By Lynn E. Szymoniak, Esq., Ed. Fraud Digest,
August 26, 2011

On August 24, 2011, Circuit Judge Fuentes of the United States Third Circuit Court of Appeals, issued an opinion in a case appealing the reversal by the District Court of sanctions originally imposed in the bankruptcy court on attorneys Mark J. Urden and Lorraine Doyle, the Udren Law Firm, and HSBC for violations of Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 9011. Highlights from that opinion, particularly regarding Lender Processing Services and HSBC, are set forth below. In this decision, the Third Circuit reversed the District Court and affirmed the bankruptcy court’s imposition of sanctions with respect to Lorraine Doyle, the Udren Law Firm, and HSBC. The District Court’s decision reversing the bankruptcy court’s sanctions against attorney Mark Udren was affirmed. The appeal was taken by Acting United States Trustee Roberta A. DeAngelis, In re Nile C. Taylor, et al., Case No. 10- 2154, 3d Cir. 2011. Ultimately, the Taylors lost their home. The sanctions imposed by the Bankruptcy Court, reversed by the District Court and finally affirmed by the Circuit Court, were minimal. Doyle  was ordered to take 3 CLE credits in professional responsibility; Udren himself to be trained in the use of NewTrak and to spend a day observing his employees handling NewTrak; and both Doyle and Udren to conduct a training session for the firm’s relevant lawyers in the requirements of Rule 9011 and procedures for escalating inquiries on NewTrak. The court also required HSBC to send a copy of its opinion to
all the law firms it uses in bankruptcy proceedings, along with a letter explaining that direct contact with HSBC concerning matters relating to HSBC’s case was permissible.

The Court made the following findings:

