In Re Brown Denies TILA Rescission post-Jesinoski

The US Supreme Court opinion in Jesinoski has confused many foreclosure defense pundits, like Neil Garfield, into thinking that the loan suddenly becomes void upon filing of a notice of TILA rescission.  Such people don’t have a clue about rescission.

As the court for In Re Brown, below, explains, TILA rescission doesn’t happen UNLESS a TILA violation occurred, and it always requires an unwinding of the loan including a tender of payment by both creditor and borrower.

Furthermore, the court all but called Brown scammers for trying to use Bankruptcy to stave off foreclosure.

 

 

In re: BARBARA MURPHY BROWN, Chapter 13, Debtor.

Case No. 15-12027-RGM.
United States Bankruptcy Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division.

September 21, 2015.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROBERT G. MAYER, Bankruptcy Judge.

This case was before the court on September 3, 2015, on the chapter 13 trustee’s motion to dismiss this case because the debtor was not eligible to be in chapter 13. The trustee argued that she was over the debt limit of $1,149,525 for secured debts. 11 U.S.C. §109(e).

The debtor attempted to show that the outstanding balance of the loan was less than the §109(e) eligibility limit. She testified that she and her non-filing husband borrowed $1,265,000 on June 27, 2008. They made payments until March 2010 when they sought to rescind the loan. The debtor presented two documents showing, she said, an outstanding loan balance of $1,143,404.28 as of September 1, 2013, and — notwithstanding that neither she nor her husband had made any payments on the loan — $1,078,513.03 as of September 1, 2015.[1] The documents show, in addition to the principal balances the debtor relies on, that the loan is a variable interest rate loan; that the interest rate changes annually as of August 1; that the payment changes annually as of September 1; and that the interest rate is the 1 Year LIBOR published daily in the Wall Street Journal plus a margin of 2.25%. In fact, the two documents are the 2013 and 2015 annual notices from the lender showing the calculation of the new monthly payment and giving the debtor notice of the amount of the new monthly payment.

A change in the monthly payment of an adjustable rate mortgage is calculated in advance of the payment change date based on the contractually due principal balance as of the payment change date.[2] This is, in fact, what the June 24, 2013, letter shows. It states:

  Projected Principal Balance as of the Payment Change Date:         $1,143,404.28

  Remaining Loan Term as of the Payment Change Date:                 300 months

There were, contractually, 300 payments due from September 1, 2013, to the end of the loan. Five years had elapsed on the 30-year loan made on June 27, 2008, and on which the first payment was due on September 1, 2008. Put another way, 60 months had elapsed out of a total of 360 months.

The second payment change letter was dated June 19, 2015. It states:

Your new payment is based on the 1 YEAR LIBOR, your margin, your loan balance of $1,078,513.03, and your remaining loan term of 276.

There were, contractually, 276 payments due from September 1, 2015, to the end of the loan. Twenty-four months elapsed from the effective date of the June 24, 2013 payment change letter to the effective date of the June 19, 2015 payment change letter.

This is the proper manner in which to calculate the new payment. The contractually due principal balance as of the change date is the appropriate number rather than the principal balance actually due as of the change date. The actual outstanding principal balance cannot be known when the new payment is calculated about six weeks before the payment change date. Payments could be missed or late. (In this case, no payments were made after March 2010.) If the payment change were calculated on the actual principal balance, the monthly payment would necessarily be higher than if it were calculated on the contractually due principal balance. If the debtor and her husband made all of the missed payments after receiving the payment change notification and continued with the higher monthly payments calculated on the actual outstanding principal balance, the monthly payments would payoff the loan in less than 30 years, depriving the debtor and her husband of the benefit of the longer loan term. By using the contractually due principal balance, if the debtor and her husband reinstated the loan and continued with the monthly payments, the loan would payoff at the end of the 30-year term as agreed by the parties. The principal balances shown on the payment change letters reflect what the principal balance would have been had the debtor made all contractually due mortgage payments. She admittedly stopped making payments after March 2010, and the principal balances shown on the two payment change letters understate the actual principal balances as of the date of the letters.

The court can estimate the principal balance as of March 2010 from the information presented by the debtor. The original loan amount was $1,265,000. It was a 30-year note. The interest rate was a variable rate which was prime plus a margin of 2.25%. The lowest interest rate possible is 2.25%, which assumes that the prime rate was zero, which it was not. Using a loan rate of 2.25% from June 27, 2008 through March 2010, the principal balance due as of April 1, 2010, can be computed. It was $1,217,394.45. This is simply a mathematical calculation. It makes assumptions in the light most favorable to the debtor. The resulting principal balance is above the §109(e) eligibility limit. In fact, the loan payoff is higher that this calculated principal balance because the 1 Year LIBOR was not zero during this period. In addition, interest accrued on the loan from March 1, 2010 through the petition date of June 11, 2015. Interest at the minimal rate of 2.25% per annum as of the petition date would be about $141,500. The interest rate and the interest due when the petition was filed were higher. There are also late charges and other fees and costs. But, the principal balance calculation is sufficient to put the debtor over the §109(e) eligibility limit.

