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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

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  • OCC releases report on mortgage performance

    On June 27, the OCC released its quarterly mortgage metrics report, which presents performance data for the first quarter of 2022 for loans that reporting banks own or service for others as a fee-based business. The first-lien mortgages included in the OCC’s quarterly report comprise 22 percent of all residential mortgage debt outstanding in the U.S., or approximately 12.2 million loans totaling $2.6 trillion in principal balances. The report, among other things, found that the performance of first-lien mortgages in the federal banking system improved during the first quarter of 2022. According to the report, 96.9 percent of mortgages were current and performing at the end of the quarter. The percentage of seriously delinquent mortgages was 1.8 percent in the first quarter of 2022, compared to 2.3 percent in the prior quarter. However, foreclosures increased compared to the prior quarter and a year earlier as pandemic-related accommodations wound down, with servicers initiating 19,524 new foreclosures in the first quarter of 2022.

    Bank Regulatory Federal Issues OCC Mortgages Foreclosure

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  • 5th Circuit remands nonjudicial foreclosure suit back to state court

    Courts

    On June 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held that a plaintiff borrower’s requested damages in a foreclosure lawsuit did not exceed the federal jurisdictional threshold amount of $75,000, and sent the case back to Texas state court. The plaintiff sued the financial institution in state court after it sought a nonjudicial foreclosure on his house, asserting violations of the Texas Debt Collection Act, breach of the common-law duty of cooperation, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation. The suit was removed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, with the defendant arguing that the suit automatically stayed its nonjudicial foreclosure sale, thus putting the value of the house ($427,662) as the amount in dispute, instead of the plaintiff’s requested relief of $74,500. The plaintiff moved to remand the case to state court on the premise “that the amount in controversy could not exceed the stipulated maximum of $74,500.” The district court denied the plaintiff’s motion, ruling that it “had to measure the amount in controversy ‘by the value of the object of the litigation,’” and not by what the plaintiff’s complaint says the damages were not to exceed.

    In reversing and remanding the case to state court, the 5th Circuit concluded that, because the defendant did not show that the automatic stay brought the house’s value into controversy, it “failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000.” The appellate court agreed with the plaintiff’s assertion that the house was simply collateral and “thus irrelevant to the amount in controversy,” writing that “[i]t is well-settled that neither the collateral effect of a suit nor the collateral effect of a judgment may count toward the amount in controversy.” The 5th Circuit also determined that the plaintiff expressly stipulated in both his original state-court petition and in a declaration “that he is seeking total damages not to exceed $74,500,” and that this stipulation is legally binding.

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit Debt Collection Foreclosure Mortgages State Issues Texas

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  • 5th Circuit says loan contract containing grace period should be enforced

    Courts

    On June 16, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed a district court’s summary judgment ruling in favor of a defendant lender, holding that a deadline accompanied by a grace period in a loan modification trial plan should be enforced. The plaintiff defaulted on his loan and sought a loan modification. The defendant provided the plaintiff an opportunity to participate in a trial period plan, which required three monthly payments due by January 1, February 1, and March 1, 2019. The trial period plan (TPP) also specified that a payment would be considered timely provided it was made within the month in which it was due. According to the opinion, even though the plaintiff “effectively accepted the terms of the TPP when he made the first trial period payment” within the grace period, the defendant informed him “he was ‘ineligible’ for the loan modification because he failed to comply with the terms of the TPP” and posted his property for foreclosure. The plaintiff sued the defendant for breach of contract, but the district court granted summary judgment to the defendant, declining to “give force to the grace period provisions” and concluding that the plaintiff did not comply with the payment deadlines.

