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Citibank, N.A. v Van Brunt Props., LLC | NYSC “plaintiff’s papers are defective, the fact that the limited power of attorney is undated is a further defect”

Citibank, N.A. v Van Brunt Props., LLC | NYSC “plaintiff’s papers are defective, the fact that the limited power of attorney is undated is a further defect”


Decided on March 16, 2012

Supreme Court, Kings County

 

Citibank, N.A., Plaintiff,

against

Van Brunt Properties, LLC; and “John Does” and “Jane Does” No.1-100, the last names being fictitious and unknown to the plaintiff, the persons and parties intended being the tenants, occupants, persons or corporations, if any, having or claiming an interest in or lien upon the premises described in the verified amended complaint, Defendant. Plaintiff, Sutter Avenue Management, LLC Miller Lumber & Mill Work Inc.; And “John Does” and “Jane Does” #1-100, the last names being fictitious and unknown to the plaintiff, the persons and parties intended being the tenants, occupants, persons or corporations, if any, having or claiming an interest in or lien upon the premises described in the verified amended complaint, Defendants.

Plaintiff, – against -

against

Sutter Avenue Management, LLC Miller Lumber & Mill Work Inc.; And “John Does” and “Jane Does” #1-100, the last names being fictitious and unknown to the plaintiff, the persons and parties intended being the tenants, occupants, persons or corporations, if any, having or claiming an interest in or lien upon the premises described in the verified amended complaint, Defendants.

3523/10

Plaintiff Attorney: Dacia C Cocariu, Esq.

Sills Cummis & Gross

Defense Attorney: Kirk P. Tzandies, Esq

Yvonne Lewis, J.

Defendant Van Brunt Properties, LLC (Van Brunt) and defendant Sutter Avenue Management, LLC (Sutter) collectively move for an order, pursuant to [*2]Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) §602(a), to consolidate the foreclosure action of Citibank, N.A. v Sutter Avenue Management, LLC., Midwood Lumber & Mill Work, Inc., et al. (Index No. 354/10), into the foreclosure action of Citibank, N.A. v Van Brunt Properties, LLC, et al. (Index No. 3523/10). Upon consolidation, the defendants seek an order, pursuant to the doctrine of collateral estoppel, declaring that this court’s March 4, 2011 order in the Van Brunt action is equally binding on the Sutter action. The defendants further move for equitable relief in the Sutter action based on their assertion that Citibank acted unconscionably and in bad faith during the protracted period of settlement negotiation. Finally the defendants seek an order terminating the temporary receivership imposed on the Sutter property.

Citibank cross-moves for an order striking all references to conduct and statements made during settlement negotiations, including a pre-negotiation agreement (signed by all three parties), which together form much of the basis of the defendants’ claims for equitable relief, in the Van Brunt action under CPLR § 4547. Citibank also cross-moves, pursuant to CPLR §1018, to substitute Wells Fargo as the plaintiff in the Van Brunt action, and, pursuant to CPLR §3025, to correspondingly amend the case caption. Finally, Citibank cross-moves for an order clarifying the portion of this court’s March 4th order which requires Van Brunt to commence making monthly payments to Citibank.

Background and Procedural History

Sutter is the legal and equitable owner of premises located at 529 Sutter Avenue in Brooklyn. On October 29, 2007, Citibank entered into a mortgage loan in the principal amount of $2,610,000.00 with Sutter. Van Brunt is the legal and equitable owner of premises located at 252-254 Van Brunt Street, also in Brooklyn, which is encumbered by a mortgage in the amount of $950,000.00 financed by Citibank, dated March 21, 2007. Roland Dib is a managing member of both Sutter and Van Brunt. Both the defendants began to have difficulty meeting their mortgage obligations and assert that attempts were made in late 2008 and early 2009 to negotiate with Citibank for a modification of the interest rate so that the requisite payments could be made. The defendants assert that they expended substantial sums to attract new tenants to the properties.

