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IN RE: RODRIGUEZ | NJ Bankruptcy Court awards debtors counsel 85K fees because Countrywide willfully violated the automatic stay pursuant to § 362(k)

IN RE: RODRIGUEZ | NJ Bankruptcy Court awards debtors counsel 85K fees because Countrywide willfully violated the automatic stay pursuant to § 362(k)


UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY

Re: In re Rodriguez (Chapter 13)
Case No. 07-24687 (MBK)

EXCERPT:

D. The Attorneys’ Fees Requested are Reasonable
Having ruled that the Debtors are entitled to attorneys’ fees, the Court must determine whether the requested fees are reasonable. See Miller, supra, 447 B.R. at 434 (“For Debtors to recover attorneys’ fees, however, such fees must be reasonable and necessary”). Indeed, the policy to discourage willful stay violations is tempered by a reasonableness standard. Id. While such policy guards against excessive litigation, however, it was Countrywide’s actions that created such substantial litigation costs to the Debtors in this case. Moreover, Countrywide has voiced no objection to the reasonableness of the fees requested by Debtors’ counsel. The Court has reviewed the documentation in support of the requested attorneys’ fees and regards the fees to be reasonable in light of the work performed in this case.

V. Conclusion
For the foregoing reasons, this Court: (i) finds that Countrywide willfully violated the
automatic stay pursuant to § 362(k), (ii) awards damages to the Debtors in the form of attorneys’
fees in the amount of $85,033.814, and (iii) directs Countrywide to make payment of the award
to “Francisco and Anna Rodriguez, in care of Abelson & Truesdale, LLC” within 30 days of
entry of this ruling. The Court will enter an order consistent with its findings.

[ipaper docId=82743740 access_key=key-16dspzovwcgo0qi7jl4d height=600 width=600 /]

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ARKANSAS Bankruptcy case causes title insurance companies to hit “pause”

ARKANSAS Bankruptcy case causes title insurance companies to hit “pause”


Read The BK Order: In Re: JOHNSON – Bank. EDArk – Chase/JP Morgan Chase – No access to Arkansas non-judicial f/c process if not authorized to do business in state

Arkasas Online-

LITTLE ROCK Many title insurance companies in Arkansas are refusing to issue policies in the sale of certain foreclosed-on properties, after a local U.S. Bankruptcy Court ruling in September called into question the validity of the homes’ titles. Sales …

[ARKANSAS ONLINE] subscription

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In Re: JOHNSON – Bank. EDArk – Chase/JP Morgan Chase – No access to Arkansas non-judicial f/c process if not authorized to do business in state

In Re: JOHNSON – Bank. EDArk – Chase/JP Morgan Chase – No access to Arkansas non-judicial f/c process if not authorized to do business in state


United States Bankruptcy Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division.

In re DANIEL L. JOHNSON and SUSAN D. JOHNSON, Chapter 13 Debtors.
In re TAMMY R. PEEKS, Chapter 13 Debtor.
In re TRACY L. ESTES, Chapter 13 Debtor.

Case Nos. 3:10-bk-19119, 3:11-bk-10602, 3:10-bk-16541


September 28, 2011.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OVERRULING OBJECTIONS TO CONFIRMATION

AUDREY R. EVANS, Bankruptcy Judge

In a consolidated hearing on July 14, 2011, the Court heard the Objection to Confirmation of Plan filed by Chase Home Finance, L.L.C. (“Chase”) in the case of Daniel and Susan Johnson, Case No. 3:10-bk-19119 (the “Johnson Objection to Confirmation”); the Objection to Confirmation of Plan filed by J.P. Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. (“J.P. Morgan”) in the case of Tammy Renae Peeks, Case No. 3:11-bk-10602 (the “Peeks Objection to Confirmation”); and the Objection to Confirmation of Plan filed by Chase in the case of Tracy L. Estes, Case No. 3:10-bk-16541 (the “Estes Objection to Confirmation”) (collectively the “Objections to Confirmation”). J.P. Morgan appeared through its counsel, Kimberly Burnette of Wilson & Associates, P.L.L.C.[1] The Debtors in all three cases were represented at the hearing by Joel Hargis of Crawley & DeLoache, P.L.L.C. Kathy A. Cruz of The Cruz Law Firm, P.L.L.C., also appeared as co-counsel for the Debtor, Tracy L. Estes. At the outset of the hearing, the parties agreed that the facts of the cases were not in dispute, and that the same underlying issue of law was present in each case. For that reason, the hearings were consolidated. The Court accepted evidence and heard the arguments of counsel.[2] At the close of the hearing, the Court took the matter under advisement.

This is a core proceeding under 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)(2)(L). This Order shall constitute findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Bankruptcy Rule of Procedure 7052. To the extent that any finding of fact is construed as a conclusion of law, it is adopted as such; to the extent that any conclusion of law is construed as a finding of fact, it is adopted as such. As explained herein, the Court overrules the Objections to Confirmation.

FACTS

The parties stipulated that at the time of the foreclosure proceedings at issue in these cases, neither Chase nor J.P. Morgan was “authorized to do business” in the state of Arkansas as required by § 18-50-117 of the Arkansas Statutory Foreclosure Act of 1987, Ark. Code Ann. §§ 18-50-101, et seq. (the “Statutory Foreclosure Act”). Additionally, the Court finds the following to be the facts of each case:

The Johnson Case

Chase initiated non-judicial foreclosure proceedings, through Arkansas’ Statutory Foreclosure Act, against a property owned by Daniel and Susan Johnson. On December 20, 2010, the Johnsons filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy bringing that non-judicial foreclosure to a halt. In their bankruptcy case, the Johnsons filed a Chapter 13 plan listing Chase as a long-term secured creditor that was owed an arrearage of $7,485. On March 2, 2011, Chase filed the Johnson Objection to Confirmation claiming that the correct arrearage amount was $14,072.81. Chase filed a proof of claim in the case (the “Johnson Proof of Claim”) claiming a secured debt of $187,468.21, which included the $14,072.81 arrearage, and explained that $1,380 of the arrearage was for foreclosure fees and costs. On July 4, 2011, Chase transferred the Johnson Proof of Claim to J.P. Morgan.

The Peeks Case

J.P. Morgan initiated a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding, through Arkansas’ Statutory Foreclosure Act, against property owned by Tammy Renae Peeks. To initiate the foreclosure process, J.P. Morgan granted Wilson & Associates, P.L.L.C. (“Wilson & Associates”) a limited power of attorney authorizing Wilson & Associates to conduct the foreclosure.[3] On January 31, 2011, Ms. Peeks filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy bringing the non-judicial foreclosure to a halt. On February 10, 2011, Ms. Peeks filed a proposed Chapter 13 plan that listed J.P. Morgan as a long-term secured creditor that was owed an arrearage of $7,500. On March 21, 2011, J.P. Morgan filed the Peeks Objection to Confirmation asserting that the correct arrearage amount was $10,089.19. J.P. Morgan filed a proof of claim in the Peeks case on July 13, 2011 (the “Peeks Proof of Claim”) claiming a secured debt of $133,172.09, which included an arrearage of $9,516.72, and explained that $2,400.02 of the arrearage was for foreclosure fees and costs.

The Estes Case

Chase initiated non-judicial foreclosure proceedings, through Arkansas’ Statutory Foreclosure Act, against a property owned by Tracy L. Estes. On September 8, 2010, Ms. Estes filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy under Chapter 13, bringing that non-judicial foreclosure to a halt. On September 21, 2010, Ms. Estes filed a proposed Chapter 13 plan listing Chase as a long-term secured creditor that was owed an arrearage of $8,000. Chase filed the Estes Objection to Confirmation on October 20, 2010, asserting that the correct arrearage amount was $10,537.36. Chase filed a proof of claim in the Estes case on October 28, 2010 (the “Estes Proof of Claim”), claiming a secured debt of $37,041.96, which included an arrearage of $10,509.36, and explained that $2,706.56 of the arrearage was for to foreclosure fees and costs. On May 25, 2011, Chase filed an amended proof of claim adjusting the arrearage from $10,509.36 to $10,502.22. On July 14, 2011, Chase transferred the Estes Proof of Claim to J.P. Morgan.

DISCUSSION

The question before the Court is whether the Debtors owe J.P. Morgan the foreclosure fees and costs listed on its proofs of claims. The Bankruptcy Code allows a debtor in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case to cure a default on a debt for its home mortgage through the plan. 11 U.S.C. §§ 1322(b)(3), (5). In order for that plan to be confirmed, a debtor must pay the default arrearage amount in full. The amount owed in order to cure a default is “determined in accordance with the underlying agreement and applicable nonbankruptcy law.” 11 U.S.C. § 1322(e). This determination poses two separate inquires: first, what fees and costs are allowed by the agreement between the parties, and second, what fees and costs are allowed by the applicable law. See In re Bumgarner, 225 B.R. 327, 328 (Bankr. D.S.C. 1998).

In these cases, there is no dispute that the foreclosure fees and costs are owed under the parties’ agreements because the instrument used to create each debt gives J.P. Morgan “the right to be paid back by me for all of its costs and expenses in enforcing this Note . . . .” The only question in each of these three cases is whether the foreclosure fees and costs are allowed by the controlling law. The controlling law is Arkansas’ Statutory Foreclosure Act (i.e., Arkansas’ non-judicial foreclosure procedure), and the issue is whether J.P. Morgan was qualified to use Arkansas’ non-judicial foreclosure procedure when it initiated the foreclosure proceedings against these Debtors.

The Debtors argue that J.P. Morgan was not qualified to use the non-judicial foreclosure process because § 18-50-117 of the Statutory Foreclosure Act requires an entity to be authorized to do business in Arkansas, and that J.P. Morgan was not in compliance with that requirement.

