Here's a twist on legal malpractice and foreclosure that NOBODY but I wants to report. The Malpractice Scheme: Hundreds if not THOUSANDS of attorneys around the USA, including prominent lawyers in YOUR CITY, vigorously promote their foreclosure defense services. They get foreclosure victim clients by promising to "keep you in the house as long as possible." They charge $1500 to $3000 retainer (a downpayment gift) and $500+ a month till the foreclosure becomes final. Meanwhile they file cookie-cutter pleadings they copied from other attorneys complaining about "show me the note," bifurcation of note from mortgage, securitization, wrong track of ownership of note, lack of standing (wrong plaintiff), vapor money (lender deposited borrower's note and used that to fund the loan), and other nonsense. This delays the foreclosure, but the foreclosure inevitably goes through anyway and the client loses the house. BUT, the lawyer seldom if ever bothers comprehensively examining the mortgage, note, and all related documents for evidence of torts, breaches, fraud, and legal errors. Some lawyers sell or promote useless services like securitization audits and loan audits. In the end, to avert the otherwise inevitable foreclosure, some lawyers con the client into a short sale, deed in lieu of foreclosure, keys for cash, or an onerous loan modification that leaves the client owing double to triple the value of the house, and facing a huge balloon the client cannot pay. How does this constitute LEGAL MALPRACTICE? Well, the bank accused the foreclosure victim of breach of contract. So, the attorney should take these steps: 1. Say "give me the contracts and all related documents, letters, lawsuits, etc.," then 2. Search for the causes of action in them against the lender or lender's agents, then 3. Attack the lender and agents through settlement negotiation or lawsuit, then 4. WIN compensation for the mortgage victim's injuries. You see, historically, lenders and their agents have cheated NINE OUT OF TEN mortgagors. Settling or suing on the basis of those causes of action can get financial compensation for the mortgagor. Thus, the mortgagor can fight one of two battles: 1. The foreclosure, which the borrower statistically always loses. 2. The mortgage, which the borrower statistically always wins. Which battle makes most sense to you? Our problem lies in the fact that no MORTGAGE ATTACK legal industry exists. Foreclosure Defense Lawyers focus on the easy money of defense for $300 to $500 a month and the mortgagor loses the house after paying the lawyer upwards of $10,000 to $30,000 for doing virtually no work on the case. They do this KNOWING the mortgagor will lose the house. Those lawyers have not learned how to examine mortgages for causes of action, and I believe most have become too lazy and incompetent to serve the real interests of the client. Many such lawyers ballyhoo claims of winning when the court temporarily dismisses the foreclosure complaint for lack of standing because the wrong plaintiff sued. The plaintiffs nearly always correct their paperwork, get standing, refile or appeal the case, and win. Then the court sells the property and orders the mortgagor out of the house. The net issues: mortgagors cannot find competent lawyers to examine their mortgages. And, the mortgagor with an examination report showing causes of action in hand cannot find a lawyer to attack the mortgagee over those causes of action. Herein lies a huge opportunity for lawyers and mortgagors. Mortgagors do have a mechanism available for negotiating with the lender to obtain a reduced loan balance and payments they can afford, or financial remuneration for their injuries. They can simply contact the lender and demand a solution. If the lender balks, the mortgagor can contact Government regulators and report the lender for violating regulations. That usually brings a quick remedy. Severely injured borrowers might even get the house free and clear WITHOUT NEEDING the services of a lawyer. The public needs to know about this technique and opportunity. I can connect people with a competent mortgage examiner, and I charge nothing for my service. You can read numerous articles I have written on related subjects at http://mortgageattack.com/articles. Many people come to me for help. Some go on to ignore my encouragements, and lose their home. Others get their mortgages examined, and I help them discover how to proceed from there to save the home or obtain financial compensation for their injuries.. If you want to learn more about this, and don't want to read my articles, contact me. I have retired from the computer industry and have the time to help people free as my way of giving back to the community. I have no business obligation to any company. Before deciding NOT to contact me, ask yourself what YOU would do with a mortgage exam report that showed causes of action against YOUR lender.
|Moving: Such Fun!|
- Hired a foreclosure pretense defense lawer
- Bought a securitization audit
- Bought a chain of title audit
- Bought a loan audit
It will connect you to Allied Van Lines after you LOSE YOUR HOUSE. They can help move all your stuff when you get evicted. You will lose the house, you know…
… UNLESS you heed the comments below.
NO defense exists against a foreclosure of a valid mortgage note that you breached.
None. Nada. Zero. Zilch. Niente. Niemals. Bupkis.
All foreclosure defenses eventually fail. Only a crooked foreclosure defender hides that ugly truth from you. The foreclosure eventually goes through to completion. The foreclosure victim loses the house. OR, if qualified, the victim accepts an onerous loan modification. You probably don’t qualify. Fewer than 20% do.
If you face foreclosure and don’t hire a competent professional to examine your mortgage comprehensively, YOU WILL LOSE YOUR HOUSE, one way or another, sooner or later. If you cannot prove that the lender or lender’s associates injured you at the inception of your loan, YOU WILL LOSE YOUR HOUSE. If you can prove it but fail aggressively to negotiate or litigate on the basis of those injuries, YOU WILL LOSE YOUR HOUSE.
And that means you will have to move out. So, I decided to do you a favor and give you the above number of Allied Van Lines. Call them and they will move everything you own to your new home.
Oh, right, I nearly forgot. If you complain that you cannot afford a mortgage examination, or the litigation or negotiation to use it effectively, then you will really whine about what Allied Van Lines charges to move you across town or to another state.