Commencing on July 1, 2009, Van Brunt failed to make its required monthly payments.. Citibank contends that on December 16,2009, it notified Van Brunt that it was in default and advised that if the default was not cured, Citibank reserved its right to exercise all of its rights and remedies. Citibank initiated a foreclosure proceeding against Van Brunt on February 5, 2010.On August 9, 2010, Citibank moved for summary judgment on its foreclosure action against Van Brunt and sought dismissal of Van Brunt’s answer and affirmative defenses and the appointment of a temporary receiver. Van Brunt cross-moved for an order determining that Citibank was not entitled to: any interest on the principal balance of the mortgage loan, late charges, advances, attorneys’ fees, prepayment penalties, commissions and all other costs and expenses. On October 15, 2010, Citibank transferred all interest in the note and mortgage, as well as the other loan documents, to LSREF2 Nova Investments, LLC (“Nova”). On December 10, 2010, all interest in the note and mortgage , together with the other loan documents, were transferred to Wells Fargo. On June 24, 2011, Citibank moved to substitute Wells Fargo into the action as the plaintiff.

In an order dated March 4, 2011, this Court denied that branch of [*3]Citibank’s motion seeking the appointment of a receiver, and denied without prejudice that branch of the motion seeking substitution and for summary judgment. The order granted Van Brunt’s cross motion to the extent of ordering that Citibank is not entitled to any interest from the date of the alleged default to and through March 31, 2011 and found that Citibank is not entitled to any default interest or expenses, including attorneys fees and prepayment penalties. Van Brunt was directed to pay the principal and interest due under the loan commencing on April 1, 2011. In addition, it was directed to pay to Citibank by April 1, 2011, the principal only from the date of default to March 31, 2011, which would be applied to the reduction of the principal.

As regards Sutter, beginning October 2009 it failed to make its required monthly payments under the mortgage. By letter dated December 16, 2009, Citibank maintains that it advised Sutter that it was in default and that failure to cure could result in Citibank exercising its right to accelerate the indebtedness. On February 5, 2010, Citibank filed a separate foreclosure action against the Sutter property. On February 24, 2010, a receiver was appointed to manage the Sutter property.On May 26, 2011, Citibank moved for summary judgment on its foreclosure action and to dismiss Sutter’s answer and affirmative defense. On October 15, 2010, Citibank transferred all interest in the note and mortgage, as well as the other loan documents, to LSREF2 Nova Investments, LLC (“Nova”). On December 10, 2010, all interest in the note and mortgage , together with the other loan documents, were transferred to Wells Fargo. On April 11,2011, Citibank moved to substitute Wells Fargo into the action as the plaintiff.

Defendants’ Motion

Consolidation

The defendants move to consolidate the Van Brunt and Sutter actions arguing that both actions involve common questions of law and fact and arise from the same facts and circumstances and assert the identical legal theories and defenses, in accord with the direction of §602(a) of the CPLR. If successful on the issue of consolidation, the defendants then seek an order, pursuant to the doctrine of collateral estoppel, declaring that this court’s March 4, 2011 order in the Van Brunt action is equally binding on the Sutter action. The defendants further move for equitable relief in the Sutter action based on their assertion that Citibank acted unconscionably and in bad faith during the protracted period of settlement negotiation. Finally the defendants seek an order terminating the temporary receivership imposed on the Sutter property.They further contend that the resolution of both cases will involve the same documents and witnesses and thus, such overlap, necessitates consolidation to avoid unnecessary costs, delays and inconsistent judgments. Finally, they contend that there would be no prejudice to Citibank if the actions were consolidated arguing that both actions are in the same pre-discovery stage.

