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Indiana Federal Court Concludes That Servicer Is Not A Debt Collector and Did Not Violate The IHLPA

Lesson. Although servicers usually are not the actual owners of residential mortgage loans, they nevertheless may be the proper party to resolve the foreclosure action or to negotiate a settlement. Also, unless the debt was in arrears when the servicer obtained its role, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act will not apply to communications by the servicer.

Case cite. Turner v. Nationstar, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS (S.D. Ind. 2017) (pdf).

Legal issues. Whether the defendant loan servicer was a “debt collector” subject to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), specifically 15 U.S.C. 1692e(2)(A). Also, whether the defendant committed a “deceptive act” in violation of the Indiana Home Loan Practices Act (“IHLPA”), Ind. Code 24-9-1 et seq.

Vital facts. For background, click on last week’s post, which also discussed Turner. The borrower claimed that, during a mediation conference, the servicer committed a deceptive act by leading the borrower to falsely think that the servicer owned the loan “such that [borrower] believed he was bargaining with the owner of the loan when he agreed to exchange his counterclaim against [servicer] for a loan modification.” The borrower also alleged that, after the entry of the state court foreclosure judgment, the servicer wrongfully sent the borrower account statements with a debt amount different from the judgment amount.

Procedural history. The defendant servicer filed a motion for summary judgment. Judge Young’s ruling on the motion is the subject of this post.

Key rules.

The IHLPA at I.C. 24-9-2-7(1)(a) defines a deceptive act as:

(1) an act or a practice as part of a mortgage transaction . . . , in which a person at the time of the transaction knowingly or
intentionally:
(A) makes a material misrepresentation; or
(B) conceals material information regarding the terms or conditions of the transaction. . . .

For the FDCPA to apply, “two threshold criteria must be met:” (1) the defendant must be a “debt collector” and (2) the communication by the debt collector forming the basis of the claim “must have been made in connection with the collection of any debt.” 15 U.S.C. 1692a(6), c, e and g.

A “debt collector” is:

any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.

Loan servicing agents are not “debt collectors” unless the debt was in arrears at the time the servicer obtained that role.

Holding. The Southern District of Indiana granted summary judgment for the servicer on the IHLPA and FDCPA claims brought by the borrower.

Policy/rationale.

As to the IHLPA action, the Court concluded that the servicer did not conceal “material” information about its role/status because the servicer established that it was the proper party to resolve the foreclosure action. In other words, whether the servicer was or was not the owner of the loan was immaterial in the Court’s view.

Regarding the FDCPA claim, the Court found that the defendant was the agent of the original creditor and acted as the servicer “well before [the loan] was in default.” As such, the servicer did not meet the definition of a “debt collector” under the FDCPA.

Related posts.

Click on the "Fair Debt Collection Practices" category to your right

Loan Servicers As Plaintiffs In Foreclosure Cases (also the Turner dispute)

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I frequently represent lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, entangled in consumer finance litigation. 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.


Another Indiana Decision Concerning RESPA: Mixed Result For Servicer

Lesson. In defending RESPA QWR cases, first examine whether the subject letter is in fact a QWR. Next, assess whether the borrower suffered any actual damages arising out of the alleged failure to respond.

Case cite. Turner v. Nationstar, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS (S.D. Ind. 2017) (.pdf).

Legal issue. Whether the lender/servicer was entitled to summary judgment on the borrower’s three theories for RESPA violations.

Vital facts. The procedural history and the underlying facts of Turner are quite involved. For purposes of today’s post, which focuses on the REPSA claims, the borrower sent three letters (alleged “QWRs,” see last week’s post) to the defendant’s lawyer seeking information. Letter 1 asked for the name of the owner of the loan. The defendant (a residential mortgage loan servicer) responded to that letter by identifying both the servicer and the owner of the loan. Later, the borrower, following the entry of a state court foreclosure judgment and a denial of a loan modification request, sent Letter 2 asking for the “amount of the proposed monthly payment” under a requested loan modification that had been denied. That information was never provided. The third alleged QWR, Letter 3, surrounded an inquiry into payments the borrower made that had only been partially refunded, despite a request for a full refund. The servicer did not respond to that letter either.

Procedural history. The parties ultimately entered into a Home Affordable Modification Agreement that vacated the foreclosure judgment. Despite the settlement, the borrower filed suit against the servicer in federal court alleging, among other things, violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”). The servicer filed a motion for summary judgment that led to Judge Young’s opinion, which is the subject of today’s post.

Key rules.

  1. Borrowers may recover actual damages, including emotional distress, caused by a failure to comply with a Section 2605(e) qualified written request, per Section 2605(f)(1)(A).
  2. 12 U.S.C. 2605(e)(1)(B) defines a QWR. Case law has interpreted that provision to include “any reasonably stated written request for account information.” However, the duty to respond “does not arise with respect to all inquiries or complaints from borrowers to servicers.” The focus is on the servicing of the loan, not on the origination of the loan or modifications to the loan.
  3. 12 U.S.C. 2605(e)(1) and (2) deal with the timing of certain responses to certain QWRs. For example, Section (e)(2)(C)(i) sets a thirty-day deadline for certain servicing requests related to loan mods. See also 12 C.F.R. 1024.41 regarding timing for loss mitigation requests.
  4. 12 U.S.C. 2605(k)(1)(D) requires a servicer to provide within ten business days “the identity, address, and other relevant contact information about the owner or assignee of the loan” when requested by the borrower.