J.P. Morgan stipulated that it was not authorized to do business as is required Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117. Nonetheless, it maintains that it was qualified to use Arkansas’ non-judicial foreclosure process. J.P. Morgan makes three arguments in support of its position. First, J.P. Morgan argues that its compliance with § 18-50-102 of the Statutory Foreclosure Act enabled it to legitimately employ the non-judicial foreclosure process without being authorized to do business in the state as required by Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117. Second, J.P. Morgan argues that the authorized-to-do-business requirement is superseded by a conflicting provision in Arkansas’ Wingo Act, Ark. Code Ann. § 4-27-1501, and finally, that it is preempted by federal law through the provisions of the National Banking Act.

For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds that J.P. Morgan was not qualified to use the Arkansas non-judicial foreclosure process when it initiated the foreclosures against these Debtors. J.P. Morgan failed to comply with the authorized-to-do-business requirement of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117, and nothing in Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102, the Wingo Act, or the National Banking Act allowed it to conduct those proceedings without meeting that requirement. Absent compliance with Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117, J.P. Morgan’s avenue for foreclosing on these properties was that of judicial foreclosure through the courts, not through Arkansas’ non-judicial foreclosure process. As a result, the foreclosure fees and costs incurred by Chase and J.P. Morgan are not owed by the Debtors, and need not be included in the Debtors’ repayment plans in order for those plans to be confirmed.

Finally, both parties request their attorney fees for pursuing or defending these matters. The Court finds that an award of attorney fees to the Debtors is warranted.

The Statutory Foreclosure Act

In 1987, the Arkansas legislature enacted the Statutory Foreclosure Act, which authorized the use of non-judicial foreclosure proceedings as an alternative to judicial foreclosure proceedings. Ark. Code Ann. §§ 18-50-101, et seq. See also Union Nat’l Bank v. Nichols, 305 Ark. 274, 278, 807 S.W.2d 36, 38 (1991) (“The procedure is designed to be effectuated without resorting to the state’s court system . . . .”). These statutory provisions must be strictly construed. See Robbins v. M.E.R.S., 2006 WL 3507464, at *1 (Ark. Ct. App. 2006) (“It is also true that the Arkansas Statutory Foreclosure Act, being in derogation of common law, must be strictly construed.”).[4]

The parties’ arguments are based on two provisions of the Statutory Foreclosure Act; Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 and Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102. Each of these two provisions places a restriction on who can use Arkansas’ non-judicial foreclosure process. The first provision, Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117, requires a creditor to be authorized to do business in Arkansas before employing the state’s non-judicial foreclosure process. Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 (“No person, firm, company, association, fiduciary, or partnership, either domestic or foreign shall avail themselves of the procedures under this chapter unless authorized to do business in this state.”) (emphasis added).[5] The second provision, Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102, limits who can be a party to a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding to three categories of persons or entities: (1) trustees or attorneys-in-fact, (2) financial institutions, and (3) Arkansas state agencies. See Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102.[6] Further, this provision requires that in order to qualify, a “trustee or attorney-in-fact” must be a licensed member of the Arkansas bar, or a law firm who employs a licensed member of the Arkansas bar. Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102(a)(1).

The Debtors argued that J.P. Morgan was not qualified to use the non-judicial foreclosure process because § 18-50-117 of the Statutory Foreclosure Act requires an entity to be authorized to do business in Arkansas, and J.P. Morgan stipulated that it was not in compliance with that provision. J.P. Morgan argued that it was not required to comply with Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 because it authorized Wilson & Associates to conduct the foreclosures as its attorney-in-fact, pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102(a)(1). This argument extends in two directions.[7]

Specifically, one extension of J.P. Morgan’s argument is that when the attorney-in-fact category of § 18-50-102 is used, the authorized-to-do-business requirement of § 18-50-117 does not apply. The Court finds no support for this argument. The language of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 is broad, specifically stating that it is applicable to every “person, firm, company, association, fiduciary, or partnership, either domestic or foreign . . . .” An emergency clause recorded in the sessions laws of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 explains the reason that the provision was enacted:

It is found and determined by the General Assembly of the State of Arkansas that foreign entities not authorized to do business in the State of Arkansas are availing themselves to [sic] the provisions of the Statutory Foreclosure Act of 1987; that often times it is to the detriment of Arkansas citizens; and that this act is immediately necessary because these entities should be authorized to do business in the State of Arkansas before being able to use the Statutory Foreclosure Act of 1987.
2003 Ark. Acts 1303, § 3, effective Apr. 14, 2003. The broad language of this provision, and the clear concerns set out in the legislative history, indicate that Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 was meant to apply without regard to which category of person or entity is conducting the foreclosure under Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102.

Further, the Court finds nothing in the language of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102 to indicate that it eliminates the need to comply with the authorized-to-do-business requirement of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117, or that the attorney-in-fact party should be treated in any way different from the other categories of persons or entities allowed to conduct a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding. Further, the most recent enactment of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102, now in effect, places several additional requirements on an attorney-in-fact before he can qualify as a party to a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding. In addition to the requirement that the attorney-in-fact be licensed in Arkansas (which was the law at the time of these foreclosure proceedings), an attorney-in-fact must now also have an office located in Arkansas, be accessible during business hours, and be able to accept funds as payment on the subject mortgage. See 2011 Ark. Acts 901, § 2, effective July 27, 2011. These recent additional restrictions to the attorney-in-fact qualification provide further evidence of the Arkansas legislature’s intent to limit access to the Statutory Foreclosure Act, not to further broaden access to that process as J.P. Morgan’s argument would necessarily require.

A second extension of J.P. Morgan’s argument is that, even if Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 applies, J.P. Morgan satisfied the authorized-to-do-business requirement because its attorney-in-fact, Wilson & Associates, satisfied that requirement. This argument also fails. The procedures for appointing an attorney-in-fact to conduct the foreclosure are self-contained within the § 18-50-102 of the Statutory Foreclosure Act. This appointment is accomplished through the use of a power of attorney. Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102(e) (“The appointment of an attorney-in-fact by a mortgagee shall be made by a duly executed, acknowledged, and recorded power of attorney . . . .”). That power of attorney provides the attorney-in-fact only with those powers held by the appointing mortgagee. Ark. Code Ann. 18-50-102(d) (“A mortgagee may delegate his or her powers and duties under this chapter to an attorney-in-fact, whose acts shall be done in the name of and on behalf of the mortgagee.”) (emphasis added).

J.P. Morgan appointed Wilson & Associates as its attorney-in-fact through a limited power of attorney. Wilson & Associates did not initiate the foreclosure proceedings on its own behalf, but initiated those proceedings “in the name of and on behalf of” J.P. Morgan. It is J.P. Morgan’s compliance with the authorized-to-do-business requirement that is relevant, not that of Wilson & Associates. Thus, the Court finds that J.P. Morgan’s compliance with Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102 by electing to use an attorney-in-fact did not, by substitute, afford it compliance with the authorized-to-do-business requirement in Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117.

Therefore, J.P. Morgan has failed to show that its compliance with § 18-50-102 of the Statutory Foreclosure Act enabled it to legitimately employ the non-judicial foreclosure process without being authorized to do business in the state.

The Wingo Act

J.P. Morgan argues that a conflict between the Wingo Act (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 4-27-1501, et seq.), and the Statutory Foreclosure Act (Ark. Code Ann. §§ 18-50-101, et. seq.), allows J.P. Morgan to conduct non-judicial foreclosures without complying with the authorized-to-do-business requirement found in § 18-50-117 of the Statutory Foreclosure Act.

The Wingo Act is a sub-provision of the Arkansas Business Corporation Act, found at Ark. Code Ann. §§ 4-27-101, et seq. The Wingo Act states that “[a] foreign corporation may not transact business in this state until it obtains a certificate of authority from the Secretary of State.” Ark. Code Ann. § 4-27-1501(a). However, the Wingo Act also contains a non-exhaustive list of actions that do not constitute transacting business. Ark. Code Ann. § 4-27-1501(b). This list includes, among other things, the acts of “[m]aintaining, defending, or settling any proceeding[,]” and “[s]ecuring or collecting debts or enforcing mortgages and security interests in property securing the debts[.]” Ark. Code Ann. §§ 4-27-1501(b)(1), (8).

J.P. Morgan asserts that a conflict exists between the Wingo Act and the Statutory Foreclosure Act because the Wingo Act does not require a creditor to be authorized to do business in order to collect on its debt; the Statutory Foreclosure Act does. J.P. Morgan argues that the Wingo Act controls this conflict, and thus, the authorized-to-do-business requirement of the Statutory Foreclosure Act does not apply.

It is a well-settled principle of construction that where two statutes conflict, the more specific statutory provision controls. See Ozark Gas Pipeline Corp. v. Arkansas Public Service Comm’n, 342 Ark. 591, 602, 29 S.W.3d 730, 736 (2000) (“The rule is well settled that a general statute must yield when there is a specific statute involving the particular matter.”). The exclusions afforded in the Wingo Act address the broad category of “[s]ecuring or collecting debts or enforcing mortgages and security interests . . . .” Ark. Code Ann. § 18-27-1501(b)(8). The Statutory Foreclosure Act, on the other hand, deals with a specific type of collection activity — foreclosure — and an even more specific type of foreclosure — non-judicial foreclosure. Given the greater specificity of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117, the Court finds that the Statutory Foreclosure Act provision carves out the specific statutory procedure of non-judicial foreclosure from the broad category of collecting debts, and as a result, controls any conflict between the two provisions.

