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.


County Sale Agent SRI Not Liable To Tax Sale Purchaser In Wake Of Overturned Sale

Lesson. A chagrined tax sale purchaser, whose tax deed is set aside for notice-related deficiencies, cannot sue the county’s sale contractor for alleged lost profits.

Case cite. M Jewell v. Bainbridge 113 N.E.3d 685 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issues. Whether a tax sale purchaser can sue the county’s sale agent for breach of a contract that the agent had with the county; whether the tax sale purchaser was fully compensated for its alleged losses.

Vital facts. Plaintiff tax sale purchaser (Purchaser) bought a property at a county real estate tax sale, which was later overturned by the court based upon notice-related failures in the sale process. Purchaser received a statutory refund of the amount it paid for the property plus some interest and other items totaling about $7,000.

Defendant SRI is a company that contracted with the county to perform certain services related to tax sales. Those services included preparing and mailing notices to owners with delinquent real estate taxes. One of the reasons this particular sale was overturned was that “the [county] auditor and SRI failed to perform the additional research” necessary to substantially comply with the statutory notice requirements under Indiana’s tax sale laws. Purchaser sued SRI claiming that it suffered nearly $800,000 in damages for lost profits from the failed sale.

Procedural history. The trial court granted summary judgment for SRI. Purchaser appealed.

Key rules. Generally, only parties to a contract have rights under the contract. The Jewell opinion outlines many of Indiana’s rules that govern when so-called “third-party beneficiaries” can sue under a contract. Purchaser claimed it was a third-party beneficiary under the SRI/county contract.

Tax sale purchasers in Indiana buy at their own risk. “There is no warranty in tax sales.”

“The remedy for purchasers at invalid tax sales or holders of invalid tax deeds is wholly statutory.” Ind. Code 6-1.1-25-10 and 11 detail the refund procedure.

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court and held that (a) Purchaser was not a third-party beneficiary of the SRI/county agreement and thus had no standing to sue SRI for breach of contract and (b) regardless, Purchaser had been fully compensated for its losses under the applicable statute.

Policy/rationale. Regarding the third-party beneficiary issue, the Court reasoned that the county and SRI did not intend to protect tax sale purchasers under their agreement. “It is not enough that the performance of the contract would be of an incidental benefit to [Purchaser].” Regardless, Purchaser’s remedy was statutory, and the Court concluded that Purchaser had been made whole. Purchaser identified “no statutory or common law authority that it [was] entitled to lost profits rather than the statutory refund amount.”

Related posts.

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I am sometimes engaged to represent parties in connection with contested tax sales. 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.


Mortgage Loan Servicer Sued For Race Discrimination After Denying Loan Assumption

Lesson. Creditors cannot discriminate against an applicant for a credit transaction based on race, but a plaintiff applicant needs to put forth evidence of discrimination in order to survive a creditor’s motion for summary judgment.

Case cite. Sims v. New Penn, 906_F.3d_678 (7th Cir. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether there was sufficient evidence of racial discrimination to avoid the entry of summary judgment against the Plaintiffs.

Vital facts. Plaintiffs, an African-American couple, bought a house that was subject to a mortgage that secured a loan to the seller. The loan later went into default. Upon learning of the mortgage and the default, the Plaintiffs tried to assume the loan in order to avoid a foreclosure sale. This went on for years. The mortgage contained language that purchasers of the mortgaged property could assume the loan if the loan servicer (a) received information to evaluate the purchasers “as if a new loan were being made” and (b) determined that the assumption “would not impair its security.”

At one point in time, the defendant loan servicer advised the Plaintiffs of what was needed in order to apply for a loan assumption, and the servicer postponed a foreclosure sale to give the Plaintiffs an opportunity to submit the required paperwork. The servicer contended that the Plaintiffs did not submit a proper application. In addition, the servicer required that the loan be made current before an assumption could occur but refused to disclose information about the status of the loan without the seller/mortgagor’s written consent, which evidently never occurred. In the end, the servicer did not approve a loan assumption.

The Plaintiffs alleged that the loan servicer denied the loan assumption based upon race. They alleged that they were treated rudely. The Plaintiffs also claimed that an African-American employee of the servicer told them over the phone: “[t]hese people, you know how they treat us.”

Procedural history. The Plaintiffs sued the loan servicer in federal court and alleged race discrimination under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 USC 1691-1691f (ECOA). The United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana entered summary judgment for the defendant loan servicer, and the Plaintiffs appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

Key rules. The ECOA makes it “unlawful for any creditor to discriminate against any applicant, with respect to any aspect of a credit transaction, on the basis of race….” Section 1691(a)(1).

Holding. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling.

Policy/rationale. The Plaintiffs argued that the defendant loan servicer discriminated against them when the servicer prohibited the Plaintiffs from assuming the loan. Specifically, the Plaintiffs claimed that the servicer delayed the application process and required them to first make all of the seller/mortgagor’s overdue payments as a condition of assumption, which condition was not required by the mortgage.

The Court concluded that the Plaintiffs’ “evidence of racial discrimination [was] too speculative to establish a dispute of material fact.” For the Plaintiffs to survive summary judgment, they needed to put forth more evidence than the employee’s alleged statement, which the Court found to be “vague and require[d] too much speculation to conclude that their race motivated [the servicer] to require them to satisfy [the seller’s] outstanding loan payments.” Further, the Plaintiffs did not tender any proof to dispute the servicer’s evidence that the Plaintiffs never produced a complete application.