Debtor’s counsel argues that the debtor and her husband rescinded the loan in March 2010. It is not entirely clear what counsel was arguing. If she was arguing that rescission ipso facto changed the secured loan to an unsecured loan, the debtor is significantly over the unsecured limit. If her argument is that rescission eliminates that loan, she overlooks the debtor’s rescission obligation to put the lender in the same position, less certain fees and costs, as the lender was in before the transaction. It appears that debtor’s counsel relies on Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 574 U.S. ___, 135 S.Ct. 790 (2015). She appears to focus on that portion of the opinion discussing the elements of the common law right of rescission. Reliance is misplaced. The sole issue in that case was whether the borrowers timely rescinded the loan, not the effect of the rescission notice on the borrowers’ obligations when they rescinded the transaction. They gave their rescission notice within the three-year period but did not file suit until after the three-year period. The lender argued that they were time-barred and that the transaction was, therefore, not rescinded. The lender argued that the common law doctrine of rescission applied and required that the borrower tender the loan amount at the time of rescission for there to be a valid rescission. The borrowers gave notice of the rescission but did not tender the rescission payment. The Supreme Court acknowledged the elements of the common law rescission but held that Congress created a new right of rescission that superceded common law rescission and that notice of the rescission was all that the statute required. Debtor’s counsel appears to be arguing that because the common law element of rescission — making a tender of the rescission amount — is not required, the loan is rescinded on notice and the debtor has no further obligation. In fact, the debtor has a further obligation upon giving notice of rescission and that is to make the appropriate rescission payment. This obligation is a claim in bankruptcy. 11 U.S.C. §101(5). Nor does it matter in this case whether the claim is a secured claim or an unsecured claim. Either way, the amount of the claim exceeds the applicable limit.

Debtor’s counsel also appeared to argue that the deed of trust was invalid. There was no evidence that the deed of trust was defective or void.[3] Again, if it were, the debtor would be substantially over the unsecured debt limit of §109(e).

To the extent that debtor’s counsel was arguing that the lender forfeited its loan, its right to repayment or its rescission payment, there was simply no evidence to support the argument.

Having determined that the debtor exceeds the eligibility limits in §109(e), the question is whether the case should be dismissed or the debtor be given time to consider conversion to chapter 11. The case will be dismissed because conversion would be futile — the debtor cannot formulate an effective chapter 11 plan — and because this case was filed in bad faith.

Gilbert v. Residential Funding LLC, 678 F.3d 271 (4th Cir. 2012) makes plain that there is a difference between giving notice of rescission and determining whether the loan is properly rescinded. Anticipating Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans, the Court of Appeals held that notice of rescission was required to be given within three years of the closing but suit to enforce the rescission was not required to be filed within the three-year period. Id. at 277. Giving notice of rescission does not, however, mean that the transaction must be unwound. The Court of Appeals stated:

We must not conflate the issue of whether a borrower has exercised her right to rescind with the issue of whether the rescission has, in fact, been completed and the contract voided. . . . At this stage of the litigation, we are not concerned with whether the contract has been effectively voided. A court must make a determination on the merits as to whether that should occur.

Id.

The law of the Fourth Circuit is that after the borrower gives notice of rescission, the borrower must have the ability to tender the rescission amount within a reasonable time. The Court of Appeals stated that “[t]he equitable goal of rescission under [the Truth in Lending Act] is to restore the parties to the `status quo ante.'” Am. Mortg. Network, Inc. v. Shelton, 486 F.3d 815, 820 (4th Cir. 2007). To achieve this, the borrower seeking rescission must be able to tender the borrowed funds back to the lender. Rescission is effected in a 3-step process under 15 U.S.C. §1635(b). First, the security interest in the home is voided and the borrower is not liable for any further payments. Second, the creditor has 20 days to refund any payments made in connection with the loan. Third, the borrower must tender the proceeds of the loan. Rescission should not be granted where it is clear that the borrower cannot or will not tender the borrowed funds to the creditor. 15 U.S.C. §1635(b); Shelton, 486 F.3d at 819-20. To do so would simply convert the secured lender to an unsecured lender with a claim against the borrower. That result would be inequitable and does not achieve the purpose of the statute which is to put the parties back into the position they were in prior to the loan.

If the borrower cannot tender the rescission payment within a reasonable time, the loan will not be unwound. In Haas v. Falmouth Financial, LLC, 783 F.Supp.2d 801 (E.D.Va. 2011), the District Court stated:

Because rescission entails restoring the parties to the status quo ante, rescission cannot be granted where, as here, the borrower fails to demonstrate that he has the ability to meet his tender obligation. If plaintiff were allowed to achieve rescission without meeting his tender obligation, the lender would be reduced to an unsecured creditor. Such a result is not only inequitable, but it is inconsistent with the intent of Congress in drafting TILA.

Id. at 808.

Giving notice of rescission does not void the loan or cause the lender to ipso factoforfeit its loan. It only requires that the loan be unwound. The debtor must have the ability to tender the rescission amount within a reasonable time. This obligation is a claim in bankruptcy and, absent any other applicable factor, is a secured claim.[4] It is a claim that must be addressed in a chapter 11 plan. In this case, the debtor would not be able to tender a rescission payment or address it in a chapter 11 plan.

The debtor testified that neither she nor her husband had the ability to tender a rescission amount within 60 days. This testimony — and the fair inference from their circumstances that if they would ever be able to tender the rescission amount, it would be far in the future — is corroborated by the debtor’s testimony, schedules and statement of affairs. The debtor’s husband is a dentist. He suffered a back injury that prevents him from practicing dentistry because of the necessity to stand for long periods. He is receiving significant disability payments. She works in his dental practice in a non-medical capacity. They have no savings. The house is underwater — the debtor valued it at $900,000 on her schedules.

A chapter 11 plan based on a March 2010 rescission of the transaction will not work. They cannot pay the rescission amount from savings because they have none. They cannot sell the property and pay the rescission amount from the proceeds of sale because the house is worth less than the payoff of the loan. They cannot reasonably be expected to qualify for a loan to refinance the lender in their present circumstances because they do not have enough income to support the required mortgage payment and because there is no equity in the property to support a refinance loan.

Nor does the debtor have the ability to cure the present mortgage arrearage in a chapter 11 plan. The debtor, even with the assistance of her co-debtor husband, does not have sufficient income to make the current mortgage payment and an arrearage payment.[5] Conversion to chapter 11 would be futile.