Further, J.P. Morgan’s argument ignores the other provisions of the Wingo Act . The provision immediately following the exclusionary provision states that the consequence of transacting business without a certificate of authority is: (1) the foreign corporation is prohibited from maintaining a cause of action in the state courts, and (2) the foreign corporation must pay a monetary penalty. Ark. Code Ann. §§ 4-27-1502(a), (d)(1)(A).[8] As such, the exclusions allowed by § 4-27-1501(b) of the Wingo Act enable a foreign corporation to conduct some activities (including collection activities) without being subject to the consequences found in § 4-27-1502. In other words, under the Wingo Act, a foreign corporation can bring a cause of action in the Arkansas courts in furtherance of its collection activities, without a certificate of authority and without being subject to monetary penalty. This, however, is the full effect of the Wingo Act’s exclusionary provision. While it is true that J.P. Morgan was not required to obtain a certificate of authority in order to collect on its debts in Arkansas under the Wingo Act, it was required to do so if it wanted to employ Arkansas’ non-judicial foreclosure process. J.P. Morgan’s extension of the Wingo Act exclusions to the Statutory Foreclosure Act is far too broad.

Finally, during the hearing, J.P. Morgan argued that Omni Holding and Development Corp. v. C.A.G. Investments, Inc., 370 Ark. 220, 258 S.W.3d 374 (2007), establishes authority for its position. In Omni, a creditor filed a lawsuit against Omni seeking a judgment on its promissory note and claiming that Omni had committed an unlawful detainer of its property. In response, Omni claimed the creditor lacked standing because it did not have a certificate of authority. The Arkansas Supreme Court held that the creditor did not need a certificate of authority because its actions fell within the Wingo Act exclusion for collection activities. See Omni Holding and Development Corp., 370 Ark. at 226. Consistent with the Court’s determination above, the holding in Omni only stands for the proposition that a creditor can file a lawsuit in furtherance of collection activities without a certificate of authority. Id. (“Thus, C.A.G. was not `transacting business’ in Arkansas and its failure to obtain a certificate of authority did not prevent C.A.G. from filing suit in the state.”) (emphasis added). Under the Wingo Act exclusions, J.P. Morgan was allowed to foreclose on these properties through a judicial foreclosure action in the state court, but it was prohibited from using the state’s non-judicial foreclosure process. Omni does not support J.P. Morgan’s argument.

Therefore, the Court finds that no conflict exists between the Wingo Act and the Statutory Foreclosure Act, and to the extent that any conflict is present the more precise provision of the Statutory Foreclosure Act controls.

The National Banking Act

Finally, J.P. Morgan maintains that federal legislation preempts the requirement in Arkansas’ Statutory Foreclosure Act that a bank be authorized to do business in Arkansas before it employs the state’s non-judicial foreclosure process.

The federal law presented as having preemptive authority in this case is the National Banking Act (“NBA”). A brief review of the text, history, and purpose of the NBA is essential to the task of analyzing its preemptive effect. In 1864, Congress placed into law an act that established a national banking system. An Act to Provide a National Currency Secured by a Pledge of United States Bonds, and to Provide for the Circulation and Redemption Thereof, ch. 106, 13 Stat. 99 (1864) (codified as amended at 12 U.S.C. §§ 1 et seq.). Today, that system of laws remains largely intact, and has been renamed the National Banking Act. 12 U.S.C. § 38. See also Watters v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., 550 U.S. 1, 10-11, 127 S.Ct. 1559, 1566, 167 L.Ed.2d 389 (2007). The purpose of the national banking act is to prevent the “[d]iverse and duplicative superintendence of national banks” by the differing laws of the individual states. Watters, 550 U.S. at 13-14. See also Easton v. State of Iowa, 188 U.S. 220, 229, 23 S.Ct. 288, 290, 47 L.Ed. 452 (1903) (describing the goal of the NBA as “the erection of a system extending throughout the country, and independent, so far as powers conferred are concerned, of state legislation which, if permitted to be applicable, might impose limitations and restrictions as various and as numerous as the states.”).

Preemption occurs under Article VI of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, which provides that the laws of the United States “shall be the supreme Law of the Land; . . . any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.” U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2. A determination of whether a state law is preempted by federal law “start[s] with the assumption that the historic police powers of the States were not to be superseded by the Federal Act unless that was the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.” Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218, 230, 67 S.Ct. 1146, 1152, 91 L.Ed. 1447 (1947). A determination as to the congressional purpose of a law is the “ultimate touchstone” of any preemption analysis. Retail Clerks v. Schermerhorn, 375 U.S. 96, 103, 84 S.Ct. 219, 222, 11 L.Ed.2d 179 (1963); Barnett Bank of Marion County, N.A. v. Nelson, 517 U.S. 25, 30, 116 S.Ct. 1103, 1107 (1996) (“This question is basically one of congressional intent. Did Congress, in enacting the Federal Statute, intend to exercise its constitutionally delegated authority to set aside the laws of a State? If so, the Supremacy Clause requires courts to follow federal, not state, law.”).

Congressional intent to preempt a state law is typically derived from the language, structure, or purpose of the federal statute. See Jones v. Rath Packing Co., 430 U.S. 519, 525, 97 S.Ct. 1305, 51 L.Ed.2d 604 (1977). Accordingly, preemption is classified into three different categories: express preemption, field preemption, and conflict preemption. See Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. State Energy Resources Conservation and Dev. Comm’n, 461 U.S. 190, 203-04, 103 S.Ct. 1713, 1721-22, 75 L.Ed.2d 752 (1983). See also Altria Group, Inc. v. Good, 555 U.S. 70, 76, 129 S.Ct. 538, 543, 172 L.Ed.2d 398 (2008).

Express preemption exists where Congress’s intent to preempt the state law is clearly stated in the language of the federal statute. See Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., 461 U.S. at 203. However, more often than not, Congress does not make such an explicit manifestation of its intent. See Watters v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., 550 U.S. 1, 33, 127 S.Ct. 1559, 1579, 167 L.Ed.2d 389 (2007) (Stevens, J., dissenting). In the absence of such an explicit expression, the courts must determine whether the statutory provision implies a preemptive intent by evaluating the structure and purpose of the statute. See Barnett Bank of Marion County, N.A., v. Nelson, 517 U.S. 25, 32, 116 S.Ct. 1103, 1108, 134 L.Ed.2d 237 (1996). These implied forms of preemption are referred to as field preemption and conflict preemption, respectively. Id. Field preemption exists if the structure of the statute represents a “scheme of federal regulation . . . so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it.” Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. at 230. Alternatively, conflict preemption exists where the purpose of the federal law conflicts with the state law. See Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746, 101 S.Ct. 2114, 2128-29, 68 L.Ed.2d 576 (1981) (“It is basic to this constitutional command that all conflicting state provisions be without effect.”). Conflict preemption arises under two different scenarios. The first scenario, referred to as physical impossibility preemption, is when it is physically impossible to comply with both the federal law and the state law at the same time. See Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., 461 U.S. at 204; In re Bate, 2011 WL 2473493, at *2-4 (Bankr. M.D. Fla. June 22, 2011). The second scenario, referred to as obstacle preemption, is when the “state law stands as an obstacle to achieving the objectives of Congress.” Id.

In these cases, there is no real question that express preemption does not apply. There is no specific provision in the NBA clearly stating a congressional intent to preempt state laws regarding non-judicial foreclosure, or moreover, state laws requiring a person or entity to be authorized to do business in the state before employing the non-judicial foreclosure process. Thus, the NBA does not expressly preempt the authorized-to-do-business requirement of the Statutory Foreclosure Act.

Field preemption is also inapplicable. The Supreme Court has specifically identified the activities of the “acquisition and transfer of property,” and the “right to collect their debts,” as areas where banks are generally subject to state law. Watters, 550 U.S. at 11; McClellan, 164 U.S. at 357. Additionally, regulations promulgated by the Office of the Comptroller of Currency (the “OCC”) save certain areas of state law from general preemption by the NBA.[9] See Monroe Retail, Inc. v. RBS Citizens, N.A., 589 F.3d 274, 282 (6th Cir. 2009). Those regulations state that state laws on the subjects of the “rights to collect debts[,]” and the “[a]cquisition and transfer of property[,]” are not inconsistent with the national bank’s real estate lending powers, provided those state laws only “incidentally affect” the bank’s exercise of its powers. 12 C.F.R. §§ 34.4, 7.4007(c), 7.4008(e). The collection of debts and transfers of property are the specific types of activities dealt with by the state law in question, the Statutory Foreclosure Act. Thus, the Court is not persuaded that the NBA’s occupation of these areas is “so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the States to supplement it.” As a result, field preemption does not apply.

As previously mentioned, conflict preemption is found in two different forms: physical impossibility preemption and obstacle preemption. The first of these types, physical impossibility preemption, is not present in this case. It is not “physically impossible” for J.P. Morgan to comply with the requirements of both the NBA and the authorized-to-do-business requirement of the Statutory Foreclosure Act. Such a scenario might exist if, for example, a provision of the NBA prohibited national banks from being certified to transact business within a state. It might then be physically impossible for J.P. Morgan to comply with both the NBA’s requirement and the authorized-to-do-business requirement of the Statutory Foreclosure Act. However, no such provision is found in the NBA, and as a result, physical impossibility preemption does not apply.

