A good read
|UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA|
|Docket Number available at www.versuslaw.com|
|Citation Number available at www.versuslaw.com|
|July 13, 2009
ERNESTO ORTIZ; ARACELI ORTIZ, PLAINTIFFS,
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jeffrey T. Miller United States District Judge
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS Doc. No. 7
On February 6, 2009, Plaintiffs Ernesto and Araceli Ortiz (“Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Diego, raising claims arising out of a mortgage loan transaction. (Doc. No. 1, Exh. 1.) On March 9, 2009, Defendants Chase Home Finance, LLC (“Chase”) and U.S. Bank National Association (“U.S. Bank”) removed the action to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Doc. No. 1.) Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint on April 21, 2009, naming only U.S. Bank as a defendant and dropping Chase, Accredited Home Lenders, Inc., and Lince Home Loans from the pleadings. (Doc. No. 4, “FAC.”) Pending before the court is a motion by Chase and U.S Bank to dismiss the FAC for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 7, “Mot.”) Because Chase is no longer a party in this matter, the court construes the motion as having been brought only by U.S. Bank. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. (Doc. No. 12, “Opp’n.”) U.S. Bank submitted a responsive reply. (Doc. No. 14, “Reply.”) Pursuant to Civ.L.R. 7.1(d), the matter was taken under submission by the court on June 22, 2009. (Doc. No. 12.)
For the reasons set forth below, the court GRANTS the motion to dismiss.
Plaintiffs purchased their home at 4442 Via La Jolla, Oceanside, California (the “Property”) in January 2006. (FAC ¶ 3; Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 1 (“DOT”) at 1.) The loan was secured by a Deed of Trust on the Property, which was recorded around January 10, 2006. (DOT at 1.) Plaintiffs obtained the loan through a broker “who received kickbacks from the originating lender.” (FAC ¶ 4.) U.S. Bank avers that it is the assignee of the original creditor, Accredited Home Lenders, Inc. (FAC ¶ 5; Mot. at 2, 4.) Chase is the loan servicer. (Mot. at 4.) A Notice of Default was recorded on the Property on June 30, 2008, showing the loan in arrears by $14,293,08. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 2.) On October 3, 2008, a Notice of Trustee’s Sale was recorded on the Property. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 4.) From the parties’ submissions, it appears no foreclosure sale has yet taken place.
Plaintiffs assert causes of action under Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1601 et seq. (“TILA”), the Perata Mortgage Relief Act, Cal. Civil Code § 2923.5, the Foreign Language Contract Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1632, the California Unfair Business Practices Act, Cal. Bus. Prof. Code § 17200 et seq., and to quiet title in the Property. Plaintiffs seek rescission, restitution, statutory and actual damages, injunctive relief, attorneys’ fees and costs, and judgments to void the security interest in the Property and to quiet title.
A. Legal Standards
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of the pleadings. De La Cruz v. Tormey, 582 F.2d 45, 48 (9th Cir. 1978). In evaluating the motion, the court must construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accepting as true all material allegations in the complaint and any reasonable inferences drawn therefrom. See, e.g., Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2003). While Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper only in “extraordinary” cases, the complaint’s “factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level….” U.S. v. Redwood City, 640 F.2d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 1981); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 US 544, 555 (2007). The court should grant 12(b)(6) relief only if the complaint lacks either a “cognizable legal theory” or facts sufficient to support a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
In testing the complaint’s legal adequacy, the court may consider material properly submitted as part of the complaint or subject to judicial notice. Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 763 (9th Cir. 2007). Furthermore, under the “incorporation by reference” doctrine, the court may consider documents “whose contents are alleged in a complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the [plaintiff’s] pleading.” Janas v. McCracken (In re Silicon Graphics Inc. Sec. Litig.), 183 F.3d 970, 986 (9th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). A court may consider matters of public record on a motion to dismiss, and doing so “does not convert a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to one for summary judgment.” Mack v. South Bay Beer Distributors, 798 F.2d 1279, 1282 (9th Cir. 1986), abrogated on other grounds by Astoria Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass’n v. Solimino, 501 U.S. 104, 111 (1991). To this end, the court may consider the Deed of Trust, Notice of Default, Substitution of Trustee, and Notice of Trustee’s Sale, as sought by U.S. Bank in their Request for Judicial Notice. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exhs. 1-4.)
A. Truth in Lending Act
Plaintiffs allege U.S. Bank failed to properly disclose material loan terms, including applicable finance charges, interest rate, and total payments as required by 15 U.S.C. § 1632. (FAC ¶¶ 7, 14.) In particular, Plaintiffs offer that the loan documents contained an “inaccurate calculation of the amount financed,” “misleading disclosures regarding the…variable rate nature of the loan” and “the application of a prepayment penalty,” and also failed “to disclose the index rate from which the payment was calculated and selection of historical index values.” (FAC ¶ 13.) In addition, Plaintiffs contend these violations are “obvious on the face of the loans [sic] documents.” (FAC ¶ 13.) Plaintiffs argue that since “Defendant has initiated foreclosure proceedings in an attempt to collect the debt,” they may seek remedies for the TILA violations through “recoupment or setoff.” (FAC ¶ 14.) Notably, Plaintiffs’ FAC does not specify whether they are requesting damages, rescission, or both under TILA, although their general request for statutory damages does cite TILA’s § 1640(a). (FAC at 7.)
