to assess the demeanor, credibility and general state [*4]of relevant affairs of Defendant and Plaintiff. Although not actually relevant to the disposition of this matter, the Court is constrained to note that Defendant is afflicted with multiple health problems which outwardly manifest in her experiencing great difficulty in ambulation, necessitating the use of mechanical supports. Moreover, Defendant’s husband, Mr. Gregory Horoski, suffers from a myriad of serious medical conditions which greatly impede most aspects of his daily existence. Nonetheless, both of these persons, together with their adult daughter who resides with them and who is substantially and gainfully employed, receive income which they are more than willing to commit, in good faith, toward repayment of the debt to Plaintiff and indeed, despite their physical challenges, they have appeared at each and every scheduled conference before this Court. At each appearance, they have assiduously attempted to resolve this controversy in an amicable fashion, only to be callously and arbitrarily turned away by Plaintiff. This has been so even in spite of the Court’s continuing albeit futile endeavors at brokering a settlement.

As a relevant aside, the scenario presented here raises the specter of a much greater social problem, that of housing those persons whose homes are foreclosed and who are thereafter dispossessed. It is certainly no secret that Suffolk County is in the yawning abyss of a deep mortgage and housing crisis with foreclosure filings at a record high rate and a corresponding paucity of emergency housing. While foreclosure and its attendant eviction are clearly the inevitable (and in some cases, proper) result in a number of these situations, the Court is persuaded that this need not be the case here. In this matter, Defendant is plainly willing to make arrangements for repayment and both her husband and daughter are likewise willing to allocate their respective incomes in order to reach the same end. Were Plaintiff amenable, she would presumably continue to maintain the property’s physical plant, pay taxes thereon and the property would retain or perhaps increase its market value. Plaintiff would receive a regular income stream, albeit with a reduced rate of interest and without sustaining a loss of several hundred thousand dollars. In addition, no neighborhood blight would occur from the boarding of the property after foreclosure which would, in turn, avert problems of litter, dumping, vagrancy and vandalism as well as a corresponding decline in the property values in the immediate area. In short, a loan modification would result in a proverbial “win-win” for all parties involved. To do otherwise would result in virtually certain undomiciled status for two physically unhealthy persons and their daughter, leading to an additional level of problems, both for them and for society.

Since an action claiming foreclosure of a mortgage is one sounding in equity, Jamaica Savings Bank v. M.S. Investing Co. 274 NY 215 (1937), the very commencement of the action by Plaintiff invokes the Court’s equity jurisdiction. While it must be noted that the formal distinctions between an action at law and a suit in equity have long since been abolished in New York (see CPLR 103, Field Code Of 1848 §§ 2, 3, 4, 69), the Supreme Court nevertheless has equity jurisdiction and distinct rules regarding equity are still extant, Carroll v. Bullock 207 NY 567, 101 NE 438 (1913). Speaking generally and broadly, it is settled law that “Stability of contract obligations must not be undermined by judicial sympathy…” Graf v. Hope Building Corporation 254 NY 1 (1930). However, it is true with equal force and effect that equity must not and cannot slavishly and blindly follow the law, Hedges v. Dixon County 150 US 182, 192 (1893). Moreover, as succinctly decreed by our Court of Appeals in the matter of Noyes v. [*5]Anderson 124 NY 175 (1890) “A party having a legal right shall not be permitted to avail himself of it for the purposes of injustice or oppression…” 124 NY at 179.

In the matter of Eastman Kodak Co. v. Schwartz 133 NYS2d 908 (Sup. Ct., New York County, 1954), Special Term stated that “The maxim of “clean hands” fundamentally was conceived in equity jurisprudence to refuse to lend its aid in any manner to one seeking its active interposition who has been guilty of unlawful, unconscionable or inequitable conduct in the matter with relation to which he seeks relief.” 133 NYS2d at 925, citing First Trust & Savings Bank v. Iowa-Wisconsin Bridge Co. 98 F 2d 416 (8th Cir. 1938), cert. denied 305 US 650, 59 S. Ct. 243, 83 L. Ed. 240 (1938), reh. denied 305 US 676, 59 S Ct. 356 83 L. Ed. 437 (1939); General Excavator Co. v. Keystone Driller Co. 65 F 2d 39 (6th Cir. 1933), cert. granted 289 US 721, 53 S. Ct. 791, 77 L. Ed. 1472 (1933), aff’d 290 US 240, 54 S. Ct. 146, 78 L. Ed. 793 (1934).