The remaining determination is whether obstacle preemption applies. This determination turns on whether the authorized-to-do-business requirement of the Statutory Foreclosure Act “stands as an obstacle to achieving the objectives of Congress.” Pacific Gas & Elec. Co., 461 U.S. at 204. A state law stands as an obstacle to a federal law when it significantly interferes with the objectives of that federal law. Barnett, 517 U.S. at 33; Watters, 550 U.S. at 12. As previously stated, Congress’s objective in creating the NBA was to prevent the”[d]iverse and duplicative superintendence of national banks” by the differing laws of the individual states. In order to accomplish that objective, the NBA vests national banks with certain enumerated powers. 12 U.S.C. § 24.[10] Those enumerated provisions provide national banks with “all such incidental powers as shall be necessary to carry on the business of banking . . . .” 12 U.S.C. § 24 (Seventh). Additionally, Congress has given national banks the authority to “make, arrange, purchase or sell loans or extensions of credit secured by liens on interest in real estate . . . .” 12 U.S.C. § 371. See also Watters, 550 U.S. at 18 (stating that mortgage lending is one aspect of the “business of banking”).

The question is whether the burden of the requirement that a bank be authorized to do business in Arkansas before using the non-judicial foreclosure process significantly impairs the bank’s ability to conduct its business of banking, which includes its rights to hold and enforce mortgage liens. The Court finds that it does not. Obviously, the Statutory Foreclosure Act requirement places some measure of burden on a national bank holding a mortgage on property in Arkansas if it wants to foreclose on that property through the state’s non-judicial foreclosure process. However, a bank’s failure (or refusal) to comply with the Statutory Foreclosure Act requirement leaves the bank with the option of foreclosing on a property through the state’s judicial process. On that point, the Statutory Foreclosure Act specifically states that “[t]he procedures set forth in this chapter for the foreclosure of a mortgage or deed of trust shall not impair or otherwise affect the right to bring a judicial action to foreclose a mortgage or deed of trust.” Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-116(a). While this alternative method of collection (judicial foreclosure) may not be as efficient as the non-judicial foreclosure process, the Court finds that it does not significantly impair the bank’s ability to collect on its debt.[11]

Moreover, the process of judicial foreclosure is available in all states, while only approximately 60 percent of the states allow non-judicial foreclosures. See Grant S. Nelson, Reforming Foreclosure: The Uniform Nonjudicial Foreclosure Act, 53 Duke L.J. 1399, 1403 (2004).[12] J.P. Morgan’s contention that the provisions of the NBA are significantly impaired by the authorized-to-do-business requirement is undermined by the fact that only slightly more than half of the states authorize such a procedure at all. The Court finds that the powers conferred to J.P. Morgan under the NBA are not significantly impaired by the Statutory Foreclosure Act’s requirement that J.P. Morgan be authorized to do business in Arkansas, and as a result, conflict preemption does not apply.

For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the Statutory Foreclosure Act’s requirement that a person or entity be authorized to do business in the state is not preempted by the NBA. As a result, the Court finds that J.P. Morgan was not in compliance with the Statutory Foreclosure Act, and that the Debtors do not owe, nor must they pay, J.P. Morgan for any fees and costs incurred through the non-judicial foreclosure proceedings conducted against these Debtors.

Attorney Fees

Both parties have asked for an award of attorney fees. As a general rule, known as the “American rule,” the parties to litigation must pay their own attorney fees. In re Hunter, 203 B.R. 150, 151 (Bankr. W.D. Ark. 1996). However, certain exceptions to this rule exist, one of which is found in Ark. Code Ann. § 16-22-308, which states,

In any civil action to recover on an open account, statement of account, account stated, promissory note, negotiable instrument, or contract relating to the purchase or sale of goods, wares, or merchandise, or for labor or services, or breach of contract, unless otherwise provided by law or the contract which is the subject matter of the action, the prevailing party may be allowed a reasonable attorney’s fee to be assessed by the court and collected as costs.
Ark. Code Ann. § 16-22-308. Under Arkansas law, an award of prevailing party attorney fees under this statute are permissive and discretionary. In re Cameron, No. 4:10-bk-14987, 2011 WL 1979503, at *6 (Bankr. E.D. Ark. May 17, 2011).

This action was brought by the Debtors to determine whether they owed the foreclosure fees and costs incurred by J.P. Morgan in conducting non-judicial foreclosure proceedings on its promissory notes. The Debtors are the prevailing party in these matters, and as such, the Court awards the Debtors a reasonable amount for their attorney fees. Counsel for the Debtors shall submit a separate application for those fees to the Court, as further ordered below.

CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the Court concludes that J.P. Morgan was not in compliance with the authorized-to-do-business requirement of the Statutory Foreclosure Act when it conducted the foreclosures against these Debtors. Additionally, the Court has determined that J.P. Morgan’s failure to comply with Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 was not cured by empowering an attorney-in-fact under Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-102, was not superceded by the Wingo Act, and was not preempted by the National Banking Act. As a result, the foreclosure fees and costs incurred by Chase and J.P. Morgan are not owed by the Debtors, and need not be included in the Debtors’ repayment plans in order for those plans to be confirmed.

Further, the Court has determined that the Debtors should be awarded their attorney fees incurred in pursuing these actions.

Therefore, it is hereby

ORDERED that the Objections to Confirmation are OVERRULED; it is further,

ORDERED that the Defendant shall pay the reasonable attorney fees incurred by the Debtors in pursuing these actions. The Court will determine the amount of this award on further application by Debtors’ Counsel, which shall include an itemization of the attorney fees incurred in these actions. This application must be filed with the Court within 14 days of the entry of this Order, and shall be served on Counsel for J.P. Morgan. J.P. Morgan shall have 14 days from the date that fee application is filed with the Court in which to file a response, should it wish to do so.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

[1] Although the objections to confirmation were filed by two separate creditors, J.P. Morgan and Chase, as of the date of the hearing all of the claims at issue in this matter had been transferred to J.P. Morgan.

[2] The Court also takes judicial notice of all filings and records in these cases, including the proofs of claim. See Fed. R. Evid. 201; In re Henderson, 197 B.R. 147, 156 (Bankr. N.D. Ala. 1996) (“The court may take judicial notice of its own orders and of records in a case before the court, and of documents filed in another court.”) (citations omitted); see also In re Penny, 243 B.R. 720, 723 n.2 (Bankr. W.D. Ark. 2000).

[3] J.P. Morgan only presented the limited power of attorney filed in the property records for the Peeks case, but J.P. Morgan’s counsel represented to the Court that a similar limited power of attorney was granted and recorded in the property records for each of the three cases.

[4] The Court notes that counsel for the Debtors argued that a determination that the statute had been violated would make any sale under the Statutory Foreclosure Act void ab initio. No property sales actually resulted from the foreclosure proceedings in these cases. The sole dispute in these cases is whether the foreclosure fees and costs incurred through use of Arkansas’ non-judicial foreclosure process are owed.

[5] The Court notes that no explanation is provided by the statute regarding what action is required in order to be authorized to do business under Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117. Following a review of other provisions within the Arkansas Code, it appears that this requirement generally demands that a party obtain a certificate of authority from the secretary of state. See Ark. Code Ann. § 23-48-1003 (“A certificate of authority authorizes the out-of-state bank to which it is issued to transact business in the state . . . .”); Ark. Code Ann. § 4-27-1501 (“A foreign corporation may not transact business in this state until it obtains a certificate of authority from the Secretary of State.”). However, no such determination is necessary in these cases because J.P. Morgan stipulated that it was not so authorized.

[6] J.P. Morgan did not argue that it met the requirements of the Statutory Foreclosure Act because it was a “financial institution.” Nonetheless, the Court notes that even if J.P. Morgan qualified as a financial institution under Ark. Code Ann. § 102, it would still be required to comply with the fundamental statutory requirement of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 for the same reasons discussed herein with regard to its use of an attorney-in-fact.

[7] J.P. Morgan did not provide the Court with the analytical extensions needed to support its argument. As a result, the Court has analyzed all possible extensions of that argument, which include (1) that because J.P. Morgan authorized an attorney-in-fact to conduct the foreclosure, Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 did not apply, or (2) that because J.P. Morgan authorized Wilson & Associates to conduct the foreclosure it satisfied the requirement of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117.

[8] Ark. Code Ann. § 04-27-1502 is titled the “[c]onsequences of transacting business without authority,” and states that:

(a) A foreign corporation transacting business in this state without a certificate of authority may not maintain a proceeding in any court in this state until it obtains a certificate of authority.

. . .

(d)(1)(A) A foreign corporation that transacts business in this state without a certificate of authority shall pay a civil penalty to the state for each year and partial year during which it transacts business in this state without a certificate of authority.

Ark. Code Ann. § 4-27-1502.

[9] In many cases, the OCC regulatory interpretations are entitled to substantial deference, commonly known as Chevron deference. Investment Co. Institute v. Camp, 401 U.S. 617, 626-27, 91 S.Ct. 1091, 28 L.Ed.2d 367 (1971) (“It is settled that courts should give great weight to any reasonable construction of a regulatory statute adopted by the agency charged with the enforcement of that statute.”).

[10] J.P. Morgan did not direct the Court to any specific provision of the NBA to support its argument that the authorized-to-do-business requirement creates an obstacle to achieving Congress’s objectives. Nonetheless, the Court’s review of the NBA has identified several powers granted to national banks that extend to such an argument.

[11] The Court also notes that all a national bank must do in order to meet the requirements of Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-117 is become authorized to do business in the state.

[12] A list of the types of foreclosure allowed by each state is available at http://www.realty trac.com/foreclosure-laws/foreclosure-laws-comparisons.asp (last visited Sept. 12, 2011).

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BOMBSHELL! RED ALERT! THE ATTACK ON CITIZENS OF FLORIDA BEGINS….HB 213

BOMBSHELL! RED ALERT! THE ATTACK ON CITIZENS OF FLORIDA BEGINS….HB 213


VIA: MATT WEIDNER

Here it is folks, the bomb that we knew was coming.  The draft of legislation that shows The State of Florida has been sold out to the banksters.

