Indiana No-Nos: Confessions Of Judgment And Cognovit Notes

Does Indiana allow “confessions of judgment?”  Some states permit these, but Indiana is not one of them.

Definition.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines a “confession of judgment,” in part, as:

The act of a debtor [borrower] in permitting judgment to be entered against him by his creditor [lender], for a stipulated sum, by a written statement to that effect . . . without the institution of legal proceedings of any kind . . ..

These essentially allow a judgment to be entered without a lawsuit. 

Cognovit note.  A confession of judgment goes hand in hand with a “cognovit note”.  The Indiana Court of Appeals has cited to the following common law definition of such a note:

[a] legal device by which a debtor [borrower] gives advance consent to a holder’s [lender’s] obtaining a judgment against him or her, without notice or hearing.  A cognovit clause is essentially a confession of judgment included in a note whereby the debtor agrees that, upon default, the holder of the note may obtain judgment without notice or a hearing. . .  The purpose of a cognovit note is to permit the noteholder to obtain judgment without the necessity of disproving defenses which the maker of the note might assert . . .  A party executing a cognovit clause contractually waives the right to notice and hearing. . . .

Jaehnen v. Booker, 800 N.E.2d 31 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004).  Indiana has codified the definition of a cognovit note at Ind. Code § 34-6-2-22.  As you can imagine, cognovit notes and confessions of judgment can be powerful loan enforcement tools for lenders. 

Prohibited.  Cognovit notes and confessions of judgment are prohibited in Indiana.  In fact, a person who knowingly procures one commits a Class B misdemeanor pursuant to I.C. § 34-54-4-1.  The Jaehnen Court suggested there is an “evil” associated with of obtaining judgment against a borrower without service of process or the opportunity to be heard. 

An aside.  The Jaehnen case addressed the issue of whether a party is precluded from enforcing a promissory note merely because it contained a cognovit provision.  The Court noted that the plaintiff did not avail himself of the specific cognovit provision in the note.  He sought payment only after filing a complaint, providing for service of process and allowing the defendant the opportunity to hire an attorney and to be heard.  The Court held that the illegal provision did not destroy the overall negotiability of the note.  In other words, cognovit paragraphs may be deleted by the plaintiff/lender/payee without destroying the right to a judgment on the note in a standard lawsuit. 

Don’t be confused.  Indiana has a statute entitled “Confession of judgment authorized” at I.C. § 34-54-2-1.  However, the authorized confession of judgment is a different animal than what I discuss above.  The statute states:

Any person indebted or against whom a cause of action exists may personally appear in a court of competent jurisdiction, and, with the consent of the creditor or person having the cause of action, confess judgment in the action. 

This confession of judgment is not a unilateral filing by a creditor but rather an event arising within a standard lawsuit following notice and an opportunity to be heard.

But compare.  New York Confession Of Judgment From Cognovit Note Enforceable In Indiana.


Properly Filed Lis Pendens Notices Do Not Slander Title

Lesson. The filing of a lis pendens notice to protect one’s unrecorded interest in real estate will not give rise to liability for slander of title provided there was a basis for filing the notice.

Case cite. RCM v. 2007 East Meadows, 118 N.E.3d 756 (Ind. Ct. 2019)

Legal issue. Whether a lis pendens notice, filed by the buyer during litigation about a real estate purchase agreement, constituted slander of title.

Vital facts. The dispute in RCM involved a purchase agreement for a $9MM apartment complex located in Indianapolis. Lawsuits in both Texas and Indiana were filed relating to an alleged breach of the agreement, alleged fraud and an earnest money claim. The buyer filed lis pendens notices in Indiana for the pending Texas and Indiana lawsuits. Following the dismissal of the Texas case, and while the seller was negotiating with a third party for the sale of the property, the seller in the Indiana action asserted a slander of title claim against the buyer for not releasing the lis pendens notice.

Procedural history. After a bench trial, the seller prevailed on the underlying claims associated with the purchase agreement and the earnest money, but the trial court found in favor of the buyer on seller’s slander of title claim. Seller appealed.

Key rules. Ind. Code 32-30-11-3 spells out the requirements for a lis pendens notice in Indiana.

Parties with a claim to title of real estate under a contract for the real estate’s purchase “ha[ve] the kind of interest that requires filing a lis pendens notice under the statute to protect third parties.”

Indiana law is settled that “statements made in a properly-filed lis pendens notice are absolutely privileged … and defendants who file such a notice may not be held liable for slander of title.”

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court.

Policy/rationale. Seller contended that buyer slandered seller’s title to the real estate by filing a lis pendens notice when buyer knew it would not be able to perform under the purchase agreement. (Seller also claimed that buyer had waived the privilege defense, but the Court rejected the claim on procedural grounds.)