In attempting to arrive at a determination as to whether or not equity should properly intervene in this matter so as to permit foreclosure of the mortgage, the Court is required to look at the situattion in toto, giving due and careful consideration as to whether the remedy sought by Plaintiff would be repugnant to the public interest when seen from the point of view of public morality, see, for example, 55 NY Jur. Equity § 113, Molinas v. Podloff 133 NYS2d 743 (Sup. Ct., New York County, 1954). Equitable relief will not lie in favor of one who acts in a manner which is shocking to the conscience, Duggan v. Platz 238 AD 197, 264 NYS 403 (3rd Dept. 1933), mod. on other grounds 263 NY 505, 189 NE 566 (1934), neither will equity be available to one who acts in a manner that is oppressive or unjust or whose conduct is sufficiently egregious so as to prohibit the party from asserting its legal rights against a defaulting adversary, In Re Foreclosure Of Tax Liens 117 NYS2d 725 (Sup. Ct. Kings County, 1952), aff’d on other grounds 286 AD 1027, 145 NYS2d 97 (2nd Dept. 1955), mod. on other grounds on reargument 1 AD2d 95, 148 NYS2d 173 (2nd Dept. 1955), appeal granted 7 AD2d 784, 149 NYS2d 227 (2nd Dept. 1956). The compass by which the questioned conduct must be measured is a moral one and the acts complained of (those that are sufficient so as to prevent equity’s intervention) need not be criminal nor actionable at law but must merely be willful and unconscionable or be of such a nature that honest and fair minded folk would roundly denounce such actions as being morally and ethically wrong, Pecorella v. Greater Buffalo Press Inc. 107 AD2d 1064, 468 NYS2d 562 (4th Dept. 1985). Thus, where a party acts in a manner that is offensive to good conscience and justice, he will be completely without recourse in a court of equity, regardless of what his legal rights may be, Eastman Kodak Co. v. Schwartz 133 NYS2d 908 (Sup. Ct., New York County, 1954), York v. Searles 97 AD 331, 90 NYS 37 (2nd Dept. 1904), aff’d 189 NY 573, 82 NE 1134 (1907).

An objective and painstaking examination of the totality of the facts and circumstances herein leads this Court to the inescapable conclusion that the affirmative conduct exhibited by Plaintiff at least since since February 24, 2009 (and perhaps earlier) has been and is inequitable, unconscionable, vexatious and opprobrious. The Court is constrained, solely as a result of Plaintiff’s affirmative acts, to conclude that Plaintiff’s conduct is wholly unsupportable at law or in equity, greatly egregious and so completely devoid of good faith that equity cannot be permitted to intervene on its behalf. Indeed, Plaintiff’s actions toward Defendant in this matter have been harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive to the extent that it must be appropriately [*6]sanctioned so as to deter it from imposing further mortifying abuse against Defendant. The Court cannot be assured that Plaintiff will not repeat this course of conduct if this action is merely dismissed and hence, dismissal standing alone is not a reasonable option. Likewise, the imposition of monetary sanctions under 22 NYCRR § 130-1.1 et. seq. is not likely to have a salubrious or remedial effect on these proceedings and certainly would not inure to Defendant’s benefit. This Court is of the opinion that cancellation of the indebtedness and discharge of the mortgage, when taken together, constitute the appropriate equitable disposition under the unique facts and circumstances presented herein.

After careful consideration, it is the determination of this Court that the indebtedness evidenced by the Adjustable Rate Note dated August 4, 2004 in the original principal amount of $ 292,500.00 made by Diana J. Yano-Horoski in favor of IndyMac Bank F.S.B. should be cancelled, voided and set aside. In addition, the Mortgage which secures the Adjustable Rate Note, given to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. As Nominee For IndyMac Bank F.S.B. dated August 4, 2004 and recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County on August 16, 2004 in Liber 20826 of Mortgages at Page 285, as assigned by Assignment recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County in Liber 21273 of Mortgages at Page 808 should be cancelled and discharged of record. Further, Plaintiff, its successors and assigns should be forever barred and prohibited from any action to collect upon the Adjustable Rate Note. In addition, the Judgment of Foreclosure & Sale granted on January 12, 2009 and entered on January 23, 2009 should be vacated and set aside and the Notice of Pendency should be cancelled and discharged of record. For this Court to decree anything less than the foregoing would be for the Court to be wholly derelict in the performance of its obligations.

