11th Circuit: ECOA anti-discrimination provision against requiring spousal signature does not apply to defaulted mortgage during loan modification offer
On April 27, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision to enter judgment in favor of a defendant national bank following a bench trial related to claims arising from foreclosure proceedings on the plaintiff’s home. The plaintiff executed a promissory note secured by a mortgage signed by both the plaintiff and her husband. After the borrowers defaulted on the mortgage, the defendant filed a foreclosure action and approved the plaintiff for a streamlined loan modification while the foreclosure action was pending. One of the conditions of the streamlined loan modification was that the plaintiff had to make required trial period plan payments and submit signed copies of the loan modification agreement within 14 days. Both individuals were expressly required to sign the modification agreement as borrowers on the mortgage. However, should one of the borrowers not sign, the bank required documentation as to why the signature is not required, as well as a recorded quit claim deed and a divorce decree. The plaintiff acknowledged that she refused to return a fully signed loan modification agreement or provide alternative supporting documentation, and during trial, both individuals admitted that the husband refused to sign. The borrowers eventually consented to final judgment in the foreclosure action and the property was sold.
The plaintiff then brought claims under ECOA and RESPA. The district court granted summary judgment to the defendant on the ECOA discrimination claim and the RESPA claim. After a bench trial on the ECOA notice claim, the district court determined that because the defendant gave proper notice to the plaintiff as required by ECOA (i.e., she was provided required written notices within 30 days after being verbally informed that her modification agreement was not properly completed), plaintiff’s claim failed on the merits.
On appeal, plaintiff argued, among other things, that the district court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant on her ECOA discrimination claim. The 11th Circuit explained that under ECOA it is unlawful for a creditor to discriminate against an applicant on the basis of marital status. However, ECOA and Regulation B also establish “exceptions for actions that are not considered discrimination, including when a creditor may require a spouse’s signature,” and include additional exceptions to creditor conduct constituting “adverse action” (i.e. “any action or forbearance taken with respect to an account that is delinquent or in default is not adverse action”). The appellate court held that because the plaintiff had defaulted on the mortgage at the time the loan modification was offered, ECOA and Regulation B’s anti-discrimination provision against requiring spousal signatures did not apply to her. Moreover, even if the provision was applicable in this instance, the appellate court held that “the district court correctly concluded that it was reasonable for [defendant] to require either [plaintiff’s] signature or a divorce decree in light of Florida’s homestead laws,” and that such a requirement does not constitute discrimination under ECOA.
As to the notice claim, the appellate court found no error in the district court’s conclusion that the defendant had satisfied applicable notice requirements by timely sending a letter to the plaintiff that (i) specified the information needed from the plaintiff; (ii) designated a reasonable amount of time within which to provide the information; and (iii) informed the plaintiff that failure to do so would result in cancellation of the modification. This letter satisfied the “notice of incompleteness” requirements of 12 C.F.R. § 202.9(c)(2).