The case was filed in bad faith. There is only one creditor. The plan proposed monthly payments to the chapter 13 trustee of $3,000; however, he was to hold the payments until the debtor concluded her litigation with the lender. The current mortgage payment was not to be made. At the end of the plan, the arrearage might be cured, but there would be a new post-petition arrearage. The plan cannot be confirmed. See n.5.

The plan is illusory. The debtor has the right to dismiss her chapter 13 case at any time. 11 U.S.C. §1307(b). Upon dismissal, all funds that the trustee holds are repaid to the debtor. Harris v. Viegelahn, ___ U.S. ___; 135 S.Ct. 1829 (2015). The debtor does not have the ability, even with her husband’s assistance, to propose a traditional 60-month plan to repay the arrearage and make current mortgage payments. Nor does she have the ability to propose a plan providing that the lender would be paid from the sale of her property. In reality, the debtor simply seeks to obtain the benefit of the automatic stay while she litigates or negotiates with the lender.[6] In light of the debtor’s bad faith and futility of conversion to chapter 11, the court is not required to convert the case to chapter 11 if the debtor requested conversion under §1307.[7] See Marrama vs. Citizen Bank of Massachusetts, 549 U.S. 365, 127 S.Ct. 1105, 166, L.Ed. 2d 956 (2007) (a chapter 7 debtor acting in bad faith does not have an absolute right to convert to chapter 13); In re Mitrano, 472 B.R. 706 (E.D.Va. 2012) (a chapter 13 debtor acting in bad faith does not have an absolute right to dismissal of his case).

The debtor’s case will be dismissed because she is not eligible to be a chapter 13 debtor and because the case was filed in bad faith.

[1] Debtor’s counsel argued that the reduction of the principal loan balance from September 1, 2013 to September 1, 2015, resulted from the debtor and her husband paying the real estate taxes and insurance which, she argued, were in that same approximate — although not precise — amount. That argument is frivolous. A principal balance is reduced by payment to the lender, not by payment to third parties of real estate taxes and insurance.

[2] Interest is paid in arrears. This means that the September payment includes interest that accrued during August. In this case, the loan was made on June 27, 2008. Interest due from June 27, 2008 through June 30, 2008 was paid at closing. The first monthly mortgage payment was due on September 1, 2008 at which included the interest that accrued in August 2008.

[3] Debtor’s counsel raised this argument in her closing statement, but there were no facts in the record to support it.

[4] Another applicable factor could be that the deed of trust was defective in some manner or, perhaps, not recorded. In these instances, the lender would not have a secured claim, but it would have an unsecured claim.

[5] The proposed chapter 13 plan proposes to pay $3,000 a month as the cure payment but no regular monthly payment. The debtor’s budget show that she and her husband have sufficient income to pay the proposed $3,000 chapter 13 plan payment, but, there is no payment to the lender on the mortgage in the budget. The debtor proposes to pay real estate taxes and insurance, $1,340 and $500, respectively, but not the note payment. The combined payment as proposed by the debtor — $3,000, $1,340 and $500 for a total of $4,840 — is significantly smaller than that new payment amount shown on the June 19, 2015 change payment letter. The new monthly payment is $7,514.40. The budget does not have sufficient net disposable income to make the monthly mortgage payment and the arrearage payment. The debtor and her husband would need an additional $5,674 in monthly income to make the mortgage payment and the arrearage payment.

[6] The debtor’s husband unsuccessfully sued the lender in the District Court. The details of the suit were not presented.

[7] Although the practice is to grant a debtor’s motion to convert a chapter 13 cases to chapter 11, especially if there is a §109(e) problem, §1307(a) does not give a debtor the right to convert from chapter 13 to chapter 11. It only gives a debtor the right to convert to chapter 7.

 

Nationstar v Brown – Statute of Limitations No Defense Against Foreclosure

Statute of Limitations Applies to Whole Payment Stream

By Bob Hurt, 18 September 2015

Florida’s 1st District Appellate Court gave Germaine and Andrea Brown a rude awakening by telling them the Florida foreclosure 5-year statute of limitations does not apply a 30-year stream of mortgage payments even after the creditor accelerates the loan, making the entire balance immediately due and payable.  The panel cited the Florida Supreme Court opinion in Singleton v Greymar (2004) as the controlling authority (“the unique nature of the mortgage obligation and the continuing obligations of the parties in that relationship.”).  The panel held that “the subsequent and separate alleged default created a new and independent right in the mortgagee to accelerate payment on the note in a subsequent foreclosure action.”  In other words, every default of a scheduled payment provides a new right to sue, throughout the original term of the loan.

The panel admitted that Florida’s 3rd District had reached a contrary conclusion in Deutsche Bank v Beauvais (2014).  But the panel harked to the USDC adverse opinion in Stern v BOA (2015) which claimed that Beauvis opinion went against ”overwhelming weight of authority.”  Now the Beauvais court plans to review its decision.

This should make it abundantly clear that the foreclosure statute of limitations in Florida does not constitute a valid defense against foreclosure, except on payments more than 5 years overdue on which the creditor has failed to take action.

Why should this matter to mortgage victims facing foreclosure?  Because you cannot depend on Foreclosure Defense to defeat foreclosure.  The court/trustee will NOT give you a free house.

ONLY ONE methodology  gives home loan borrowers a reliable chance beat the appraiser, mortgage broker, title company, servicer, and creditor in a mortgage dispute:  MORTGAGE ATTACK.  Borrowers must ATTACK THE VALIDITY OF THE LOAN, and to do that, they must get a comprehensive mortgage examination.

If you have a mortgage dispute, contact Mortgage Attack NOW for a full explanation of the ONLY WINNING METHODOLOGY.