U.S. Bank first asks the court to dismiss Plaintiffs’ TILA claim by arguing it is “so summarily pled that it does not ‘raise a right to relief above the speculative level …'” (Mot. at 3.) The court disagrees. Plaintiffs have set out several ways in which the disclosure documents were deficient. In addition, by stating the violations were apparent on the face of the loan documents, they have alleged assignee liability for U.S. Bank. See 15 U.S.C. § 1641(a)(assignee liability lies “only if the violation…is apparent on the face of the disclosure statement….”). The court concludes Plaintiffs have adequately pled the substance of their TILA claim.
However, as U.S. Bank argues, Plaintiffs’ TILA claim is procedurally barred. To the extent Plaintiffs recite a claim for rescission, such is precluded by the applicable three-year statute of limitations. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(f) (“Any claim for rescission must be brought within three years of consummation of the transaction or upon the sale of the property, whichever occurs first…”). According to the loan documents, the loan closed in December 2005 or January 2006. (DOT at 1.) The instant suit was not filed until February 6, 2009, outside the allowable three-year period. (Doc. No. 1, Exh. 1.) In addition, “residential mortgage transactions” are excluded from the right of rescission. 15 U.S.C. § 1635(e). A “residential mortgage transaction” is defined by 15 U.S.C. § 1602(w) to include “a mortgage, deed of trust, … or equivalent consensual security interest…created…against the consumer’s dwelling to finance the acquisition…of such dwelling.” Thus, Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for rescission under TILA.
As for Plaintiffs’ request for damages, they acknowledge such claims are normally subject to a one-year statute of limitations, typically running from the date of loan execution. See 15 U.S.C. §1640(e) (any claim under this provision must be made “within one year from the date of the occurrence of the violation.”). However, as mentioned above, Plaintiffs attempt to circumvent the limitations period by characterizing their claim as one for “recoupment or setoff.” Plaintiffs rely on 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e), which provides:
This subsection does not bar a person from asserting a violation of this subchapter in an action to collect the debt which was brought more than one year from the date of the occurrence of the violation as a matter of defense by recoupment or set-off in such action, except as otherwise provided by State law.
Generally, “a defendant’s right to plead ‘recoupment,’ a ‘defense arising out of some feature of the transaction upon which the plaintiff’s action is grounded,’ … survives the expiration” of the limitations period. Beach v. Ocwen Fed. Bank, 523 U.S. 410, 415 (1998) (quoting Rothensies v. Elec. Storage Battery Co., 329 U.S. 296, 299 (1946) (internal citation omitted)). Plaintiffs also correctly observe the Supreme Court has confirmed recoupment claims survive TILA’s statute of limitations. Id. at 418. To avoid dismissal at this stage, Plaintiffs must show that “(1) the TILA violation and the debt are products of the same transaction, (2) the debtor asserts the claim as a defense, and (3) the main action is timely.” Moor v. Travelers Ins. Co., 784 F.2d 632, 634 (5th Cir. 1986) (citing In re Smith, 737 F.2d 1549, 1553 (11th Cir. 1984)) (emphasis added).
U.S. Bank suggests Plaintiffs’ TILA claim is not sufficiently related to the underlying mortgage debt so as to qualify as a recoupment. (Mot. at 6-7.) The court disagrees with this argument, and other courts have reached the same conclusion. See Moor, 784 F.2d at 634 (plaintiff’s use of recoupment claims under TILA failed on the second and third prongs only); Williams v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 504 F.Supp.2d 176, 188 (S.D. Tex. 2007) (where plaintiff “received a loan secured by a deed of trust on his property and later defaulted on the mortgage payments to the lender,” he “satisfie[d] the first element of the In re Smith test….”). Plaintiffs’ default and U.S. Bank’s attempts to foreclose on the Property representing the security interest for the underlying loan each flow from the same contractual transaction. The authority relied on by U.S. Bank, Aetna Fin. Co. v. Pasquali, 128 Ariz. 471 (Ariz. App. 1981), is unpersuasive. Not only does Aetna Finance recognize the split among courts on this issue, the decision is not binding on this court, and was reached before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Beach, supra. Aetna Fin., 128 Ariz. at 473,
Nevertheless, the deficiencies in Plaintiffs’ claim become apparent upon examination under the second and third prongs of the In re Smith test. Section 1640(e) of TILA makes recoupment available only as a “defense” in an “action to collect a debt.” Plaintiffs essentially argue that U.S. Bank’s initiation of non-judicial foreclosure proceedings paves the path for their recoupment claim. (FAC ¶ 14; Opp’n at 3.) Plaintiffs cite to In re Botelho, 195 B.R. 558, 563 (Bkrtcy. D. Mass. 1996), suggesting the court there allowed TILA recoupment claims to counter a non-judicial foreclosure. In Botelho, lender Citicorp apparently initiated non-judicial foreclosure proceedings, Id. at 561 fn. 1, and thereafter entered the plaintiff’s Chapter 13 proceedings by filing a Proof of Claim. Id. at 561. The plaintiff then filed an adversary complaint before the same bankruptcy court in which she advanced her TILA-recoupment theory. Id. at 561-62. The Botelho court evaluated the validity of the recoupment claim, taking both of Citicorp’s actions into account — the foreclosure as well as the filing of a proof of claim. Id. at 563. The court did not determine whether the non-judicial foreclosure, on its own, would have allowed the plaintiff to satisfy the three prongs of the In re Smith test.
