Second Circuit Upholds Bankruptcy Court Order Denying Borrowers’ RESPA Claim on the Grounds the QWR Was Mailed to the Incorrect Address

By: Andrea M. Roberts

In Barry F. Mack v. ResCap Borrower Claims Trust, Case Number 16-304 (2d Cir. Jan. 31, 2017) the Second Circuit recently affirmed the Bankruptcy Court’s order sustaining Residential Capital, LLC’s (“ResCap”) objection to the borrowers, Barry and Cheryl Mack’s (“Borrowers”) Proof of Claim for damages based on, among other things, failure to respond to a Qualified Written Request (“QWR”) in violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”). The Second Circuit held that Borrowers’ Proof of Claim was properly denied, because Borrowers did not mail the QWR to the designated address and therefore, ResCap’s lack of response did not violate RESPA.

In 2009 Borrowers sent a QWR to GMAC Mortgage LLC (“GMAC”) querying why an erroneous foreclosure action against them remained pending even though GMAC had notified them that they were not in default. Notably, Borrowers did not send the QWR to the address designated by GMAC for receipt of QWRs. Instead, Borrowers sent the QWR to the address designated for “General Inquiries.” GMAC never responded to Borrower’s QWR.

In May 2012, ResCap and 51 of its subsidiaries, including GMAC, filed for bankruptcy.[1] Borrowers timely filed a Proof of Claim for money damages premised upon, among other things, a violation of RESPA for GMAC’s failure to respond to the QWR. After a trial, the Bankruptcy Court sustained ResCap’s objection to the Borrower’s RESPA claim on the grounds that the Borrowers failed to mail the QWR to the correct address. Borrowers appealed.

Under RESPA, a mortgage servicer can “establish a designated address for QWRs.” See Roth v. CitiMortgage Inc., 756 F.3d 178, 181 (2d Cir. 2014). If a servicer designates a specific address for receipt of QWRs, “then the borrower must deliver its request to that office in order for the inquiry to be a ‘qualified written request.’” Id. (quoting RESPA, § 6, Transfer of Servicing of Mortgage Loans (Regulation X), 59 Fed. Reg. 65,442, 65,446 (Dec. 19, 1994)). The failure to send the QWR to a servicer’s designated address “does not trigger the servicer’s duties under RESPA.” Id. (quoting Berneike v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 708 F.3d 1141, 1148-49 (10th Cir. 2013).

The Second Circuit found that although there is no dispute that the Borrowers sent a QWR to GMAC, and GMAC failed to respond to the QWR, because Borrowers did not send the QWR to GMAC’s designated address for receipt of QWRs, the duty to respond to the Borrower’s letter under RESPA was never triggered. Therefore, GMAC did not violate RESPA. Accordingly, the Second Circuit held that the Bankruptcy Court properly sustained ResCap’s objection to the Borrowers’ RESPA claim.

In practice, borrowers or their counsel have attempted to attach purported QWRs to pleadings and then allege RESPA violations for failure to respond. This decision confirms that financial institutions cannot be liable under RESPA if the QWR is not directed to the designated address.

[1] GMAC is a named debtor under the Borrower Claims Trust Agreement dated December 17, 2013 (the “Agreement”). Under the Agreement, in pursuing any borrower-related causes of action, such matters and/or execution of any documents relating thereto, are to be in the name of “ResCap Borrower Claims Trust.”

New York Appellate Court Holds That RPAPL 1304(4) Does Not Bar Actions Commenced More Than One Year After Mailing 90-Day Notice

By: Alexander J. Franchilli

On August 24, 2016, the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, held that the 90-day notice required under Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (“RPAPL”) § 1304(1) does not expire one year after its initial mailing. See Deutsche Bank Nat. Trust Co. v. Webster, 2016 N.Y. Slip Op 05846 (2d Dep’t 2016).  Under RPAPL § 1304(1), “a lender, an assignee or a mortgage loan servicer” must mail a notice containing statutorily prescribed language at least 90 days before commencing an action against the borrower of a home loan.

In Webster, the plaintiff commenced an action to recover a money judgment on a promissory note pursuant to RPAPL § 1301 on January 24, 2014. The plaintiff moved for summary judgment, and submitted a copy of a letter, dated April 15, 2011, to demonstrate compliance with the 90-day notice requirements of RPAPL § 1304.

The defendant cross-moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing, among other things, that the 90-day notice expired before the action was commenced.  In opposition, the plaintiff contended that the requirements of RPAPL § 1304 were not applicable because the plaintiff was not seeking to foreclose a mortgage.