That’s IFF (if and only if) you have a home to which you can move.
And if you cannot afford the move, here’s what your house can looklike after you get evicted:
|You KNOW Whom to Call|
The worst part of disasters like those shown above: generally the mortgagor (that means YOU, the borrower in default on your loan) will end up owing money for all the necessary repairs, the eviction cost, the litigation cost, lawyer fees, accrued interest, etc.
Only the Mortgage Attack methodology will give you the opportunity to save your home from such a disaster AND win concessions or money from those who injured you.
That means you must get your mortgage examined comprehensively by a competent professional. Then you can use the causes of action from the examination report as leverage in a settlement negotiation or a lawsuit against the lender and lenders associates or agents.
See? You use the causes of action to attack the crooked mortgage instead of defending against an indefensible foreclosure.
“Causes of action” means “reasons to sue.” They can consist of a wide array tortious conduct, contract breaches, legal errors, and violations of state and federal regulations. Examples include appraisal fraud, loan application fraud, wrongful credit reputation damage, and many other terrible injuries that cost you a lot of money or put you in unnecessary jeopardy.
Some mortgage borrowers get injured badly, some get injured little, and some not at all. But any injuries can justify a set-off from the amount of your debt OR another settlement that benefits you, such as a favorable loan modification like a balloon-free reduction in your debt and interest rate, or a keys for cash deal.
You might even win a huge amount of compensatory and punitive damages (money) if you sue successfully for the injuries. In my experience, over 90% of those who get their mortgage examined have suffered injury by the lender or associates.
Yes, you can get a favorable loan modification if you negotiate from a position of power. That means you tell the lender to give you favorable terms (for example assumable 3% fixed rate for 30 years, loan balance reduced to the present value of your home, all accrued interest and costs forgiven, no 1099 to the IRS).
But you have no negotiating power without a mortgage examination report that shows how the lender or others injured you.
If YOU don’t want to lose your home to foreclosure, you know what to do. Call me today to get started on a mortgage examination by a competent professional.
Here’s another number to memorize while you make up your mind whether to lose your house or to take practical action that will give you some hope of redemption in your mortgage:
727 669 5511
It’s your choice:
- Allied Van Lines (800 444 6787 FREE), or
- Mortgage Attack (727 669 5511). Now.
Which makes most sense to you?
What? You still don’t feel “convinced” that you need to call me right now?
Okay, I have taken the time to write up a couple of examples of the benefits you can enjoy IF you act NOW to get your mortgage examined:
And here’s a little help for developing a MORTGAGE ATTACK MENTALITY:
Okay. Now call me. I wait expectantly to hear from you.
727 669 5511
In this article the author, from a law firm that specializes in beating up state courts for what the author considers excessive punitive damages awards, ATTACKED the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals for using procedural tricks to prevent the US Supreme Court from reviewing the award of $2.17 Million in punitive damages and $600K in attorney fees in the Brown v Quicken Loans case. The author considered the award excessive and violative of Quicken’s due process rights.
West Virginia Supreme Court Of Appeals’ Refusal To Review Punitive Award For Excessiveness Under Due Process Clause Warrants Summary Reversal, Says Chamber Of Commerce In Mayer Brown-Authored Amicus Brief
Bob Hurt responds with the following comments:
West Virginia Trial Court and Supreme Court of Appeals handling of the Brown v Quicken Loans and Quicken Loans v Brown cases do indeed raise the hackles of lenders who have cheated the holy hell out of borrowers. I feel inclined to render the following opinion about the huge punitive damages award the trial court (without a jury) made to Brown.
The courts duly haggled over the award through three trials and two appeals, and Quicken lawyers still don’t feel satisfied. They want to cheat borrowers with relative impunity.
I believe the Supreme Court has the final say on the meaning of the Constitution’s clauses like “Due Process” but not to the extent of undermining juries and judges who must act to punish the wicked to the extent they deem necessary to teach the wicked a lesson, and even, if necessary, to run them out of business altogether. The US Supreme Court sits altogether too remote from the little people and their abusers in the American hinterland to make appropriate rulings on whether a punishment abused due process rights of the abuser. Punishments by their very nature always abuse the perpetrator, and the perpetrator’s rights, as they should.
So I fully support the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals effort to keep the US Supreme Court out of such cases, by whatever clever means they must.
Quicken Loans has probably abused THOUSANDS of borrowers as badly as or worse than it abused Lourie Jefferson (Brown) in Wheeling WV, starting with encouraging the appraiser to value her $46,000 house at $144,000. She settled out of court with the appraiser and his insurer, but that did not punish Quicken for its underwriting of that horrific appraisal. BOTH the appraiser and Quicken’s loan officers and executives overseeing them belong in Federal Prison for that crime of bank fraud. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of crookedness in this case.
Laurie Jefferson was sick and broke and could not afford an attorney when Quicken foreclosed on her. Luckily, Jim Bordas, who knew her family, took her case on contingency, for 40%. He fought rabidly on their joint behalf. And he won. Now Quicken wants the US Supreme Court to undermine that win by reducing the damage award. In my opinion, the damage award should have gone much higher.