On the other hand, the court finds U.S. Bank’s argument on this point persuasive: non-judicial foreclosures are not “actions” as contemplated by TILA. First, § 1640(e) itself defines an “action” as a court proceeding. 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e) (“Any action…may be brought in any United States district court, or in any other court of competent jurisdiction…”). Turning to California law, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 726 indicates an “action for the recovery of any debt or the enforcement of any right secured by mortgage upon real property” results in a judgment from the court directing the sale of the property and distributing the resulting funds. Further, Code § 22 defines an “action” as “an ordinary proceeding in a court of justice by which one party prosecutes another for the declaration, enforcement, or protection of a right, the redress or prevention of a wrong, or the punishment of a public offense.” Neither of these state law provisions addresses the extra-judicial exercise of a right of sale under a deed of trust, which is governed by Cal. Civ. Code § 2924, et seq. Unlike the situation in Botelho, U.S. Bank has done nothing to bring a review its efforts to foreclose before this court. As Plaintiffs concede, “U.S. Bank has not filed a civil lawsuit and nothing has been placed before the court” which would require the court to “examine the nature and extent of the lender’s claims….” (Opp’n at 4.) “When the debtor hales [sic] the creditor into court…, the claim by the debtor is affirmative rather than defensive.” Moor, 784 F.2d at 634; see also, Amaro v. Option One Mortgage Corp., 2009 WL 103302, at *3 (C.D. Cal., Jan. 14, 2009) (rejecting plaintiff’s argument that recoupment is a defense to a non-judicial foreclosure and holding “Plaintiff’s affirmative use of the claim is improper and exceeds the scope of the TILA exception….”).
The court recognizes that U.S. Bank’s choice of remedy under California law effectively denies Plaintiffs the opportunity to assert a recoupment defense. This result does not run afoul of TILA. As other courts have noted, TILA contemplates such restrictions by allowing recoupment only to the extent allowed under state law. 15 U.S.C. § 1640(e); Joseph v. Newport Shores Mortgage, Inc., 2006 WL 418293, at *2 fn. 1 (N.D. Ga., Feb. 21, 2006). The court concludes TILA’s one-year statute of limitations under § 1635(f) bars Plaintiffs’ TILA claim.
In sum, U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss the TILA claim is granted, and Plaintiffs’ TILA claims are dismissed with prejudice.
B. Perata Mortgage Relief Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5
Plaintiffs’ second cause of action arises under the Perata Mortgage Relief Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5. Plaintiffs argue U.S. Bank is liable for monetary damages under this provision because it “failed and refused to explore” “alternatives to the drastic remedy of foreclosure, such as loan modifications” before initiating foreclosure proceedings. (FAC ¶¶ 17-18.) Furthermore, Plaintiffs allege U.S. Bank violated Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5(c) by failing to include with the notice of sale a declaration that it contacted the borrower to explore such options. (Opp’n at 6.)
Section 2923.5(a)(2) requires a “mortgagee, beneficiary or authorized agent” to “contact the borrower in person or by telephone in order to assess the borrower’s financial situation and explore options for the borrower to avoid foreclosure.” For a lender which had recorded a notice of default prior to the effective date of the statute, as is the case here, § 2923.5(c) imposes a duty to attempt to negotiate with a borrower before recording a notice of sale. These provisions cover loans initiated between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2007. Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5(h)(3)(i).
U.S. Bank’s primary argument is that Plaintiffs’ claim should be dismissed because neither § 2923.5 nor its legislative history clearly indicate an intent to create a private right of action. (Mot. at 8.) Plaintiffs counter that such a conclusion is unsupported by the legislative history; the California legislature would not have enacted this “urgency” legislation, intended to curb high foreclosure rates in the state, without any accompanying enforcement mechanism. (Opp’n at 5.) The court agrees with Plaintiffs. While the Ninth Circuit has yet to address this issue, the court found no decision from this circuit where a § 2923.5 claim had been dismissed on the basis advanced by U.S. Bank. See, e.g. Gentsch v. Ownit Mortgage Solutions Inc., 2009 WL 1390843, at *6 (E.D. Cal., May 14, 2009)(addressing merits of claim); Lee v. First Franklin Fin. Corp., 2009 WL 1371740, at *1 (E.D. Cal., May 15, 2009) (addressing evidentiary support for claim).