702.12 Attorney fee as sanctions for raising unsupported 1177 claims or defenses; exceptions; service of motions; damages for 1178 delay of litigation.— 1179

(1) In any mortgage foreclosure action, upon the court’s 1180 initiative or motion of any party, the court shall award a 1181 reasonable attorney fee, including prejudgment interest, to be 1182 paid to the prevailing party in equal amounts by the losing 1183 party and the losing party’s attorney on any claim or defense at 1184 any time during a civil proceeding or action in which the court 1185 finds that the losing party or the losing party’s attorney knew 1186 or should have known that a claim or defense when initially 1187 presented to the court or at any time before trial: 1188

(a) Was not supported by the material facts necessary to 1189 establish the claim or defense; or 1190
(b) Would not be supported by the application of then-1191 existing law to those material facts. 1192

(2) At any time in any civil proceeding or action in which 1193 the moving party proves by a preponderance of the evidence that 1194 any action taken by the opposing party, including, but not 1195 limited to, the filing of any pleading or part thereof, the 1196 assertion of or response to any discovery demand, the assertion 1197 of any claim or defense, or the response to any request by any 1198 other party, was taken primarily for the purpose of unreasonable 1199 delay, the court shall award damages to the moving party for its 1200 reasonable expenses incurred in obtaining the order, which may 1201 include attorney fees, and other loss resulting from the 1202 improper delay. 1203

[ipaper docId=66762891 access_key=key-3iwa4kgcy4yvxoseh3 height=600 width=600 /]

 

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U.S. BANK NA v. KIMBALL | VT Supreme Court Affirms w/Prejudice “AFFIDAVIT FAIL, Jeffrey Stephan, Scott Zeitz, Accredited, Allonge, MERS, RFC, Homecomings, GMAC”

U.S. BANK NA v. KIMBALL | VT Supreme Court Affirms w/Prejudice “AFFIDAVIT FAIL, Jeffrey Stephan, Scott Zeitz, Accredited, Allonge, MERS, RFC, Homecomings, GMAC”


U.S. Bank National Association (2010-169)

2011 VT 81

[Filed 22-Jul-2011]

NOTICE:  This opinion is subject to motions for reargument under V.R.A.P. 40 as well as formal revision before publication in the Vermont Reports.  Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Vermont Supreme Court, 109 State Street, Montpelier, Vermont 05609-0801 of any errors in order that corrections may be made before this opinion goes to press.

2011 VT 81

No. 2010-169

U.S. Bank National Association

Supreme Court




On Appeal from

v.

Grand Isle Superior Court




Christine Kimball

January Term, 2011





Ben W. Joseph, J.

Andre D. Bouffard of Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, Burlington, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Grace B. Pazdan, Vermont Legal Aid, Inc., Montpelier, for Defendant-Appellee.

PRESENT:  Reiber, C.J., Dooley, Johnson, Skoglund and Burgess, JJ.

¶ 1. BURGESS, J. Plaintiff US Bank National Association, as trustee for RASC 2005 AHL1, appeals from a trial court order granting summary judgment for defendant homeowner and dismissing with prejudice US Bank’s foreclosure complaint for lack of standing.  On appeal, US Bank argues that it had standing to prosecute the foreclosure claim and the court’s dismissal with prejudice was in error.  Homeowner cross-appeals, arguing that the court erred in not addressing her claim for attorney’s fees.  We affirm the dismissal and remand for consideration of homeowner’s motion for attorney’s fees.

¶ 2. On appeal from a grant of summary judgment, “the nonmoving party receives the benefit of all reasonable doubts and inferences.”  Samplid Enters., Inc. v. First Vt. Bank, 165 Vt. 22, 25, 676 A.2d 774, 776 (1996). We review the decision de novo under the same standard as the trial court.  Id.  Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue of material fact and a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Id.; see V.R.C.P. 56(c)(3).

¶ 3. So viewed, the record reveals the following facts.  Homeowner purchased property on June 16, 2005.  To finance the purchase, she executed an adjustable rate promissory note in favor of Accredited Home Lenders, Inc. (Accredited) in the amount of $185,520.  The note was secured by a mortgage deed to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) as nominee for Accredited.

¶ 4. On January 12, 2009, US Bank filed a foreclosure complaint for homeowner’s failure to make required payments.  The complaint alleged that the mortgage and note were assigned to US Bank by MERS, as nominee for Accredited, by an instrument dated January 6, 2009.  Attached to the complaint was a copy of the instrument entitled “Assignment of Mortgage,” signed by Jeffrey Stephan, identified therein as Duly Authorized Agent and Vice President of MERS.  The promissory note was also attached to the complaint, and appended to it was an undated allonge[1] signed by a corporate officer of Accredited, endorsing the note in blank.

¶ 5. Homeowner initially filed a pro se answer.  After procuring counsel, homeowner filed an amended answer, claiming, among other things, that US Bank failed to present sufficient evidence that it held homeowner’s note and corresponding mortgage.  Homeowner also filed a counterclaim alleging consumer fraud.  In March 2005, homeowner filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that US Bank lacked standing to bring the foreclosure complaint because it failed to establish that it held an interest in the debt secured by homeowner’s property.  Homeowner argued that US Bank had not established proper assignment of the mortgage because MERS as nominee for Accredited lacked authority to assign the mortgage.  Homeowner further argued that US Bank failed to demonstrate that it held or had a right to enforce the promissory note.  In July 2009, in support of the motion for summary judgment, homeowner submitted an affidavit, averring that in mid-June 2009 she received a letter from her mortgage servicer, Homecomings Financial, notifying her that the servicing rights to her loan were being assigned not to US Bank, but to GMAC Mortgage, LLC effective July 1, 2009.  She also averred that she received a concurrent letter from GMAC, confirming that it was servicing the loan on behalf of Residential Funding Corporation (RFC).  The letters referred to in the affidavit were attached.

¶ 6. US Bank opposed the request and responded with its own cross-motion for summary judgment on the merits, claiming that whatever deficiencies were present in its original complaint were now resolved because it had produced and sent to homeowner “a copy of the fully endorsed note specifically payable to [US Bank].”  In its statement of undisputed facts, US Bank asserted that it had the original note, and that it was endorsed from Accredited to RFC and then to US Bank.  No dates, however, were provided for these endorsements.  In support, US Bank attached an affidavit attesting to these facts, but still devoid of any dates for the purported assignments.  The affidavit was signed by Jeffrey Stephan, the same man who had signed the assignment attached to original complaint, but this time identifying himself as a “Limited Signing Officer” for GMAC, the mortgage servicer for homeowner’s loan.  In the affidavit, Stephan claims that he has “familiarity with the loan documentation underlying the mortgage loan entered at issue in the present foreclosure case.”  The copy of the note attached had an allonge, appearing to be the same allonge previously submitted as endorsed in blank, but this time with “RFC” stamped in the blank spot and containing a second endorsement from RFC to US Bank.  Neither endorsement was dated.

¶ 7. The court held a hearing on the summary judgment motions.  Following the hearing, the court issued a written order on October 27, 2009.  The court concluded that to enforce a mortgage note, “a plaintiff must show that it was the holder of the note at the time the Complaint was filed,” and here there was “simply no evidence of an assignment to a party in interest.”  Because neither note submitted by US Bank was dated, the court concluded that there was no evidence that the note was endorsed to US Bank before the complaint was filed.  Therefore, the court held that US Bank lacked standing to bring the foreclosure action.  The court granted homeowner’s motion for summary judgment, dismissed the foreclosure action, and set the matter for hearing on homeowner’s counterclaim.

¶ 8. On November 23, 2009, US Bank moved for reconsideration.[2] US Bank acknowledged that it had created “confusion” by attaching to the complaint “an outdated copy of the note prior to its transfer to [US Bank], and a mortgage assignment that purports to assign the note along with the mortgage.”  It claimed, however, that because it now held the original note, it was entitled to enforce it.  Homeowner did not dispute that US Bank possessed what appeared to be the original note, but she insisted US Bank was required to authenticate the endorsements through credible affidavits and to demonstrate that it had possession when the complaint was filed.  As to this timing issue, US Bank contended that homeowner’s mortgage had been endorsed to it in September 2005.  In support, US Bank submitted an affidavit signed by Scott Zeitz, who is identified as a litigation analyst with GMAC.  In the affidavit, ZeitzZeitz avers that homeowner’s mortgage note was endorsed to RFC and then to US Bank in September 2005.  The affidavit does not explain the obvious inconsistencies with the prior affidavits offered by US Bank or with the letter homeowner received from GMAC identifying RFC as the holder of her note in June 2009.  It also does not explain how obtained this knowledge given that GMAC did not begin servicing the loan until July 1, 2009.  In the alternative, US Bank argued that, even if did not hold an interest in the note at the time the complaint was filed, it could cure the deficiency by now substituting itself as the real party in interest under Rule of Civil Procedure 17(a).  US Bank also filed a motion to amend its complaint to properly reflect the manner in which it now alleged that it acquired an interest in homeowner’s note and mortgage.

¶ 9. Homeowner opposed the motions, contending that the numerous inconsistencies in the information offered by US Bank made it unreliable.  In addition, homeowner argued that the Zeitz affidavit was not based on personal knowledge and therefore insufficient to support the motion.  Homeowner moved for reasonable attorney’s fees under Rule 56(g), claiming that US Bank acted in bad faith by filing affidavits lacking a basis in personal knowledge and contradicting undisputed evidence.[3] Homeowner explained that as a result her attorney “spent numerous hours responding to and refuting the validity of the affidavits.”

¶ 10. Following a hearing, the court denied the motions for reconsideration and to amend the complaint.  The court concluded that US Bank had submitted a defective complaint and the deficiencies therein were not mere technicalities, but essential items, without which the case could not proceed.  The court held that US Bank lacked standing when the complaint was filed, and dismissed the complaint “with prejudice.”  US Bank appeals.