Although the court determined that RPAPL § 1304 “is applicable to all legal actions involving home loans commenced against the borrower,” the court rejected the defendant’s argument that the 90-day notice had expired.

The court examined the language of RPAPL § 1304(4), which states: “[t]he notice and the ninety day period required by subdivision one of this section need only be provided once in a twelve month period to the same borrower in connection with the same loan.” Id.  The Court found that “the language does not state that the action must be commenced within 12 months of the RPAPL 1304 notice.”  Instead, the Court interpreted the language of RPAPL § 1304(4) as standing for the proposition that “if there are multiple defaults in the 12-month period, only one RPAPL 1304 notice is required.” Id.

This decision is significant for creditors because the Second Department has clarified that RPAPL 1304 does not require more than one 90-day notice and that such notice does not expire one year after it is mailed to the borrower.

Fifth Circuit Holds that a Request for Proof of Authority to Collect Does Not Constitute a “Qualified Written Request” Under RESPA

By:      Joshua A. Huber

On July 14, 2016, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in In re Parker, holding that a qualified written request (“QWR”) pursuant to the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, 12 U.S.C. § 2605 (“RESPA”), does not encompass a borrower’s written request for proof of a lender’s status as the noteholder, or its authority to collect payments under a promissory note and deed of trust.[1]

The borrowers in In re Parker served their lender with correspondence titled “RESPA Qualified Written Request, Complaint, Dispute of Debt & Validation of Debt Letter,” which primarily questioned whether the lender was the owner of their promissory note with authority to collect payments.[2] The borrowers alleged in their subsequent lawsuit against the lender that this letter constituted a valid QWR and that the lender was liable under RESPA for its failure to respond and provide evidence of its authority.[3]

In rejecting the borrowers’ claim, the Fifth Circuit first noted that the borrowers were required to demonstrate, as a threshold matter, that the correspondence they sent to the lender was in fact a QWR within the meaning of RESPA.[4] The court observed that a valid QWR “must be related to the servicing of the loan,” which RESPA defines as “receiving any scheduled periodic payments from a borrower pursuant to the terms of any loan . . . and making the payments of principal and interest and such other payments with respect to the amounts received from the borrower as may be required pursuant to the terms of the loan.”[5] Because the borrowers’ purported “QWR” requested only proof of the lender’s authority to collect payments under the promissory note and deed of trust, which does not relate to “servicing of the loan” under RESPA, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the borrowers’ claim.[6]

This is a significant development in RESPA jurisprudence, as it clarifies the limited scope and purpose of a QWR. The decision also provides lenders in the Fifth Circuit with a strong defense to RESPA violation claims premised on failure to respond to “show-me-the-note” correspondence from borrowers, as opposed to legitimate servicing-related inquiries.

[1] In re Parker, No. 15-41477, 2016 WL 3771837, at *4 & n.26 (5th Cir. Jul. 14, 2016).

[2] Id. at *1.

[3] Id. at *1 & n.4.

[4] Id. at *4.

[5] Id. (quoting 12 U.S.C. §§ 2605(e)(1)(A) & (i)(3))(emphasis added).

[6] Id. at *4 & n.6 (emphasis added).

Pa. Supreme Court Expands Act 6 Liability to Include Attorneys Representing Mortgage Lenders

By: Kevin McDonald

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Glover v. Udren Law Offices, P.C., recently determined that a law firm, representing a residential mortgage lender in connection with foreclosure proceeding, can be liable to a borrower for three times the amount of attorneys’ fees charged by the mortgage lender if said fees are in violation of the Pennsylvania Loan Interest and Protection Law, commonly known as “Act 6”.  Section 406 of Act 6 limits the attorneys’ fees that a “residential mortgage lender” can contract for or receive from a borrower.  Section 502 of Act 6 provides for recovery of treble damages against a “person” who has collected such excess interest or charges.  “Person” is defined in Section 101 as “an individual, corporation, business trust, estate trust, partnership or association or any other legal entity, and shall include but not be limited to residential mortgage lenders.” Traditionally, law firms employed by residential mortgage lenders have been excluded from liability by the specific language of Section 406 as it applies only to “residential mortgage lenders.”  The Glover decision could expose such law firms to new claims by mortgage debtors because the Court has, for the first time, held that law firms are included for liability purposes under Section 502 if they have collected excessive attorneys’ fees in connection with the foreclosure in violation of Section 406. 