Mortgage Attack Logo

 


 

NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, LLC v. Brown, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015

https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=9222404951266369639

NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, LLC, Appellant,
v.
GERMAINE R. BROWN a/k/a GERMAINE R. BROWN; ANDREA E. BROWN, Appellees.

Case No. 1D14-4381.

District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District.

Opinion filed August 24, 2015.

Nancy M. Wallace of Akerman LLP, Tallahassee; William P. Heller of Akerman LLP, Fort Lauderdale; Celia C. Falzone of Akerman LLP, Jacksonville, for Appellant.

Jared D. Comstock of John F. Hayter, Attorney at Law, P.A., Gainesville, for Appellees.

KELSEY, J.

Appellant challenges a final summary judgment holding that the statute of limitations bars appellant’s action to foreclose the subject mortgage. We agree with appellant that the statute of limitations did not bar the action. Thus, we reverse.

It is undisputed that appellees have failed to make any mortgage payments since February 2007, the first month in which they defaulted. In April 2007, appellant’s predecessor in interest gave notice of its intent to accelerate the note based on the February 2007 breach, and filed a foreclosure action. However, the trial court dismissed that action without prejudice in October 2007, after counsel for the lender failed to attend a case management conference.

The next relevant event occurred in November 2010, when appellant sent appellees a new notice of intent to accelerate, based on appellees’ breach in March 2007 and subsequent breaches. Appellees took no action to cure the default, and appellant filed a new foreclosure action in November 2012. Appellees asserted the statute of limitations as an affirmative defense, arguing that the new action and any future foreclosure actions were barred because they were not filed within five years after the original 2007 acceleration of the note. § 95.11(2)(c), Fla. Stat. (2012) (establishing five year statute of limitations on action to foreclose a mortgage).

The principles set forth in Singleton v. Greymar Associates, 882 So. 2d 1004 (Fla. 2004), apply in this case. In Singleton, the Florida Supreme Court recognized “the unique nature of the mortgage obligation and the continuing obligations of the parties in that relationship.” 882 So. 2d at 1007 (emphasis added). The court sought to avoidboth unjust enrichment of a defaulting mortgagor, and inequitable obstacles “prevent[ing] mortgagees from being able to challenge multiple defaults on a mortgage.” Id. at 1007-08. Giving effect to those principles in light of the continuing obligations of a mortgage, the court held that “the subsequent and separate alleged default created a new and independent right in the mortgagee to accelerate payment on the note in a subsequent foreclosure action.” Id. at 1008. The court found it irrelevant whether acceleration had been sought in earlier foreclosure actions. Id. The court’s analysis in Singleton recognizes that a note securing a mortgage creates liability for a total amount of principal and interest, and that the lender’s acceptance of payments in installments does not eliminate the borrower’s ongoing liability for the entire amount of the indebtedness.

The present case illustrates good grounds for the Singleton court’s concern with avoiding both unjust enrichment of borrowers and inequitable infringement on lenders’ remedies. Judgments such as that under review run afoul of Singleton because they release defaulting borrowers from their entire indebtedness and preclude mortgagees from collecting the total debt evidenced by the notes securing the mortgages they hold, even though the sum of the installment payments not made during the limitations period represents only a fraction of the total debt. See GMAC Mortg., LLC v. Whiddon, 164 So. 3d 97, 100 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015) (dismissal of earlier foreclosure action “did not absolve the Whiddons of their responsibility to make mortgage payments for the remaining twenty-five years of their mortgage agreement”). We further observe that both the note and the mortgage at issue here contain typical provisions reflecting the parties’ agreement that the mortgagee’s forbearance or inaction do not constitute waivers or release appellees from their obligation to pay the note in full. These binding contractual terms refute appellees’ arguments and are inconsistent with the judgment under review.

We have held previously that not even a dismissal with prejudice of a foreclosure action precludes a mortgagee “from instituting a new foreclosure action based on a different act or a new date of default not alleged in the dismissed action.” PNC Bank, N.A. v. Neal, 147 So. 3d 32, 32 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013); see also U.S. Bank Nat. Ass’n v. Bartram, 140 So. 3d 1007, 1014 (Fla. 5th DCA), review granted, 160 So. 3d 892 (Fla. 2014) (Case No. SC14-1305) (dismissal of earlier foreclosure action, whether with or without prejudice, did not bar subsequent foreclosure action based on a new default);Evergrene Partners, Inc. v. Citibank, N.A., 143 So. 3d 954, 955 (Fla. 4th DCA 2014)(foreclosure and acceleration based on an earlier default “does not bar subsequent actions and acceleration based upon different events of default”). The dismissal in this case was without prejudice, so much the more preserving appellant’s right to file a new foreclosure action based on appellees’ breaches subsequent to the February 2007 breach asserted as the procedural trigger of the earlier foreclosure action. We find that appellant’s assertion of the right to accelerate was not irrevocably “exercised” within the meaning of cases defining accrual for foreclosure actions, when the right was merely asserted and then dismissed without prejudice. See Olympia Mortg. Corp. v. Pugh, 774 So. 2d 863, 866-67 (Fla. 4th DCA 2000) (“By voluntarily dismissing the suit, [the mortgagee] in effect decided not to accelerate payment on the note and mortgage at that time.”); see also Slottow v. Hull Inv. Co., 129 So. 577, 582 (Fla. 1930) (a mortgagee could waive an acceleration election in certain circumstances). After the dismissal without prejudice, the parties returned to the status quo that existed prior to the filing of the dismissed complaint. As a matter of law, appellant’s 2012 foreclosure action, based on breaches that occurred after the breach that triggered the first complaint, was not barred by the statute of limitations. Evergrene, 143 So. 3d at 955 (“[T]he statute of limitations has not run on all of the payments due pursuant to the note, and the mortgage is still enforceable based upon subsequent acts of default.”).