Upon the Court’s own motion, it is

ORDERED that the Adjustable Rate Note in the amount of $ 292,500.00 dated August 4, 2004 made by Diana J. Yano-Horoski in favor of IndyMac Bank F.S.B. shall be and the same is hereby cancelled, voided, avoided, nullified, set aside and is of no further force and effect; and it is further

ORDERED that the Mortgage in the amount of $ 292,500.00 which secures said Adjustable Rate Note given by Diana J. Yano-Horoski to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. As Nominee For IndyMac Bank F.S.B. dated August 4, 2004 and recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County on August 16, 2004 in Liber 20826 of Mortgages as Page 285, as assigned to IndyMac Bank F.S.B. by Assignment recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County in Liber 21273 of Mortgages at Page 808 shall be and the same is hereby vacated, cancelled, released and discharged of record; and it is further

ORDERED that the Plaintiff, its successors and assigns are hereby barred, prohibited and foreclosed from attempting, in any manner, directly or indirectly, to enforce any provision of the [*7]aforesaid Adjustable Rate Note and Mortgage or any portion thereof as against Defendant, her heirs or successors; and it is further

ORDERED that the Judgment of Foreclosure & Sale granted under this index number on January 12, 2009 and entered in the Office of the Clerk of Suffolk County on January 23, 2009 shall be and the same is hereby vacated and set aside; and it is further

ORDERED that the Notice of Pendency filed with the Clerk of Suffolk County on July 27, 2005 under sequence no. 172456, which was extended by Order dated September 2, 2008 shall be and the same is hereby cancelled, vacated and set aside; and it is further

ORDERED that the Notice of Pendency filed with the Clerk of Suffolk County on August 29, 2008 under sequence no. 199616, shall be and the same is hereby cancelled, vacated and set aside; and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk of Suffolk County shall cause a copy of this Order & Judgment to be filed in the Land Records so as to effectuate of record each and every one of the provisions hereinabove set forth with respect to cancellation of the instruments and items of record; and it is further

ORDERED that Plaintiff shall pay to the Clerk of Suffolk County, within ten (10) days from the date of entry hereof, any and all fees and costs required to effect cancellation of record of the Mortgage, Notices of Pendency and any other fees so levied; and it is further

ORDERED that within ten (10) days of the date of entry hereof, Plaintiff’s counsel shall serve a copy of this Order upon the Clerk of Suffolk County and the Defendant.

This shall constitute the Decision, Judgment and Order of this Court.

Dated: November 19, 2009

Riverhead, New York

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Massive Relief for Homeowners and Trouble for Banks

Posted on September 23, 2009. Filed under: Bailout, Banking, Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A landmark ruling in a recent Kansas Supreme Court case may have given millions of distressed homeowners the legal wedge they need to avoid foreclosure. In Landmark National Bank v. Kesler, 2009 Kan. LEXIS 834, the Kansas Supreme Court held that a nominee company called MERS has no right or standing to bring an action for foreclosure. MERS is an acronym for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, a private company that registers mortgages electronically and tracks changes in ownership. The significance of the holding is that if MERS has no standing to foreclose, then nobody has standing to foreclose — on 60 million mortgages. That is the number of American mortgages currently reported to be held by MERS. Over half of all new U.S. residential mortgage loans are registered with MERS and recorded in its name. Holdings of the Kansas Supreme Court are not binding on the rest of the country, but they are dicta of which other courts take note; and the reasoning behind the decision is sound.