The defendants assert that Citibank treated the two mortgages as a package from the moment of default, noting for example, that Citibank alleges that it notified both properties of default on the same day and that all renegotiation’ efforts were done with both properties and as a package. The defendants note that every transfer of the property – October 15, 2010 to Nova and December 10, 2010 to Wells Fargo – was packaged as well. They argue that both of the defendants’ theory of the case is that foreclosure should be denied due to the bad faith and unconscionable behavior of Citibank throughout the course of said joint negotiations. They allege that they were jointly induced [*4]to make substantial personal investments in the respective properties at issue, based on an implied promise by Citibank that this show of good faith on the defendants’ part would result in a renegotiation of both mortgages, thereby avoiding default. The defendants conclude that the substance and legal theories of both cases are identical, will require the same testimony and evidence to be presented to the court, and should therefore be consolidated to avoid unnecessary costs, delay and inconsistent judgments.In opposition, Citibank argues that Van Brunt and Sutter are foreclosure actions filed separately by Citibank on February 5th, 2010 against two different commercial borrowers, namely Van Brunt Properties LLC, et al. and Sutter Avenue Management, LLC, et. al., each of whom holds a mortgage on a distinct property. They further point out that the circumstances under which each loan was made, the loan documents, and the defaults differ from one another. Moreover, Citibank avers that the receivership status and procedural posture of each case differs. Citibank maintains that consolidation should be denied inasmuch as the two actions do not have the requisite common issues of law and fact. Citibank also argues that it would be prejudiced by consolidation since consolidation would delay the resolution while both actions were aligned with one another. Finally, Citibank claims that the defendants are only seeking consolidation in an attempt to obtain a more favorable outcome, noting that there was no motion for consolidation until, this court’s ruling favorable to Van Brunt in the Van Brunt action.

Discussion

Section 602(a) of the CPLR gives a court discretion to consolidate actions where common questions of law or fact are present. Consolidation is preferred where these commonalities exist, absent proof that consolidation will prejudice a substantial right of the party opposing the motion (Best Price Jewelers.Com, Inc. v Internet Data Stor. & Sys., Inc., 51 AD3d 839 [2008]; Beerman v Morhaim, 17 AD3d 302 [2005]; Progressive Insurance Co. v Vasquez, 10 AD3d 518, 519 [2004]; Zupich v Flushing Hosp. & Med. Ctr., 156 AD2d 677, 677 [1989]). Further, consolidation is appropriate where it will avoid unnecessary duplication of trials, save unnecessary costs and expense, and prevent an injustice which would result from divergent decisions based on the same facts (see Zupich, 156 AD2d at 677). The defendants assert that their respective actions raise identical factual and legal issues, that the two properties have been dealt with as a package since they defaulted, that there will be little delay as the result of consolidation, that there would be no substantial prejudice to the plaintiff and therefore consolidation is required. The plaintiff does not dispute that the two properties were dealt with as a package during the period of renegotiation of their mortgages, but opposes the consolidation of these actions primarily on the ground that substantial prejudice would result from the delay that such a consolidation would cause. It avers that each action has an independent mortgage related to a separate and distinct parcel of land, that consolidation will unduly and additionally delay resolution and that the defendants’ motion is an attempt to forum shop in order to get a more favorable outcome in both actions

Absent a showing of prejudice to a substantial right the existence of common questions of law or fact justifies the grant of a motion for consolidation. (Lamboy v. Inter Fence Co., 196 AD2d 705, 601 N.Y.S.2d 619 (1st Dept.1993).However, a delay which would prevent a trial from taking place for “some time to come” has justified the denial of such a motion, Mulligan v. Farmingdale Union Free School District No. 22, 133 AD2d 617, 519 N.Y.S.2d [*5]725 (2d Dept.1987). In the instant actions, there are, as the plaintiff suggests, different procedural postures but these differences are not likely to cause such a delay as would substantially prejudice the plaintiff. The plaintiff does argue that it will be so prejudiced, but the arguments consist of conclusory self-serving statements that prejudice would occur if consolidation were ordered. The plaintiff suggests that there will be a delay “while the actions [are] brought in line with each other.” The major delay , appears to be caused by the appeals this Court’s March 4, 2011 Order, and the appeal of the instant motion, regardless of the out come. The plaintiff’s counsel says, “[t]rying to bring these actions in line with each other, so that they can proceed together, would only create undue delay and confusion, allowing defendant to prolong the proceedings and avoid judgement to Plaintiff’s severe prejudice.” Counsel does say not how the plaintiff is prejudiced nor what the prejudice is. There is no showing of prejudice to a substantial right of the plaintiff. “[A] and mere delay of the trial is not a sufficient basis upon which to deny a motion for consolidation or a joint trial (see Alsol Enters., Ltd. v. Premier Lincoln—Mercury, Inc., 11 AD3d 494, 783 N.Y.S.2d 620; Zupich, 156 AD2d at 677).” (Whiteman v Parsons Transportation Group of New York, Inc, et al. 72 AD3d 677, 900 N.Y.S.2d 87 ( 2d Dept 2010)

