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6th Circuit: Tennessee judicial foreclosure time-barred
On May 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s decision in a judicial foreclosure action, holding that a bank’s lawsuit was barred by Tennessee’s 10-year statute of limitations for actions to enforce liens on real property. The appellate court also refused to establish an equitable lien on the property in favor of the bank. According to the opinion, the home equity line of credit at issue in the case matured in 2007, requiring a final balloon payment, but the bank did not demand this payment, refinance the loan, or foreclose on the property. Instead, the bank continued to accept monthly interest payments totaling around $100,000 until 2017. The opinion reflected that the bank did not contend there to be a written instrument showing an extension of the loan or that such an extension was recorded. Rather, the bank raised several arguments, including that there was an oral modification to the loan and that it had the unilateral right to extend the loan based on “a future advances provision that could extend the maturity date for up to twenty years.” The bank further argued that the defendants’ monthly interest payments excused any writing requirement and evidenced an agreement to extend the loan’s maturity date. The appellate court disagreed, concluding that because the bank could not show, as a matter of law, that the loan’s maturity date was extended, its suit is untimely. The appellate court stated that the bank was aware that the loan “was in default as early as 2011 (well within the statute of limitations period) but took no action to foreclose or refinance.” The 6th Circuit further noted that if the bank had “simply memorialized an extension to the [l]oan’s maturity date in writing as required by Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-2-111(c), it would not be in this situation.”
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).
CFPB says servicers should suggest sales over foreclosures for some borrowers
On January 20, the CFPB encouraged mortgage servicers to advise homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages that a traditional sale may be better than foreclosure. The Bureau reported that due to the Covid-19 pandemic many homeowners are facing foreclosure, especially consumers who were delinquent when the pandemic began. The Bureau pointed out that while foreclosure rates are relatively low compared to pre-pandemic levels, mortgage data from November 2022 shows an increase of 23,400 foreclosure starts. “Often, the mortgage servicer’s phone representatives are the first line of communication with homeowners,” the Bureau said, reminding servicers to provide training to their representatives so they are prepared to provide information to equity-positive homeowners about selling their home as a potential option. “Of course, conversations about selling the home cannot substitute for the Regulation X requirement that mortgage servicers present all available loss mitigation alternatives to borrowers,” the Bureau stated, explaining that Appendix MS-4(B) to Regulation X contains sample language that can be used to inform homeowners of the option to sell their home. Additionally, the Bureau advised servicers to refer homeowners to HUD-approved housing counseling agencies to discuss their options.
NY restricts lenders’ ability to reset statute of limitations on foreclosures
In December, the New York governor signed A 7737-B, the “Foreclosure Abuse Prevention Act,” which amends the rights of parties in foreclosure actions. Among other things, the law provides that a lender or servicer’s voluntary discontinuance of a foreclosure action does not reset New York’s 6-year statute of limitations on foreclosures, according to New York CPLR §213. Further, pursuant to the new law, if an action to foreclose a mortgage or recover any part of the mortgage debt is time-barred, any other action seeking to foreclose the mortgage or recover the debt is also time-barred. The amendments are effective immediately and, notably, apply to all pending actions in which a final judgment of foreclosure and sale has not been enforced.
District Court grants summary judgment to bank in discriminatory lending suit
On December 19, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted summary judgment in favor of a national bank with respect to discriminatory lending allegations brought by the County of Cook in Illinois (County). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the County alleged that the bank’s lending practices were discriminatory and led to an increase in foreclosures among Black and Latino borrowers, causing the County to incur financial injury, including foreclosure-related and judicial proceeding costs and municipal expenses due to an increase in vacant properties. In 2021, the court denied the bank’s motion to dismiss the alleged Fair Housing Act violations after determining that all the County had to do was show a reasonable argument that the bank’s lending practices resulted in foreclosures, and that the bank failed to dispute that the County properly alleged a financial injury sufficient to support standing.