On the other hand, the statute does not require a lender to actually modify a defaulting borrower’s loan but rather requires only contacts or attempted contacts in a good faith effort to prevent foreclosure. Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5(a)(2). Plaintiffs allege only that U.S. Bank “failed and refused to explore such alternatives” but do not allege whether they were contacted or not. (FAC ¶ 18.) Plaintiffs’ use of the phrase “refused to explore,” combined with the “Declaration of Compliance” accompanying the Notice of Trustee’s Sale, imply Plaintiffs were contacted as required by the statute. (Doc. No. 7-2, Exh. 4 at 3.) Because Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5, U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss is granted. Plaintiffs’ claim is dismissed without prejudice.
C. Foreign Language Contract Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 et seq.
Plaintiffs assert “the contract and loan obligation was [sic] negotiated in Spanish,” and thus, they were entitled, under Cal. Civ. Code § 1632, to receive loan documents in Spanish rather than in English. (FAC ¶ 21-24.) Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 provides, in relevant part:
Any person engaged in a trade or business who negotiates primarily in Spanish, Chines, Tagalog, Vietnamese, or Korean, orally or in writing, in the course of entering into any of the following, shall deliver to the other party to the contract or agreement and prior to the execution thereof, a translation of the contract or agreement in the language in which the contract or agreement was negotiated, which includes a translation of every term and condition in that contract or agreement.
Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(b).
U.S. Bank argues this claim must be dismissed because Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(b)(2) specifically excludes loans secured by real property. (Mot. at 8.) Plaintiffs allege their loan falls within the exception outlined in § 1632(b)(4), which effectively recaptures any “loan or extension of credit for use primarily for personal, family or household purposes where the loan or extension of credit is subject to the provision of Article 7 (commencing with Section 10240) of Chapter 3 of Part I of Division 4 of the Business and Professions Code ….” (FAC ¶ 21; Opp’n at 7.) The Article 7 loans referenced here are those secured by real property which were negotiated by a real estate broker.*fn1 See Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 10240. For the purposes of § 1632(b)(4), a “real estate broker” is one who “solicits borrowers, or causes borrowers to be solicited, through express or implied representations that the broker will act as an agent in arranging a loan, but in fact makes the loan to the borrower from funds belonging to the broker.” Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 10240(b). To take advantage of this exception with respect to U.S. Bank, Plaintiffs must allege U.S. Bank either acted as the real estate broker or had a principal-agent relationship with the broker who negotiated their loan. See Alvara v. Aurora Loan Serv., Inc., 2009 WL 1689640, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Jun. 16, 2009), and references cited therein (noting “several courts have rejected the proposition that defendants are immune from this statute simply because they are not themselves brokers, so long as the defendant has an agency relationship with a broker or was acting as a broker.”). Although Plaintiffs mention in passing a “broker” was involved in the transaction (FAC ¶ 4), they fail to allege U.S. Bank acted in either capacity described above.
Nevertheless, Plaintiffs argue they are not limited to remedies against the original broker, but may seek rescission of the contract through the assignee of the loan. Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(k). Section 1632(k) allows for rescission for violations of the statute and also provides, “When the contract for a consumer credit sale or consumer lease which has been sold and assigned to a financial institution is rescinded pursuant to this subdivision, the consumer shall make restitution to and have restitution made by the person with whom he or she made the contract, and shall give notice of rescission to the assignee.” Cal. Civ. Code § 1632(k) (emphasis added). There are two problems with Plaintiffs’ theory. First, it is not clear to this court that Plaintiffs’ loan qualifies as a “consumer credit sale or consumer lease.” Second, the court interprets this provision not as a mechanism to impose liability for a violation of § 1632 on U.S. Bank as an assignee, but simply as a mechanism to provide notice to that assignee after recovering restitution from the broker.
The mechanics of contract rescission are governed by Cal. Civ. Code § 1691, which requires a plaintiff to give notice of rescission to the other party and to return, or offer to return, all proceeds he received from the transaction. Plaintiffs’ complaint does satisfy these two requirements. Cal. Civ. Code § 1691 (“When notice of rescission has not otherwise been given or an offer to restore the benefits received under the contract has not otherwise been made, the service of a pleading…that seeks relief based on rescission shall be deemed to be such notice or offer or both.”). However, the court notes that if Plaintiffs were successful in their bid to rescind the contract, they would have to return the proceeds of the loan which they used to purchase their Property.
For these reasons discussed above, Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim under Cal. Civ. Code § 1632. U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss is granted and Plaintiffs’ claim for violation of Cal. Civ. Code § 1632 is dismissed without prejudice.
D. Unfair Business Practices, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200
California’s unfair competition statute “prohibits any unfair competition, which means ‘any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice.'” In re Pomona Valley Med. Group, 476 F.3d 665, 674 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, et seq.). “This tripartite test is disjunctive and the plaintiff need only allege one of the three theories to properly plead a claim under § 17200.” Med. Instrument Dev. Labs. v. Alcon Labs., 2005 WL 1926673, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 10, 2005). “Virtually any law–state, federal or local–can serve as a predicate for a § 17200 claim.” State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. v. Superior Court, 45 Cal.App.4th 1093, 1102-3 (1996). Plaintiffs assert their § 17200 “claim is entirely predicated upon their previous causes of action” under TILA and Cal. Civ. Code §§ 2923.5 and § 1632. (FAC ¶¶ 25-29; Opp’n at 9.)