” Although a motion pursuant to CPLR 602 (a) to consolidate two pending actions is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court, consolidation is favored by the courts in serving the interests of justice and judicial economy (see, Zupich v Flushing Hosp. & Med. Ctr., 156 AD2d 677). As both actions clearly involve similar issues of fact and law, it [would be] an improvident exercise of discretion to deny consolidation….” (Flaherty v RCP Assoc., 208 AD2d 496, 616 N.Y.S.2d 801,[ 1994]). In the case at bar, there are issues, with regard to whether the plaintiff and or its assigns have acted in good faith, which necessarily must be decided prior to a determination of whether the foreclosure of the defendants’ properties should go forward.These actions arise from the same factual events, involve virtually identical legal theories and defenses; they feature nearly the same principal parties. ” Where common questions of law or fact exist, a motion pursuant to CPLR 602(a) to consolidate … should be granted absent a showing of prejudice to a substantial right of the party opposing the motion (see Mas—Edwards v. Ultimate Servs., Inc., 45 AD3d 540, 845 N.Y.S.2d 414; Perini Corp. v. WDF, Inc., 33 AD3d 605, 606, 822 N.Y.S.2d 295; Nationwide Assoc. v. Targee St. Internal Med. Group, P.C. Profit Sharing Trust, 286 AD2d 717, 730 N.Y.S.2d 349).

Collateral Estoppel

The defendants seek an order, pursuant to the doctrine of collateral estoppel, declaring that this Court’s March 4, 2011 order in the Van Brunt action is equally binding on the Sutter action. They urge the utilization of the doctrine of issue preclusion which is part of Collateral Estoppel. In order for a court’s ruling to be dictated by the decision made in a prior action under the doctrine of issue preclusion, “the identical issue necessarily must have been decided in the prior action and be decisive of the present action, and second, the party to be precluded from relitigating the issue must have had a full and fair opportunity to contest the prior determination” (Kaufman v Eli Lily and Co., 65 NY2d 449, 455 [1985]; Allied Chemical v Niagra Mohawk Power, 72 NY2d 271, 276 [1988]. When a court decides whether issue preclusion applies in a given case “the party seeking the benefit of collateral estoppel bears the initial burden of demonstrating that an issue in the present litigation is identical to an issue decided in the prior determination” (Lewis v City of New York, 17 Misc 3d [*6]537, 544 [2007]. The defendants further move for equitable relief in the Sutter action based on their assertion that Citibank acted unconscionably and in bad faith during the protracted period of settlement negotiation and that Citibank treated Van Brunt and Sutter identically during the course of said negotiation. For which reason, the defendants believe that Sutter is entitled to the relief granted to Van Brunt in this Court’s March 4, 2011 order.

Citing Halyalkar v. Board of Regents of the State of NY, 72 NY2d 261,268, the plaintiff, argues in opposition, that collateral estoppel is inapplicable unless the matter has been “actually litigated” The plaintiff’s counsel buttresses Citibank’s argument with a reminder that the actions “involve, among other things, different loan transactions and different parties. Most notably, the Sutter Loan Documents and the circumstances of Sutter’s default have never even been before this Court.” In sum, the argument is that collateral estoppel cannot be applied herein because there has been no actual litigation of the foreclosure in the Sutter action. Halyalkar,defines actually litigated’ as follows: “To satisfy the identicality requirement, the question must have been actually litigated and, therefore, it must have been properly raised by the pleadings or otherwise placed in issue and actually determined in the prior proceeding.” Halyalkar, supra at 261.