Eliminating the “Straw Man” Shielding Lenders and Investors from Liability

The development of “electronic” mortgages managed by MERS went hand in hand with the “securitization” of mortgage loans — chopping them into pieces and selling them off to investors. In the heyday of mortgage securitizations, before investors got wise to their risks, lenders would slice up loans, bundle them into “financial products” called “collateralized debt obligations” (CDOs), ostensibly insure them against default by wrapping them in derivatives called “credit default swaps,” and sell them to pension funds, municipal funds, foreign investment funds, and so forth. There were many secured parties, and the pieces kept changing hands; but MERS supposedly kept track of all these changes electronically. MERS would register and record mortgage loans in its name, and it would bring foreclosure actions in its name. MERS not only facilitated the rapid turnover of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities, but it has served as a sort of “corporate shield” that protects investors from claims by borrowers concerning predatory lending practices. California attorney Timothy McCandless describes the problem like this:

via Ellen Brown: Landmark Decision Promises Massive Relief for Homeowners and Trouble for Banks.

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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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U.S. partners in home loan modifications accused of broad abuses

Posted on August 9, 2009. Filed under: Foreclosure Defense, Fraud, Housing, Legislation, Loan Modification, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Fraud, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

WASHINGTON — Billions of dollars that the government is spending to help financially pressed homeowners avert foreclosure are passing through — and enriching — companies accused of preying on the people they are supposed to help, an Associated Press investigation has found.The companies, known as mortgage servicers, collect monthly payments from homeowners and funnel the money to the banks or investors who hold the loans. As the link between borrowers and lenders, they’re in the best position to rework the terms of loans under the government’s$50 billion mortgage-modification program.The servicers are paid by the government if the changes keep home-owners from falling behind on payments for at least three months.But the industry has a checkered history. At least 30 servicers have been accused in lawsuits of harassing borrowers, imposing illegal fees and charging for unnecessary insurance policies. More recently, the companies also have been criticized for not helping homeowners quickly enough.The biggest players in the servicing industry — Bank of America Corp., Wells Fargo & Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. — all face litigation.But the industry’s smaller players, which specialize in riskier subprime loans and loans already in default, face harsher accusations that they systematically abused borrowers.

More…

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States gain more power over banks

Posted on June 30, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Legislation, Mortgage Fraud, Predatory Lending, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Reporting from Washington — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that states could enforce some of their consumer protection laws against national banks, a move that could lead to tougher oversight than federal regulators have provided in recent years.

The 5-4 decision in a case involving attempts by New York’s attorney general to enforce fair-lending laws was praised by consumer and civil rights groups, who have accused federal regulators of being lax in policing banks chartered by the federal government.

“This puts more consumer cops on the consumer crime beat,” said Edmund Mierzwinski, consumer program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “The federal regulators have demonstrated they’re just having doughnuts in the coffee shop.”

Banking trade groups, however, warned that the ruling could lead to a confusing patchwork of enforcement levels in states that could cause national banks to offer fewer products, such as credit cards.

“This will make it difficult to serve consumers in today’s high-tech, mobile society where people and bank services move constantly across state lines,” said Edward L. Yingling, president of the American Bankers Assn.

The ruling has limited effect because it applies only to a small number of state laws, such as those dealing with discrimination in lending practices, including predatory lending. Most other state laws affecting national banks are enforced by federal officials.

And it only affects the approximately 1,600 national banks, not the larger number of state banks that are subject to the laws of the states in which they’re chartered.

But it is significant because it reverses a trend of states losing legal battles with federal officials over banking regulatory oversight.

The case’s importance also could be amplified by President Obama’s recent proposal to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency that would allow states to enact and enforce tougher consumer protection laws than the federal government.

via States gain more power over banks – Los Angeles Times.

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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: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF RHODE ISLAND. Hon. Mary M. Lisi, U.S. District Judge.
Melfi v. WMC Mortg. Corp., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1454 (D.R.I., Jan. 9, 2009)

DISPOSITION:

Affirmed.

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

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

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

Of the Eighth Circuit, sitting by designation.

OPINION BY: BOUDIN

OPINION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

HOW TO CANCEL

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

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

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

. . . .

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

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – 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.

Affirmed.