U.S. Bank first contend Plaintiffs lack standing to pursue a § 17200 claim because they “do not allege what money or property they allegedly lost as a result of any purported violation.” (Mot. at 9.) The court finds Plaintiffs have satisfied the pleading standards on this issue by alleging they “relied, to their detriment,” on incomplete and inaccurate disclosures which led them to pay higher interest rates than they would have otherwise. (FAC ¶ 9.) Such “losses” have been found sufficient to confer standing. See Aron v. U-Haul Co. of California, 143 Cal.App.4th 796, 802-3 (2006).
U.S. Bank next offers that Plaintiffs’ mere recitation of the statutory bases for this cause of action, without specific allegations of fact, fails to state a claim. (Mot. at 10.) Plaintiffs point out all the factual allegations in their complaint are incorporated by reference into their § 17200 claim. (FAC ¶ 25; Opp’n at 9.) The court agrees there was no need for Plaintiffs to copy all the preceding paragraphs into this section when their claim expressly incorporates the allegations presented elsewhere in the complaint. Any argument by U.S. Bank that the pleadings failed to put them on notice of the premise behind Plaintiffs’ § 17200 claim would be somewhat disingenuous.
Nevertheless, all three of Plaintiffs’ predicate statutory claims have been dismissed for failure to state a claim. Without any surviving basis for the § 17200 claim, it too must be dismissed. U.S. Bank’s motion is therefore granted and Plaintiffs’ § 17200 claim is dismissed without prejudice.
E. Quiet Title
In their final cause of action, Plaintiffs seek to quiet title in the Property. (FAC ¶¶ 30-36.) In order to adequately allege a cause of action to quiet title, a plaintiff’s pleadings must include a description of “[t]he title of the plaintiff as to which a determination…is sought and the basis of the title…” and “[t]he adverse claims to the title of the plaintiff against which a determination is sought.” Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 761.020. A plaintiff is required to name the “specific adverse claims” that form the basis of the property dispute. See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 761.020, cmt. at ¶ 3. Here, Plaintiffs allege the “Defendant claims an adverse interest in the Property owned by Plaintiffs,” but do not specify what that interest might be. (Mot. at 6-7.) Plaintiffs are still the owners of the Property. The recorded foreclosure Notices do not affect Plaintiffs’ title, ownership, or possession in the Property. U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss is therefore granted, and Plaintiffs’ cause of action to quiet title is dismissed without prejudice.
For the reasons set forth above, U.S. Bank’s motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 7) is GRANTED. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ claim under TILA is DISMISSED with prejudice and Plaintiffs’ claims under Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5, Cal. Civ. Code § 1632, and Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, and their claim to quiet title are DISMISSED without prejudice.
The court grants Plaintiffs 30 days’ leave from the date of entry of this order to file a Second Amended Complaint which cures all the deficiencies noted above. Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint must be complete in itself without reference to the superseded pleading. Civil Local Rule 15.1.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
*fn1 Although U.S. Bank correctly notes the authorities cited by Plaintiffs are all unreported cases, the court agrees with the conclusions set forth in those cases. See Munoz v. International Home Capital Corp., 2004 WL 3086907, at *9 (N.D. Cal. 2004); Ruiz v. Decision One Mortgage Co., LLC, 2006 WL 2067072, at *5 (N.D. Cal. 2006).
If the lawyer is not a competent witness with personal knowledge, then he should shut up and sit down.
So you sent a QWR and you know the loan is securitized. The orignating lender says talk to the servicer and the servicer declines to answer all the questions because they didn’t originate the loan. Or you are in court and the lawyer is trying to finesse his way past basic rules of evidence and due process by making representations to the Judge as an officer of the court.
He’s lying of course and if you let it go unchallenged, you will lose the case. Basically opposing counsel is saying “trust me Judge I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t so.” And your answer is that the lawyer is not a witness, that you don’t trust the lawyer or what he has to say, that if he is a witness he should be sworn in and subject to cross examaintion and if he is not a witness you are entitled to be confronted with a real witness with real testimony based upon real knowledge.
First Questions: When did you first learn of this case? What personal knowledge do you have concerning the payments received from the homeowner or third parties? What personal knowledge do you have as to who providing the actual cash from which the subject loan was funded?
Only when pressed relentlessly by the homeowner, the servicer comes up with a more and more restrictive answer as to what role they play. But they always start with don’t worry about a thing we control everything. Not true. Then later after you thought you worked out a modification they tell the deal is off because the investor declined. The investor is and always was the lender. That is the bottom line and any representation to the contrary is a lie and a fraud upon the court.
So whoever you sent the QWR to, always disclaims your right to ask, or tells you the name of the investor (i.e., your lender) is confidential, or that they have authority (but they won’t show it to you). That doesn’t seem to be a lender, does it? In fact they disclaim even knowing enough to answer your questions.