Mary E. Glover entered into a residential mortgage in 2002 with Washington Mutual Bank (later assigned to Wells Fargo Bank).  Following Glover’s unsuccessful attempts to obtain a loan modification due to financial difficulty, the bank initiated foreclosure proceedings by hiring Udren Law Offices, P.C. (“Udren”).  Udren took several actions on the bank’s behalf, including advising Glover of her unpaid debt and demanding missed payments and fees.  Eventually, the parties entered into a loan modification agreement that increased Glover’s principal balance, monthly payment and repayment period.  The increased principal included an amount of approximately $1,600 for escrow, attorney’s fees, and other charges.  Glover then filed a putative class action law suit against Udren in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, alleging that Udren had violated Act 6 by charging unearned and excessive attorney’s fees.  Because Udren was undisputedly not a residential mortgage lender under Act 6 (as the term is defined in Section 101), Udren filed preliminary objections asserting that Glover had failed to state an actionable claim and the Common Pleas Court agreed, finding that section 406 of Act 6 refers only to residential mortgage lenders and therefore, any violation of that provision did not give rise to a remedy against Udren under section 502. 

Glover’s appeal to the Superior Court argued that, because Act 6 permits a borrower to recover treble damages from a “person” who collects excess fees in connection with the mortgage foreclosure process, and defines “person” broadly to “include but not be limited to” residential mortgage lenders, the lower court had improperly narrowed the scope of the statute’s protections.  A divided panel of the Superior Court affirmed, holding that, because Section 406’s plain language regulates only the conduct of residential mortgage lenders, Section 502 does not authorize an action against a lender’s counsel for a Section 406 violation.  The majority rejected Glover’s contention that “person,” in Section 502, evidenced a legislative intent to make a broad set of actors liable for Section 406 violations, because the term was necessary to address, throughout Act 6’s various provisions, conduct by actors other than residential mortgage lenders.

The Supreme Court analyzed Act 6 with the objective purpose of ascertaining the Legislature’s intent in enacting the statute.  The Supreme Court read Sections 101, 406 and 502 together and determined that the plain and explicit terms permit a person who has paid charges prohibited or in excess of those allowed by Section 406 to recover treble damages in a suit at law against the person who has collected such excess charges.  The Supreme Court further reasoned that the Legislature expressly defined “person” to “include but not be limited to residential mortgage lenders” and under a straightforward application of the statute, Section 406 restricts the circumstances under which residential mortgage lenders may contract for or receive fees, while Section 502 provides a broad remedy against anyone who has collected such fees. 

The Supreme Court’s ruling focused solely on whether or not the term “person” as used in Section 502 of Act 6 provides for a remedy against any statutorily defined person collecting statutorily prohibited fees on behalf of residential mortgage lenders.  Having determined that it does, the Supreme Court remanded that matter for further proceedings without addressing the meaning of the term “collected” in Section 502.

This ruling is a significant development regarding Act 6 liability as the Supreme Court has issued a warning to mortgage foreclosure firms that they will be held liable to borrowers, with the potential of treble damages, if they are determined to be charging or collecting attorneys’ fees in excess of those allowed under Section 406.  Whether or not the remanded matter will address the law firm’s need to actually collect said fees before they can be found liable remains to be seen.

 

 

 

Fourth Circuit Holds that Defaulted Status of Debt Has No Bearing on Whether a Person Qualifies as a “Debt Collector” Under the FDCPA

By:      Joshua A. Huber

On March 23, 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., holding that the default status of a debt has no bearing on whether an entity qualifies as a “debt collector” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 (“FDCPA”).[i] The Fourth Circuit’s reading of the plain language of the FDCPA’s “debt collector” and “creditor” definitions, found in 15 U.S.C. § 1692(a)(6) and (a)(4), respectively, rejects the argument routinely advanced by borrowers, and commonly by courts throughout the country, that an entity who acquires a debt that is already in default is automatically a “debt collector.”

Henson involved a portfolio of defaulted auto loans purchased by Santander from CitiMortgage.[ii] When Santander sought to collect on the defaulted loans, the Henson plaintiffs filed suit under the FDCPA—which applies only to “debt collectors,” and not “creditors”—and maintained that the default status of debt determined whether a purchaser of debt, such as Santander, was a “debt collector” or a “creditor.”[iii]

The Henson plaintiffs’ argued, in part, because the FDCPA excludes from the definition of “creditor” any person that “receives an assignment or transfer of a debt in default solely for the purpose of facilitating collection of such debt for another,” such person must be a “debt collector.[iv]    The Court rejected this argument and observed that the exclusion on which the Henson plaintiffs relied did not depend only on the default status of the debt. Rather, “the exclusion applies only to a person who receives defaulted debt ‘solely for the purpose of facilitating collection . . . for another.’ ”[v]

The Court further stated that even if an entity falls within the enumerated statutory exclusion from the definition of “creditor,” an FDCPA plaintiff must still demonstrate that the defendant meets the substantive definition of a “debt collector” as set forth in the FDCPA’s main text.[vi]  The Court summarized that definition to include: “(1) a person whose principal purpose is to collect debts; (2) a person who regularly collects debts owed to another; or (3) a person who collects its own debts, using a name other than its own as if it were a debt collector.”[vii]

Thus, the material distinction between a “debt collector” and a “creditor,” the Court noted, is whether a person’s regular collection activity is only for itself (a creditor) or for others (a debt collector), with the primary exception being an entity whose principal purpose is the collection of debts—not, as the Henson plaintiffs urged, whether the debt was in default when the person acquired it.