Holding. The Southern District of Indiana granted in part and denied in part the servicer’s summary judgment motion. The servicer prevailed on the Section 2605(k)(1)(D) and Section 2605(e)(2) claims about Letters 1 and 2. The Court denied summary judgment on the Section 2605(e)(1) claim for Letter 3.

Policy/rationale. As to Letter 1, the Court noted that the faulty timing of the response to the QWR did not cause actual damages. The distress alleged instead arose out of other factors in the borrower’s life. Letter 2 concerning loss mitigation options did not qualify as a QWR in the first place. Information related to a failed loan mod falls outside of RESPA. However, the Court concluded that Letter 3, a letter request seeking information about the servicer’s refund of payments made to stave off foreclosure, was a viable QWR because the letter involved the servicing of the loan. Since the servicer never responded to that letter, the claim regarding Letter 3 passed the summary judgment stage, although the opinion did not address the matter of damages.

Related posts.

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I frequently represent lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, entangled in consumer finance litigation. 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 Rejects Alleged RESPA Violations Based Upon Inadequate QWR

Lesson. Careful compliance by mortgage servicers should lead to a favorable summary judgment rulings in RESPA cases brought by borrowers.

Case cite. Perron v. JP Morgan Chase, 845 F.3d 852 (7th Cir. 2017).

Legal issue. Whether the lender violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), specifically the statutory duty to respond to a “qualified written request” from the borrower.

Vital facts. The lender erroneously paid the wrong insurer for homeowner’s coverage using funds from the borrowers’ escrow account. However, the borrowers switched insurers without informing the lender. Upon learning of the error, the lender paid the new insurer and informed the borrowers that the prior insurer would be sending a refund. The lender requested that the borrowers remit the refund to the lender so the depleted escrow account could be replenished, but the borrowers failed to do so. As a result, the lender adjusted the monthly mortgage payment to make up for the shortfall, but the borrowers failed to pay the higher amount and went into default. Instead of curing, the borrowers sent a RESPA “qualified written request” to the lender and demanded reimbursement of their escrow. The lender responded to the requests but still got sued.

Procedural history. The borrowers filed an action in federal court alleging that the RESPA responses were inadequate and that they had suffered 300k in damages. The district court granted summary judgment to the lender, and the borrowers appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

Key rules. The Perron opinion provides a great summary of the QWR duties in RESPA, 12 U.S.C. 2601-2617. Here are some of the key legal principles outlined by the Court:

  1. Generally, the statute “requires mortgage servicers to correct errors and disclose account information when a borrower sends a written request for information” known as a “qualified written request” or QWR.
  2. RESPA gives borrowers a cause of action for actual damages incurred “as a result of” a failure to comply with the duties imposed on servicers of mortgage loans.
  3. If borrowers prove the servicer engaged in a “pattern or practice of noncompliance,” then statutory damages of up to 2k are available. Also, successful plaintiffs may recover attorney fees.
  4. RESPA does not impose a duty to respond to all borrower inquiries or complaints. The statute “covers only written requests alleging an account error or seeking information relating to loan servicing.”
  5. “Servicing” means “receiving … payments from a borrower pursuant to the terms of the loan … and making the payments … with respect to the amounts received from the borrower as may be required by the terms of the loan.” 12 U.S.C. 2605(i)(3). A QWR “can’t be used to collect information about, or allege an error in, the underlying mortgage loan.”
  6. Upon receipt of a valid QWR, RESPA requires the servicer to take the following action “if applicable”: (A) make appropriate corrections in the account, (B) after investigation, provide a written explanation or clarification explaining why the account is correct, (C) provide the information requested by the borrower or explain why it is unavailable and (D) provide the contact information of a servicer employee who can provide further assistance. 12 U.S.C. Sec 2605(e)(2).

Holding. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s summary judgment for the lender.

Policy/rationale. In Perron, the lender “almost perfectly” complied with its RESPA duties by providing a complete account and payment history, as well as a complete accounting of the escrow payments. The only area where the lender fell short was its failure to identify one of the insurers at issue, but the Court noted that the borrowers already had that information. The Court concluded that the borrowers were not harmed by an uncorrected account error or lack of information. “Simply put, [the borrowers] weren’t harmed by being in the dark because the lights were on the whole time.”

Related posts.

Borrower’s Claims For Violations of RESPA, TILA, FDCPA, RICO And FPRAM, Together With Claims for Various Torts, Dismissed
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I frequently represent lenders, as well as their mortgage loan servicers, entangled in consumer finance litigation. 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.