So AFTER THEY SERVE YOU with something file a motion to compel an immediate full answer to your QWR since under TILA service on the servicer is the same as service on the lender. You argue that everyone seems to be claiming rights to be paid under the original obligation, everyone seems to be claiming the right to enforce the note and mortgage, but nobody is willing to state unequivocally that they are the lender.
You are stuck in the position of being unable to seek modification under federal and State rules, unable to sell the property because you don’t know who can sign a satisfaction of mortgage or a release and reconveyance, unable to do a short-sale, and unable to refinance — all because they won’t give a simple answer to a simple question: who is the lender and what is the balance claimed by the real lender on the obligation? At this point you don’t even know that any of the real lenders wish to make a claim.
This is probably because they received TARP funds and insurance proceeds on defaults of pools that they had purchased multiple insurance policies (credit default swaps). But whether they are paid by someone who acquired rights of subrogation or they were not paid, you have a right to a FULL accounting and to know who they are and whether they received any third party money. If they were paid in part or otherwise sold their interest, then you have multiple additional unknown parties.
The reason is simple. They are not the lender and they know it. The lender is a group of investors who funded the transaction with Petitioner/Homeowner and others who purchased similar financial products from the same group of participants in the securitization chain relating to the subject loan.
The people currently in court do not include all the real parties in interest for you to make claims against the lender. Cite to the Massachusetts case where Wells Fargo and its lawyer were subject to an $850,000 sanction for misrepresenting its status to the court.
It is not enough for them to bluff their way by saying that they have already answered the interrogatories. When they lost and it came time to allocate damages and attorneys fees, Wells suddenly said they were NOT the lender, beneficiary or current holder and that therefore the damages and attorneys fees should be assessed against the real lender — who was not a party to the pending litigation and whom they refused to disclose along with their misrepresentation that they were the true lender.
It is not enough that the lawyer makes a representation to the court as an officer of the court. That is not how evidence works. If the lawyer wants to represent facts, then he/she should be sworn in and be subject to (1) voir dire to establish that he/she is opposing counsel that it came from some company.
The witness must be a competent witness who takes an oath, has personal knowledge regarding the content of the document, states that personal knowledge and whose testimony conforms to what is on the document.
There is no such thing as foundation without a witness. There is no such thing as foundation without a competent witness. So if the lawyer tries to finesse the subject by making blanket representations to the court(e.g. the property is “underwater” by $xxx,xxx and we need a lift of stay…yet, there is no certified appraisal entered into evidence with a certified appraiser that can be cross examined…just a statement from opposing counsel) point to Wells, or even point to other inconsistencies between what counsel has represented and what now appears to be the truth, and demand an evidentiary hearing. If the lawyer is not a competent witness with personal knowledge, then he should shut up and sit down.
File a motion to extend time to file adversary proceeding(in BK situation), answer, affirmative defenses and counterclaim UNTIL YOU GET A FULL AND COMPLETE ANSWER TO YOUR QWR so you can determine the real parties in interest and serve them with process. Otherwise, we will have a partial result wherein the real owner of the loan can and will claim damages and injunctive relief probably against all the current parties to this action including the Homeowner.
In short, the opposing counsel cannot just make statements of “fact” and have them accepted by the court as “fact” if they don’t pass the sniff test of real evidence corroborated by a competent witness. …and with every pleading ask for an evidentiary hearing and attorneys fees. Follow rule 11 procedure in Federal Court or the state law counterpart so you can get them later.
CA SB 94 on Lawyers & Loan Modifications Passes Assembly… 62-10
The California Assembly has passed Senate Bill 94, a bill that seeks to protect homeowners from loan modification scammers, but could end up having the unintended consequence of eliminating a homeowner’s ability to retain an attorney to help them save their home from foreclosure.
The bill, which has an “urgency clause” attached to it, now must pass the State Senate, and if passed, could be signed by the Governor on October 11th, and go into effect immediately thereafter.
SB 94’s author is California State Senator Ron Calderon, the Chair of the Senate Banking Committee, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone familiar with the bigger picture. Sen. Calderon, while acknowledging that fee-for-service providers can provide valuable services to homeowners at risk of foreclosure, authored SB 94 to ensure that providers of these services are not compensated until the contracted services have been performed.
SB 94 prevents companies, individuals… and even attorneys… from receiving fees or any other form of compensation until after the contracted services have been rendered. The bill will now go to the Democratic controlled Senate where it is expected to pass.
Supporters of the bill say that the state is literally teeming with con artists who take advantage of homeowners desperate to save their homes from foreclosure by charging hefty fees up front and then failing to deliver anything of value in return. They say that by making it illegal to charge up front fees, they will be protecting consumers from being scammed.
While there’s no question that there have been some unscrupulous people that have taken advantage of homeowners in distress, the number of these scammers is unclear. Now that we’ve learned that lenders and servicers have only modified an average of 9% of qualified mortgages under the Obama plan, it’s hard to tell which companies were scamming and which were made to look like scams by the servicers and lenders who failed to live up to their agreement with the federal government.