We are aware that the Third District has reached a contrary conclusion in Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Americas v. Beauvais, 40 Fla. L. Weekly D1, 2014 WL 7156961 (Fla. 3d DCA Dec. 17, 2014) (Case No. 3D14-575). A federal district court has refused to follow Beauvais, noting that it is “contrary to the overwhelming weight of authority.” Stern v. Bank of America Corp., 2015 WL 3991058 at *2-3 (M.D. Fla. June 30, 2015) (No. 2:15-cv-153-FtM-29CM). The court in Beauvais acknowledges that its conclusion is contrary to the weight of authority on the questions presented. 2014 WL 7156961, at *8-9. That court’s docket shows that the court has set the case for rehearing en banc; it remains to be seen whether the merits disposition will change.

Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings on appellant’s foreclosure action.

THOMAS and MARSTILLER, JJ., CONCUR.

NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE MOTION FOR REHEARING AND DISPOSITION THEREOF IF FILED.

 

IF the servicer’s home preservation company steals your stuff…

This US 8th Circuit Appellate opinion should give you heart, IF you can get a damages award from an arbitrator or trial court for theft of your stuff by a home preservation company’s felonious employees.

In this case, the arbitrator awarded the Starks $6 million to punish the servicer, note holder, and home preservation company for breaking into the home during a foreclosure dispute after the Starks had moved into an apartment across the street (still in possession, did not abandon).  The 8th Circuit upheld the award.  Appellants appealed to the SCOTUS which denied certiorari.

https://law.resource.org/pub/us/case/reporter/F3/381/381.F3d.793.03-2366.html

381 F.3d 793

Stanley William STARK; Patricia Garnet Stark, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
SANDBERG, PHOENIX & VON GONTARD, P.C.; Scott Greenberg; EMC Mortgage Corporation; SpvG Trustee, Defendants-Appellees.

No. 03-2366.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

Submitted: January 15, 2004.

Filed: August 26, 2004.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri, Ortrie D. Smith, J. COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED Roy B. True, argued, Kansas City, Missouri, for appellant.

Mark G. Arnold, argued, St. Louis, Missouri (Robert B. Best, Jr. and Leonard L. Wagner on the brief), for appellant.

Before BYE, HEANEY and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

BYE, Circuit Judge.

1

Stanley and Patricia Stark appeal the district court’s order vacating in part an arbitration award granting them punitive damages. We reverse.

2

* Stanley and Patricia are husband and wife and live near Kansas City, Missouri. In 1999, in hopes of shoring up a failing business, the Starks borrowed $56,900 against their home and secured the loan with a mortgage. Despite the infusion of funds, the business failed and in April 2000 the Starks petitioned for bankruptcy protection. At about the same time, the Starks’ lender sold the note, which was in default, to EMC Mortgage Corporation making EMC a debt collector under the provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692-1692o. In anticipation of foreclosure, the Starks vacated the home and moved into an apartment across the street. The Starks, however, remained in possession of legal title and did not abandon the home. In June 2000, EMC’s motion to lift the automatic stay was granted and it proceeded with foreclosure.

3

The Starks were represented throughout the foreclosure and bankruptcy proceedings by attorney Roy True who notified EMC’s attorney, Scott Greenberg of Sandberg, Phoenix & von Gontard, P.C., that his representation of the Starks extended beyond the bankruptcy proceedings. Between October 2000 and March 2001, despite letters from True advising EMC he represented the Starks and not to contact them directly, EMC tried several times to deal directly with the Starks. In April 2001, the Starks filed suit against EMC and its attorneys alleging violations of the FDCPA.

4

EMC moved to compel arbitration as required by the parties’ loan agreement, and the district court ordered the dispute submitted to arbitration. The order compelling arbitration is not at issue in this appeal. During the pendency of the arbitration, EMC’s agent, without the Starks’ consent, forcibly entered the home and posted a sign in the front window indicating the “Property has been secured and winterized. Not for sale or rent. In case of emergency call 1st American (732) 363-3626.” The agent then contacted Mrs. Stark at her apartment, and EMC contacted Mr. Stark at work regarding the matter. Further, on November 5, 2001 and January 27, 2002, EMC wrote to the Starks directly regarding insurance coverage on the home. In total, the Starks testified EMC contacted them by mail, telephone or in person at least ten times after being advised they were represented by counsel.

5

After these incidents, the Starks moved to amend their complaint to include claims alleging intentional torts against EMC and seeking punitive damages. EMC opposed the motion arguing the arbitration agreement expressly precluded an award of punitive damages. The Starks contended the limitation on punitive damages was unconscionable and unenforceable. After extensive briefing, the arbitrator concluded the limitation was ambiguous and construed the language against EMC. The arbitrator noted the agreement purported to grant him “all powers provided by law” and then purported to deny the power to award “punitive … damages … as to which borrower and lender expressly waive any right to claim to the fullest extent permitted by law.” The arbitrator concluded,

6

In at least three places the Stark’s [sic] are promised that they can seek all damages allowed by law, and then that promise is taken away. This is the keystone of an ambiguous contract, and the Agreement is to be interpreted in their favor. As a matter of law they are not prohibited from seeking punitive damages from EMC.

7

Appellee’s app. at 22.

8

The arbitrator found EMC violated the FDCPA and awarded the Starks $1000 each in statutory damages, $1000 each in actual damages, $22,780 in attorneys fees, and $9300 for the cost of the arbitration. The arbitrator found EMC’s forcible entry into the premises “reprehensible and outrageous and in total disregard of plaintiff’s [sic] legal rights” and awarded $6,000,000 in punitive damages against EMC. Id. app. at 17.1

9

The Starks moved to confirm the award, and EMC moved to vacate the punitive damages award arguing the arbitration agreement expressly prohibited punitive damages. No other aspect of the award was challenged. The district court vacated the award of punitive damages, holding the agreement was unambiguous and not susceptible to the arbitrator’s interpretation.