    On appeal, the 5th Circuit held that it will enforce a grace period included in a valid, binding contract. “If a lender sets a deadline for payment, but allows the borrower to make that payment anytime ‘in the month in which it is due,’ then the borrower may make that payment anytime in the month in which it is due,” the appellate court wrote. “That’s exactly what [the defendant] offered the borrower here—a deadline accompanied by a grace period. Yet [the defendant] nevertheless contends that we should ignore the grace period.” The 5th Circuit also rejected the defendant’s argument that the trial period plan was not a valid binding contract, pointing out that the text of the TPP made it clear that the defendant intended to be bound by its terms upon the plaintiff’s performance. Deadlines and grace periods co-exist by design, the appellate court explained, noting that “[g]race periods facilitate contractual relationships by making clear which deadlines are aspirational and which are mission-critical.”

    Courts Appellate Fifth Circuit Foreclosure Consumer Finance Mortgages

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  • District Court dismisses suit alleging improper inspection fees

    Courts

    On June 6, the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey granted a defendant bank’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiff’s inspection fee allegations are barred on collateral estoppel grounds. The plaintiff filed a class action suit claiming the defendant’s computer software orders property inspections after borrowers’ loans are in default and then charges borrowers for the improper inspection fees. According to the opinion, the defendant initiated foreclosure proceedings in 2012 against the plaintiff in state court after she missed payments. The parties litigated the matter for several years in state court, and in 2018, the plaintiff filed a motion for leave to add class action claims related to the defendant’s inspection fee collection system. The state court denied plaintiff’s motion, finding the proposed claims to be without merit and futile. Final judgment of foreclosure was granted to the bank. Similar proceedings involving the same class action counterclaims occurred after the defendant requested that the judgment be vacated to add an additional lien holder as a defendant. The defendant again applied for entry of final judgment, but withdrew this application allegedly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Ultimately the state court dismissed the foreclosure action without prejudice for lack of prosecution. The plaintiff filed an instant complaint in federal court.

    The defendant argued that the plaintiff “should be collaterally estopped from bringing these claims because the New Jersey Superior Court ruled on the exact issues [plaintiff] raises here in the prior foreclosure action brought by [defendant] against [plaintiff] in state court, ultimately dismissing them with prejudice.” The plaintiff countered “that because the foreclosure action was dismissed without entry of judgment, collateral estoppel does not apply.” In agreeing with the defendant, the court stated that “the doctrine of collateral estoppel applies whenever an action is ‘sufficiently firm to be accorded conclusive effect,” adding that the state court’s orders in the foreclosure action are “sufficiently firm as to warrant conclusive effect.” According to the court, “[t]hese decisions—particularly the second dismissal with prejudice—were clearly intended to be the final adjudication of the precise issues that [plaintiff] is now attempting to relitigate in the instant action.”

    Courts State Issues Foreclosure Collateral Estoppel Fees Class Action Consumer Finance

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  • HUD announces Kansas disaster relief

    Federal Issues

    On May 26, HUD announced disaster assistance for certain areas in Kansas impacted by severe winter storms and straight-line winds from March 17 to March 22. The disaster assistance follows President Biden’s major disaster declarations on May 25. According to the announcement, HUD is providing immediate foreclosure relief, making various FHA mortgage insurance available to disaster victims, and providing information on housing providers as well as HUD-approved housing counseling agencies, among other measures. Specifically, HUD is providing an automatic 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of FHA-insured home mortgages for covered properties effective May 25. It is also making various FHA insurance options available to victims whose homes require repairs or were destroyed or severely damaged. HUD’s Section 203(h) program allows borrowers from participating FHA-approved lenders to obtain 100 percent financing, including closing costs, for homes in which “reconstruction or replacement is necessary.” HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program enables individuals to finance the repair of their existing homes or to include repair costs in the finance of a home purchase or a refinance of a home. HUD is also allowing administrative flexibilities to community planning and development grantees, as well as to public housing agencies and Tribes.