The court explained in its December 19 order, however, that two of the County’s expert witnesses did not make valid comparisons when measuring the denial rate for minority borrowers compared to white borrowers. According to the court, the expert witnesses failed to properly account for the financial conditions of the borrowers seeking mortgage modifications, leaving the County with “no other evidentiary basis to establish that [the bank] engaged in intentionally discriminatory servicing practices that caused minority borrowers to disproportionately suffer default and foreclosure.” The court found that, accordingly, the County cannot demonstrate “intentional discrimination against minority borrowers that proximately caused the County’s injuries, and its disparate treatment claim accordingly cannot survive summary judgment.” Additionally, the court found that the County failed to cite authority for its arguments that the bank can be liable for loans it purchased “and for which it did not commit any discriminatory acts in servicing” or for loans it originated but sold and never serviced.
Massachusetts reaches settlement in unfair debt collection and mortgage servicing matter
On December 22, the Massachusetts attorney general announced a settlement with a South Carolina mortgage servicer to resolve claims that it allegedly failed to assist homeowners avoid foreclosure and engaged in unfair debt collection and mortgage servicing practices. According to an assurance of discontinuance filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the servicer allegedly violated the Massachusetts’ Act to Prevent Unlawful and Unnecessary Foreclosures, which requires servicers to make a good faith effort to help borrowers with certain unfair loan terms avoid foreclosure. Among other things, the servicer allegedly failed to (i) properly review borrowers’ income, debts, and obligations when assessing affordable loan modifications; (ii) provide borrowers with the results of these assessments; or (iii) provide borrowers with notice of their right to present a counteroffer after being offered a loan modification. The servicer also allegedly violated the state’s debt collection regulations by failing to timely issue compliant debt validation notices, and calling borrowers more than twice in a seven-day period. While denying the allegations, the servicer agreed to pay $975,000 to the state and will undertake significant business practice changes and provide ongoing reporting to the AG to ensure compliance.
District Court denies dismissal of RESPA "dual-tracking" suit
On November 1, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio declined to grant summary judgment in favor of a mortgage servicer defendant in a Regulation X, RESPA, and Ohio Residential Mortgage Lending Act (RMLA) suit against the mortgage servicer and a law firm (collectively, “defendants”). The case concerned a loan modification that plaintiff had allegedly sought from defendants, for which the defendant mortgage servicer ultimately denied, and the defendant law firm initiated a foreclosure action. The defendant mortgage servicer challenged the count in the complaint alleging that the defendant mortgage servicer’s moving for summary judgment in the state foreclosure action violated Regulation X and RESPA’s prohibition on dual tracking. Dual tracking “occurs when a lender ‘actively pursues foreclosure while simultaneously considering the borrower for loss mitigation options.’” The defendant mortgage servicer argued that the prohibition on moving for summary judgment found in Regulation X did not apply because the plaintiff rejected the loan modification. The defendant mortgage servicer based this argument on the fact that it did not receive the plaintiff’s executed modification by a certain date. Because of this, the defendant mortgage servicer argued that it was permitted to move forward with a foreclosure judgment, and its decision to reverse the denial of the modification was at its discretion and not subject to the requirements of 12 C.F.R.1024.41(g).
The court found, however, that there was a genuine dispute as to whether the plaintiff returned the loan modification agreement by the designated date. The court continued, “[the defendant mortgage servicer’s] explanation regarding all three of the exceptions found at §41(g) subsections (1) through (3) each expressly depend upon the factual assertion that [the plaintiff] did not return a signed modification agreement and thereby rejected same. Inasmuch as there is evidence that [the plaintiff] did so, the court cannot conclude that [the defendant mortgage servicer] is entitled to judgment as a matter of law regarding the exceptions in §41(g) of Regulation X.” Among other things, the court also found that the defendant mortgage servicer “failed to act with reasonable care and diligence, in good faith, to safeguard and account for money tendered by [the plaintiff].” The court concluded by finding that the plaintiff sufficiently identified plausible damages as a result of a RESPA violation, further permitting her claims to stand.