10

On appeal, the Starks contend the arbitrator acted within his authority in construing the contract and his finding of an ambiguity was not irrational. EMC argues the district court’s order vacating the award of punitive damages should be affirmed.

II

11

When reviewing a district court’s order confirming or vacating an arbitral award, the court’s findings of fact are reviewed for clear error and questions of law are reviewed de novo. First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 947-48, 115 S.Ct. 1920, 131 L.Ed.2d 985 (1995); Titan Wheel Corp. of Iowa v. Local 2048, Int’l Ass’n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 253 F.3d 1118, 1119 (8th Cir. 2001).

12

When reviewing an arbitral award, courts accord “an extraordinary level of deference” to the underlying award itself, Keebler Co. v. Milk Drivers & Dairy Employees Union, Local No. 471, 80 F.3d 284, 287 (8th Cir.1996), because federal courts are not authorized to reconsider the merits of an arbitral award “even though the parties may allege that the award rests on errors of fact or on misinterpretation of the contract.” Bureau of Engraving, Inc. v. Graphic Communication Int’l Union, Local 1B, 284 F.3d 821, 824 (8th Cir.2002) (quotingUnited Paperworkers Int’l Union v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 36, 108 S.Ct. 364, 98 L.Ed.2d 286 (1987)). Indeed, an award must be confirmed even if a court is convinced the arbitrator committed a serious error, so “long as the arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his authority.” Bureau of Engraving, 284 F.3d at 824 (quoting Misco, 484 U.S. at 38).

13

The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. §§ 1-16, established “a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration agreements.” Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24, 103 S.Ct. 927, 74 L.Ed.2d 765 (1983). Thus, the FAA only allows a district court to vacate an arbitration award

14

(1) Where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means.

15

(2) Where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them.

16

(3) Where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy; or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced.

17

(4) Where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.

18

9 U.S.C. § 10(a).

19

Similarly, under 9 U.S.C. § 11 a reviewing court may only modify the arbitrator’s award

20

(a) Where there was an evident material miscalculation of figures or an evident material mistake in the description of any person, thing, or property referred to in the award.

21

(b) Where the arbitrators have awarded upon a matter not submitted to them, unless it is a matter not affecting the merits of the decision upon the matter submitted.

22

(c) Where the award is imperfect in matter of form not affecting the merits of the controversy.

23

9 U.S.C. § 11.

24

A “district court must take the award as it finds it and either vacate the entire award using section 10 or modify the award using section 11.” Legion Ins. Co. v. VCW, Inc., 198 F.3d 718, 721 (8th Cir.1999). The deference owed to arbitration awards, however, “is not the equivalent of a grant of limitless power,” Leed Architectural Prods., Inc. v. United Steelworkers of Am., Local 6674, 916 F.2d 63, 65 (2d Cir.1990), and “courts are neither entitled nor encouraged simply to `rubber stamp’ the interpretations and decisions of arbitrators.”Matteson v. Ryder Sys. Inc., 99 F.3d 108, 113 (3d Cir.1996). Thus, courts may also vacate arbitral awards which are “completely irrational” or “evidence[] a manifest disregard for the law.” Hoffman v. Cargill Inc., 236 F.3d 458, 461 (8th Cir.2001) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

25

An award is “irrational where it fails to draw its essence from the agreement” or it “manifests disregard for the law where the arbitrators clearly identify the applicable, governing law and then proceed to ignore it.” Id. at 461-62. “An arbitrator’s award draws its essence from the [parties’ agreement] as long as it is derived from the agreement, viewed in light of its language, its context, and any other indicia of the parties’ intention.” Johnson Controls, Inc., Sys. & Servs. Div. v. United Ass’n of Journeymen, 39 F.3d 821, 825 (7th Cir.1994) (internal quotations omitted).

26

Faced with these limitations on a court’s ability to review arbitration awards, EMC argues the arbitrator’s award of punitive damages was properly vacated under § 10 because the arbitrator exceeded his powers by modifying the unambiguous agreement, and properly modified under § 11 because in considering the issue of punitive damages the arbitrator made a decision on a matter not submitted to him.2 EMC also argues the arbitrator’s finding of an ambiguity was irrational and without foundation in reason or fact because the clear language of the agreement precludes an award of punitive damages. Finally, EMC argues the award of punitive damages was excessive and made in manifest disregard of the law. Because we conclude the arbitration agreement unambiguously permitted the award of punitive damages, we hold the award of punitive damages was proper and reverse the district court.

III

27

The plain language of the arbitration agreement states the “borrower and lender expressly waive any right to claim [punitive damages] to the fullest extent permitted by law.” Appellee’s app. at 19 (emphasis added). Thus, the agreement only effected a limited waiver of punitive damages, that is, punitive damages were waived only if the governing law permitted such a waiver. Conversely, if the law did not permit the waiver of punitive damages, the arbitration agreement unambiguously preserved the right to claim them.

28

Under Missouri law “there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence, or for activities involving the public interest.” Alack v. Vic Tanny Int’l of Mo., Inc., 923 S.W.2d 330, 337 (Mo.1996) (citingLiberty Fin. Mgmt. Corp. v. Beneficial Data Processing Corp., 670 S.W.2d 40, 48 (Mo.App.1984)) (in turn citing 6A Corbin on Contracts, § 1472 (1962)). An attempt to procure a waiver of punitive damages is an attempt to exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or gross negligence, because the remedy of punitive damages would otherwise be available for such acts. Thus, Missouri law did not permit EMC to exonerate itself from liability for the intentional torts committed against the Starks by procuring the punitive damages waiver, and the arbitrator did not exceed his authority in awarding punitive damages.

