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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

5th Circuit: Oral agreement to accept past-due mortgage payments is unenforceable under statute of frauds

Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit Mortgages Foreclosure State Issues

Courts

On March 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed summary judgment for a national bank, upholding its foreclosure sale in a 2-1 opinion. According to the opinion, after the borrowers missed several payments the bank foreclosed on their property. The borrowers filed suit alleging, among other things, that the bank “violated the deed of trust and the Texas Property Code” by failing to send proper notices prior to the foreclosure of their home, and also violated the Texas Debt Collection Act (TDCA). The bank argued that it had properly served notice, and the district court agreed, granting summary judgment on the foreclosure-sale claims, concluding “that there was no genuine dispute over whether [the bank] properly sent notice in compliance with both the deed of trust and the Texas Property Code.” The district court also agreed with the bank that an oral agreement between the borrowers and a bank representative to accept a $14,000 payment “to bring the loan current” was “unenforceable under the statute of frauds because it modified the terms of the loan agreement.”

On appeal, the majority opinion considered, among other things, whether the statute of frauds barred consideration of the alleged oral agreement under the TDCA. The majority concluded that alleged oral agreement “cannot alone” sustain the borrowers’ claims under the TDCA. In order for the $14,000 to be considered “an actual, enforceable acceptance” as either part of the repayment plan or to bring the loan current, the agreement would have to be in writing under Texas law, the majority held. The dissenting judge argued, however, that the bank violated the TDCA by “misrepresenting, in a March 2017 phone call, that $14,000 would be automatically deducted from the [borrowers’] account to pay off the bulk of their past-due mortgage payments.” According to the dissent, “the phone call plausibly muddled the [borrowers’] understanding of whether they had a past-due mortgage debt, how much they owed, and whether they were in default,” thus creating a false sense of security about their mortgage—the kind of conduct the TDCA is intended to guard against.

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