This is a significant development in FDCPA jurisprudence and, by moving the focus away from the status of the debt at the time of assignment, will provide lenders who seek to collect their own debts with a strong defense to future FDCPA liability.

[i] Henson v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., —F.3d—, 2016 WL 1128419, at *3 (4th Cir. Mar. 23, 2016).

[ii] Id. at *1.

[iii] Id. at *1-2.

[iv] Id. at *2 (citing 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(4)) (emphasis in original).

[v] Id. at *3 (emphasis in original).

[vi] Id. at *4.

[vii] Id. at *3 (emphases in original).

California Supreme Court issues narrow holding that, post-foreclosure, borrowers have standing to assert wrongful foreclosure based on allegations that an underlying assignment is void

By: Shawnda M. Grady

On February 18, 2016, the California Supreme Court resolved a split in the Courts of Appeal and unanimously held that a mortgage loan borrower has standing to sue for wrongful foreclosure based on an allegedly void assignment.  Tsvetana Yvanova v. New Century Mortgage Corp. et al., Case No. S218973 (Cal. Feb. 18, 2016).   The Court followed the reasoning in Glaski v. Bank of America, 218 Cal.App.4th 1079 (2013), which held that foreclosure itself is sufficient prejudice for standing purposes.  The Yvanova opinion did not extend to pre-foreclosure claims, did not address whether a borrower must allege tender to state a cause of action for wrongful foreclosure, did not address what facts render an assignment void, and explicitly limited its ruling to void – not voidable – mortgage assignments.  Three additional cases currently pending before the California Supreme Court, which have not yet been briefed, also address a homeowner’s standing to assert a claim for wrongful foreclosure and have the potential to expand the Yvanova ruling.

Background
Plaintiff-borrower Tsvetana Yvanova sued her mortgage lender, New Century Mortgage Corporation (“New Century”), and others for various foreclosure-related causes of action, with a single cause of action for quiet title remaining in her second amended complaint.  Yvanova alleged that in 2006, she obtained a $483,000 loan from New Century, for which she provided a deed of trust as security.  In 2007, New Century filed for bankruptcy and was liquidated in August 2008.  In December 2011, the servicer, on behalf of New Century, executed an assignment transferring the Deed of Trust to Deutsche Bank National Trust Company (“Deutsche Bank”) as trustee for a securitized trust.  The closing date for the securitized trust was in January 2007.  In August 2012, Western Progressive LLC recorded (1) a substitution of trustee, substituting itself for Deutsche Bank, and (2) a notice of trustee’s sale.  On September 14, 2012, the property was sold at public auction by Western Progressive LLC to a third party.

Yvanova alleged the December 2011 Assignment of the Deed of Trust from New Century to Deutsche Bank was void because:  (1) New Century lacked authority to transfer the Deed of Trust in 2011, because its assets were transferred to the bankruptcy trustee in 2008, and (2) the investment trust was closed in 2007, four years before the assignment.  The superior court sustained defendants’ demurrer without leave to amend.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment, concluding that Yvanova could not state a claim for quiet title, because Yvanova had not alleged tender of the amount due.  The Court of Appeal also determined that Yvanova could not, on the facts alleged, amend her complaint to state a claim for wrongful foreclosure.  The Court of Appeal reasoned that, as a third party unrelated to the assignment at issue, Yvanova was not affected by any alleged deficiencies in the assignment and, therefore, lacked standing to enforce the terms of the agreements allegedly violated.  In so ruling, the Court of Appeal declined to follow the holding of Glaski.  Yvanova petitioned for review before the California Supreme Court, which granted review on August 27, 2014.  Yvanova v. New Century Mortg. Corp., 331 P.3d 1275 (Cal. 2014).

