New York Confession Of Judgment From Cognovit Note Enforceable In Indiana

Lesson. Although Indiana does not permit cognovit notes (confessions of judgment), our state will enforce properly-entered foreign judgments based upon the otherwise prohibited language. The key is to determine whether cognovit notes are legal in the state that entered underlying the judgment.

Case cite. EBF v. Novebella, 96 N.E.3d 87 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether Indiana courts must give “full faith and credit” to a “confessed judgment” entered in New York pursuant to a cognovit note.

Vital facts. Plaintiff obtained a judgment in a New York state court based upon the Defendant’s alleged breach of a contract. The contract, a purchase agreement, contained a clause with the following language: upon a default “… [Defendant] hereby authorizes [Plaintiff] to execute in the name of the [Defendant] a Confession of Judgment in favor of [Plaintiff] in the full uncollected Purchase Amount and enter that Confession of Judgment with the Clerk of any Court and execute thereon.” (This type of clause transforms the agreement into something called a “cognovit note.”) The contract in EBF expressed that it was to be governed by and construed under New York law.

Procedural history. The New York court entered a judgment pursuant to the confession of judgment clause. Because Defendant was an Indiana company, Plaintiff came to Indiana and filed a Petition to Domesticate Foreign Judgment that asked the Indiana trial court to recognize and enforce the New York judgment. (Plaintiff did not proceed under the statutory method to enforce the foreign judgment.) Defendant contested the Indiana action on the basis that the judgment was void under Indiana law. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss, and the Plaintiff appealed.

Key rules. Generally, a cognovit note is a legal device whereby the debtor consents in advance to the creditor’s judgment without notice or hearing. Evidently, such confessions of judgment are allowed in the State of New York.

Indiana Code 34-54-3-1 essentially is Indiana’s definition of a cognovit note.

Importantly, cognovit notes are prohibited in Indiana. See, I.C. 34-54-3-2. In fact, Indiana makes it a crime to procure such a note or enforce it. I.C. 34-54-4-1. A key concept here is that the promise to pay cannot be entered into before a cause of action on the underlying agreement has accrued. I.C. 34-54-3-3.

Nevertheless, the Court in EBF noted that, under Indiana common law, “a valid foreign judgment based on a cognovit note will be given full faith and credit in Indiana … based upon the Federal Constitution’s ‘full faith and credit’ clause.” Article IV, Section 1. Indiana cases articulate “full faith and credit” as meaning: “the judgment of a state court should have the same credit, validity, and effect, in every other court of the United States, which it had in the state where it was pronounced.” The Indiana Code adopts full faith and credit at I.C. 34-39-4-3.

The full faith and credit rule has two exceptions/limitations: if, in the foreign court, there was an absence of (1) subject matter jurisdiction and/or (2) personal jurisdiction. The debtor/defendant has the burden of proof on these jurisdictional matters, meaning that it must rebut the presumption of the judgment’s validity.

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

Policy/rationale. The Court concluded that constitutional federal full faith and credit rules and policies trumped Indiana’s statutory prohibition on cognovit notes/confessions of judgment. The underlying judgment appeared “on its face to be rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction and [Defendant] did not challenge the jurisdiction of the New York court to enter the judgment.” For more on the policies behind full faith and credit, read the EBF opinion, which impressively lays out all the applicable and competing ideas.

Related posts.

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My practice includes representing parties to judgment enforcement actions. 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.


Lender’s Summary Judgment Affidavit Flawed - Business Records Inadmissible

Lesson.  For lenders and servicers filing motions for summary judgment, always remain mindful of the elements of the Evidence Rule 803(6) business records exception to the hearsay rule.  An insufficient supporting affidavit could doom the motion.     

Case citeHolmes v. National Collegiate Student Loan Trust, 94 N.E.3d 722 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue.  Whether, on a motion for summary judgment, the lender proved it owned the subject loan and thus had standing to bring the claim. 

Vital facts.  This case involved what appeared to be a straightforward default under a school loan.  The original lender sold a pool of loans to National Collegiate Funding LLC, which then sold the pool to the plaintiff lender.  The defendant in the case was the student’s father, who co-signed the loan.  There seemed to be no question that the loan was in default.      

Procedural history.  Lender filed a motion for summary judgment.  The trial court granted the motion and ordered the father to pay the debt, plus interest and costs.  The father appealed.

Key rules

To make a prima facia case  for summary judgment, the plaintiff lender in Holmes was required to show that the defendant father executed a contract for a loan and that the lender was the assignee of the loan - and thus the owner of the debt.  Indiana law also required the lender to establish that the defendant owed the original lender the amount alleged.

Indiana Trial Rule 56(E) states that affidavits on summary judgment “… shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify as to the matters stated….”

Inadmissible hearsay contained in an affidavit may not be considered in ruling on a summary judgment motion.

Indiana Evidence Rule 803(6) discusses the “business records” exception to the general hearsay rule and outlines the elements of admissibility.

Holding.  The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the summary judgment for the lender and concluded that it failed to make a prima facia case.   

