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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.”

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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.

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