  • • HSBC does not deign to communicate directly with the firms it
    employs in its high-volume foreclosure work; rather, it uses a
    computerized system called NewTrak (provided by a third party, LPS)
    to assign individual firms discrete assignments and provide the limited
    data the system deems relevant to each assignment. The firms are
    selected and the instructions generated without any direct human
    involvement. The firms so chosen generally do not have the capacity
    to check the data (such as the amount of mortgage payment or time
    in arrears) provided to them by NewTrak and are not expected to
    communicate with other firms that may have done related work on the
    matter. Although it is technically possible for a firm hired through
    NewTrak to contact HSBC to discuss the matter on which it has been
    retained, it is clear from the record that this was discouraged and that
    some attorneys, including at least one Udren Firm attorney, did not
    believe it to be permitted. [The Udren Firm represented HSBC in this
    bankruptcy foreclosure.](Page 6-7)
  • • LPS is also not involved in the present appeal, as the bankruptcy
    court found that it had not engaged in wrongdoing in this case.
    However, both the accuracy of its data and the ethics of its practices
    have been repeatedly called into question elsewhere. See, e.g., In re
    Wilson, 2011 WL 1337240 at 9 (Bankr. E.D.La. Apr. 7, 2011)
    (imposing sanctions after finding that LPS had issued “sham” affidavits
    and perpetrated fraud on the court); In re Thorne, 2011 WL 2470114
    (Bankr. N.D. Miss. June 16, 2011); In re Doble, 2011 WL 1465559
    (Bankr. S.D. Cal. Apr. 14, 2011). (Footnote 5, Page 6)
  • • Doyle [the attorney from the Udren Firm representing HSBC] did
    nothing to verify the information in the motion for relief from stay
    besides check it against “screen prints” of the NewTrak information.
    She did not even access NewTrak herself. In effect, she simply
    proofread the document. It does not appear that NewTrak provided
    the Udren Firm with any information concerning the Taylors’ equity in
    their home, so Doyle could not have verified her statement in the
    motion concerning the lack of equity in any way, even against a
    “screen print.” (Page 8 )
  • • In May 2008, the bankruptcy court held a hearing on both the motion
    for relief and the claim objection. HSBC was represented at the
    hearing by a junior associate at the Udren Firm, Mr. Fitzgibbon. At that
    hearing, Fitzgibbon ultimately admitted that, at the time the motion
    for relief from the stay was filed, HSBC had received a mortgage
    payment for November 2007, even though both the motion for stay
    and the response to the Taylors’ objection to the proof of claim stated
    otherwise.8 Despite this, Fitzgibbon urged the court to grant the relief
    from stay, because the Taylors had not responded to HSBC’s RFAs
    (which included the “admission” that the Taylors had not made
    payments from November 2007 to January 2008). It appears from the
    record that Fitzgibbon initially sought to have the RFAs admitted as
    evidence even though he knew they contained falsehoods. (Page 10)
  • • The bankruptcy court denied the request to enter the RFAs as
    evidence, noting that the firm “closed their eyes to the fact that there
    was evidence that . . . conflicted with the very admissions that they
    asked me [to deem admitted]. They . . . had that evidence [that the
    assertions in its motion were not accurate] in [their] possession and
    [they] went ahead like [they] never saw it.” (App. 108-109.) (Page
  • • At the next hearing, in June 2008, Fitzgibbon stated that he could
    not obtain an accounting from HSBC, though he had repeatedly placed
    requests via NewTrak. He told the court that he was literally unable to
    contact HSBC—his firm’s client—directly to verify information which
    his firm had already represented to the court that it believed to be
    true. (Page 11)
  • • The bankruptcy court held four hearings over several days, making
    in-depth inquiries into the communications between HSBC and its
    lawyers in this case, as well as the general capabilities and limitations
    of a system like NewTrak. Ultimately, it found that the following had
    violated Rule 9011: Fitzgibbon, for pressing the motion for relief based
    on claims he knew to be untrue; Doyle, for failing to make reasonable
    inquiry concerning the representations she made in the motion for
    relief from stay and the response to the claim objection; Udren and
    the Udren Firm itself, for the conduct of its attorneys; and HSBC, for
    practices which caused the failure to adhere to Rule 9011.
  • • Rule 9011 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, the
    equivalent of Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, requires
    that parties making representations to the court certify that “the
    allegations and other factual contentions have evidentiary support or,
    if specifically so identified, are likely to have evidentiary support.” Fed.
    R. Bank. P. 9011(b)(3). A party must reach this conclusion based on
    “inquiry reasonable under the circumstances.” Fed. R. Bank. P.
    9011(b). The concern of Rule 9011 is not the truth or falsity of the
    representation in itself, but rather whether the party making the
    representation reasonably believed it at the time to have evidentiary
  • • As an initial matter, the appellees’ insistence that Doyle’s and
    Fitzgibbon’s statements were “literally true” should not exculpate
    them from Rule 9011 sanctions. First, it should be noted that several of
    these claims were not, in fact, accurate. There was no literal truth to
    the statement in the request for relief from stay that the Taylors had
    no equity in their home. Doyle admitted that she made that statement
    simply as “part of the form pleading,” and “acknowledged having no
    knowledge of the value of the property and having made no inquiry on
    this subject.” (App. 215.) Similarly, the statement in the claim