    Federal Issues HUD Disaster Relief Mortgages Consumer Finance Foreclosure

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  • District Court grants in part/denies in part defendant’s motion in RESPA, FDCPA case

    Courts

    Recently, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee granted in part and denied in part a defendant mortgage servicer’s motion for summary judgment concerning allegations that the defendant improperly foreclosed on plaintiff’s property. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant wrongfully accused her of failing to remedy her default and therefore violated RESPA and the FDCPA, among other things. Ultimately, the court denied defendant’s summary judgment request as to plaintiff’s RESPA claim because the defendant failed to exercise due diligence. But the court granted defendant’s request for summary judgment regarding plaintiff’s FDCPA claim because plaintiff presented no evidence that the defendant acted deceptively.

    The plaintiff’s original loan—serviced by a previous servicer—was modified in 2016. But payments again were not made, so the previous servicer notified the plaintiff in December 2018 that it had accelerated the loan’s maturity date and referred the loan to foreclosure. The plaintiff, however, again applied for another modification in early 2019. After telling plaintiff her application was complete, the previous servicer then told the plaintiff, who claimed she inherited the property, that it needed additional documents to prove plaintiff’s successor-in-interest status. Ultimately, the previous servicer did not confirm the modification because the plaintiff did not confirm her successor-in-interest status.

    The plaintiff again applied for a loan modification in March 2019, after the previous servicer transferred servicing rights to the defendant, and this modification was denied. She allegedly spoke with one of defendant’s representatives about the denial and indicated that she wished to reapply for a modification. However, the representative advised that she would have to reinstate the mortgage first before any loan modification. The defendant then sent a default letter to plaintiff’s property, which advised that the loan was still in default and needed payment.

    The plaintiff submitted at least one additional request for mortgage assistance after the March 2019 modification application. The defendant acknowledged receipt of the request and detailed the documents it needed to process the request. The defendant then followed up in June 2019, stating again that it could not confirm that she was the successor-in-interest on the loan without documentation. A month later the defendant advised the plaintiff again that documents were still missing that were necessary to process her loan assistance request. The loan remained in default thereafter and the defendant foreclosed in August 2019.

    In adopting the magistrate judge’s recommendation that the defendants’ motion for summary judgment be denied as to the RESPA claim, the district court noted that the defendant possibly should have sought documents, specifically the successor-in-interest documentation from the previous servicer, after the plaintiff submitted an incomplete loan modification application. The court stated that “there is a question of material fact whether [defendant] exercised reasonable diligence in failing to request the successor-in-interest documentation from [the previous servicer].” The court added that “there is a requirement of reasonable diligence, and there is no evidence showing that [defendant] met this standard. Failing to address the regulatory standard creates a question that cannot be resolved on the available information. Thus, there is at least one question of material fact here.”

    Regarding plaintiff’s FDCPA claim, the court noted that “there is no evidence of deception in the foreclosure of loan payment process” and that “[p]laintiff has failed to provide any evidence that [defendant] acted dishonestly in requesting additional documentation to complete the loan modification.” The court therefore granted defendant’s summary judgment motion as to the FDCPA claim.

    Courts RESPA FDCPA Consumer Finance Foreclosure Mortgages

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  • Florida Court of Appeal: Bank may seek attorney’s fees as a condition of loan reinstatement

    Courts

    On May 4, the Florida Court of Appeal, Fourth District, held that a borrower cannot sue a law firm for sending a letter seeking to collect attorney’s fees because the mortgage contract gave the bank the right to seek attorney’s fees from a prior foreclosure action as a condition of reinstating the loan. Previously, a trial court had awarded the borrower attorney’s fees following dismissal of a prior foreclosure action. The bank later brought a new foreclosure action against the borrower concerning the same property, and the law firm representing the bank sent the borrower a reinstatement letter requiring payment of attorney’s fees incurred by the bank in the prior foreclosure action in order to reinstate the loan. The trial court, citing a 2019 decision in U.S. Bank Trust, N.A. v. Leigh, granted summary judgment in favor of the law firm on the grounds that “the law firm was entitled to immunity under the litigation privilege because the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (FCCPA) claim was based on the reinstatement letter the law firm sent during the foreclosure proceedings” and because the borrower lacked standing.

