Proposed rule change. Indiana’s Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure has before it a proposal to amend Trial Rule 9.2(A). To see the proposed change, click here. The amendment also has changes to the form affidavit of debt found in Appendix A-2 of the rules. Application of the added language appears to be limited to actions “on an account” and does not seem to relate to actions involving loans, such as breaches of promissory notes or security agreements like mortgages. Although the amendment does not expressly target mortgage foreclosure cases or the enforcement of UCC security interests, the proposed language arguably leaves the rule open to interpretation as to its scope. As such, we are respectfully recommending that the Committee clarify the proposed amendment to confirm that the new subsections (A)(1) and (2) are limited to claims “on an account” and do not apply to loans.
What is an action “on an account?” To my knowledge, and based on some very limited legal research, there is no specific Indiana statutory definition of, or statutory cause of action for, an action on an account. Black’s Law Dictionary defines “on account,” in part, as “a sale on credit.” Indiana Practice, Procedural Forms with Practice Commentary (Arthur), Chapter 9, discusses “Complaints-On An Account” and says: “an action on account is one upon which billings have been sent to the other party specifying the goods or services delivered and the amount due….” Section 9.1 identifies the following elements of such an action:
1. A description of the account and the nature of the dealings between the parties;
2. The goods and services were provided to defendant at his request;
3. Defendant is indebted to plaintiff for a specified sum; and
4. The account is due and unpaid.
Not a loan. An account and a loan are two different animals. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a loan, in part, as “delivery by one party to and receipt by another party of a sum of money upon agreement, express or implied, to repay it with or without interest.” Although an account and a loan both might be considered “debts,” they arise out of dissimilar transactions. With a loan, one party (a lender or a creditor) gives money to another party (a borrower or a debtor). Obvious examples of this are banks funding the purchase of a car or a house. On the other hand, an account is born out of one party (seller/vendor) giving, not money, but rather goods and/or services to the other party (buyer/vendee). A classic example of an account is a hospital bill.
Written contracts. Certainly a written contract could exist for an account, and the contract conceivably may result in some kind of lien, but ultimately the nature of an account does not involve the transfer of money but rather the provision of goods or services. But frequently there is not a written agreement - only an invoice or purchase order. In fact, there may not be any written document at all, like when I mowed lawns in high school. As such, unlike with promissory notes or mortgages, when a debt arising out of an account is sold or assigned from the original account holder to a third party, proof of the account creditor may be unclear or perhaps non-existent. This absence of documentation makes the collection of such debts susceptible to fraud, or at least to questions about who is owed the money.
The target. In our view, the new Rule 9.2(A) seems to focus on a plaintiff’s obligation to establish that it has the right to enforce the debt. We understand the amendments proposed to Rule 9.2(A) may arise, in part, out of bad actors attempting to collect debts based on an account. These debt collectors often purchase debt at a discount and specialize in trying to collect it. We further understand that some of these debt collectors may be fraudsters that either don’t actually own the debt or try to collect the debt long after the statute of limitations has run.
Protections unnecessary. While claims “on an account” arguably need the protections afforded by the new subsection to the rule, claims for breaches of loan documents do not. Indeed, protections already are in place. Article 3.1 of Indiana’s UCC dealing with Negotiable Instruments (promissory notes), Article 9.1 involving secured transactions, Ind. Code 32-29 (Mortgages), Ind. Code 32-30-10 (Foreclosure Actions), well-settled case law, and a plethora of other rules, laws, and regulations, both state and federal, at present cover questions surrounding proof of standing and the right to enforce. See, for example, my post Proving You’re The Holder Of The Note. This makes the proposed amendment unnecessary for loans and, even more, contradictory to existing law and procedure, not to mention onerous. Indeed some of the proposed requirements may not even be possible for certain assignees to meet, such as a listing of all prior owners of the loan. (The Indiana Supreme Court's opinion in the Barabas case from 2012 that surrounds MERS is instructive here.)
Solution. Without clarification that the new rule is limited to claims on an account and thus does not apply to loans, courts will be confused as to how to handle such cases, which could create more problems than the rule seeks to solve. We’ve seen one very simple yet meaningful change that could be made to the proposed amendment. The mere insertion in Subsection (2) of “and the claim is on account” after the word “if” and before the words “the plaintiff” should be sufficient to clarify that the new rule does not apply to loans. Even better, if at the end of the proposed amendment, the rule said something like “Subsection (2) does not apply to actions to enforce loans, including but not limited to promissory notes or credit agreements,” then the lending and finance communities should have no issue whatsoever with the amendment.
Call to action. The Committee invites public comment on the proposed rule amendments. Those wishing to comment should do so, in writing, not later than May 15, 2017. That's Monday. Comments may be sent by email to RulesComments@courts.in.gov or addressed to:
ATTN: Rules Committee
Hon. Mary Willis
Indiana Office of Judicial Administration
30 South Meridian Street, Suite 500
Indianapolis, IN 46204
If you work for a lender or are an Indiana lawyer who represents creditors in commercial or consumer finance, and if you agree with our position, then we invite you to submit a comment by next Monday – even if it’s just to state briefly that you generally agree with the points outlined here. I’m planning on emailing a link to today’s post directly to the committee’s staff. If you have any questions or comments, please call me at 317-860-5375 or email me at John.Waller@WoodenMcLaughlin.com. Thanks.