Supreme Court Rules that Written Notice Is Sufficient to Rescind Under TILA

By: Daniel A. Cozzi and Diana M. Eng

The Supreme Court of the United States recently held that a borrower can exercise its right to rescind a loan pursuant to the federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA) by providing written notice to the lender within three (3) years of the loan closing date. In doing so, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit’s affirmation of the District Court of Minnesota’s decision, which had held that a borrower must file a lawsuit within three (3) years of the consummation of the loan to exercise his/her rescission rights.

In Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., the United States Supreme Court considered “whether a borrower exercises this right by providing written notice to his lender, or whether he must also file a lawsuit before the 3-year period elapses.” Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., No. 13-684, 574 U.S. _____ (2015).

Under TILA, borrowers have the right to rescind certain consumer mortgage transactions up to three days after the loan closes. Specifically, TILA grants borrowers the right to rescind a loan transaction, “until midnight of the third business day following the consummation of the transaction or the delivery of the [disclosures required by the Act], whichever is later, by notifying the creditor, in accordance with regulations of the [Federal Reserve] Board, of his intention to do so.” 15 U.S.C. 1635(a). However, if the creditor fails to provide requisite TILA disclosures, a borrower may rescind the transaction up to three years from the date the loan closes. 15 U.S.C. 1635(f).

On February 23, 2007, Larry and Cheryle Jesinoski (“Petitioners” or “Jesinoskis”) refinanced their home loan and obtained a mortgage from Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (“Respondent” or “Lender”) in the amount of $611,000. Exactly three years later, the Jesinoskis mailed a purported rescission notice to Lender. The Lender responded on March 12, 2010 and refused to acknowledge the validity of the rescission. On February 24, 2011 – one year after the Jesinoskis sent their notice of rescission, the Jesinoskis filed suit in the District Court of Minnesota, seeking rescission of the mortgage and damages.

The District Court agreed with the Lender and held that the Petitioners were barred from exercising rescission pursuant to TILA, as they had failed to file a lawsuit within three years of the consummation of the loan. Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 2012 WL 1365751 (D. Minn. Apr. 19, 2012). The District Court found that the Petitioners’ written notice within three years was insufficient to exercise their rescission rights. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 729 F. 3d 1092 (8th Cir. 2013) (per curiam). The Eighth Circuit relied on its prior decision in Keiran v. Home Capital, Inc., 720 F. 3d 721 (8th Cir. 2013), which held that a borrower must file a lawsuit for rescission within three years of the loan’s consummation to exercise rescission rights under TILA.

The Supreme Court disagreed with the District Court and the Eighth Circuit, holding that “Section 1635(a) explains in unequivocal terms how the right to rescind is to be exercised: It provides that a borrower ‘shall have the right to rescind . . . by notifying the creditor’ . . . of his intention to do so’ (emphasis added). The language leaves no doubt that rescission is effected when the borrower notifies the creditor of his intention to rescind.” The Supreme Court further declared that the “statute does not also require him to sue within three years.”

Lender raised several additional arguments that the Supreme Court ultimately dismissed. First, Lender argued that TILA rescission only requires written notice (and not legal action) when the parties dispute the adequacy of the TILA disclosures (e.g., whether the borrower is actually entitled to the three-year rescission period rather than the three-day rescission period). The Supreme Court found that Section 1635(a) makes no distinction between disputed and undisputed rescissions. Second, Lender argued that pursuant to the common law, rescission requires that a borrower tender the proceeds received under the transaction prior to rescission. The Supreme Court also dismissed this argument, finding that TILA rescission need not follow the rules and procedures of “its closest common-law analogue.” The Supreme Court further stated, “[t]o the extent §1635(b) alters the traditional process for unwinding such a unilaterally rescinded transaction, this is simply a case in which statutory law modifies common-law practice.”

In light of this decision, lenders should be aware that a written notice provided by the borrower, within three years of the loan consummation is sufficient to exercise his/her right to rescission under TILA. However, the Supreme Court provided no guidance on when a lawsuit must be commenced after written notice of rescission is sent.

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