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Third In Rem Foreclosure Action Barred Due to Rule 41(E) Dismissal Of First Action

Lesson. Once a lender files an Indiana mortgage foreclosure suit, the lender should move the case along and prosecute it to the end. In the event a post-filing loan modification, workout or intervening bankruptcy occurs, however, the lender should either dismiss the case without prejudice or get an order staying the action. Otherwise, the lender runs the risk of a dismissal for failure to prosecute that could prevent subsequent efforts to foreclose the mortgage, especially in the absence of a new default.

Case cite. Mannion v. Wilmington Savings Fund, Case No. 19A-MF-446.  See, The Indiana Lawyer - "Reversal: Bank loses in lengthy foreclosure battle".

Legal issue. Whether the dismissal of an in rem foreclosure action under Ind. Trial Rule 41(E) bars a subsequent in rem foreclosure on the same note and mortgage.

Vital facts. In this residential case, the borrower filed for bankruptcy in 2007. The borrower received a personal discharge from the mortgage debt in February 2009 and made no further payments on the loan. In April 2009, lender’s predecessor filed an in rem foreclosure action against the borrower, or more specifically the borrower’s property. Due to a failure by the lender to take any action in the case, the trial court dismissed the suit in April 2011 under Rule 41(E). A second action was filed in 2012 and dismissed in 2017 at the plaintiff’s request. Then, in April 2018, the current lender, an assignee of the mortgage loan, filed a third in rem foreclosure action.

Procedural history. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment in the third case. The trial court ruled in favor of the lender and entered a decree of foreclosure. The borrower appealed.

Key rules. Under Rule 41(E), a dismissal for a failure to prosecute is “with prejudice.” Unless the order of dismissal states otherwise, the dismissal operates as an adjudication on the merits.

Indiana law is settled that a dismissal with prejudice “is conclusive of the rights of the parties and res judicata as to the questions that might have been litigated.”

Indiana’s doctrine of res judicata “serves to prevent repetitious litigation of disputes that are essentially the same.”

Holding. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary judgment for the lender and instructed the trial court to enter judgment for the borrower.

Policy/rationale. Since the order of dismissal in the first foreclosure action was not limited and did not otherwise indicate that it was “without” prejudice, the order was deemed an adjudication on the merits.

The lender in Mannion argued that the first and third foreclosure actions were not the same “because they [were] based on different acts of default and because they [sought] different amounts.” The Court surmised that the lender was trying to argue that a “new and independent default” had arisen since the dismissal of the first case. The Court rejected that contention and reasoned that, because the borrower’s personal liability under the mortgage loan had been discharged in bankruptcy, “both foreclosure actions were based upon the nonpayment of the mortgage due to the [borrower’s] discharge in bankruptcy.” The increase in the amount of the debt through growing interest and attorney fees was immaterial.

The bottom line was that the relief sought in both cases was the same and based on the same default.  So, the borrower got to keep his property free and clear of the mortgage. The Court rationalized the outcome, in part, by saying “the creditor created the situation as a direct result of its failure to prosecute, and … the [dismissal order] should have its full res judicata effect….”

Related posts.

Following Rule 41(E) Dismissal For Failure To Prosecute, Can A Second Suit Be Filed?
Following A Dismissal, Lenders Generally Are Able To Refile Foreclosure Actions Based On New Defaults
An “In Rem” Judgment Limits Collection To The Mortgaged Property

I represent lenders, loan servicers, borrowers, and guarantors in loan and real estate-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.

IBJ.com: Marion County reschedules canceled tax sale for early 2020

The Indianapolis Business Journal is reporting that Marion County (Indianapolis) has canceled its fall real estate tax sales (with a combined value of at least $6MM) due to a clerical error.  The 2019 sales will occur 2/14/20.  Here is the story.  Click here for a post of mine from earlier this year talking about Indiana tax sales and notice-related issues.  The "clerical error" leading to the postponement of the sales appears to be related to perfecting the statutory notice required for the sales to be valid.  Better to have a do over now instead of dealing with potentially hundreds of tainted sales later.