Policy/rationale

The defendant in Holmes contended that the lender’s designated evidence (documents) constituted inadmissible hearsay and, as a result, the lender failed to show that it was entitled to summary judgment.  The Court’s opinion is a technical lesson in evidence and provides an example of how an assignee (a successor-in-interest) can get tripped up in a simple loan enforcement claim.

When Holmes first came down last year, some thought the ruling may have created a real problem for servicers to obtain summary judgment in cases involving loan assignments.  In reality, the plaintiff in the case simply failed to dot the I’s and cross the T’s.  There is favorable case law in Indiana, and across the country, concerning how assignees and successors-in-interest can establish a prima facia case pursuant to the Rule 803(6) business records exception.  But the affidavit in Holmes was deficient as to several key elements, according to the Court: 

Here, the [affidavit] provided no testimony to support the admission of the contract between [defendant] and [original lender] or the schedule of pooled loans sold and assigned to National Collegiate Funding, LLC, and then to [plaintiff], as business records pursuant to Evidence Rule 803(6). There was no testimony to indicate that [the witness] was familiar with or had personal knowledge of the regular business practices or record keeping of [the loan originator or that of plaintiff] regarding the transfer of pooled loans, such that she could testify as to the reliability and authenticity of those documents. Indeed, [the witness] offered no evidence to indicate that those records were made at or near the time of the business activities in question by someone with knowledge, that the records were kept in the course of the regularly conducted activities of either [original lender or plaintiff], and that making the records was part of the regularly conducted business activities of those third-party businesses.

Also noteworthy is that Holmes was not a mortgage foreclosure case.  The school loan in Holmes was not secured, and the opinion does not address one way or another whether there was a UCC negotiable instrument at issue.  Thus the Court did not analyze some of the more conventional ways of proving standing, such as the possession of an original promissory note and/or the recording of an assignment of mortgage.     

Related posts.

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My practice includes representing lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, in contested mortgage foreclosure cases.  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.


Tune Up To Indiana Commercial Foreclosure Law

Over the last couple weeks, I've been working with the good folks at Typepad to "tune up" my blog.  You'll notice the new look and feel, which generally mirrors that of my Firm's website. I've fixed several links that were outdated, and I've added a new mortgage servicing category.

What I'm most excited about are the mobile and search features:

    1.  I'm now mobile friendly, which means that the site reads much better on a smartphone or tablet.  

    2. I also now have a custom Google search engine at the top of my right sidebar.  The results are limited to my blog (albeit with a few ads that unfortunately appear at the start).  After the ads, the search supplies links to prior posts.  When I started in 2006, my vision included a site where you could research Indiana foreclosure-related issues.  The prior search function was somewhat inadequate, but the new application works great and captures all applicable content about which I've written over the last 12+ years.  Please note that the search results are delivered in a pop-up window.   

Happy New Year to you and yours, and thanks for reading.

John

 


Borrower’s Failure To Prove Actual Damages Leads To Summary Judgment In RESPA Case

Lesson. A mortgage loan servicer in a RESPA case can successfully defend the matter if it can show that it did not injure the borrower/mortgagor, even if the defendant did not adequately respond to the qualified written request (QWR).

Case cite. Linderman v. U.S. Bank, 887 F.3d 319 (7th Cir. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether Borrower’s alleged non-receipt of a Servicer’s QWR response caused or aggravated her alleged injuries.

Vital facts. Plaintiff Borrower bought a house in 2004 and lived there with multiple family members. Borrower’s mother later asked her to move out, at which point Borrower stopped paying on her mortgage loan. In 2014, the last remaining family member moved out of the house, leaving it vacant and subject to vandalism. The vandalism produced insurance money that went to Defendant mortgage loan servicer (Servicer) to be held in escrow. Servicer disbursed a portion of the insurance proceeds to pay a contractor, which later abandoned the job due to fears over being paid in full for its work. In 2015, the house was vandalized twice more and was further damaged from a storm. Borrower sent Servicer a letter on September 5, 2015 asking about the status of her loan and how the 2014 insurance money was being handled. Servicer sent a response ten days later, but Borrower said she never received it. Borrower claimed that suffered from depression and anxiety arising out of the issues with her house, as well as problems from divorce, foreclosure proceedings and money concerns.

Procedural history. Based upon the assertion that she did not receive the letter response from Servicer, Borrower filed suit against Servicer in federal court under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment for Servicer, and Borrower appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Key rules. For purposes of their decisions, both the district court and the Seventh Circuit in Linderman assumed that Borrower’s September 5, 2015 letter to Servicer constituted a QWR under RESPA, 12 USC 2605(e)(1)(B). The Linderman opinion also assumed that Servicer breached RESPA based upon Borrower’s allegation that she did not receive the letter response, even though RESPA, including specifically 12 CFR 1024.11, provides that the mailing of a timely and properly-addressed response to a QWR likely satisfies the requirements under the statute – whether or not the response is received. Even with these favorable assumptions, Borrower still lost.

RESPA requires servicers upon receipt of a QWR to, among other things, (a) correct errors in records or (b) provide appropriate information if no error needs fixing. Section 2605(e)(2)(A-B). RESPA also requires servicers to refrain for sixty days from taking steps that would jeopardize a borrower’s credit rating. Section 2605(e)(3). But to ultimately prevail on a claim for money damages, a borrower still must prove “actual damages” under Section 2605(f)(1)(A) – something Borrower failed to do in Linderman.