To get the proper perspective on my opinion, read the court opinions detailing the tale of horror of how Quicken’s agents and employees cheated Lourie Jefferson in every way they could, apparently. I archived them together here along with my overview:
I consider the Brown v Quicken case the POSTER CHILD for the methodology to which I refer as “Mortgage Attack.” See the details of the method at http://mortgageattack.com. The method contains these elements:
1. Find the injuries and related evidence
2. Hire a competent attorney
3. Artfully ATTACK the injurious.
Most foreclosure “victims” took loans they should not have. But they suffered some hardship that led to their breaching the note through non-payment. That injured the creditor who hired a lawyer and attacked the borrower through foreclosure. Typical foreclosure victims cannot afford competent counsel to find out how the lender team members (e.g., appraiser, broker, closer, lender) injured them and then attack the lender team members for those injuries.
In most loans, the injuries do not become immediately obvious as they did in the Brown case. And because it costs so much time and effort and talent to examine the loan related documents to find those injuries, most foreclosure victims cannot afford the cost. So they hire Pretense Defense attorneys to “keep them in the house as long as possible,” a scam in and of itself.
RARELY, therefore, can a plaintiff like Lourie Jefferson find competent counsel to help attack the lender team. Most attorneys cannot and will not take a case like Brown’s on contingency. As a consequence, most simply plod along to foreclosure and lose the house, enriching a foreclosure pretense defense attorney $15,000 to $30,000 in the process.
On behalf of all those tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of foreclosure victims who suffered monstrous cheating of the kind Quicken Loans perpetrated on Lourie Jefferson (Brown), the Trial Court in Wheeling WV delivered an effective blow in ensuring that Lourie and Monique Brown received a little over $4 million (if I calculated correctly) for their injuries, with 40% going to Bordas and Bordas law firm for the diligent work they did in bringing Quicken Loans to well-deserved justice.
So, let us keep that perspective while pondering just how much the US Supreme Court should have to say in the matter of punitive damages which should have numbered in the tens of millions of dollars in order really to punish Quicken Loans enough to keep them from cheating other hapless borrowers like the desperate, ill Lourie Jefferson.
NORMAN BRADFORD SHOWS THAT THE COURTS LIKE RESCISSION and OTHER FORMS OF MORTGAGE ATTACK, etc, IF THE BORROWER ARTFULLY MANAGES THE ATTACK.
If you want to see a case where the court denied rescission pre-Jesinoski, but the court awarded damages and attorney fees to the plaintiff, and where the MORTGAGE ATTACK lawsuit shows you how to set up a win, read up on Bradford v HSBC. Get the PACER docket report for this case:
1:09-cv-01226-TSE-JFA Bradford v. HSBC Mortgage Corporation et al
If you use the RECAP THE LAW extension in Firefox or Chrome browser, you can get an abbreviated docket report and some case docs FREE. Get the Docket Report I just ran HERE:
You can get the case opinions at Google Scholar here.
22 July 2011 – Bradford v. HSBC Mortg. Corp., 799 F. Supp. 2d 625 – Dist. Court, ED Virginia 2011
8 Dec 2011 – Bradford v. HSBC Mortg. Corp., 829 F. Supp. 2d 340 – Dist. Court, ED Virginia 2011
5 March 2012- Bradford v. HSBC Mortg. Corp., 838 F. Supp. 2d 424 – Dist. Court, ED Virginia 2012
26 April 2012- Bradford v. HSBC Mortg. Corp., 859 F. Supp. 2d 783 – Dist. Court, ED Virginia 2012
This case has not ended yet, partly because the creditor filed for bankruptcy and has not come out yet.
As the above opinions show, Bradford took out a refi loan in 2006, and paid on it for two years even thought the loan broker had lied, bait and switched him, then Bradford send the lender a justified notice of rescission in 2008. He sued for TILA rescission, for related damages including credit reputation damage for failure of the creditor to remove the lien and to tender after he offered to tender, for FDCPA violations for trying to collect a rescinded debt, for RESPA violations because the servicer refused to tell him the identity of the creditor (for which Bradford won costs, $4K damage, and over $25K legal fees), and for wrongful foreclosure. He filed the lawsuit 1 year and 16 days after sending notice of rescission.
Document 56 shows that a competent plaintiff like Bradford can craft a multi-count complaint so that it sails past a motion to dismiss with flying colors. The judge analyzes the complaint carefully and seems to love it.
The court ended up dismissing the rescission complaint because the 4th Circuit had opined that the borrower must sue within 3 years after closing, and Bradford sued a little over 4 years after closing. Thereafter, the 4th Circuit changed its view about the timing of rescission lawsuit, incidentally aligning with the Jesinoski opinion.
After the creditor comes out of bankruptcy, Bradford will have the ability to challenge the rescission dismissal in light of later Circuit position on suing for rescission, and in light of Jesinoski. The court would, of course, reverse the dismissal and order the unwinding of the loan. However, Bradford will have a considerable amount of setoffs, and the creditor knows it.
So, instead of challenging the dismissal right off, he can demand a settlement from the creditor (“Give me the house free and clear and call us even”). He will point out how badly he has beat up his adversaries already, and how much more he will beat them up with the rescission and setoffs and enormous legal fees, etc. They might make him a suitable counter offer. Or he might have to take them back to court. Time will tell.
Regardless, Bradford has not made a house payment since late 2008, he does not have to make payments because of the justified rescission, and interest stopped accruing on his debt in 2008, giving him free use of that money in the form of his house
In summary, Norman Bradford has, though his case, conducted a Mortgage Attack seminar for anyone wanting to know how to beat up the bank and its team members. The pleadings sit there on PACER for you to study.