    objection response that the figures in the original proof of claim were
    correct was false. (Page 16)
  • • In particular, even assuming that Doyle’s and Fitzgibbon’s
    statements as to the payments made by the Taylors were literally
    accurate, they were misleading. In attempting to evaluate whether
    HSBC was justified in seeking a relief from the stay on foreclosure, the
    court needed to know that at least partial payments had been made
    and that the failure to make some of the rest of the payments was due
    to a bona fide dispute over the amount due, not simple default.
    Instead, the court was told only that the Taylors had “failed to make
    regular mortgage payments” from November 1, 2007 to January 15,
    2008, with a mysterious notation concerning a “suspense balance”
    following. (App. 214-15.) A court could only reasonably interpret this
    to mean that the Taylors simply had not made payments for the period
    specified. As the bankruptcy court found, “[f]or at best a $540 dispute,
    the Udren Firm mechanically prosecuted a motion averring a $4,367
    post-petition obligation, the aim of which was to allow HSBC to
    foreclose on [the Taylors] “house.” (App. 215.) Therefore, Doyle’s and
    Fitzgibbon’s statements in question were either false or misleading.
    (Pages 16-17)
  • • With respect to the Taylors case in particular, Doyle ignored clear
    warning signs as to the accuracy of the data that she did receive. In
    responding to the motion for relief from stay, the Taylors submitted
    documentation indicating that they had already made at least partial
    payments for some of the months in question. In objecting to the
    proof of claim, the Taylors pointed out the inaccuracy of the mortgage
    payment listed and explained the circumstances surrounding the flood
    insurance dispute. Although Doyle certainly was not obliged to accept
    the Taylors’ claims at face value, they indisputably put her on notice
    that the matter was not as simple as it might have appeared from the
    NewTrak file. At that point, any reasonable attorney would have
    sought clarification and further documentation from her client, in order
    to correct any prior inadvertent misstatements to the court and to
    avoid any further errors. Instead, Doyle mechanically affirmed facts
    (the monthly mortgage payment) that her own prior filing with the
    court had already contradicted. (Page 20)
  • • Doyle’s reliance on HSBC was particularly problematic because she
    was not, in fact, relying directly on HSBC. Instead, she relied on a
    computer system run by a third-party vendor. She did not know where
    the data provided by NewTrak came from. She had no capacity to
    check the data against the original documents if any of it seemed
    implausible. (Page 20)
  • • Although the initial data the Udren Firm received was not, in itself,
    wildly implausible, it was facially inadequate. In short, then, we find
    that Doyle’s inquiry before making her representations to the
    bankruptcy court was unreasonable.
    In making this finding, we, of course, do not mean to suggest that the
    use of computerized databases is inherently inappropriate. However,
    the NewTrak system, as it was being used at the time of this case,
    permits parties at every level of the filing process to disclaim
    responsibility for inaccuracies. HSBC has handed off responsibility to a
    third- party maintainer, LPS, which, judging from the results in this
    case, has not generated particularly accurate records. LPS apparently
    regards itself as a mere conduit of information. Appellees, the
    attorneys and final link in the chain of transmission of this information
    to the court, claim reliance on NewTrak’s records. Who, precisely, can
    be held accountable if HSBC’s records are inadequately maintained,
    LPS transfers those records inaccurately into NewTrak, or a law firm
    relies on the NewTrak data without further investigation, thus leading
    to material misrepresentations to the court? It cannot be that all the
    parties involved can insulate themselves from responsibility by the use
    of such a system. (Page 21)
  • • We also find that it was appropriate to extend sanctions to the Udren
    Firm itself. Rule 11 explicitly allows the imposition of sanctions against
    law firms…In this instance, the bankruptcy court found that the
    misrepresentations in the case arose not simply from the
    irresponsibility of individual attorneys, but from the system put in
    place at the Udren Firm, which emphasized high-volume, high-speed
    processing of foreclosures to such an extent that it led to violations of
    Rule 9011. (citations omitted)(Page 24)
  • • We appreciate that the use of technology can save both litigants and
    attorneys time and money, and we do not, of course, mean to suggest
    that the use of databases or even certain automated communications
    between counsel and client are presumptively unreasonable. However,
    Rule 11 requires more than a rubber-stamping of the results of an
    automated process by a person who happens to be a lawyer. Where a
    lawyer systematically fails to take any responsibility for seeking
    adequate information from her client, makes representations without
    any factual basis because they are included in a “form pleading” she
    has been trained to fill out, and ignores obvious indications that her
    information may be incorrect, she cannot be said to have made
    reasonable inquiry. (Page 26)

[ipaper docId=63229856 access_key=key-7ik7ga710cir1yvmbl4 height=600 width=600 /]

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  1. Nye Lavalle says:

    Nice to see the courts validate what I have been saying for almost two decades, the banks can’t count or account and when you confront them with the bald-face lies, they lie, cheat, fabricate and destroy evidence and commit perjury. Simply put, garbage in, garbage out! Without a forensic audit of the books and seeing the note’s accounting on the general ledger, you have nothing but more garbage and BS!


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