¶ 11. On appeal, US Bank argues that the court erred in (1) dismissing the complaint with prejudice; (2) concluding there was no standing when there was evidence demonstrating that US Bank was the holder of the note before the complaint was filed; and (3) denying US Bank’s request to substitute itself as the real party in interest.  Homeowner cross-appeals, arguing that the court failed to address her request for attorney’s fees and requesting a remand.

¶ 12. We begin with the issue of standing.  “[O]ur review of dismissal for lack of standing is the same as that for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  We review the lower court’s decision de novo, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true.”  Brod v. Agency of Natural Res., 2007 VT 87, ¶ 2, 182 Vt. 234, 936 A.2d 1286.  We have the same standing requirement as the federal courts in that our jurisdiction is limited to “actual cases or controversies.”  Parker v. Town of Milton, 169 Vt. 74, 76-77, 726 A.2d 477, 480 (1998). Therefore, to bring a case “[a] plaintiff must, at a minimum, show (1) injury in fact, (2) causation, and (3) redressability.”  Id. at 77, 726 A.2d at 480 (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992)).  This means a plaintiff “must have suffered a particular injury that is attributable to the defendant,” id. at 77, 726 A.2d at 480, and a party who is not injured has no standing to bring a suit.  Bischoff v. Bletz, 2008 VT 16, ¶¶ 15-16, 183 Vt. 235, 939 A.2d 420.  And, as the U.S. Supreme Court has explained, “standing is to be determined as of the commencement of suit.”  Lujan, 504 U.S. at 570 n.5.

¶ 13. To foreclose a mortgage, a plaintiff must demonstrate that it has a right to enforce the note, and without such ownership, the plaintiff lacks standing.  Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Ford, 15 A.3d 327, 329 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2011).  While a plaintiff in a foreclosure should also have assignment of the mortgage, it is the note that is important because “[w]here a promissory note is secured by a mortgage, the mortgage is an incident to the note.”  Huntington v. McCarty, 174 Vt. 69, 70, 807 A.2d 950, 952 (2002). Because the note is a negotiable instrument, it is subject to the requirements of the UCC.  Thus, US Bank had the burden of demonstrating that it was a “ ‘[p]erson entitled to enforce’ ” the note, by showing it was “(i) the holder of the instrument, (ii) a nonholder in possession of the instrument who has the rights of a holder, or (iii) a person not in possession of the instrument who is entitled to enforce the instrument.”  9A V.S.A. § 3-301.  On appeal, US Bank asserts that it is entitled to enforce the note under the first category—as a holder of the instrument.

¶ 14. A person becomes the holder of an instrument when it is issued or later negotiated to that person.  9A V.S.A. § 3-201(a). Negotiation always requires a transfer of possession of the instrument.  Id. § 3-201 cmt. When the instrument is made payable to bearer, it can be negotiated by transfer alone.  Id. §§ 3-201(b), 3-205(a). If it is payable to order—that is, to an identified person—then negotiation is completed by transfer and endorsement of the instrument.  Id. § 3-201(b). An instrument payable to order can become a bearer instrument if endorsed in blank.  Id. § 3-205(b).See Bank of N.Y. v. Raftogianis, 13 A.3d 435, 439-40 (N.J. Super. Ct. Ch. Div. 2010) (reciting requirements for bank to demonstrate that it was holder of note at time complaint was filed). Therefore, in this case, because the note was not issued to US Bank, to be a holder, US Bank was required to show that at the time the complaint was filed it possessed the original note either made payable to bearer with a blank endorsement or made payable to order with an endorsement specifically to US Bank.

¶ 15. US Bank lacked standing because it has failed to demonstrate either requirement.  Initially, US Bank’s suit was based solely on an assignment of the mortgage by MERS.  The complaint did not allege that US Bank held the original note.  US Bank simply attached a copy of the note with an allonge endorsement in blank.  Homeowner challenged this evidence as insufficient to show that US Bank held an interest in her note.  Because homeowner supported her position with an affidavit and documentary evidence, US Bank was required to “come forward with an opposing affidavit or other evidence that raises a dispute as to the fact or facts in issue.”  Alpstetten Ass’n, Inc. v. Kelly, 137 Vt. 508, 514, 408 A.2d 644, 647 (1979). At this point, US Bank abandoned its claim of assignment of the mortgage and instead asserted that it held the original note.  It submitted the note with an allonge containing two undated specific endorsements, one to US Bank.  The supporting affidavit claimed that the note had been endorsed to US Bank, but provided no information about when and failed to explain why a note with a blank endorsement was the basis for the complaint.

¶ 16. Based on this contradictory and uncertain documentation, the trial court did not err in concluding that there was no evidence to show that US Bank was a holder of the note at the time it filed the complaint.  US Bank failed to allege or demonstrate that it held the original note endorsed in blank when it commenced the foreclosure action.  In fact, US Bank asserted that the note with the blank endorsement was an earlier copy that was mistakenly attached to the complaint.  It also alleged that the blank endorsement was stamped with RFC’s name in 2005.  Therefore, it could not possibly have held the original note with a blank endorsement when the complaint was filed.  Further, there is no evidence to show that US Bank held the original note endorsed to its name before the complaint was filed.  While US Bank eventually produced the original note with an endorsement to it, none of the evidence submitted at summary judgment by US Bank established the timing of the endorsement.  Given US Bank’s failure to show it had standing, the foreclosure complaint was properly dismissed.

¶ 17. US Bank argues that whatever shortcomings were present in its earlier filings were cured by the documents attached to its motion to reconsider, and, therefore, the court erred in denying this motion.  We disagree.  The additional affidavit submitted with the motion to reconsider did nothing to establish the timing of the endorsement to US Bank because it was not based on personal knowledge and contained conclusions rather than facts.  Affidavits must be “made on personal knowledge [and] set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein.”  V.R.C.P. 56(e). The affiant, Zeitz, declared himself to be an employee of GMAC, the servicer of homeowner’s loan.  Zeitz averred that the note was endorsed to US Bank in September 2005 but provided no explanation of how he gained personal knowledge about this endorsement that supposedly took place several years before his company began servicing homeowner’s loan.  Further, the affidavit failed to explain the obvious contradictions with other evidence.  Specifically, Zeitz did not account for the letter from his company, submitted by homeowner, that identifies RFC, the predecessor-in-interest to US Bank, as the holder of the loan in July 2009, months after the complaint was filed.  Having already failed to succeed on its summary judgment motion, reconsideration of the same issues on new evidence was up to the court’s sound discretion.  See Crosby v. Great Atl. & Pac. Tea Co., 143 Vt. 537, 539, 468 A.2d 567, 568 (1983) (per curiam) (affirming court’s denial of plaintiffs’ motion to reconsider summary judgment ruling using an abuse-of-discretion standard).  Fraught with contradictions and evidently lacking information based on personal knowledge, the affidavit was insufficient to establish that US Bank had an interest in the note prior to the time the complaint was filed.  Thus, it was no abuse of discretion for the court to deny the motion to reconsider.

¶ 18. In the alternative, US Bank argues that even if it did not hold the note at the time the complaint was filed, this should be overlooked because it has now produced the original note with a chain of endorsements ending in US Bank.[4] Thus, US Bank contends it can now be substituted as the real party in interest under Rule 17(a).  US Bank argues that this Court allows liberal substitution of parties, citing Korda v. Chicago Insurance Co., 2006 VT 81, 180 Vt. 173, 908 A.2d 1018.  In that case, the trial court dismissed an estate’s claims against a tortfeasor’s employer’s insurance company where the employer did not assign its rights to the estate until three years after the complaint was filed.  This Court reversed, holding that “where, as here, a plaintiff acquires capacity to sue after the suit is filed, and before the action is dismissed for lack of capacity, the acquisition of capacity relates back to the filing of the action for all purposes, including compliance with the statute of limitations.”  Id. ¶ 16. US Bank contends it is similarly situated and is entitled to substitution as the real party in interest now that it has obtained an interest in the note.

¶ 19. The merit of this argument might have been better received by the trial court had it been supported by the necessary documentation and proffered before summary judgment was granted for defendant.  US Bank had notice of the standing deficiency from the start of the litigation and had an opportunity to prove its case.  It was unable to do so.  Having failed to support its position, the court was not required to give US Bank another opportunity to prove its case following the grant of summary judgment, and did not abuse its discretion in denying the request at that late stage in the proceeding.  See V.R.C.P. 17(a) (directing that action not be dismissed for absence of real party in interest “until a reasonable time has been allowed”).

¶ 20. US Bank argues that for reasons of policy it should be permitted to proceed because it would be wasteful to prevent it from being able to “cure” its standing problem.  While we are sympathetic to the desire to avoid wasteful and duplicative litigation, the source of the unnecessary proceedings in this case was not an overly wooden application of the rules, but US Bank’s failure to abide by them.  It is neither irrational nor wasteful to expect a foreclosing party to actually be in possession of its claimed interest in the note, and have the proper supporting documentation in hand when filing suit.[5] Nor is it irrationally demanding to expect the foreclosing party to provide adequate, satisfying proof in response to a motion for summary judgment challenging standing to bring suit.  What should have here been a fairly straightforward, if not a summary, proceeding under the rules, was rendered inefficient by US Bank’s failure to marshal its case before compelling homeowner and the court to waste time and resources, twice, by responding to what could not be proven.  There was nothing inequitable in dismissing this matter.