Lis pendens notices “provide machinery whereby a person with an in rem claim to property which is not otherwise recorded [like a purchase agreement] may put his claim upon the public records, so that third persons dealing with the [seller] … will have constructive notice of it.”

The Court reasoned that, since both parties had filed lawsuits regarding their interests in the real estate subject to the purchase agreement, buyer was actually “required” by law to file a lis pendens notice. It follows that the buyer’s notice was proper and therefore absolutely privileged.

Related postsYour Source For Indiana Lis Pendens Law
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I represent parties in real estate-related disputes. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.


Indiana Has Two Statutes Of Limitations For Promissory Notes

This follows-up my last post, Indiana Court of Appeals Adopts Reasonableness Test For Promissory Note Statute of Limitations, where there was cliffhanger about an alternative statute of limitations that may have altered the outcome of the lender's case, which was dismissed based upon the expiration of the six-year statute of limitations.

Statute #1.  The subject of my previous post, the Alialy decision, hinged solely on the Court's application of the statute of limitations located under Title 34, which involves civil procedure.  Specifically, Ind. Code 34-11-2-9 “Promissory notes, bills of exchange, or written contracts for payment of money” simply states:

An action upon promissory notes … must be commenced within six (6) years after the cause of action accrues….

As summarized in my post, the Alialy opinion arguably - depending upon one's interpretation - holds that, even if notes have optional acceleration clauses, under IC 34-11-2-9 the "cause of action accrues" within six years of the last payment or, alternatively, six years after acceleration if the lender accelerated the note within six years of the last payment.  (This is my current read on the outcome, not the expressed conclusion of the Court.)

Statute #2.  On appeal, the lender in Alialy asked the Court to look at the statute of limitations under Indiana's Uniform Commercial Code governing negotiable instruments, which include promissory notes.  Ind. Code 26-1-3.1-118 “Statute of limitations” reads:

… an action to enforce the obligation of a party to pay a note payable at a definite time must be commenced within six (6) years after the due date or dates stated in the note or, if a due date is accelerated, within six (6) years after the accelerated due date.

The Court never entertained the merits of the lender's argument but instead determined that the theory had been waived on procedural grounds.  So, we are left to wonder whether the UCC's statute of limitations may have changed the result in Alialy.  

Wondering. I have not taken a deep dive into the UCC question or researched the case law interpreting Section 118.  I also will not pretend to know what lender's counsel's theory was.  Again, unfortunately the Court did not address the merits.  My best guess is that the lender wanted to seize on the expanded language in the UCC's statute of limitations that provides "if a due date is accelerated, within six (6) years after the accelerated due date."  That terminology, which seems to spell out when the cause of action accrues, does not exist in IC 34-11-2-9.  Under the UCC, therefore, the lender's acceleration date, and not the date of the last payment, may control when the clock on the six years starts ticking.  Because the difference between the two statutes is quite subtle, it's difficult to say whether that reasoning would have carried the day in a scenario like Alialy.  We may need to wait for a future appellate opinion.    

If you have any comments or insights on the issue, please submit a post below or email me.  I would be curious as to others' thoughts.  To confirm, the question is not whether the statute is six years.  The question is - in cases of optional acceleration, when does the cause of action accrue or, in other words, when does the clock starts ticking on the six years.

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I represent parties in disputes arising out of loans. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.

  
 

 


Indiana Court of Appeals Adopts Reasonableness Test For Promissory Note Statute of Limitations

Lesson. To be absolutely safe, in Indiana a lender’s suit to enforce a promissory note should be filed within six years of the borrower’s last payment. At a minimum, assuming the note has an optional acceleration clause, the debt should be formally accelerated within six years, and it would be advisable to file suit within a period of time thereafter that is reasonable under the circumstances.

Case cite. Collins Asset Group v. Alialy, 115 N.E.3d 1275 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018), rehearing, Collins Asset Group v. Alialy, 121 N.E.3d 579 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019)

Legal issue. Whether the statute of limitations barred a lender’s action to enforce a promissory note.

Vital facts. Borrower signed a 25-year promissory note on June 29, 2007 that was secured by a junior mortgage. After the senior lender filed a mortgage foreclosure action, Borrower stopped paying on the junior note. Borrower’s last payment was July 28, 2008. Plaintiff Lender, an assignee (successor-in-interest) of the junior mortgage loan, accelerated the promissory note (declared the note due and payable in full) on October 24, 2016 and filed suit seeking to collect the accelerated debt on April 26, 2017. It does not appear that the action sought to foreclosure the junior mortgage but simply sought a money judgment under the note. Significantly, the note contained an “optional acceleration clause,” meaning Lender had the right to declare the entire debt due and payable after default.

Procedural history. The trial court granted Borrower’s motion to dismiss based upon the statute of limitations at Indiana Code 34-11-2-9. Lender appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Key rules. I.C. 34-11-2-9 says that actions under promissory notes for payment of money “must be commenced within six (6) years after the cause of action accrues.” Indiana case law holds that “an action to recover a debt must be commenced within six years of the last payment.”