29

We recognize the FAA allows parties to incorporate terms into arbitration agreements that are contrary to state law. See UHC Mgmt. Co. v. Computer Sciences, Corp., 148 F.3d 992, 997 (8th Cir.1998) (holding “[p]arties may choose to be governed by whatever rules they wish regarding how an arbitration itself will be conducted.”) (citation omitted). Thus, had the parties to this agreement intended its interpretation to be governed solely by the FAA, the punitive damages waiver might have barred any such award. The plain language of the agreement, however, makes it clear Missouri law applies to this issue.

30

The agreement’s arbitration clause provides,

31

Arbitration. To the extent allowed by applicable law, any Claim … shall be resolved by binding arbitration in accordance with (1) the Federal Arbitration Act, . . . (2) the Expedited Procedures of the Commercial Arbitration Rules of the American Arbitration Association … and (3) this Agreement.

32

Appellee’s app. at 19 (emphasis added).

33

The agreement then defines applicable law as “the laws of the state in which the property which secures the Transaction is located.” Id.(emphasis added). In other words, the agreement makes clear the parties intent to apply Missouri state substantive law while operating within the framework of the FAA, American Arbitration Association rules and the agreement. As previously noted, the punitive damages waiver expressly states the parties intended to waive punitive damages only to the extent permitted by Missouri law. Because Missouri law would not permit a waiver under the facts of this case, we hold the arbitrator’s award of punitive damages was proper.

IV

34

Alternatively, while we believe the plain meaning of the agreement supports the award of punitive damages, we also conclude the arbitrator’s finding of an ambiguity was not irrational.

35

The arbitration clause states any claims will be resolved in accordance with the FAA, which permits a waiver of punitive damages. The choice of laws provision, however, states claims must be resolved in accordance with “applicable [Missouri] law,” which does not permit the waiver of punitive damages argued for by EMC in this case. Thus, an arbitrator could reasonably conclude this agreement is ambiguous.

36

In Mastrobuono v. Shearson Lehman Hutton, Inc., 514 U.S. 52, 62, 115 S.Ct. 1212, 131 L.Ed.2d 76 (1995), the Supreme Court considered the juxtaposition of a choice of laws provision prohibiting punitive damages with an arbitration clause permitting an award of punitive damages. The Court concluded “[a]t most, the choice-of-law clause introduces an ambiguity into an arbitration agreement that would otherwise allow punitive damages awards.” Id. (Emphasis added). As in Mastrobuono, an arbitrator interpreting this agreement could reasonably conclude the apparent conflict between the arbitration clause and the choice of laws provision introduced an ambiguity into the agreement. Accordingly, the Supreme Court’s recognition that an ambiguity is created when an agreement purports to be governed by conflicting state and federal law is instructive, and supports the arbitrator’s finding of an ambiguity.

37

Additionally, we cannot ignore well-settled precedent from this court holding state contract law governs whether an arbitration agreement is ambiguous. See Lyster v. Ryan’s Family Steak Houses, Inc., 239 F.3d 943, 946 (8th Cir.2001). Under Missouri law, “[t]he primary rule in the interpretation of a contract is to ascertain the intention of the parties and to give effect to that intention.” Speedie Food Mart, Inc. v. Taylor, 809 S.W.2d 126, 129 (Mo.Ct.App.1991). The test for determining if an ambiguity exists in a written contract is “whether the disputed language, in the context of the entire agreement, is reasonably susceptible of more than one construction giving the words their plain meaning as understood by a reasonable average person.” Speedie Food Mart, 809 S.W.2d at 129.

38

In this case, EMC argues the exclusionary language is clear and unambiguous and shields it from liability for any award of punitive damages. When viewed in the context of Missouri law governing exculpatory clauses, however, this clause could easily be viewed as ambiguous. “A `latent ambiguity’ arises where a writing on its face appears clear and unambiguous, but some collateral matter makes the meaning uncertain.” Royal Banks of Missouri v. Fridkin, 819 S.W.2d 359, 362 (Mo. 1991) (en banc) (citation omitted). Here, the ambiguity arises because the clause attempts to effect a prospective waiver of rights which Missouri law holds may not be waived. Under Missouri law “there is no question that one may never exonerate oneself from future liability for intentional torts or for gross negligence, or for activities involving the public interest.” Alack, 923 S.W.2d at 337 (citations omitted). Words purporting to waive claims which cannot be waived “demonstrate the ambiguity of the contractual language.” Id.

39

Finally, EMC “cannot overcome the common-law rule of contract interpretation that a court should construe ambiguous language against the interest of the party that drafted it.” Mastrobuono, 514 U.S. at 62, 115 S.Ct. 1212 (citations omitted). EMC “cannot now claim the benefit of the doubt. The reason for this rule is to protect the party who did not choose the language from an unintended or unfair result.” Id. at 63, 115 S.Ct. 1212.

40

Accordingly, we conclude the arbitrator’s finding that the contract was ambiguous was not irrational.

V

41

EMC next argues the award of punitive damages was properly vacated because it is excessive and exhibits a manifest disregard of the law. We disagree.

42

“Beyond the grounds for vacation provided in the FAA, an award will only be set aside where it is completely irrational or evidences a manifest disregard for the law.” Hoffman, 236 F.3d at 461 (internal citations and quotations omitted) (emphasis added). “These extra-statutory standards are extremely narrow: … [A]n arbitration decision only manifests disregard for the law where the arbitrators clearly identify the applicable, governing law and then proceed to ignore it.” Id. at 461-62 (citing Stroh Container Co. v. Delphi Indus., 783 F.2d 743, 749-50 (8th Cir.1986)) (emphasis added).