As an aside, there was a question as to whether the ECOA applied in the first place because the Plaintiffs were trying to assume credit rather than “extend, renew or continue” credit.

Related posts.

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I sometimes represent mortgage loan servicers in foreclosure-related litigation. My firm also has employment lawyers who defend race discrimination 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.


Enforcement Of Wisconsin Judgment In Indiana Defeated

Lesson. When enforcing an out-of-state judgment in Indiana, the law presumes that the foreign judgment is valid. That presumption can be overcome with proof that the plaintiff failed to properly serve the defendant with a summons and complaint in the original case.

Case cite. Troxel v. Ward, 111 N.E.3d 1029 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether, following the entry of a judgment in Wisconsin, an Indiana order authorizing the sale of the Defendant’s stock was void because the Plaintiff served the Wisconsin summons and complaint at the Defendant’s former dwelling.

Vital facts. Defendant allegedly executed a guaranty of a $653,000 promissory note, which was in default. Troxel was about the Plaintiff’s efforts to collect on the guaranty in both Wisconsin and Indiana, and the related efforts by the Plaintiff to serve the Defendant with a summons and complaint. One of the compelling factors was that the Plaintiff served Defendant at his former residence in Indiana.

Procedural history. The Plaintiff obtained a judgment in Wisconsin and then sought to enforce the judgment in Indiana under I.C. 34-54-1. The Indiana trial court recognized the judgment and then, at the Plaintiff’s request, entered an order for the sale of the Defendant’s stock in a separate company for the purpose of satisfying the judgment. When the Defendant got wind of the judgment and stock sale, he filed a motion to set aside the judgment in the Indiana court.

Key rules.

Troxel set out the following general rule and its fundamental exception:

The United States Constitution requires state courts to give full faith and credit to the judgments of the courts of all states. U.S. Const. art. IV, § 1. However, an out-of-state judgment is always open to collateral attack for lack of personal or subject-matter jurisdiction. Thus, before an Indiana court is bound by a foreign judgment, it may inquire into the jurisdictional basis for that judgment; if the first court did not have jurisdiction over the parties or the subject matter, then full faith and credit need not be given.

A judgment entered without jurisdiction is “void.”

Importantly, the defendant/judgment debtor bears the burden of rebutting the presumption that a foreign judgment, which is regular and complete on its face, is valid.

Troxel spells out various trial rules applicable to service of a summons and complaint, including Trial Rule 4.1(A)(3). The Court noted that, under Indiana law, “service upon a defendant’s former dwelling [aka usual place of abode] is not sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction.” (This Indiana service rule applied to the original action in Wisconsin.)

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s sale order.

Policy/rationale. The Plaintiff argued that the Wisconsin judgment was presumed to be valid and that the Defendant failed to overcome the presumption. The Court of Appeals disagreed and cited to evidence in the record that, a few weeks before he was served with process, the Defendant had moved from the service address. Because the Wisconsin court did not have personal jurisdiction over the Defendant when it entered judgment, the judgment was void. It followed that all the Indiana orders also were void.

Related posts.

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Judgment creditors sometimes engage me here in Indiana to enforce judgments entered in other states. 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.


Residential Borrower Denied Second Settlement Conference

Lesson. If borrowers fail to appear at a court-ordered, pre-judgment settlement conference that they requested, then their post-judgment request for a second conference will be denied. Borrowers – appear at the conference. Lenders – move toward a judgment if borrowers fail to comply with the court’s settlement conference order.

Case cite. El v. Nationstar Mortgage, 108 N.E.3d 919 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018)

Legal issue. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying a borrower’s motion for a second, post-judgment settlement conference.

Vital facts. El was a standard residential mortgage foreclosure case. The summons and complaint served upon the borrower contained the appropriate notices to the borrower regarding her rights, including the right to a settlement conference with the mortgage company. The borrower appeared in the action pro se and requested a settlement conference. However, she failed to show up at the court-ordered conference. She also failed to submit certain settlement-related documents required by court's order.

Procedural history. Following the settlement conference, which the lender attended, the lender filed a motion for an in rem summary judgment against the borrower. The trial court granted the motion. The borrower then moved for a second settlement conference. The trial court denied the motion, and the borrower appealed.

Key rules. Ind. Code 32-20-10.5, entitled “Foreclosure Prevention Agreements for Residential Mortgages,” outlines the rules and procedures surrounding the facilitation of settlement conferences and loan modifications. In particular, Section 10 outlines in detail rights and responsibilities of the parties and the courts with regard to settlement conferences.

Although Section 10 “contemplates the possibility of” a second settlement conference, the trial court’s decision on the matter is discretionary:

For cause shown, the court may order the creditor and the debtor to reconvene a settlement conference at any time before judgment is entered. 

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

Policy/rationale. The El opinion indicates that both the lender and the trial court complied with the statutory requirements of I.C. 32-20-10.5. The borrower did not. The Court of Appeals noted that the borrower filed her second motion two months after judgment had been entered. Interestingly, the Court went so far as to say the trial court had no discretion to reconvene the settlement conference because the case had already been resolved. The Court also stated that the borrower did not show any “cause” for a second bite at the apple.

Related posts.

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Lenders and mortgage loan servicers sometimes engage me to handle contested 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.