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Mortgage Wars

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

Iris Martin

My new book, Mortgage Wars, will guide you, step by step, through a war plan of engagement that has been followed by many homeowners who have won their mortgage wars. You will meet them and their attorneys throughout the book. You will learn about how you were defrauded and why; why the government cannot help you; and why and how you can win your war. The law is squarely on your side. Even if you have received a sales date; even if your foreclosure has occurred and you are awaiting eviction, there is plenty you can do to stay in your home and keep it from the predators!

Now, if you do nothing, you will lose your home. You do not have the option of doing nothing. You must study your loan and your lender, or have a mortgage auditor do so for you. You can get referrals to qualified auditors at www.yourmortgagewar.com. Once your loan is audited, you will learn what fraudulent acts were committed by your broker and lender. Fraud is the intentional inducement into a contract without all the material facts. There are laws against fraud and the penalties are severe. You will have a clear picture of how you were defrauded and how your lender established a pattern of conduct in which it abandoned it’s fiduciary right to advise you. You may have been defrauded at any stage of the process: during the solicitation, origination, processing, closing and servicing of your loan. Fraud must be argued with specificity in the courtroom, and the audit is your weapon.

You will also learn if your loan was securitized, i.e. sold on the secondary market. If it was, your lender has no legal right to foreclose, as it is not a current holder of your note. This is extremely good news, and the legal approach involves filing a “quiet title action” as well as a claim for fraud and other violations. This will get your lender off your title and get you your house free and clear, if your lender cannot produce the current holders of your note. Most likely, it cannot do so at the level that will satisfy a judge in a court of law. And judges are not lenient in this matter. They are livid at the way homeowners have been defrauded. They understand completely, that this is not some chair you bought at a garage sale, this is your home! The roof over your head! The shelter that provides you with safety and security and protects your family!

More….

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Indiana reaches $2.8M settlement with Countrywide

Posted on May 16, 2009. Filed under: Mortgage Fraud, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Indianapolis – Some relief is on the way for a small number of Hoosiers who were cheated out of their money. As much as $2.8 million will be returned to Indiana homeowners because of one company’s predatory practices.

Indiana State Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced a $2.8 million predatory lending settlement against Countrywide on Tuesday. About 1,700 Hoosiers will split the settlement.

Zoeller said individual payouts “will be based on the number of people who respond.”

The biggest immediate problem will be finding those Hoosiers who already lost their homes. An independent consultant will be hired to find those Hoosiers who qualify.

“We are going to aggressively try to find people who are eligible…every effort will be made to find as many of the 1,700 as possible,” Zoeller said.

The settlement was made somewhat easier by negotiating with Bank of America which now owns Countrywide. The overall amount of the settlement is more punishment for truth in lending infractions than actual rescue for those who lost their homes.

“They had a low rate to attract people in. They were not fully explained to the consumer so when it reset in the second year they were completely under water, unable to manage the mortgage payments,” said Zoeller.

A portion of that settlement, $50,000, will go to the Indiana Foreclosure Network. Lt. Governor Becky Skillman accepted the donation.

via Indiana reaches $2.8M settlement with Countrywide – WTHR | Indianapolis.

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American Consumer & Predatory Lending

Posted on May 16, 2009. Filed under: Legislation, Mortgage Law, Politics, Predatory Lending, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , |

Today President Obama is conducting a town hall meeting in New Mexico focusing on the issue of credit card debt. This is a welcome turn in the national economic conversation from the plight of big institutions and the financial system to what is perhaps the most important part of the story of the Great Recession still not adequately understood – the weakened state of the American consumer prior to the recent recession and financial collapse.

We’ve told this story many times – despite robust growth in the Bush Era, incomes for a typical family fell. Most measures of consumer health during the Bush went in the wrong direction. We saw an increase in those without health insurance, in poverty, incomes fell. The lack of income growth – coupled with a flood of cheap money – helped drive increased consumer indebtedness – mortgages themselves, credit cards, home equity loans. People borrowed to maintain their lifestyles, and to keep up with the Jones. The continued consumption and borrowing was justified in the minds of consumers by the power of the wealth effect brought about the rapidly increasing value of homes and stocks. But we know what happened next. Assets fell. Incomes did not appreciably rise. The debt remained. People lost jobs. The already very weakened balance sheet of a typical family grew much much worse.

via Simon Rosenberg: The Economic Conversation Enters a New Phase: Putting Consumers Front and Center Now.

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