District Court rules non-judicial foreclosure claims fail
On August 30, the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment in an action concerning an allegedly unlawful non-judicial foreclosure. Plaintiffs obtained a cash-out loan in 2005 and modified their mortgage terms. The plaintiffs stopped making payments after one of the defendant loan servicer’s agents allegedly informed them that “help was only available if they were in default,” and the defendant loan servicer threatened foreclosure. Following several years of bankruptcy proceedings and foreclosure mediation, plaintiffs sued to stop the foreclosure proceedings, claiming “that the deed of trust was void and that defendants committed fraud in attempting to foreclos[e] on the debt.” The initial non-judicial foreclosure proceedings were rescinded after the suit was dismissed with prejudice, and the defendant loan servicer was eventually allowed to proceed with a second non-judicial foreclosure under Oregon law. Plaintiffs sent a dispute letter demanding that the foreclosure be rescinded because the order in which several notices of default showing the amounts due and the amounts necessary to reinstate were sent did not comply with state law. After the notice was rescinded and a new notice of default was issued and recorded, plaintiffs sued again, seeking to enjoin the defendant trustee’s sale and filing several claims, including breach of contract and violations of the Oregon Unfair Trade Practices Act (OUTPA), RESPA, and FDCPA.
In granting summary judgment to the defendants on each of the claims, the court determined that the breach of contract claim fails because plaintiffs acknowledged that because “they have not substantially performed under the relevant contract,” they are precluded from seeking damages. The FDCPA claim against the defendant trustee also fails “because it is based on a perceived lack of authority under the relevant contract, but as explained in the breach of contract claim, that authority was not lacking.” Finally, the OUTPA and RESPA claims both fail “because there is no evidence that they incurred damages arising out of either claim”—a required element under both statutes, the court said. According to the court, plaintiffs failed “to support their drastic allegations with relevant evidence” and failed to “point to specific evidence supporting valid legal claims.”
Massachusetts reaches settlement with mortgage servicer over foreclosure practices
On August 17, the Massachusetts attorney general announced that a national mortgage servicer must pay $3.2 million to resolve allegations that its mortgage servicing, debt collection, and foreclosure practices were unfair and deceptive. According to the assurance of discontinuance, the servicer allegedly violated Massachusetts’ Act Preventing Unlawful and Unnecessary Foreclosures by not providing notice and opportunity for borrowers to apply and be reviewed for loan modifications. Among other things, the servicer also allegedly placed debt collection calls exceeding the number of calls permitted by state law, did not inform borrowers of their right to request verification of the amount of their debt, unfairly charged foreclosure-related fees prior to obtaining authority to foreclose, and failed to send required debt validation notices. While the servicer denied the allegations, it agreed to pay borrowers $2.7 million in the form of principal forgiveness on eligible loans as well as a $500,000 fine. The servicer also agreed to “make significant changes” to its business practices.
Louisiana appellate court affirms district court’s decision in SCRA case
On June 29, the Court of Appeal for the Second District of Louisiana affirmed a trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of a national bank in an SCRA case. According to the opinion, an active duty servicemember and his wife filed for bankruptcy after purchasing a mortgage on a property from a national bank (defendant). The defendant appeared in the bankruptcy proceedings and moved to abandon the property for purposes of eventual foreclosure. The plaintiffs moved out of the state and were granted a discharge under Chapter 7 bankruptcy laws. The defendant has not foreclosed on the property, asserting that the mortgage account remains subject to the protections of the federal SCRA. The plaintiffs filed suit, claiming ownership of the property due to the defendant’s failure to foreclose against them within five years of the abandonment of the property in the bankruptcy, asserting that their obligations under the mortgage are prescribed.
The appellate court agreed that the mortgage account is subject to the protections of the SCRA, which tolls any state prescriptive period for the duration of one’s active-duty military service. According to the opinion, despite “no evidence of repayment” to the bank of any of the underlying mortgage debt, the plaintiffs claimed ownership of the subject property because the bank failed to “foreclose against them within five years of the abandonment of the property in the bankruptcy.” Agreeing with the bank that the mortgage account still remained subject to the protections of the SCRA, the court determined that: (i) the servicemember and his wife “cannot point to any law or jurisprudence that would provide an exception to the mandatory tolling provision of the SCRA [50 U.S.C. § 3936] in these circumstances;” (ii) the couple “never executed a waiver of rights form”; (iii) the “five-year prescriptive period [under Louisiana law] has been tolled on the mortgage” for the entirety of the servicemember’s active-duty military service; and (iv) the bank’s time to foreclose on the subject property “has not prescribed, as the prescriptive period has not started to run.” The appellate court concluded that the couple’s “obligations on the mortgage have not been extinguished, and they are not the owners of the subject property.”