Holding. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the summary judgment for Servicer.

Policy/rationale. Borrower contended that Servicer’s alleged lack of response to the QWR aggravated her house, family and financial-related problems, but the Court found that “she did not explain how.” The Court reasoned that “the ongoing foreclosure and need of money for repairs,” and not the alleged lack of response to the QWR, contributed to Borrower’s mental issues. Importantly, RESPA “does not require a servicer to pay money in response to a [QWR].” The Court went on to preach that Borrower may have had state law tort or contract remedies available to her that she did not pursue against various parties. “The sole claim in this [federal court suit] is that [Servicer] injured her by not adequately responding to her letter. That claim fails for the reasons we have given.”

Related posts.

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My practice includes defending lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, in federal court cases brought by borrowers. 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 County Clerk Liable To Judgment Creditor For Bail Bond Proceeds Released To Judgment Debtor

Lesson. Following the entry of a money judgment, there may be innocent third parties who have money in their possession that they owe to the defendant (aka judgment debtor). If any such third party receives notice of the plaintiff’s (judgment creditor’s) post-judgment claim to such money, the third party should hold the money until the court determines the judgment creditor’s rights to the proceeds. If a third party (known as a garnishee-defendant) pays such money to the judgment debtor, the third party can be liable to the judgment creditor for the amount of money turned over. 

Case cite. Garner v. Kempf, 93 N.E3d 109 (Ind. 2018).

Legal issue. Whether Indiana law permits a judgment creditor to garnish a bail bond that the judgment debtor posted in an unrelated criminal case.

Vital facts. A judgment debtor tendered a cash bail bond in a criminal matter, which was unrelated to the civil matter where the judgment was entered. The judgment creditor tried to garnish the bond to satisfy the unpaid judgment. The clerk of the criminal court, who was named as a garnishee-defendant during proceedings supplemental in the civil case, released the funds to the judgment debtor’s criminal defense attorney. The judgment creditor pursued a claim against the clerk for the amount of the released proceeds.

Procedural history. The trial court ruled that the bond was not subject to garnishment. The judgment creditor appealed all the way to the Indiana Supreme Court, which issued the very comprehensive Garner opinion that is the subject of today’s post.

Key rules.

  1. Court clerks are subject to garnishment proceedings.
  2. The court that issues the underlying judgment retains jurisdiction over proceedings supplemental, even if there is a parallel action in another court.
  3. When a garnishee-defendant receives a summons, it becomes “accountable to the plaintiff in the action for the amount of money, property, or credits in the garnishee’s possession or due and owing from the garnishee to the defendant.”
  4. “In effect, upon serving the summons, the judgment-creditor secures a lien on the defendant-debtor’s property then held by the garnishee-defendant.”
  5. The garnishee-defendant is liable for paying out funds inconsistent with this lien.

Holding. The Indiana Supreme Court reversed the trial court and held that the clerk was an eligible garnishee-defendant and that the civil judgment was a lien on the criminal bond. The Court went on to find that the clerk was liable to the judgment creditor because the clerk distributed the proceeds before the civil court determined the parties’ rights to them.

Policy/rationale. In Garner, the clerk’s main contention was that she was protected by a separate criminal court order that released the bond to the defendant’s attorney. But the clerk had already received a summons from the civil court in connection with the judgment creditor’s proceedings supplemental. The clerk failed to inform the criminal court of the lien on the bond created by the summons. The Indiana Supreme Court reasoned that the clerk had a duty to hold the cash pending a determination of the judgment creditor’s right to the proceeds to satisfy the judgment. When the criminal judge approved of the defendant’s request to use the cash bond proceeds to pay his defense lawyer, “those proceeds were no longer encumbered to ensure [the defendant’s] appearance at his criminal trial,” at which point the proceeds became subject to the judgment creditor’s preexisting garnishment lien. Since the clerk released the money before the civil court determined the plaintiff/judgment-creditor’s right to the proceeds, the clerk became liable to the creditor for that amount. Please note that Justice David wrote a dissenting opinion that focused on the criminal law aspects of the matters at hand.

Related posts.

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I represent judgment creditors and lenders in commercial collection actions. 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.


Post Script: When Can Post-Judgment Collection Efforts Begin In Indiana?

This follows-up last week's post.  Yesterday, I bumped into a lawyer who reads my blog and reminded me that we always must check the local rules of a particular county, including the local smalls claims court rules, for their potential application to a particular situation.  Local rules often supplement, or even trump, the state rules of procedure or case law.  As an example, the Marion County (Indianapolis) Small Claims Court Rules, specifically Rule LR49-SC00-602 provides:

B.  Thirty-Day Rule.  A Motion for Proceedings Supplemental shall not be set until thirty (30) calendar days after the date of judgment, except by order of the Court for good cause shown.

The point is that, in certain Indiana venues, post-collection efforts may not begin immediately.  Thanks to attorney Robert Burt for the feedback on last week's post.