Posted on 22 March 2011.
KRISTEN BAIN, Plaintiff,
ONEWEST BANK, F.S.B; DEUTSCHE BANK NATIONAL TRUST COMPANY; MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS, INC; REGIONAL TRUSTEE SERVICES CORPORATION; Defendants.
Case No. C09-0149-JCC.
United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle.
March 15, 2011.
F. Consumer Protection Act
Finally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the Consumer Protection Act (“CPA”). To state a claim under the CPA, Plaintiff must show (1) an unfair or deceptive act or practice, (2) in trade or commerce, (3) that impacts the public interest, (4) which causes injury to the plaintiff in his or her business or property, and (5) which injury is causally linked to the unfair or deceptive act. Griffith v. Centex Real Estate Corp., 969 P.2d 486, 492 (Wash. Ct. App. 1998).
MERS asserts that Plaintiff has not shown an unfair or deceptive practice on its part, has not shown how any act of MERS impacts the public interest, and presents nothing showing injuries caused by an unfair or deceptive practice by MERS. The Court disagrees. Like her other claims arising under the Deed of Trust Act, Plaintiff’s CPA claims depend on whether MERS may be the beneficiary (or nominee of the beneficiary) under Washington state law. MERS’s attempt to serve as the beneficiary may have been improper under state law and it may have led to widespread confusion regarding home ownership, payment delivery, and negotiable positions. If MERS violated state law, its conduct may very well be classified as “unfair” under the CPA. There is no doubt that MERS’s conduct impacts the public interest. See Hangman Ridge Training Stables, Inc. v. Safeco Title Ins. Co., 719 P.2d 531, 537-38 (Wash. 1986) (listing factors for determining public interest); Peterson, supra, at 1362 (“Although MERS is a young company, 60 million mortgage loans are registered on its system.”); R. K. Arnold, Yes, There Is Life on MERS, 11 Prob. & Prop. 32, 33 (1997) (“Some have called MERS the most significant event for the mortgage industry since the formation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Others have compared it to the creation of uniform mortgage instruments, which have become standard throughout the residential mortgage industry. This suggests that the journey to MERS will have a tremendous effect on the mortgage industry.”). And the harm Plaintiff may have suffered because of MERS’s conduct may include expending resources to avert an unlawful foreclosure and preventing Plaintiff from identifying the real beneficiary and negotiating a new arrangement to avoid foreclosure.
The same reasoning applies to Regional, who also argued that Plaintiff cannot show an unfair or deceptive practice or show an impact on the public interest. Regional asserts that it acted appropriately because it was candid and forthcoming about its identity and its authority to conduct the foreclosure. That Regional was candid about its role is not dispositive. See Carlile v. Harbour Homes, Inc., 194 P.3d 280, 289 (Wash. Ct. App. 2008) (“An unfair or deceptive act or practice need not be intended to deceive, it need only have the capacity to deceive a substantial portion of the public.”). Moreover, just as MERS has its hands in countless home loans affecting the general public, so too does Regional play a key role in numerous foreclosure actions affecting the general public. MERS and Regional ultimately may bear no liability under the CPA, but this Court will await the state-court analysis before ruling on the parties’ motions for summary judgment.
Plaintiff admits that she has been delinquent in her mortgage payments. A ruling favorable to Plaintiff in this case and others like it cannot and should not create a windfall for all homeowners to avoid upholding their end of the mortgage bargain—paying for their homes. But a homeowner’s failure to make payments cannot grant lenders, trustees, and so-called beneficiaries like MERS license to ignore state law and foreclose using any means necessary. Whether these and similar defendants complied with Washington state law remains unclear.
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