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Credit Card's Summary Judgment Reversed Due To Flawed Affidavit

In Zelman v. Capital One, 133 N.E.3d 244 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019), the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's summary judgment in favor of a credit card lender based upon the lender's failure to "lay a proper foundation to authenticate the Customer Agreement or credit card statements as business records admissible under Evidence Rule 803(6)'s hearsay exception." 

Respectfully, I don't entirely agree with the Court's analyis, but admittedly I don't handle credit card collection cases.  Nevertheless, the opinion is notable for parties and their counsel who seek summary judgments in debt collection cases.  The Court held:

To support its motion for summary judgment, Bank was required to show that Zelman had opened a credit card account with Bank and that Zelman owed Bank the amount alleged in the complaint.

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... the Affidavit of Debt did not lay a proper foundation to authenticate the Customer Agreement or credit card statements as business records admissible under [Rule 806].

For the technical details and related law upon which the Court made its decision, please review the opinion.  Key problems surrounded the fact that the affiant was an employee of a third party that had acquired the debt and had not personally examined all of the business records related to the loan.  Again, bear in mind this was not a mortgage foreclosure action or a suit based upon a promissory note.

Zelman is similar to Holmes v. National Collegiate Student Loan Trust, 94 N.E.3d 722 (Ind. Ct. App. 2018) , which dealt with school loan debt and which I discussed on 1/13/19.

Here are some other posts related to Indiana affidavits and summary judgment procedure:

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I represent parties in real estate and 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.

 


Is The Label “Indiana Lender Liability Act” A Misnomer?

In the past, I’ve heard things from secured lenders like:  “you don’t see any exposure to our bank under the Lender Liability Act, do you?” or “surely the borrower won’t countersue us under Indiana’s lender liability statute.”  People are sometimes surprised to learn that the so-called “Indiana Lender Liability Act” (“ILLA”), Ind. Code § 26-2-9, doesn’t list claims or causes of action that can be asserted against a lender.  The ILLA primarily deals with the issue of evidence, specifically the inadmissibility of oral testimony about the terms of a loan.  (Interestingly, the statute’s official title in the Indiana Code is “Credit Agreements.”)  The definitive ILLA case is Sees v. Bank One, 839 N.E.2d 154 (Ind. 2005) (Sees.pdf).  Somewhat amusingly, the Indiana Supreme Court itself struggled with the label: 

In the first reported opinion discussing the statute since its 2002 re-codification, the Court of Appeals refers to it as the “Indiana Lender Liability Act.”  . . .  Sees refers to the statute alternatively as the “Indiana Lender Liability Act” and the “Credit Agreement Statute.”  . . .  Bank One refers to the statute as the “Credit Agreement Statute of Frauds.”  . . .  We agree with the Court of Appeals’ designation and thus refer to the statute as the Indiana Lender Liability Act.

Lender liability, generally.  It is true that “lender liability” is a common phrase used to describe a borrower’s potential claims against a lender due to the conduct of the lender with regard to a particular loan relationship.  Capello & Komoroke, Lender Liability Litigation: Undue Control, 42 Am. Jur. Trials 419 § 1 (2005).  This body of law comprises a wide variety of both statutory and common law causes of action.  One of many examples is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  There are, in fact, a multitude of federal and state laws that could form the basis of a lawsuit against a lender.  The ILLA is not one of those laws, however. 

The ILLA rule.  The essence of the ILLA can be found in section 4, which provides that “a [borrower] may assert a claim . . . arising from a [loan document] only if the [loan document] . . . [1] is in writing; [2] sets forth all material terms and conditions of the [loan document] . . . ; and [3] is signed by the [lender] and the [borrower].”  The ILLA effectively protects lenders from certain kinds of liability.  That’s why the label “Lender Liability Act” seemingly is inconsistent with the law’s true nature. 

Statute of frauds.  Sees provides an excellent discussion of the statute, its history and its policies.  In a broad sense, the legislative intent behind the statute is to protect lenders from lawsuits by borrowers (or guarantors) asserting fraudulent claims.  Hence the “in writing” requirement in the ILLA.  As such, the ILLA actually is a “statute of frauds,” which at its core is a procedural law about the exclusion of certain testimony of a witness at trial.  Black’s Law Dictionary defines “statute of frauds” as “. . . no suit or action shall be maintained on certain classes of contracts or engagements unless there shall be a note or memorandum thereof in writing signed by the party to be charged . . ..”  As noted by Judge Posner in Consolidated Services, Inc. v. KeyBank, 185 F.3d 817 (7th Cir. 1999):

 [T]he principle purpose of the statute of frauds is evidentiary.  It is to protect contracting or negotiating parties from the vagaries of the trial process.  A trier of fact may easily be fooled by plausible but false testimony to the existence of an oral contract.  This is not because judgment or jurors are particularly gullible, but because it is extremely difficult to determine whether a witness is testifying truthfully.  Much pious lore to the contrary notwithstanding, ‘demeanor’ is an unreliable guide to truthfulness.

Be a wise guy.  Next time someone asks you whether your commercial lending institution may have exposure to a lawsuit or a counterclaim based on Indiana’s Lender Liability Act, you can explain to them that the ILLA does not really articulate any theories of liability.  Rather, the ILLA limits breach of contract actions to the terms of the loan that are memorialized.  Again, this is not to say that there is no “lender liability” in Indiana.  The generic term “lender liability” is proper when referring to the many possible claims of wrongdoing that exist.  In short, lenders can be exposed to liability, but they shouldn’t be held liable in Indiana for any alleged violations of loan terms unless such terms (promises or duties) are in writing, signed by all parties. 

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Part of my practice includes defending banks in lawsuits. 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.


Indiana Sheriff's Sale Update

The COVID-related impact upon Indiana sheriff's sales has had a few layers:

    1.    The first involved Governor Holcomb's moratorium on residential foreclosure activity. Click here for more on that subject. That ended July 31, 2020, and some sheriff’s sales occurred in August. For example, after cancelling its monthly sales from March through July, the Marion County (Indianapolis) civil sheriff held a sale on August 21st. Click here for more information on Marion County sales.

    2.    The second layer surrounded the federal mandate. Despite the expiration of the state suspension, there still is a moratorium on sales of (and, in fact, foreclosure actions involving) FHA-insured mortgages. This freeze extends to year-end. Click here for a press release and here for my 4/6/20 post about the CARES Act.

    3.    The third is that neither the federal nor the state orders impacted commercial (business) foreclosures or sales. Nevertheless, it does not appear that any commercial foreclosure sales occurred this Spring or early Summer. I could be wrong, but as a practical matter, my understanding is that sheriff’s sales simply stopped, even for commercial real estate.

    4.    The fourth and more subtle layer of COVID's impact upon Indiana sheriff’s sales relates, not to economic relief, but to safety and social distancing. (This might explain why no commercial sales happened.) As I’ve written here previously: local rules, customs, and practices control county sheriff’s sales. Thus, there is a certain degree of latitude that each county has, or is taking, with respect to whether to proceed with sales during the pandemic. A quick survey of the websites of SRI and Lieberman, two private companies that hold sheriff’s sales for select counties, shows that several sheriff’s offices in Indiana still are not having sales, despite the termination of the state and federal moratoria. My understanding is that these continued delays are based upon public health reasons and/or a county sheriff's interpretation of local social distincing guidelines.  

The upshot is to contact the county sheriff’s office, either by phone or via the internet, to determine exactly what’s going on with your particular case as the COVID situation continues to unfold.

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I represent parties in connection with foreclosure cases and sheriff’s 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.