However, Indiana common law further provides that, if the installment contract contains an optional acceleration clause, then the statute of limitations to collect the debt “does not begin to run immediately upon the debtor’s default.” Rather, the statute begins to run “only when the creditor exercises the optional acceleration clause.”

Here’s the rub: the Court in Alialy cited to a 2010 Indiana Court of Appeals opinion for the proposition that lenders should not be permitted to wait an “unreasonable amount of time to invoke an optional acceleration clause” following a default: “a party is not at liberty to stave off operation of the statute of limitations inordinately by failing to make a demand.”

Holding. The Court affirmed the order dismissing the case.

Policy/rationale. Here is how the Court rationalized its conclusion:

[Lender’s] acceleration option was exercised a full two years after [its] cause of action was barred by the statute of limitation. As [Lender’s] attempt to exercise the acceleration clause did not prevent the six-year statute of limitation from taking effect and expiring, [Lender’s] acceleration clause cannot be given effect and its Complaint is barred.”

Respectfully, I’m not convinced that the Court’s logic was sound, but I can understand the result.

What is the takeaway from Alialy, which seems to establish some kind of potentially-challenging (for creditors) reasonableness standard for certain statute of limitations scenarios? Besides the basic idea that lenders should act sooner, it seems to me that the outcome in Alialy could have been avoided had Lender accelerated the debt within six years of the default (non-payment). Even if Lender did not file suit at that time, Lender would have taken at least some action against Borrower to enforce the note. So, for example, if Lender had accelerated by July 2014, instead of waiting until October 2016, Lender’s April 2017 suit may have survived.

(Lender sought to apply a different statute of limitations under Indiana’s version of the UCC at I.C. 26-1-3.1-118. The Court determined that Lender had waived the argument. I will study that statute further and may post about it later.)

Related posts.

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I represent parties in disputes arising out of loans. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.


No Harm No Foul – 7th Circuit Dismisses RESPA Case

Lesson. A mortgage loan servicer can achieve summary judgment in a RESPA qualified written request case if the borrower fails to establish that the statutory violations caused any actual damage.

Case cite. Moore v. Wells Fargo, 908 F.3d 1050 (7th Cir. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether a borrower can recover RESPA-based damages “when the only harm alleged is that the response to the borrower’s qualified written request did not contain information … to help him fight a state-court mortgage foreclosure he had already lost.”

Vital facts. The plaintiffs in the Moore case were a borrower/mortgagor (Borrower) and his wife, and the defendant was the mortgage loan servicer (Servicer). The opinion thoroughly details the background of the loan, the default, the state court foreclosure and the plaintiffs’ bankruptcy case. This post focuses on Borrower’s RESPA qualified written request (QWR), which Borrower sent to Servicer about two months before a scheduled sheriff’s sale of the Borrower’s house. Two days before Servicer’s response was due, plaintiffs filed the subject federal court case against Servicer, apparently as part of an effort to delay the sale.

Servicer timely responded to the QWR, which included 22 “wide-ranging” questions, with a three-page letter and 58 pages of enclosures. The response addressed most but not all of Borrower’s questions. About six weeks later, the plaintiffs’ house was sold at a sheriff’s sale. Borrower alleged that he suffered damages, including emotional distress injuries, arising out of the fact that he had to fight the state court foreclosure case without certain information requested from Servicer.

Procedural history. The district court granted Servicer’s summary judgment motion, and plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

Key rules. The Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) at 12 U.S.C. 2601 “is a consumer protection statute that regulates the activities of mortgage lenders, brokers, servicers, and other businesses that provide services for residential real estate transactions.”

Section 2605(e) “imposes duties on a loan servicer that receives a ‘qualified written request’ for information from a borrower.” Among other things, Section 2605(e)(2) requires servicers, upon receipt of a QWR, to do one of three things within 30 days: (1) correct the account and notify the borrower, (2) explain why a correction is not needed, or (3) provide the requested information or explain why it cannot be obtained.

Subsection (f) provides a private right of action for actual damages that result from any violations of Section 2605. However, RESPA does not provide relief for “mere procedural violations … [only] actual injury” caused by the statutory violations.

Holding. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of Servicer.

Policy/rationale. The Court noted that the policy behind RESPA is “to protect borrowers from the potential abuse of the mortgage servicers’ position of power over borrowers, not to provide borrowers a federal discovery tool to litigate state-court actions.” The Court concluded that, even assuming an incomplete response to the QWR, Borrower did “not present any evidence that there is a material dispute regarding any harm he suffered due to this violation.” The opinion in Moore tackles each item of Borrower’s alleged damages, including out-of-pocket expenses and emotional distress injuries, so please review the decision for additional information.