All of you who simply cannot believe that borrowers can beat the bank by proving the bank and its agents and allies injured the borrower, TAKE HEART. Here I present a crystal clear example of the MORTGAGE ATTACK methodology:
Bank of America, NA v. Pate, 159 So. 3d 383 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015
Don’t waste your time whining about the banking industry, fractional reserve lending, the Federal Reserve, the money system, securitization, and such irrelevancies. Get a mortgage examination if necessary to find the causes of action, and use them to HAMMER the lender, creditor, servicer, appraiser, loan broker, closer, title company, etc (whoever hurt you) IN COURT.
As you can see, the Florida appeals court upheld the BENCH TRIAL (not jury) award of $250,000 in PUNITIVE DAMAGES and over $60,000 in compensatory damages for the INJURIES the BANK did to the BORROWER. The Pates could probably have won much more in a jury trial.
If you want to deploy the MORTGAGE ATTACK strategy in your own mortgage dispute, visit http://MortgageAttack.com to learn what works and what does not.
BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., and Third-Party Defendant, Homefocus Services, LLC, Appellants,
Phillip V. PATE and Barbara Pate, Robert L. Pohlman and Marcia L. Croom, Appellees.
ROWE and OSTERHAUS, JJ., concur; THOMAS, J., CONCURS SPECIALLY WITH OPINION.
THOMAS, J., Specially Concurring.
In this civil foreclosure case, the trial court found that Appellant Bank of America (the Bank) engaged in egregious and intentional misconduct in Appellee Pates’ (Pate) purchase of a residential home. Thus, based on the trial court’s finding that the Bank had unclean hands in this equity action, it did not reversibly err in denying the foreclosure action and granting a deed in lieu of foreclosure. In addition, the trial court did not err in ruling in favor of the Pates in their counterclaims for breach of contract and fraud, and awarding them $250,000 in punitive damages and $60,443.29 in compensatory damages, against the Bank and its affiliate, Homefocus Services, LLC, which provided the flawed appraisal discussed below. Finally, the trial court did not reversibly err in granting injunctive relief and thereby ordering the Bank to take the necessary measures to correct the Pates’ credit histories.
In the bench trial below, the trial court found that the Bank assured the Pates, based on the appraisal showing the home’s value far exceeded the $50,000 mortgage loan, that it would issue a home equity loan in addition to the mortgage loan. This was a precondition to the Pates’ agreement to purchase the home, which was in very poor condition but had historical appeal for the Pates. The Pates intended to restore the home, but needed the home equity loan to facilitate restoration.
Before the closing on the property, the Bank informed the Pates that it would close on the home equity loan “later,” after the mortgage loan was issued. The Bank later refused to issue the home equity loan, in part on the ground that the appraisal issued by Homefocus was flawed. The Pates were forced to invest all of their savings and much of their own labor in extensive repairs. Thus, the trial court found that the Pates detrimentally relied on the representations of the Bank that it would issue the home equity loan. The record supports the trial court’s conclusion that the Bank acted with reckless disregard constituting intentional misconduct by the Bank. See generally,Lance v. Wade, 457 So.2d 1008, 1011 (Fla.1984) (“[E]lements for actionable fraud are (1) a false statement concerning a material fact; (2) knowledge by the person … that the representation is false; (3) the intent … [to] induce another to act on it; and (4) reliance on the representation to the injury of the other party. In summary, there must be an intentional material misrepresentation upon which the other party relies to his detriment.”).
The trial court further found that the Pates complied with the Bank’s demand to obtain an insurance binder to provide premiums for annual coverage, and that the Bank agreed to place these funds in escrow, utilizing the binder to pay the first year of coverage and calculate future charges to the Pates. Although the Pates fulfilled this contractual obligation, the Bank failed to correctly utilize the escrow funds. Consequently, the Pates’ insurance policy was ultimately cancelled due to nonpayment. The Pates attempted to obtain additional coverage but were unsuccessful due to the home’s structural condition. The Bank then obtained a force-placed policy with $334,800 in coverage and an annual premium of $7,382.98, which was 385*385 included on the mortgage loan, quadrupling the Pate’s mortgage payment.
The Pates offered to pay the original $496.34 monthly mortgage payment, but the Bank refused, demanding a revised mortgage payment of $2,128.74. The trial court found it “disturbing that Bank of America could financially profit due to [the Bank’s] failure to pay the home insurance…. [T]he profits for one or more months of forced place insurance would have been substantial.”
The trial court further found that during the four years of litigation following the Pates’ default, the Bank’s agents entered the Pate’s home several times while the Pates resided there, attempted to remove furniture, and placed locks on the exterior doors. Following the Bank’s action, the Pates had to have the locks changed so their family could enter the residence. During two of the intrusions, the Pates were required to enlist the aid of the sheriff to force the Bank’s agent to leave their home. The trial court found as fact that, due to the Bank’s multiple intrusions into their home, the Pates were forced to obtain alternative housing for 28 months, at a cost of thousands of dollars.
The Bank’s actions supported the trial court’s finding that punitive damages were awardable. In Estate of Despain v. Avante Group, Inc., 900 So.2d 637, 640 (Fla. 5th DCA 2005), the court held that “[p]unishment of the wrongdoer and deterrence of similar wrongful conduct in the future, rather than compensation of the injured victim, are the primary policy objectives of punitive damage awards.” See also Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp. v. Ballard, 749 So.2d 483 (Fla.1999); W.R. Grace & Co.-Conn. v. Waters, 638 So.2d 502 (Fla.1994).