    On appeal, the Court of Appeal agreed with the law firm that it was entitled to collect attorney fees and costs and that the borrower lacked standing to bring his FCCPA claim. According to the Court of Appeal, a provision in the mortgage contact included language that “if the borrower defaulted and the lender accelerated the loan, the borrower would have the right to reinstate the loan if certain conditions were met.” Among these conditions was that the borrower would agree to “pay all expenses incurred in enforcing this Security Instrument, including, but not limited to, reasonable attorneys’ fees.” Applying the rationale of Leigh, the Court of Appeal found “that the law firm did not violate the FCCPA because it sought to recover a legitimate expense it was entitled to recover pursuant to a contract, that being the expense of attorney’s fees the lender incurred in the prior foreclosure action.”

    Courts Consumer Finance Foreclosure Florida State Issues Appellate Attorney Fees

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  • Agencies instruct servicers to pause foreclosures while HAF assistance is available

    Federal Issues

    On May 6, the Secretaries of HUD, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Agriculture, and Treasury announced that servicers of federally-backed mortgages should pause pending foreclosure proceedings while assistance is available under the Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF). President Biden’s American Rescue Plan established HAF to provide approximately $10 billion in financial support for families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the announcement, pausing pending proceedings is considered “a vital step towards keeping families in their homes as they receive assistance through the HAF program and is consistent with Congress’s intent in putting in place the HAF program to protect vulnerable homeowners.” The Secretaries encourage homeowners and servicers to continue collaborating on loss mitigation options so that homeowners eligible for assistance can choose “the best path to staying in their homes and fully utilize available resources.” They also “strongly encourage servicers to offer these loss mitigation options to borrowers who are struggling to make their mortgage payments, including those who are eligible for HAF funding.” The announcement further noted that, among other things, Treasury is urging HAF program administrators to ensure that their programs expedite handling of applications from homeowners with pending foreclosure proceedings, and to develop expedited procedures for handling homeowners with immediate threats to housing stability, in addition to supporting homeowners who may benefit from the agencies’ loss mitigation options.

    Federal Issues Covid-19 HUD Department of Veterans Affairs Department of Agriculture Department of Treasury Loss Mitigation Foreclosure Mortgages American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Consumer Finance

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  • HUD announces Massachusetts disaster relief

    Federal Issues

    On April 20, HUD announced disaster assistance for certain areas in Massachusetts impacted by a severe winter storm from January 28 to January 29. The disaster assistance follows President Biden’s major disaster declarations on April 18. According to the announcement, HUD is providing an automatic 90-day moratorium on foreclosures of FHA-insured home mortgages for covered properties effective April 18 and is making FHA insurance available to victims whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged, such that “reconstruction or replacement is necessary.” HUD’s Section 203(k) loan program enables individuals who have lost homes to finance a home purchase or to refinance a home to include repair costs through a single mortgage. The program also allows homeowners with damaged property to finance the repair of their existing single-family homes. Furthermore, HUD is allowing administrative flexibilities to community planning and development grantees, as well as to public housing agencies and Tribes.

    Federal Issues HUD Disaster Relief Mortgages Consumer Finance FHA Foreclosure

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  • FHFA suspends foreclosure for borrowers applying for HAF funds

    Federal Issues

    On April 6, FHFA announced that servicers with mortgages backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are required to suspend foreclosure activities for up to 60 days if the servicer is notified that a borrower has applied for mortgage assistance under the Treasury Department’s Homeowner Assistance Fund (HAF). As previously covered by InfoBytes, the HAF was created to provide direct assistance for mortgage payments, property insurance, utilities, and other housing-related costs to help prevent delinquencies, defaults, and foreclosures after January 21, 2020.

    Federal Issues FHFA Fannie Mae Freddie Mac Mortgages Foreclosure Consumer Finance Mortgage Servicing

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