Related post.

Borrower’s Failure To Prove Actual Damages Leads To Summary Judgment In RESPA Case
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Part of my practice involves defending mortgage loan servicers in lawsuits brought by borrowers/consumers. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.


7th Circuit Prevents Lender From Enforcing Promissory Notes Held By Third Parties

Lesson. Lenders must always prove that they are entitled to enforce their promissory notes under the applicable UCC provisions.  Normally, this is a simple excercise, but creative financing like that in the Tissue v. TAK case can complicate the issue.

Case cite. Tissue v. TAK 907 F.3d 1001 (7th Cir. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether the plaintiff, which was not in possession of the originals, was nevertheless entitled to enforce the subject promissory notes against the defendant.

Vital facts. The Tissue case involved an unconventional and fairly complicated transaction. The Plaintiff entered into an agreement to sell a tissue mill located in Wisconsin to an affiliate of the Defendant. A piece of the financing fell through, rendering Plaintiff unable to pay off certain secured creditors of the mill.  This obstacle prevented Plaintiff from being in a position to deliver clean title to the buyer.

To bridge the gap, the parties entered into a kind of seller financing, whereby the Defendant (as a de facto borrower, as well as the purchaser of the property) issued four promissory notes payable to the Plaintiff (as a de facto lender, as well as the seller of the mill) totaling $16MM over three years.  Plaintiff, in turn, delivered the promissory notes to the secured creditors as substitute security. With the original notes in hand, pledged as security to replace their liens in the mill, the creditors released their security interests, and the transaction closed. My reading of the opinion is that, in a contemporaneous side deal, the Plaintiff itself promised to pay the debts owed to the secured creditors as documented by the notes. The Court summed things up as follows:  “this meant that the [creditors] who released their security in the tissue mill had the credit of both the [Plaintiff] and the [Defendant] behind the notes’ promises.”

Of course, everything fell through, and the Plaintiff sued the Defendant to, among other things, collect on the four promissory notes. As a consequence of the failed transaction between the Plaintiff and the Defendant, the money owed to the prior lienholders had not been paid by either party, and those creditors had not returned the original promissory notes to either the Defendant or the Plaintiff. Therefore, Plaintiff did not possess any of the original notes at the time it filed suit against the Defendant. Please read the opinion for more detail on the facts and background, as well as other legal issues relevant to the outcome.

Procedural history. Tissue is an opinion from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals arising out of a judgment entered by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Despite the fact that Wisconsin law controlled, the pertinent Uniform Commercial Code sections of Wisconsin and Indiana are similar. Plus, Indiana is in the 7th Circuit, so the decision affects parties doing business in Indiana.

Key rules. The key statute was Wis. Stat. 403.301 dealing with negotiable instruments. Here is Indiana’s version: Ind. Code 26-1-3.1-301:

"Person entitled to enforce" an instrument means:

(1) the holder of the instrument;
(2) a nonholder in possession of the instrument who has the rights of a holder; or
(3) a person not in possession of the instrument who is entitled to enforce the instrument under IC 26-1-3.1-309 or IC 26-1-3.1-418(d).

A person may be a person entitled to enforce the instrument even though the person is not the owner of the instrument or is in wrongful possession of the instrument.

Holding. The 7th Circuit affirmed the district court and concluded that, since the Plaintiff was not the holder of the notes, it was not entitled to enforce them against the Defendant.

Policy/rationale. The Plaintiff “was not entitled to enforce the notes because it is not their holder, is not in possession of them, and is not entitled to enforce them [under the statutory exceptions.]"  The notes had not been lost, stolen or destroyed. The notes had not been paid by mistake by anyone. In the end, only the holders, or nonholders in possession, could enforce the notes – which the Plaintiff was neither.

Further, because the notes replaced liens against the tissue mill, the creditors needed the notes as security until the debts were repaid. If the Plaintiff “had paid the notes as promised, and thus retired the loans, then it would recover the notes from the [creditors] and be able to enforce them” under the UCC.

As a side note, the Plaintiff tried to make hay out of the fact that the creditors could not enforce the notes either because the Plaintiff did not endorse the notes before delivering them in pledge as collateral. The Court reasoned that “this may well be true,” but that fact did not get the Plaintiff around its own statutory prohibitions. In the end, the Court simply was not going to “leave the [creditors] in the lurch and [grant the Plaintiff] all of the notes’ benefits.” Interestingly, the courts protected the prior lienholders in the tissue mill, even though it appears that those creditors were not parties to the case.

Related posts.

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I represent creditors and debtors entangled in loan-related disputes. If you need assistance with a similar matter, please call me at 317-639-6151 or email me at john.waller@woodenlawyers.com. Also, don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter @JohnDWaller or on LinkedIn, or you can subscribe to posts via RSS or email as noted on my home page.