In Estate of Despain, the court held that “[t]o merit an award of punitive damages, the defendant’s conduct must transcend the level of ordinary negligence and enter the realm of willful and wanton misconduct….” 900 So.2d at 640. Florida courts have defined such conduct as including an “entire want of care which would raise the presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences, or which shows… reckless indifference to the rights of others which is equivalent to an intentional violation of them.” Id. (quoting White Constr. Co. v. Dupont, 455 So.2d 1026, 1029 (Fla.1984)). Here, the Bank’s intent to defraud was shown by its reckless disregard for its actions. The facts showing the Bank’s “conscious indifference to consequences” and “reckless indifference” to the rights of the Pates is the same as an intentional act violating their rights. See White Constr. Co., 455 So.2d at 1029. The record evidence provides ample support for the trial court’s ruling in favor of the Pates’ claim for punitive damages against the Bank.
The learned trial judge found that the Bank’s actions demonstrated its unclean hands; therefore, the Bank was not entitled to a foreclosure judgment in equity. Unclean hands is an equitable defense, akin to fraud, to discourage unlawful activity. SeeCongress Park Office Condos II, LLC v. First-Citizens Bank & Trust Co., 105 So.3d 602, 609 (Fla. 4th DCA 2013) (“It is a self-imposed ordinance that closes the doors of a court of equity to one tainted with inequitableness or bad faith relative to the matter in which he seeks relief[.]”) (quoting Precision Instrument Mfg. Co. v. Auto. Maint. Mach. Co., 324 U.S. 806, 814 (1945)). The totality of the circumstances established the Bank’s unclean hands, precluding it from benefitting by its actions in a court of equity. Thus, the trial court did not err by denying the foreclosure action.
Read the opinion here (also appended below):
This California 4th District appellate opinion contains a treasure trove of virtual advice for borrowers whom the lender scammed with a fake loan mod while foreclosing on him at the same time (“dual tracking.”
The panel fully supported the opinion of the trial court which awarded Bergman $250,000 in damages plus legal fees. The court would have awarded him much more had Bergman’s attorney hired Law Partner On Call (http://lawpartneroncall.com) to manage the litigation, write the pleadings, and write the jury instructions.
Bergman got his payday for breach of contract by his creditor, but he made a bunch of mistakes.
For example, he did not include an attorney fees provision in his loan security instrument (that standard form only says the creditor can recover legal fees and costs) in the event the court finds that the creditor or servicer or other agent engaged in wrongdoing that injured the borrower. The court awarded Bergman fees anyway, but against great opposition by the creditor. Most borrowers make the same mistake.
And, Bergman failed to add to the security instrument that a special penalty attaches to dual tracking, a scam that virtually every lender has run on desperate borrowers who want a loan mod.
Furthermore, Bergman made the same mistake many do in loan mod negotiations – he failed to record the name and ID# of everyone he talked to at the bank, and he failed to get a signed writing saying he had to miss payments in order to qualify for the loan mod, and that if he missed them, then made proper trial payments, the lender would grant the loan mod. Everything was oral leading up to the actual mod. And oral agreements have no more value than the paper on which the parties wrote them. The lender’s attorney blustered about it, but the court ruled that the parties had indeed make that agreement, then failed to give Bergman a loan mod. I believe many courts, faced with similar facts, have ruled that no agreement existed.
Bergman’s most monumental mistake: he failed to hire a competent professional to examine his loan documents for evidence of torts, contract and regulatory breaches, and legal errors. Had he done that, and lodge those as claims in his complaint, he could have won gargantuan damages award because, almost certainly, fraud underlay his loan.
Bergman while in the right, found uncommon good luck in this litigation. Many borrowers have lost using his paper-thin arguments.
READ THE OPINION thoroughly, especially if you have a mortgage and consider a loan mod.
But if you really want to win, call me right now at 727 669 5511 and schedule a mortgage examination, whether or not you face foreclosure. Read all about what wins and what does not win at http://mortgageattack.com.
Filed 9/30/15 Bergman v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. CA4/2
NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT
(Super.Ct.No. RIC10014015) OPINION
APPEAL from the Superior Court of Riverside County. Ronald L. Taylor, Judge. (Retired judge of the Riverside Super. Ct. assigned by the Chief Justice pursuant to art. VI, § 6 of the Cal. Const.) Affirmed.
AlvaradoSmith, John M. Sorich, S. Christopher Yoo, Jacob M. Clark; Parker Ibrahim & Berg, John M. Sorich and Mariel Gerlt-Ferraro for Defendant and Appellant.
Burkelegal and Gregory Burke for Plaintiff and Appellant.
Plaintiff and respondent Jeffrey A. Bergman (Bergman) sued defendant and appellant JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (Chase) on claims involving a residential loan modification. A jury found in favor of Bergman on his causes of action for intentional misrepresentation and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing.
Chase appeals from a $250,000 judgment in favor of Bergman, and the posttrial orders denying Chase’s motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) and granting attorney’s fees to Bergman.
Chase argues the verdict is not supported by substantial evidence because no evidence shows Chase made misrepresentations to Bergman. Additionally, Chase argues the trial court erred in evidentiary rulings and jury instructions. Finally, Chase contends the judgment’s award of damages was duplicative, and the attorney’s fees provision under the subject deed of trust and promissory note did not include recovery of fees.
Bergman has filed a cross-appeal, raising issues of instructional and evidentiary error, and additional claims by Bergman for breach of contract and attorney’s fees.