¶ 21. We turn next to the question of whether the court erred in dismissing the complaint “with prejudice.”  US Bank argues this was in error and homeowner contends that the court’s determination bars US Bank from filing again to foreclose.  At a minimum, the court certainly intended to put an end to US Bank’s instant foreclosure action and dismissal was appropriate because, as another court explained, when a plaintiff is not able to establish that it possessed the note on the date the complaint was filed, the complaint should be subject to dismissal “if only to provide a clear incentive to plaintiffs to see that the issue of standing is properly addressed before any complaint is filed.”  Raftogianis, 13 A.3d at 455.

¶ 22. Nevertheless, and despite the court’s invocation of “with prejudice” in its dismissal order, US Bank cannot be precluded from pursuing foreclosure on the merits should it be prepared to prove the necessary elements.  Although postured as cross-motions for summary judgment, the motion practice addressed only whether the bank had standing for jurisdictional purposes.  The merits of foreclosure were not, and on this record could not have been, litigated.  The court’s dismissal on just jurisdictional grounds was no adjudication on the merits.  See V.R.C.P. 41(b)(3) (providing that any involuntary dismissal, “other than a dismissal for lack of jurisdiction, . . . operates as an adjudication upon the merits” (emphasis added)); see also Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Byrd, 2008-Ohio-4603, ¶¶ 18-20, 897 N.E.2d 722 (Ct. App.) (reversing trial court’s dismissal with prejudice of foreclosure complaint as inappropriate where dismissal was for lack of standing).

¶ 23. Thus, this may be but an ephemeral victory for homeowner.  Absent adjudication on the underlying indebtedness, the dismissal cannot cancel her obligation arising from an authenticated note, or insulate her from foreclosure proceedings based on proven delinquency.  Cf. Indymac Bank, F.S.B. v. Yano-Horoski, 912 N.Y.S.2d 239, 240 (App. Div. 2010) (reversing trial court’s order canceling mortgage and debt).  Homeowner’s arguments supporting a dismissal with prejudice are not convincing.[6] Homeowner relies on Nolen v. State, but that unpublished three-justice decision simply affirmed the trial court’s decision to dismiss with prejudice plaintiff’s constitutional claim for lack of standing without a challenge to or any analysis of the “with prejudice” designation.  No. 08-131, 2009 WL 2411832, at *2 (Vt. May 29, 2009) (unpub. mem.), available at http://www.vermontjudiciary.org/d-upeo/upeo.aspx.New Eng. Educ. Training Serv., Inc. v. Silver St. P’ship, 156 Vt. 604, 613, 595 A.2d 1341, 1345-46 (1991) (affirming dismissal of foreclosure action where recovery on the underlying note would be unconscionable).  While the trial court may have had discretion to exert its equitable powers in this manner, no findings were made to support such a conclusion, and we will not speculate on a matter of such importance. Further, the court’s order does not support plaintiff’s assertion that the court was warranted in dismissing with prejudice on equitable grounds given what homeowner characterizes as inconsistent and “likely fraudulent filings” submitted by US Bank.  See

¶ 24. Finally, we address homeowner’s cross-appeal.  In response to US Bank’s motion to reconsider, homeowner filed a motion for attorney’s fees asserting that US Bank had filed affidavits in bad faith.  We agree that the request for attorney’s fees under Rule 56(g) was timely and properly raised in the trial court, and that the court erred in failing to consider the motion.  Therefore, we remand for consideration of homeowner’s request.

The foreclosure complaint is dismissed and the case is remanded for consideration of defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees.




FOR THE COURT:












Associate Justice




[1] An allonge is “[a] slip of paper sometimes attached to a negotiable instrument for the purpose of receiving further indorsements when the original paper is filled with indorsements.”  Black’s Law Dictionary 83 (8th ed. 2004).  The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) accepts the use of such endorsements, explaining that “a paper affixed to the instrument is a part of the instrument.”  9A V.S.A. § 3-204(a). Although at one time an allonge could be used only when there was no room on the original document, the official comment to the UCC explains that now an allonge “is valid even though there is sufficient space on the instrument for an indorsement.”  Id. § 3-204 cmt.

[2] Because final judgment had not yet been entered, the motion was filed pursuant to Rule of Civil Procedure 56.  See Kelly v. Town of Barnard, 155 Vt. 296, 307, 583 A.2d 614, 620 (1990) (holding that trial court retains jurisdiction to modify or rescind order prior to entry of final decree and may grant summary judgment motion after denying prior similar motion).

[3] In pertinent part, Rule of Civil Procedure 56(g) states:


Should it appear to the satisfaction of the court at any time that any of the affidavits presented pursuant to this rule are presented in bad faith . . . , the court shall forthwith order the party employing them to pay to the other party the amount of the reasonable expenses which the filing of the affidavits caused the other party to incur, including reasonable attorney’s fees, and any offending party or attorney may be adjudged in contempt.

[4] This argument in and of itself underscores the extent of confusion created by US Bank’s evidence.  While, on the one hand, US Bank wishes us to accept that it has uncontroverted evidence that it has held homeowner’s note since September 2005, on the other hand, it argues that it has acquired an interest in the note recently and can now be substituted as the real party in interest.  It appears that even US Bank is unsure of when the note was endorsed to it.

[5] We note that the foreclosure rule as amended now specifically requires a plaintiff to attach to the complaint “the original note and mortgage deed and proof of ownership thereof, including copies of all original endorsements and assignments of the note and mortgage deed.”  V.R.C.P. 80.1(b)(1) (Cum. Supp. 2010); see 2009, No. 132 (Adj. Sess.) § 1.

[6] We note that two cases cited by homeowner to support dismissal of a foreclosure complaint with prejudice have since been reversed.  U.S. Bank N.A. v. Emmanuel, No.  19271/09, 2010 WL 1856016  (N.Y. Sup. Ct. May 11, 2010), reversed by 921 N.Y.S.2d 320 (App. Div. 2011); IndyMac Bank F.S.B. v. Yano-Horoski, 890 N.Y.S.2d 313 (Sup. Ct. 2009), reversed by 912 N.Y.S.2d 239 (App. Div. 2010).

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FL 2nd DCA Appeals Court Reverses Attorney Fees “NO STANDING, WRONG ASSOCIATION, IMPROPER FILINGS” Against WELLS FARGO and David J. Stern, P.A.

FL 2nd DCA Appeals Court Reverses Attorney Fees “NO STANDING, WRONG ASSOCIATION, IMPROPER FILINGS” Against WELLS FARGO and David J. Stern, P.A.


SOUTH BAY LAKES HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., Appellant,
v.
WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., Appellee.

Case No. 2D10-148.

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District.

Opinion filed February 18, 2011. Leslie M. Conklin, Clearwater, for Appellant.

Forrest G. McSurdy of Law Office of David J. Stern, P.A., Plantation, for Appellee.

ALTENBERND, Judge.

South Bay Lakes Homeowners Association, Inc., appeals an order denying its motion for attorney’s fees pursuant to section 57.105(1), Florida Statutes (2008). We conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in denying fees under the unusual circumstances of this case. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for an award of fees to be paid in equal amounts by Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and its attorneys.

Kosta and Ljubica Jankovski obtained a loan, secured by a mortgage, to purchase a home in Hillsborough County in 2005. The documents in our record show the lender as Beazer Mortgage Corporation. Allegedly, the Jankovskis defaulted on the loan.

In March 2009, the Law Offices of David J. Stern, P.A., filed a mortgage foreclosure action on behalf of Wells Fargo, naming the Jankovskis and South Bay Lakes Homeowners Association as parties. The complaint alleged that Wells Fargo filed the action “by virtue of an assignment to be recorded.” As is common in recent foreclosure actions, the complaint contained a second count to enforce a lost, destroyed, or stolen promissory note.

The complaint itself does not contain a legal description of the property on which Wells Fargo sought to foreclose. It alleges a recorded mortgage on January 18, 2006, and a modification on July 13, 2006. The mortgage identified the relevant property as Lot 6, Block 7, Valhalla Phase 3-4. The modification changed the description to Lot 60, Block 2, South Bay Lakes, Unit #2. The notice of lis pendens that Wells Fargo recorded when it commenced this action identified the property it sought to foreclose as the original description and not the modified description. The property described in the modification is within South Bay Lakes Homeowners Association. However, the property described in the lis pendens and the original mortgage is not within the association.

The Jankovskis did not file a formal answer. Instead, they submitted a letter claiming that they disputed the amount owed and were trying to resolve the matter with America’s Servicing Company.

South Bay Lakes Homeowners Association filed an answer disputing that Wells Fargo had standing to bring the action, raising other defenses, and pointing out the confusion associated with the legal description. It also served the attorneys for Wells Fargo with requests for admission, asking the bank to admit that it did not have an assignment of the mortgage in its possession or recorded in Hillsborough County. One of the requests for an admission asked Wells Fargo to admit that it had no documentary evidence to show that it was an equitable owner of the note and mortgage. Wells Fargo did not respond to the requests for admission.

In May 2009, South Bay Lakes Homeowners Association filed a motion for summary judgment based on the admissions. At the same time, the attorney for the association filed an affidavit explaining that he had searched the public records and had not found an assignment of the mortgage. He also explained that the description on the lis pendens was not the encumbered property. Finally, the association served, but did not file, a motion for attorney’s fees pursuant to section 57.105 in order to give the bank an opportunity to resolve the matter within the statutory twenty-one-day period. The bank took no action.

On July 29, 2009, the attorney for the association attended the hearing on its motion for summary judgment. Wells Fargo made no appearance. Based on the admissions and the affidavit, the trial court entered a final judgment dismissing the entire action without leave to amend.

