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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

4th Circuit reverses dismissal of RESPA property tax suit

Courts Appellate Fourth Circuit Escrow RESPA Mortgages


On October 2, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reversed the dismissal of a putative class action, concluding that the current mortgage servicer has the obligation under RESPA to pay tax payments as they become due. According to the opinion, after a consumer refinanced their mortgage loan, the mortgage was sold to a new mortgage company (defendant), which took over the servicing rights and responsibilities from the previous servicer, effective October 2017. The consumer continued making payments on the mortgage loan, which included payments to an escrow account for property taxes. The defendant allegedly did not pay the consumer’s property taxes due in November 2017 until sometime in 2018. The city assessed late penalties (which the defendant ultimately paid) and the late payment adversely affected the consumer’s income tax bill in the amount of $895. The consumer filed a putative class action alleging, among other things, that the defendant violated RESPA by failing to make the tax payment on time. The district court dismissed the action, concluding that the previous servicer was “responsible as ‘the servicer’ under RESPA” to make the payments.

On appeal, the 4th Circuit disagreed, concluding that the consumer plausibly alleged that the defendant was responsible for servicing his mortgage at the time, and therefore, responsible for making his tax payment when due. The appellate court rejected the defendant’s argument that RESPA requires the entity that “received funds for escrow” to make the tax payment when due. RESPA, according to the appellate court, “connects the servicer’s obligation to a payment’s due date, not the date of payment into escrow by the borrower.” Thus, the defendant would be “the servicer” responsible for paying the mortgage tax from the borrower’s escrow account on its due date.

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