We presume the judgment is correct if it is supported by substantial evidence. (Ermoian v. Desert Hospital (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 475, 494; Denham v. Superior
Court (1970) 2 Cal.3d 557, 564; San Diego Metropolitan Transit Development Bd. v. Handlery Hotel, Inc. (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 517, 528.) To warrant reversal, an error in jury instructions must result in a miscarriage of justice. (Mize-Kurzman v. Marin
Community College Dist. (2010) 202 Cal.App.4th 832, 862; Soule v. General Motors
Corp. (1994) 8 Cal.4th 548, 580.) Evidentiary error must also be “arbitrary, capricious, or patently absurd . . . resulting in a manifest miscarriage of justice.” (Boeken v. Philip Morris, Inc. (2005) 127 Cal.App.4th 1640, 1685.) On a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, an appellate court must decide whether any substantial evidence supports the verdict unless the verdict raises purely legal questions. (Trujilllo v. North County Transit Dist. (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 280, 284; Wolf v. Walt Disney Pictures
& Television (2008) 162 Cal.App.4th 1107, 1138.) An award of attorney’s fees is
reviewed de novo. (Conservatorship of Whitley (2010) 50 Cal.4th 1206, 1212.) Based on the various appropriate standards of review, we affirm the judgment:
“The ultimate determination is whether a reasonable trier of fact could have found for the respondent based on the whole record.” (Kuhn v. Department of General Services (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 1627, 1633.)
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In 2005, Bergman purchased the subject residential real property located at 22330 Foxhall Drive in Corona, making a down payment of $250,000. Bergman proceeded to make improvements to the property costing about $291,000.
In 2007, Bergman refinanced the property with an adjustable rate mortgage of
$937,500, based on a value of $1.25 million. Bergman testified he thought the loan was a conventional loan. Instead, the monthly payments in the fixed amount of $5,273.44 were interest-only for the first 10 years until 2017.
Bergman made the monthly payments from January until October 2008. Chase acquired the beneficial interest in the loan in September 2008. In December 2008, Bergman asked for a loan modification with a lower interest rate. He paid the loan modification fee of $1,582. The bank agreed to reduce the interest rate to 3 percent and the monthly payment to $4,112.74, while increasing the loan balance by an additional
$9,000. In the third year, the monthly payment would increase to $5,417.64, applied to both principal and interest.
When Bergman realized how much the monthly payment would increase in the third year, he immediately contacted Chase about another modification. He testified Chase offered proposed terms for a new loan modification with a 40-year term, a fixed interest rate at 3 percent, and a $3,000 monthly payment. Bergman had the ability to pay
$3,000 a month.
Bergman testified he did not make a payment on the first loan modification in January 2009 or later because the Chase bank staff1 told him that to qualify for another loan modification he would need to be in default. Bergman did not remember making a payment that was reversed and returned in February 2009, for nonsufficient funds, or “NSF.”
A notice of default (NOD) was recorded in April 2009. Although Bergman contacted Chase about the NOD, Bergman did not realize in July 2009 that the
- Bergman could not name most of the bank staff to whom he Almost none of the correspondence he received from Chase included individual names.
foreclosure was proceeding. A notice of trustee’s sale was mailed to Bergman, posted on the property, and recorded on August 3, 2009.
In the meantime, in August 2009, Bergman consulted with a real estate broker about a short sale. Bergman also finally received information about a HAMP2 loan modification from Chase. Bergman submitted a HAMP hardship affidavit and financial information to Chase on August 20, 2009. Bergman had suffered financial difficulties from a divorce, a downturn in his limousine business, and two surgeries. He stated the property was worth $578,000 and the outstanding loan was $946,000. However, Bergman could not qualify for a HAMP loan because of the limit of $729,750 on loan modifications.
Bergman identified one Chase employee, Hifa Boolori, whose name appears on correspondence dated August 28, 2009, approving a trial plan agreement. A trial plan agreement was not a HAMP loan but a Chase internal loan modification program.
Bergman agreed to the plan and made three trial plan payments of $2,775 in September, October, and November 2009. He provided additional information, anticipating he would receive a second loan modification.
Bergman testified he did not know the foreclosure was proceeding at the same time the second loan modification was being evaluated. He was told the foreclosure
would be “frozen.” In his fifth amended complaint, he alleged he was informed on November 17, 2009, that he had been denied a loan modification and a sale was
- Home Affordable Modification
scheduled for January 5, 2010. At trial, he testified he did not know the trustee’s sale was scheduled for December 2, 2009, but had been rescheduled for January 15, 2010.
On December 17, 2009, Bergman signed a listing agreement for a short sale. He drafted a letter on December 22, 2009, asking Chase to let him sell the property in a short sale.
On the same date, December 22, 2009, Chase wrote Bergman a letter asking him to provide two recent paystubs to support his loan modification request. After receiving that letter, Bergman called Chase—because he had already been told his loan modification was denied—but Chase told him the loan was still under review. Bergman provided copies of his bank statements for October and November 2009.
On January 12, 2010, Chase again wrote Bergman, stating his loan modification was being reviewed. On February 11, 2010, Bergman wrote Chase, asking to cancel the loan modifications and to proceed with a short sale. Bergman continued to receive conflicting information about his loan from Chase until July 2010.
The property was sold at a trustee’s sale in July 2010 to defendant Mark Mraz, a friend of Bergman’s. One appraised fair market value was $595,000. The unpaid principal balance was $1,022.265.92. Bergman continued to receive notices about loan modification after the sale.
After the property was sold, Bergman was sued for unlawful detainer. Bergman posted a cash bond of $30,000 with money borrowed from his parents. Bergman incurred additional attorney’s fees defending the unlawful detainer action.
The jury completed the special verdict forms on all seven causes of action and punitive damages. The jury awarded Bergman damages of $125,000 on the cause of action for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing and $125,000 on the cause of action for intentional misrepresentation.
