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District Court denies servicer’s claims that it never received QWR
The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri recently considered whether a mortgage servicer received a borrower’s qualified written request (QWR) relating to a missed mortgage payment. The borrower sent a money order to cover two monthly mortgage payments, but the payments were not properly credited to her account. The borrower made several attempts to contact the mortgage servicer about the improperly credited payment. After receiving a formal notice of default, the borrower sent a “Request for Information and Notice of Error” (NOE) to the servicer explaining the situation and asking that her account be updated to reflect that all payments had been made and requesting the removal of late fees and charges. She also asked that her loan be removed from default status and sent letters to the credit reporting agencies formally disputing the delinquent payment reports. According to the court’s opinion, the borrower claimed that the servicer violated RESPA by failing to respond and violated the FCRA by failing to conduct a reasonable investigation into her credit disputes and verifying inaccurately furnished information.
In considering both parties’ motions for summary judgment, the court granted the borrower’s motion on liability with respect to her RESPA claim and denied the servicer’s motion for summary judgment on the FCRA claims on the basis that the borrower provided evidence of actual damages resulting from the servicer’s alleged FCRA violation. The court explained that RESPA requires mortgage servicers to respond to a QWR within five days to acknowledge receipt, and again within 30 days by either correcting the account, providing a written explanation as to why it believes the account is correct, or providing the information requested by the borrower or an explanation of why the information requested is unavailable. Failure to do so entitles a borrower to any actual damages suffered as result of the failure. Claiming the NOE was a QWR, the borrower presented evidence, including a certified mail receipt allegedly showing the NOE was signed for by one of the servicer’s representatives. The servicer countered that because it had no record of the correspondence, its RESPA duties were not triggered. The servicer further argued that the NOE did not qualify as a QWR because it failed to provide sufficient information for it to investigate or respond to the request, and that even if it was a QWR, the borrower had failed to show actual damages.
The court disagreed, determining (i) that the servicer failed to prove it did not receive the NOE, and (ii) that the NOE constituted a QWR. “The information in the letter alone is sufficient to qualify as a QWR,” the court wrote. “The letter quite specifically states the error [the borrower] believed to have occurred…. This is not an ‘overbroad’ and generalized statement of ‘bad servicing.’ It identifies an error specifically contemplated by RESPA’s regulations.” The court further added that “RESPA does not require that a lender’s violations be the sole cause of a borrower’s emotional distress. It merely requires that damages be causally related to a violation of the statute.” However, the court noted that the borrower still needs to prove at trial the extent of damages caused by the servicer's alleged violation.
District Court dismisses RESPA claims that servicer failed on QWRs
The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington recently ruled on a loan servicer’s motion for summary judgment concerning claims that the servicer violated RESPA when it failed to respond to multiple qualified written requests (QWR) alleging account errors and improperly reported alleged delinquencies to credit reporting agencies (CRAs). Plaintiffs executed a promissory note and deed of trust, and later entered into a Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan to modify the terms of the loan. Plaintiffs sued, asserting violations of RESPA and various state laws, claiming, among other things, that the servicer failed to timely respond to their QWRs, provided false information to CRAs, and failed to adjust the loan to reflect the modified payment schedule from the bankruptcy plan.
The court granted summary judgment in favor of the servicer. On the QWR-related allegations, the court found that, “while the [plaintiffs] say that [the servicer] did not address the issues raised in the QWRs, their brief does not identify a single issue that went unaddressed. . . Their brief does not, for example, point to a request in any QWR that went unanswered in [the servicer’s] corresponding response. Merely providing a laundry list of documents—without specifically identifying how [the servicer’s] responses were incomplete—is insufficient.” The court also found that the plaintiffs failed to show that the servicer’s responses were misleading, confusing, or incorrect. Though the plaintiffs provided a list of statements made by the servicer when responding to the QWRs, plaintiffs failed to explain what exactly was inaccurate or confusing about the servicer’s responses, the court said.
While the court flagged one possible inconsistency in at least one of the servicer’s responses (where the servicer incorrectly stated the monthly principal amount due but corrected the mistake less than a month later), the court determined that “this alone does not suffice under RESPA.”
With respect to plaintiffs’ allegations of false credit reporting, the court concluded that there was no evidence that the servicer submitted negative information about plaintiffs to a CRA, nor did the plaintiffs demonstrate how any such reports hurt their credit or identify whether the reports were filed within RESPA’s 60-day non-reporting period. Under RESPA, a servicer is prohibited from providing certain information regarding “any overdue payment, owed by such borrower and relating to such period or qualified written request, to any consumer reporting agency” during the 60-day period beginning on the date the servicer receives a QWR. The court further noted that the plaintiffs failed to show that they suffered actual damages “flowing from” the alleged RESPA violations, which is a requirement of the statute.
The court granted summary judgment on the RESPA claims in favor of the servicer and remanded the remaining state-law claims to state court.
4th Circuit reviews whether borrowers’ letters are QWRs under REPSA
On February 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part a district court’s dismissal of claims related to whether letters sent by plaintiff borrowers to a defendant loan servicer constituted qualified written requests (QWRs) under RESPA or Regulation X that would require the defendant to stop sending adverse information about accounts to credit reporting agencies. According to the opinion, one of the plaintiffs wrote to the defendant asking to have his records corrected after noticing his credit reports reflected purported overdue home loan payments that were allegedly affecting his employment after his employer expressed concerns about the credit report. The plaintiff noted a discrepancy between the amount he was allegedly behind on his mortgage payment and included a copy of the credit report his employer received, his account number, the ID number of the agent with whom he spoke on the phone, and requested that the error be corrected. However, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant continued to report adverse loan information. The other named plaintiff allegedly fell behind on her loan payments, and the defendant began reporting adverse information to the credit reporting agencies. She later applied for a loan modification, which was not finalized due to the existence of a lien by a solar panel company. The plaintiff sent a letter to the defendant challenging the existence of “title issues” and asked for her dispute to be investigated and corrected. The parties ultimately finalized a loan modification, but in the interim, the defendant continued reporting adverse information. The plaintiffs filed a putative class action alleging that despite sending QWRs, the defendant continued to report adverse information on their loans to credit reporting agencies; however, the district court dismissed the claims.
On appeal, the 4th Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal of the first plaintiff’s claim, holding that the plaintiff’s letter was a QWR subject to RESPA because it contained sufficient details to identify his account and indicate why he believed the credit reporting was in error. In particular, the court noted that the letter constituted a QWR because it did not rely solely on the alleged phone call “as the basis for the description of the problem,” but also detailed conflicting balance information received from the defendant and the credit reporting service. The dissenting judge wrote that this plaintiff’s letter was not a QWR because it failed to identify the possible error and did not provide a statement of reasons for believing the unidentified error existed.
With respect to the other named plaintiff’s claim, the court affirmed dismissal because the letter did not qualify as a QWR. The court explained that the content of the plaintiff’s letter failed to satisfy the requirements of a valid QWR, finding that “correspondence limited to the dispute of contractual issues that do not relate to the servicing of the loan, such as loan modification applications, do not qualify as QWRs.”