43

“A party seeking vacatur [based on manifest disregard of the law] bears the burden of proving that the arbitrators were fully aware of the existence of a clearly defined governing legal principle, but refused to apply it, in effect, ignoring it.” Duferco Int’l Steel Trading v. T. Klaveness Shipping A/S, 333 F.3d 383, 389 (2d Cir.2003). Because “[a]rbitrators are not required to elaborate their reasoning supporting an award,” El Dorado Sch. Dist. # 15 v. Continental Cas. Co., 247 F.3d 843, 847 (8th Cir.2001) (internal quotations omitted), “[i]f they choose not to do so, it is all but impossible to determine whether they acted with manifest disregard for the law.” W. Dawahare v. Spencer,210 F.3d 666, 669 (6th Cir.2000) (citing Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Jaros, 70 F.3d 418, 421 (6th Cir. 1995)).

44

Manifest disregard of the law “is more than a simple error in law or a failure by the arbitrators to understand or apply it; and, it is more than an erroneous interpretation of the law.” Duferco Int’l, 333 F.3d at 389 (citations omitted). “Our disagreement with an arbitrator’s interpretation of the law or determination of the facts is an insufficient basis for setting aside his award.” El Dorado Sch. Dist., 247 F.3d at 847 (citing Hoffman, 236 F.3d at 462).

45

In support of its claim, EMC argues the arbitrator disregarded the Supreme Court’s pronouncements in BMW of N. Am., Inc. v. Gore,517 U.S. 559, 572-74, 116 S.Ct. 1589, 134 L.Ed.2d 809 (1996) (describing a 500:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages as “breathtaking” and suspicious), and State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Campbell, 538 U.S. 408, 426, 123 S.Ct. 1513, 155 L.Ed.2d 585 (2003) (finding a 145:1 ratio of punitive to compensatory damages presumptively excessive). In so arguing, however, EMC has failed to present any evidence that the arbitrator “clearly identif[ied] the applicable, governing law and then proceed[ed] to ignore it.” Hoffman,236 F.3d at 461-62 (citing Stroh Container, 783 F.2d at 749-50). None of the cases relied upon by EMC are cited in the arbitrator’s decision,3 and there is nothing in the record to demonstrate “one of the parties clearly stated the law and the arbitrator[ ] expressly chose not to follow it.” W. Dawahare, 210 F.3d at 670; see also Duferco Int’l, 333 F.3d at 390 (“In determining an arbitrator’s awareness of the law, we impute only knowledge of governing law identified by the parties to the arbitration.”) (citation omitted).

46

Indeed, to the extent the arbitrator’s decision sets forth the basis for the punitive damages award, it is apparent the arbitrator did not disregard governing law. The arbitrator’s award was intended to punish EMC and to deter others from similar conduct. In arriving at the appropriate amount, the arbitrator specifically found the $6,000,000 award (amounting to one-tenth of one percent of shareholder equity) was “not great punishment but it should act as a deterence [sic].” Appellee’s app. at 18; see also Barnett v. La Societe Anonyme Turbomeca France, 963 S.W.2d 639, 655 (Mo.App.1998) (holding under Missouri law the net worth of a defendant is relevant when determining the extent of punitive damages necessary to punish and deter the defendant). Accordingly, we reject EMC’s claim of manifest disregard.

47

“Although this result may seem draconian, the rules of law limiting judicial review and the judicial process in the arbitration context are well established and the parties … can be presumed to have been well versed in the consequences of their decision to resolve their disputes in this manner.” Stroh Container, 783 F.2d at 751. Moreover, “[a]rbitration is not a perfect system of justice, nor it is [sic] designed to be.”Hoffman, 236 F.3d at 462 (citation omitted). Rather, it “is designed primarily to avoid the complex, time-consuming and costly alternative of litigation.” Id.

48

In the arbitration setting we have almost none of the protections that fundamental fairness and due process require for the imposition of this form of punishment. Discovery is abbreviated if available at all. The rules of evidence are employed, if at all, in a very relaxed manner. The factfinders (here the panel) operate with almost none of the controls and safeguards [present in traditional litigation.]

49

Lee v. Chica, 983 F.2d 883, 889 (8th Cir. 1993) (Beam, J. concurring in part and dissenting in part).

50

Here, EMC chose to resolve this “dispute quickly and efficiently through arbitration.” Schoch v. InfoUSA, Inc., 341 F.3d 785, 791 (8th Cir.2003), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 124 S.Ct. 1414, 158 L.Ed.2d 81 (2004). Indeed, it was EMC that insisted on removing the matter to arbitration. In so doing, EMC “got exactly what it bargained for.” Id. “Having entered such a contract, [EMC] must subsequently abide by the rules to which it agreed.” Hoffman, 236 F.3d at 463 (citation omitted).

VI

51

We reverse the district court’s order vacating the award of punitive damages and remand with instructions to confirm the arbitrator’s award in its entirety.

Notes:

1The arbitrator indicated the award of punitive damages was calculated as one percent of EMC’s shareholder equity. One percent of equity, however, would have resulted in an award of $60,000,000. The arbitrator later clarified this mistake indicating it was his intent to award $6,000,000. Thus, the award was actually calculated as one-tenth of one percent of shareholder equity

2EMC’s § 11 argument is clearly without merit. The issue of punitive damages was submitted to the arbitrator. If the award was improper because it exceeded the scope of the agreement, § 10 is the proper avenue to redress the arbitrator’s error

3The arbitrator’s decision predatesState Farm making it impossible for the arbitrator to have identified the decision as controlling.

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Mort Gezzam