In fact, ever since it’s come to light that mortgage servicers have been sued hundreds of times, that they continue to violate the HAMP provisions, that they foreclose when they’re not supposed to, charge up front fees for modifications, require homeowners to sign waivers, and so much more, who can be sure who the scammers really are. Bank of America, for example, got the worst grade of any bank on the President’s report card listing, modifying only 4% of the eligible mortgages since the plan began. We’ve given B of A something like $200 billion and they still claim that they’re having a hard time answering the phones over there, so who’s scamming who?
To make matters worse, and in the spirit of Y2K, the media has fanned the flames of irrationality with stories of people losing their homes as a result of someone failing to get their loan modified. The stories go something like this:
We gave them 1,000. They told us to stop making our mortgage payment. They promised us a principal reduction. We didn’t hear from them for months. And then we lost our house.
I am so sure. Can that even happen? I own a house or two. Walk me through how that happened again, because I absolutely guarantee you… no way could those things happen to me and I end up losing my house over it. Not a chance in the world. I’m not saying I couldn’t lose a house, but it sure as heck would take a damn sight more than that to make it happen.
Depending on how you read the language in the bill, it may prevent licensed California attorneys from requiring a retainer in advance of services being rendered, and this could essentially eliminate a homeowner’s ability to hire a lawyer to help save their home.
Supporters, on the other hand, respond that homeowners will still be able to hire attorneys, but that the attorneys will now have to wait until after services have been rendered before being paid for their services. They say that attorneys, just like real estate agents and mortgage brokers, will now only be able to receive compensation after services have been rendered.
But, assuming they’re talking about at the end of the transaction, there are key differences. Real estate agents and mortgage brokers are paid OUT OF ESCROW at the end of a transaction. They don’t send clients a bill for their services after the property is sold.
Homeowners at risk of foreclosure are having trouble paying their bills and for the most part, their credit ratings have suffered as a result. If an attorney were to represent a homeowner seeking a loan modification, and then bill for his or her services after the loan was modified, the attorney would be nothing more than an unsecured creditor of a homeowner who’s only marginally credit worthy at best. If the homeowner didn’t pay the bill, the attorney would have no recourse other than to sue the homeowner in Small Claims Court where they would likely receive small payments over time if lucky.
Extending unsecured credit to homeowners that are already struggling to pay their bills, and then having to sue them in order to collect simply isn’t a business model that attorneys, or anyone else for that matter, are likely to embrace. In fact, the more than 50 California attorneys involved in loan modifications that I contacted to ask about this issue all confirmed that they would not represent homeowners on that basis.
One attorney, who asked not to be identified, said: “Getting a lender or servicer to agree to a loan modification takes months, sometimes six or nine months. If I worked on behalf of homeowners for six or nine months and then didn’t get paid by a number of them, it wouldn’t be very long before I’d have to close my doors. No lawyer is going to do that kind of work without any security and anyone who thinks they will, simply isn’t familiar with what’s involved.”
“I don’t think there’s any question that SB 94 will make it almost impossible for a homeowner to obtain legal representation related to loan modifications,” explained another attorney who also asked not to be identified. ”The banks have fought lawyers helping clients through the loan modification process every step of the way, so I’m not surprised they’ve pushed for this legislation to pass.”
Proponents of the legislation recite the all too familiar mantra about there being so many scammers out there that the state has no choice but to move to shut down any one offering to help homeowners secure loan modifications that charges a fee for the services. They point out that consumers can just call their banks directly, or that there are nonprofit organizations throughout the state that can help homeowners with loan modifications.
While the latter is certainly true, it’s only further evidence that there exists a group of people in positions of influence that are unfamiliar , or at the very least not adequately familiar with obtaining a loan modification through a nonprofit organization, and they’ve certainly never tried calling a bank directly.
The fact that there are nonprofit housing counselors available, and the degree to which they may or may not be able to assist a given homeowner, is irrelevant. Homeowners are well aware of the nonprofit options available. They are also aware that they can call their banks directly. From the President of the United States and and U.S. Attorney General to the community newspapers found in every small town in America, homeowners have heard the fairy tales about about these options, and they’ve tried them… over and over again, often times for many months. When they didn’t get the desired results, they hired a firm to help them.
Yet, even the State Bar of California is supporting SB 94, and even AB 764, a California Assembly variation on the theme, and one even more draconian because of its requirement that attorneys only be allowed to bill a client after a successful loan modification has been obtained. That means that an attorney would have to guarantee a homeowner that he or she would obtain a modification agreement from a lender or servicer or not get paid for trying. Absurd on so many levels. Frankly, if AB 764 passes, would the last one out of California please turn off the lights and bring the flag.
As of late July, the California State Bar said it was investigating 391 complaints against 141 attorneys, as opposed to nine investigations related to loan modifications in 2008. The Bar hasn’t read anywhere all of the complaints its received, but you don’t have to be a statistician to figure out that there’s more to the complaints that meets the eye. So far the State Bar has taken action against three attorneys and the Attorney General another four… so, let’s see… carry the 3… that’s 7 lawyers. Two or three more and they could have a softball team.
