Maryland court of appeals: state consumer protection act covers HOA collections
On January 27, the Court of Appeals of Maryland affirmed the dismissal of a homeowners association’s (HOA) confessed judgment complaint against a consumer, and stated that the HOA could not file an amended complaint. According to the opinion, the consumer owned a home that is part of an HOA, which makes annual assessments to cover the costs of general upkeep of the common areas. When she fell behind in paying her HOA assessments, the HOA drafted and the consumer signed, a promissory note (note) that contained a confessed judgment clause. The consumer defaulted on the note and the HOA filed a complaint for judgment by confession along with the note and an affidavit that stated the note did not involve a consumer transaction. The district court entered judgment for the HOA. The consumer filed a motion to vacate the judgment, claiming that the note arose from a consumer transaction, and the confessed judgment clause was prohibited under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act (MCPA). The district court agreed that the note evidenced a consumer transaction and vacated the confessed judgment and set the matter for trial. After the consumer received a notice regarding the trial on the issue, she filed a motion to dismiss, which was denied, and she appealed to the circuit court. The circuit court held that the confessed judgment was prohibited and that the complaint was required to be dismissed. The HOA filed a petition for writ of certiorari, which the Court of Appeals granted.
Upon review, the Court of Appeals found that under the MCPA (i) the HOA assessments are consumer debt; (ii) the HOA’s note was an extension of consumer credit; and (iii) confessed judgment clauses in contracts involving consumer transactions are prohibited. Further, the Court of Appeals determined that the HOA could not “circumvent the protections afforded to a debtor under the [M]CPA by inserting language into a confessed judgment clause which purports to preserve a debtor’s legal defenses.” The Court of Appeals also rejected the consumer’s assertion that the note was void as a result of the confessed judgment clause, finding instead that though the HOA should not be allowed to file an amended complaint in the current action, the HOA could file a separate action for breach of contract if the unlawful clause was severed from the note. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals stated that the current action should be dismissed without prejudice.