At trial Chase objected to Bergman’s testimony about the $291,000 he spent on property improvements on the grounds that information had not been disclosed during discovery. Chase argues the trial court abused its discretion by allowing Bergman to testify. (Evid. Code, § 352.) Chase contends it was prejudiced by “surprise at the trial” because Chase could not adequately challenge Bergman’s testimony regarding the property upgrades. (Chronicle Pub. Co. v. Superior Court (1960) 54 Cal.2d 548, 561.)
Chase’s pretrial motion in limine sought to exclude any documentary evidence and witnesses not previously disclosed. Bergman was not an undisclosed witness and he did not submit documentary evidence about the property upgrades at trial. Furthermore, we have reviewed Chase’s record citations to its discovery requests and those requests do not support Chase’s contention that it “specifically requested all documents in support of Bergman’s claims.” Chase’s requests for admission, form and special interrogatories, and document requests do not ask generally or particularly for any documents in support of Bergman’s claim for damages based on the cost of the property improvements.
Therefore, the predicate for Chase’s argument—that Bergman did not comply with
discovery requests—is not supported by the record. The trial court did not abuse its
discretion in allowing Bergman’s testimony, which did not involve undisclosed documents or witnesses. (Boeken v. Phillip Morris, Inc., supra, 127 Cal.App.4th at p. 1685.)
JURY INSTRUCTION ON CORPORATE FRAUD
The trial court gave the jury a standard instruction based on CACI No. 1900, concerning intentional misrepresentation: “Jeffrey Bergman claims that [Chase] made a false representation that harmed him.” Chase contends the court erred by not giving its proposed Special Instruction No. 11: “To assert a fraud action against a corporation, a plaintiff must also allege [the] names of the person or persons who allegedly made the
fraudulent representation, their authority to speak, to whom they spoke, what they said or
wrote, and when it was said or written.”
The special instruction requested by Chase is based on heightened pleading requirements for corporate fraud, requiring a plaintiff to allege specifically the name of the person who made the alleged misrepresentations, his authority to speak, and what he said or wrote, and when it was said or written. (Lazar v. Superior Court (1996) 12 Cal.4th 631, 645; Tarmann v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. (1991) 2 Cal.App.4th 153,
157; Cansino v. Bank of America (2014) 224 Cal.App.4th 1462, 1469.) However, “[l]ess specificity in pleading fraud is required ‘when “it appears from the nature of the allegations that the defendant must necessarily possess full information concerning the facts of the controversy . . . .”’ (Committee on Children’s Television, Inc. v. General
Foods Corp. (1983) 35 Cal.3d 197, 217.)” (Cansino, at p. 1469.)
In the present case, Bergman specifically alleged and testified that he knew the name of one Chase employee in particular, Hifa Boloori, who made representations to him, although he spoke to many Chase employees during many phone calls between 2008 and 2010. Additionally, Chase had extensive records of contacts and conversations with Bergman which included information about which Chase employees contacted him, including the period between October 2008 and February 2009. Under the category of “USR,” the Chase delinquency notes identified the Chase employee by his or her initials, allowing Chase to determine who contacted Bergman far more easily than Bergman could do so. Even if Chase’s records do not expressly document an oral promise for a
40-year loan at 3 percent interest with $3,000 monthly payments, the records still include information about the employees who talked to Bergman.
Under these circumstances, it was not error or prejudicial for the trial court to instruct the jury according to the standard jury instruction and not to use Chase’s
proposed special instruction. The instruction to the jury was not required to be as specific as the pleading. Nevertheless, Bergman identified one person by name and Chase had to know its own employees based on its own records. (West v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (2013) 214 Cal.App.4th 780, 793.) There was no error causing a miscarriage of justice and no prejudice in refusing Chase’s special instruction. (Mize-Kurzman v. Mann Community College Dist., supra, 202 Cal.App.4th at p. 862, citing Soule v. General Motors Corp., supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 580.)
V SUBSTANTIAL EVIDENCE
Chase argues there is not substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict on the causes of action for fraud by intentional misrepresentation and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In our review, we are guided by well-established principles: “It is for the trier of fact to determine the weight of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses and resolve all conflicts. Where disputed facts are presented to and resolved by the trial judge, unless clearly erroneous his findings will not be disturbed by the reviewing court; it is not the province of this court to substitute its judgment for that of the trier of fact. On appeal the evidence and all reasonable inferences to be drawn therefrom must be viewed in a light most favorable to the findings and judgment. [Citations.] ‘Such a judgment, when attacked on evidentiary grounds, must be affirmed when there is any evidence, direct or circumstantial, to support the findings of the trial court. Stated negatively, such a judgment cannot be reversed unless there is no evidence, direct or circumstantial, to support the findings. These rules are elementary.’
[Citations.]” (Ach v. Finkelstein (1968) 264 Cal.App.2d 667, 674.)
- Intentional Misrepresentation
Chase contends there is not substantial evidence of the elements of intentional misrepresentation: 1) a false representation of a material fact; 2) knowledge of the falsity; 3) intent to induce another to rely on the misrepresentation; 4) reliance on the misrepresentation; and 5) resulting damage. (Ach v. Finkelstein, supra, 264 Cal.App.2d
at p. 674; Mirkin v. Wasserman (1993) 5 Cal.4th 1082, 1111.) Chase argues substantial
evidence does not show that Chase made any misrepresentation to Bergman or that Bergman was induced to default on a loan as a result of a misrepresentation by Chase.