This Court’s March 4, 2011order in the Van Brunt action was issued after consideration of the papers and after oral argument on several motions which were before the Court. The motions and cross motion were before the court on March 4th and they were heard together. The plaintiff’s motions sought a temporary receiver, substitution and summary judgement on the foreclosure. The relief requested was denied with express permission to re-file both as to substitution and summary judgement. The motion for a temporary receiver can be made anew at anytime during the course of the proceeding where new facts arise. The defendants cross motion sought equitable relief; the plaintiff responded with opposition and oral argument was heard on the motion. The March 4th Order resulted from a full presentation by the parties on the issues before the court. As relevant to the collateral estoppel, the order addresses the behavior of the parties in that action and the consequences of that behavior with regard to the period following the “default” and renegotiation efforts made by the parties. It is not a permanent determination with regard to the foreclosures of the subject properties, rather it is the imposition of an equity equalizer put in place in recognition of the fact that Citibank and its assigns, as determined on papers and after oral argument, did actively prolong these proceeding with such lack of good faith as to require that they should forfeit any interest that would have otherwise been owning to them under the terms of the agreement they had with the borrowers. All of the renegotiation efforts were made with both Van Brunt and Sutter and at all the same times and places. Citibank had a full and fair opportunity to contest the prior determination; the issues were actually litigated in the Van Brunt action. In as much as the behavior of the lenders in the Van Buren action were identical, both in substance and in time, to the behavior of the lenders in Sutter, this Court cannot see how any different outcome for the Sutter action can fail to be an inconsistent result and a waste of judicial resources.

Finally the defendants seek an order terminating the temporary receivership imposed on the Sutter property. This Court is without sufficient information to make a determination as to wether or not the temporary receiver should be removed. Upon consolidation, and in as much as the papers are already before the Court, defendant Sutter may request a [*7]conference/argument with the plaintiff on the appropriateness/lack of need for the receiver.

Citibank’s Cross Motion.

Citibank cross-moves for an order finding that all conduct and statements over the course of settlement negotiations entered into between Citibank and the defendants, including the pre-negotiation agreement signed by all three parties, be ruled inadmissable in the Van Brunt action, pursuant to CPLR § 4547. Citibank also cross moves for an order seeking to substitute Wells Fargo as the plaintiff in the Van Brunt action and that the case caption be amended accordingly. Finally, Citibank cross-moves for clarification of two rulings contained in this court’s March 4, 2011 order.

In opposition to Citibank’s cross motion, the defendants argue that the cross motion and opposition papers should not be considered as such submissions were untimely and defective. On the issue of timeliness, the court notes that CPLR §2215 pertinently provides that “[a]t least three days prior to the time at which the motion is noticed to be heard, or seven days prior to such time if demand is properly made pursuant to subdivision (b) of rule 2214, a party may serve upon the moving party a notice of cross-motion demanding relief, with or without supporting papers . . .” Here, the defendants motion was served upon the plaintiff on April 6, 2011. The cross motion was not served until June 20, 2011, a full seventy-five days later.

The defendants further argue that the plaintiff’s papers are defective and should not be considered by the court. Specifically, it is argued that the papers are defective because they are submitted in reliance upon an affidavit of Marisa K. McGuaghey, who describes herself as an “authorized representative of Hudson Americas LLC” and bases her authority to submit her affidavit on behalf of Wells Fargo pursuant to an undated, uncertified copy of a Limited Power of Attorney. A power of attorney presented to the Court must be an original or a copy certified by an attorney, pursuant to CPLR §2105. Section 2105 of the CPLR states, inter alia, that “an attorney admitted to practice in the court of the state may certify that it has been compared by him with the original and found to be a true and complete copy” (see Security Pacific Nat. Trust Co. v Cuevas, 176 Misc 2d 846 [1998]). Here, there is nothing in the record indicating that the plaintiff’s attorney has performed this comparison (see Lasalle Bank N.A. v Smith, 26 Misc 3d 1239A [2010]; United States Bank Natl. Assn. v White, 22 Misc 3d 1112A [2009]; U.S. Bank Natl. Assn. v Bernard,18 Misc 3d 1130A [2008]). Additionally, the court notes that the fact that the limited power of attorney is undated is a further defect (see Ameriquest Mortgage Co., v Basevich, 16 Misc 3d 1104A [2007]. Based upon the foregoing, the court finds that the plaintiff’s papers are defective and therefore will not address the merits, or lack thereof, of the plaintiff’s cross motion.

This constitutes the decision and order of the court.

E N T E R,

____________________________

yvonne lewis, JSC

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