At the federal level they’re still reporting the same numbers they were last spring. Closed 11… sent 71 letters… blah, blah, blah… we’ve got a country of 300 million and at least 5 million are in trouble on their mortgage. The simple fact is, they’re going to have to come up with some serious numbers before I’m going to be scared of bumping into a scammer on every corner.
California’s ALT-A and Option ARM mortgages are just beginning to re-set, causing payments to rise, and with almost half of the mortgages in California already underwater, these homeowners will be unable to refinance and foreclosures will increase as a result. Prime jumbo foreclosure rates are already up a mind blowing 634% as compared with January 2008 levels, according to LPS Applied Analytics.
Clearly, if SB 94 ends up reducing the number of legitimate firms available for homeowners to turn to, everyone involved in its passage is going to be retiring. While many sub-prime borrowers have suffered silently through this horror show of a housing crisis, the ALT-A and Option ARM borrowers are highly unlikely to slip quietly into the night.
There are a couple of things about the latest version of SB 94 that I found interesting:
1. It says that a lawyer can’t collect a fee or any other compensation before serivces have been delivered, but it doesn’t make clear whether attorneys can ask the client to deposit funds in the law firm’s trust account and then bill against thsoe funds as amounts are earned. Funds deposited in a law firm trust account remain the client’s funds, so they’re not a lawyer’s “fees or other compensation”. Those funds are there so that when the fees have been earned, the lawyer doesn’t have to hope his or her bill gets paid. Of course, it also says that an attorney can’t hold any security interest, but money in a trust account a client’s money, the attorney has no lien against it. All of this is a matter of interpretation, of course, so who knows.
2. While there used to be language in both the real estate and lawyer sections that prohibited breaking up services related to a loan modification, in the latest version all of the language related to breaking up services as applied to attorneys has been eliminated. It still applies to real estate licensed firms, but not to attorneys. This may be a good thing, as at least a lawyer could complete sections of the work involved as opposed to having to wait until the very end, which the way the banks have been handling things, could be nine months away.
3. The bill says nothing about the amounts that may be charged for services in connection with a loan modification. So, in the case of an attorney, that would seem to mean that… well, you can put one, two and three together from there.
4. Lawyers are not included in definition of foreclosure consultant. And there is a requirement that new language be inserted in contracts, along the lines of “You don’t have to pay anyone to get a loan modification… blah, blah, blah.” Like that will be news to any homeowner in America. I’ve spoken with hundreds and never ran across one who didn’t try it themselves before calling a lawyer. I realize the Attorney General doesn’t seem to know that, but look… he’s been busy.
Will SB 94 actually stop con artists from taking advantage of homeowners in distress? Or will it end up only stopping reputable lawyers from helping homeowners, while foreclosures increase and our economy continues its deflationary free fall? Will the California State Bar ever finishing reading the complaints being received, and if they ever do, will they understand what they’ve read. Or is our destiny that the masses won’t understand what’s happening around them until it sucks them under as well.
I surely hope not. But for now, I’m just hoping people can still a hire an attorney next week to help save their homes, because if they can’t… the Bar is going to get a lot more letters from unhappy homeowners.
By Walter Hackett, Esq.
The federal government has trumpeted its Home Affordable Modification Program or “HAMP” solution as THE solution to runaway foreclosures – few things could be further from the truth. Under HAMP a homeowner will be offered a “workout” that can result in the homeowner being “worked out” of his or her home. Here’s how it works. A participating lender or servicer will send a distressed homeowner a HAMP workout agreement. The agreement consists of an “offer” pursuant to which the homeowner is permitted to remit partial or half of their regular monthly payments for 3 or more months. The required payments are NOT reduced, instead the partial payments are placed into a suspense account. In many cases once enough is gathered to pay the oldest payment due the funds are removed from the suspense account and applied to the mortgage loan. At the end of the trial period the homeowner will be further behind than when they started the “workout” plan.
In California, the agreements clearly specify the acceptance of partial payments by the lender or servicer does NOT cure any default. Further, the fact a homeowner is in the workout program does NOT require the lender or servicer to suspend or postpone any non-judicial foreclosure activity with the possible exception of an actual trustee’s sale. A homeowner could complete the workout plan and be faced with an imminent trustee’s sale. Worse, if a homeowner performs EXACTLY as required by the workout agreement, they are NOT assured a loan modification. Instead the agreement will include vague statements that the homeowner MAY receive an offer to modify his or her loan however there is NO duty on the part of the servicer or lender to modify a loan regardless of the homeowner’s compliance with the agreement.
A homeowner who fully performs under a HAMP workout is all but guaranteed to have given away thousands of dollars with NO assurance of keeping his or her home or ever seeing anything resembling an offer to modify a mortgage loan.
While it may well be the case the government was making an honest effort to help, the reality is the HAMP program is only guaranteed to help those who need help least – lenders and servicers. If you receive ANY written offer to modify your loan meet with a REAL licensed attorney and ask them to review the agreement to determine what you are REALLY agreeing to, the home you save might be your own.