Thereafter, the association filed its motion for attorney’s fees and scheduled a hearing for November 2009. Wells Fargo sent a local attorney, who had not reviewed the file, to the hearing. He had “no idea” whether the legal description in the complaint had been inaccurate. The trial court denied the motion for fees, reasoning that some lender was entitled to file an action to foreclose on the parcel described in the modification and owned by the Jankovskis and that the action was, therefore, not one entitling the association to attorney’s fees. The association has appealed that order.

The issue in this case is not whether the owners would have been entitled to attorney’s fees. Instead, the issue is the association’s entitlement to fees. It is noteworthy, however, that the owners were the prevailing party in this action by virtue of the efforts of the association’s attorney. By contract, the owners would have been entitled to recover fees in this case if the prevailing attorney had been their attorney.

In this case, it is undisputed that Wells Fargo filed a foreclosure action without an assignment or other legal basis to file the action. Nothing in the record suggests that it or its attorneys took any steps to confirm that Wells Fargo had the legal right to file this action. It has relied on the association’s attorney to perform the legal research and public records examination that its own attorney should have performed before it filed the action.

We emphasize that a failure to respond to a request for admissions is not automatically grounds for attorney’s fees. In this case, however, the bank never attempted to explain why it admitted that it lacked standing, and there is no reason to believe that it had standing to bring the lawsuit. The bank also never sought to be relieved from its admissions and did not seek rehearing of the judgment that the trial court entered at a hearing it declined to attend.

At oral argument, the bank’s attorney tried to justify this improper filing due to the vast volume of foreclosure cases in the judicial system. While this court is well aware of the volume of these cases, that circumstance is not a matter that relieves the bank and its attorneys of their obligation to file pleadings that are adequately supported by a reasonable investigation prior to suit. If anything, the volume of these cases and the obvious detrimental effect that such volume has upon the legal system should be a factor requiring attorneys who file the actions to engage in a higher degree of professionalism.[1]

Section 57.105 entitles a party to attorney’s fees if the losing party, or the losing party’s attorney, knew or should have known that a claim was not supported by the material facts necessary to establish the claim when the party initially presented the claim to the court or at any time before trial. At a minimum, the association established a prima facie case that the bank or its attorneys knew or should have known that the bank had no standing to bring this lawsuit before the association served its motion for attorney’s fees. See, e.g., Lizio v. McCullom, 36 So. 3d 927, 929 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010) (“The party seeking foreclosure must present evidence that it owns and holds the note and mortgage in question in order to proceed with a foreclosure action.”); Bank of New York v. Williams, 979 So. 2d 347, 348 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008) (awarding the defendant attorney’s fees after dismissing a residential foreclosure complaint because the mortgagor failed to prove it owned the note and mortgage). If the bank or its attorneys had any evidence to refute this claim, they did not present that evidence at the hearing on the motion for attorney’s fees. The undisputed facts at the hearing established that Wells Fargo was required to take a voluntary dismissal of this action or some other appropriate action during the allotted twenty-one days and that it had no right to compel the association to proceed to judgment on the motion for summary judgment.

Although the trial court has discretion in awarding fees under section 57.105, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion when it declined to award fees in these circumstances.

Reversed and remanded.

DAVIS and VILLANTI, JJ., Concur.

NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED.

[1] At oral argument, the bank’s attorney claimed for the first time that the association’s attorney had not served the requests for admissions on the bank’s law firm and that the trial court had not properly served the judgment on the law firm. These unsworn allegations more than a year after the entry of the final judgment are outside the record and otherwise entirely improper.

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Judge Orders Quicken Loans to Pay $2.7 Million Award in West Virginia Fraud Case

Judge Orders Quicken Loans to Pay $2.7 Million Award in West Virginia Fraud Case


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A West Virginia judge has slapped online mortgage giant Quicken Loans Inc. with more than $2.7 million in punitive damages and legal costs after finding the lender had defrauded a borrower by misleading her about her loan and using an inflated property appraisal.

Ohio County (W.Va.) Circuit Judge Arthur Recht awarded the borrower just under $2.17 million in punitive damages. He also ordered that Quicken pay her attorneys nearly $600,000 in legal fees and costs. In a ruling last year, Recht had called Quicken’s conduct “unconscionable.”

James Bordas, one of the attorneys who represented the borrower, said he hoped the award would send a message to struggling homeowners that “big companies can’t just come in and cheat them.”

Dan Gilbert, Quicken’s founder and chairman, told the Center for Public Integrity that the judge’s fraud finding and damages award were “irrational and incomprehensible.”

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FL Attorney General Launches Investigation On BEN-EZRA & KATZ, P.A. Law Firm

FL Attorney General Launches Investigation On BEN-EZRA & KATZ, P.A. Law Firm


The case file cited below relates to a civil — not a criminal — investigation. The existence of an investigation does not constitute proof of any violation of law.

Case Number: L11-3-1012

Subject of investigation:

Ben-Ezra & Katz, P.A. and Marc A. Ben-Ezra, Individually and Marvin Katz, Individually

Subject’s address:

2901 STIRLING ROAD SUITE 300 FT. LAUDERDALE FL 33312 US

Subject’s business:

law firm/using deceptive paperwork to foreclose; obtain attorney’s fees which become the ultimate responsibility of the homeowner/defendant and calculate the indebtness of the homeowner/defendant.

Allegation or issue being investigated:
In apparent violation of Florida Statute 501 Part II, appears to be fabricating and/or presenting false and misleading documents in foreclosure cases. These documents have been presented in court before judges as actual assignments of mortgages and properly prepared affidavits that have later been shown to be legally inadequate and/or insufficient. Presenting and preparing faulty paperwork to use to foreclose; to collect attorney fees and to create affidavits of indebtness.

AG unit handling case:

Economic Crimes Division in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida

View contact information for Ft. Lauderdale.
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FL 4th DCA APPEALS COURT: “ATTORNEY FEES AWARDED” VALCARCEL v. CHASE BANK

FL 4th DCA APPEALS COURT: “ATTORNEY FEES AWARDED” VALCARCEL v. CHASE BANK


DISTRICT COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF FLORIDA
FOURTH DISTRICT

July Term 2010

CARMEN VALCARCEL and VICTOR VALCARCEL,
Appellants,
v.
CHASE BANK USA NA,
Appellee.

No. 4D10-379

[November 24, 2010]

TOWBIN SINGER, MICHELE, Associate Judge.

EXCERPTS:

The trial court granted the Valcarcels’ motion to dismiss as a sanction against Chase for sending a letter regarding the Valcarcels’ mortgage directly to the Valcarcels, rather than the Valcarcels’ lawyer. This mailing was a violation of rule 1.080(b), which requires service to be made upon a party’s attorney when he is represented by counsel.

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.420(b) provides in pertinent part: “(b) Involuntary Dismissal. Any party may move for dismissal of an action or of any claim against that party for failure of an adverse party to comply with these rules or any order of court.” Rule 1.420(d) provides: “(d) Costs. Costs in any action dismissed under this rule shall be assessed and judgment for costs entered in that action.”

The trial court erred in denying the Valcarcels’ motion for attorney’s fees and costs based upon its finding that the order was not a judgment. Although the dismissal order was not an adjudication on the merits, the Valcarcels can nonetheless be considered the prevailing party. They are entitled to an award of attorney’s fees because the action against them was dismissed. We, therefore, reverse and remand to the trial court to determine the amount of attorney’s fees that should be awarded to the Valcarcels for both the trial and appellate proceedings.

Reversed and Remanded.

Valcarcel v Chase

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NY passes Bill for a borrower, can recover attorneys’ fees if a lender’s foreclosure action fails

NY passes Bill for a borrower, can recover attorneys’ fees if a lender’s foreclosure action fails


WooHoo! I tell you what…EVERY State needs to follow by this example!

Banks Oppose ‘Access To Justice In Lending Act’? Well, Let’s See What It Provides



Submitted by Steven Meyerowitz on Fri, 07/09/2010 – 9:06am



A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, Juliet says. A nice thought for the theatre, but perhaps not for the law. A New York bill that has passed both houses of the state legislature is called the “Access To Justice In Lending Act.” And the New York Bankers Association opposes it. What?

The bill governs a mortgagor’s right to recover attorneys’ fees in foreclosure actions. It provides that whenever a residential mortgage provides that in any action to foreclose, the mortgagee may recover attorneys’ fees and/or expenses, “there shall be implied in such mortgage a covenant by the mortgagee to pay to the mortgagor the reasonable attorneys’ fees and/or expenses incurred by the mortgagor . . . in the successful defense of any action or proceeding commenced by the mortgagee against the mortgagor arising out of the contract.” Translation: a borrower can recover attorneys’ fees if a lender’s foreclosure action fails.

The bank group, represented by the Wilson Elser law firm, opposes the bill, declaring that it “would create a new implication in any contract that provided attorneys’ fees and costs to foreclosing parties a right for the party being foreclosed on to also collect attorneys’ fees and costs if he or she is successful.” In its view, the legislation “is unconstitutional on its face as applied to existing mortgages, is unnecessary and would create uncertainty in the foreclosure process.”

The Wilson Elser letter adds that the bill “is so broadly drafted that it could give defendants in foreclosure actions the right to attorneys’ fees even where a mortgagee would have no such rights…. In typical foreclosure actions in New York, foreclosure notices may be filed three, four, five or even more times without a foreclosure being actually completed. If a mortgagor elected to hire an attorney and then brought his or her mortgage up to date by paying off arrears, this legislation would provide the mortgagor with the right unfairly to collect attorneys’ fees for those uncompleted actions.”

We’ll keep you up-to-date on the status of this legislation as developments warrant.

Source: Financial Fraud Law

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Posted in bill, foreclosure, foreclosure fraud, foreclosures, lawsuitComments (0)


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