California Supreme Court Decision
In Yvanova,  California Supreme Court limited its review to the following:  “In an action for wrongful foreclosure on a deed of trust securing a home loan, does the borrower have standing to challenge an assignment of the note and deed of trust on the basis of defects allegedly rendering the assignment void?”  Yvanova, 331 P.3d at 1275.  The Court found in the affirmative, following the reasoning in Glaski, supra,  and rejecting the holding in Jenkins v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 216 Cal.App.4th 497 (2013), to the extent that those cases addressed a borrower’s standing to assert a post-foreclosure claim of wrongful foreclosure based on a void assignment.  Specifically, the Court found that an entity foreclosing following a void assignment of the deed of trust, as opposed to a merely voidable assignment, acts without legal authority to do so.  Under such circumstances, a borrower has standing to state a claim for wrongful foreclosure, because he or she has suffered the loss of ownership of the property.

The Court explicitly noted that its holding was limited to the issue of standing in post-foreclosure cases.  The Court did not determine whether the defects alleged by Yvanova would render an assignment void, and declined to address what facts must be alleged to demonstrate a void assignment.  The Court further declined to extend its analysis of prejudice beyond the standing context.

Additional Cases Pending Review
Three additional cases remain pending before the California Supreme Court that also address a borrower’s standing to challenge foreclosure based on allegations of a void assignment:  Boyce v. TD. Service Company, 352 P.3d 390 (Cal. 2015) (post-foreclosure action); Keshtgar v. U.S. Bank, 334 P.3d 686 (Cal. 2014) (pre-foreclosure action); Mendoza v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, 337 P.3d 493 (Cal. 2014) (post-foreclosure action).  In each of these cases, the plaintiff asserted a wrongful foreclosure claim, alleging the assignment of the subject deed of trust was void because it was reportedly transferred into a securitized trust after the trust’s closing date; in Keshtgar and Medoza, the plaintiffs also challenged the authority of the individual who executed the assignment to do so.  In each of the three cases, the Court of Appeal declined to follow Glaski v. Bank of America, 218 Cal.App.4th 1079 (2013) and instead followed the reasoning in Jenkins, supra, holding that the borrowers had no standing.  The Supreme Court deferred briefing in each of these three cases pending the Court’s disposition of Yvanova, and no further orders have been issued.

Although borrowers may attempt to rely on Yvanova to assert wrongful foreclosure claims based on allegedly void assignments, the limitations of the Court’s holding in Yvanova still permit defendants to challenge the borrower’s failure to tender, whether the underlying facts regarding the assignment render it void and whether the borrower has sufficiently alleged prejudice as an element of wrongful foreclosure.  It is not yet clear whether the Court’s anticipated disposition of Boyce, Keshtgar, and Mendoza will extend to these issues or clarify the Yvanova holding.

 

New York Appellate Court Affirms that Default Letter Did Not Accelerate Mortgage Debt

By:      Alexander J. Franchilli

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, recently held that a 2007 default letter demanding payment of all past due amounts under a mortgage did not accelerate borrowers’ mortgage debt and therefore did not trigger the six-year statute of limitations to bring a foreclosure action. Goldman Sachs Mortg. Co. v. Mares, 23 N.Y.3d 444, 445 (3d Dep’t 2016). Consequently, the Third Department held that the plaintiff’s action, which was commenced in 2014, was not time-barred. Id.

In Mares, the foreclosing plaintiff moved for summary judgment striking defendants’ answer, and the defendants, two borrowers under the mortgage, cross-moved for summary judgment alleging that the action was time-barred. Id. When the lower court denied borrower’s cross-motion, the borrowers appealed. Id.

On appeal, the borrowers argued that plaintiff’s action was untimely because the debt was accelerated by a demand letter, triggering the six-year statute of limitations to foreclose. Id., see also CPLR 213(4). The Third Department rejected borrowers’ argument, explaining that “[w]here, as here it is alleged that the debt was accelerated by demand, that fact must be communicated to the mortgagor in a clear and unequivocal manner.” Id. Notably, the Third Department held that the following language “falls far short of providing clear and unequivocal notice” to borrowers that the entire mortgage debt was being accelerated:

Failure to pay the total amount past due, plus all other installments and other amounts becoming due hereafter . . . on or before the [30th] day after the date of this letter may result in acceleration of the sums secured by the mortgage.

Id. (emphasis added in original). Instead, the Third Department found that the demand letter was “nothing more than a letter discussing a possible future event.” Id. (citing Pidwell v. Duvall, 28 A.D3d 829, 831, 815 N.Y.S.2d 754 (3d Dep’t 2006)).

This decision highlights the importance of the language of default letters, while clarifying the legal standard for assessing the statute of limitations in mortgage foreclosure actions. Mare is also significant because it defeats the borrowers’ bars’ recent attempts to argue that the statute of limitations has expired based on default letters sent to borrowers.