Bergman asserts that Chase was liable for two separate misrepresentations: 1) that, if his loan was in default, he could obtain a loan modification; and 2) if Bergman made three trial plan payments he could obtain a loan modification. The jury found the former was true and the latter was not.
“‘In its broad, general sense the concept of fraud embraces anything which is intended to deceive, including all statements, acts, concealments and omissions involving a breach of legal or equitable duty, trust or confidence which results in injury to one who justifiably relies thereon. . . . There is no absolute or fixed rule for determining what facts will constitute fraud; whether or not it is found depends upon the particular facts of the case under inquiry. Fraud may be proved by direct evidence or it may be inferred from all of the circumstances in the case. [Citation.] “Actual fraud is always a question of fact.” (Civ. Code, § 1574.)’ [Citations.]” (Ach v. Finkelstein, supra, 264 Cal.App.2d at p. 675.)
Chase’s argument is primarily that Bergman is inconsistent in his testimony about exactly what he was told and when. However, Bergman’s testimony and other evidence certainly supports his contention that Chase informed him that in order to qualify for a second loan modification, he would have to be in default. Based on the evidence, the jury could have reasonably found that, beginning in December 2008 and continuing through 2010, Bergman had many conversations with Chase about modifying his loan.
Although Chase wants to pin Bergman down to precise dates and times, the general tenor
of the evidence was consistent. Because Bergman hoped to obtain a second loan modification, he defaulted on payments under the first modification. His default continued as he waited to complete the second modification, including making the additional three trial payments in late 2009, and investigating a short sale as an alternative if the second loan modification was not completed. We conclude substantial evidence supported the jury verdict that Chase made intentional misrepresentations to Bergman. (Ach v. Finkelstein, supra, 264 Cal.App.2d at pp. 673-676.)
- Breach of Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing
Chase also argues there was not substantial evidence of breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing and the special jury verdicts were inconsistent. We disagree.
The court gave the jury the following instructions on breach of contract: 1) Bergman claims that he and Chase “entered into an oral contract for a loan modification at fixed payments under $3,000.00”; 2) Chase “breached this contract by not providing him a permanent loan modification after he made the three trial plan payments”; and 3) to prove breach of contract, Bergman must prove Chase “failed to do something that the
contract required it to do.” The court gave the jury additional instructions on the breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing: 4) Bergman must prove the parties entered into a valid contract; and 5) Chase “interfered with” Bergman’s “right to receive the benefits of the contract.”
The instructions are confusing but the jury apparently reconciled any conflicts by finding that Bergman and Chase had a binding oral contract for a loan modification with
$3,000 payments. However, the jury did not find the oral contract was conditioned on
defendant making three trial plan payments. Therefore, the jury found Chase did not “fail to do something that the oral contract required it to do,” namely provide a loan modification after Bergman made the three payments. Nevertheless, the jury also found Chase interfered with “Bergman’s right to receive benefits of the contract,” i.e. the promise of a loan modification.
In other words, the jury did not find Chase was required to give Bergman a loan modification if he made the three trial plan payments; Chase did not breach the contract for that reason. But Chase did interfere with Bergman’s benefits under the contract by not giving him the promised loan modification. Therefore, as already discussed, sufficient evidence showed that there was a contract for a loan with $3,000 payments and that Chase interfered with the contractual benefit to Bergman.
VI DUPLICATIVE DAMAGES
Bergman testified that his damages included his original down payment of
$250,000 and the property improvements of $291,000. Chase argues the damages award was duplicative and the intent of the jury was not to award $250,000 but to award a total of only $125,000 for both causes of action found in his favor.
The court gave the jury multiple, somewhat contradictory, instructions on damages. Ultimately, the jury awarded damages of $125,000 for breach of the implied covenant and $125,000 for intentional misrepresentation. The trial court entered a judgment of $250,000. The trial court reasoned:
“It’s the Court’s opinion that the jury did intend to award separate damages to the plaintiff for the improvements that the plaintiff testified that he made to his home . . . and the down payment which he made for the home. [¶] So my interpretation of the jury verdict was they intended to award damages for both of those injuries incurred by the plaintiff and not just one sum of the $125,000. So, in other words, I agree . . . as to how the jury reached its verdict on these two separate causes of action, which were based upon different losses incurred by the plaintiff.”
There is no evidence in the record of the “intent” of the jury. Instead, the record shows the jury was given special verdict forms for each of the seven causes of action and the claim for punitive damages. The jury was instructed to award separate damages for each cause of action. It was not instructed to award damages collectively. The amount of damages claimed by Bergman was at least $541,000, the combined amount of his down payment and the property improvements. The jury’s verdict awarding him damages of
$125,000 each on two causes of action is within the realm of damages.
Chase’s argument that the jury meant to award only $125,000 is speculative and the cases relied upon by Chase are distinguishable. Shell v. Schmidt (1954) 126 Cal.App.2d 279, 291, involved a single cause of action, not two causes of action as here. In DuBarry Internat., Inc. v. Southwest Forest Industries, Inc. (1991) 231 Cal.App.3d 552, 564, the court acknowledged a plaintiff could be entitled to recover separate damages on two causes of action: “They do involve, after all, alleged invasions of different rights.” Tavaglione v. Billings (1993) 4 Cal.4th 1150, 1158, held that a party “is
not entitled to more than a single recovery for each distinct item of compensable damage
supported by the evidence.” However, “[i]n contrast where separate items of compensable damage are shown by distinct and independent evidence, the plaintiff is entitled to recover the entire amount of his damages, whether that amount is expressed by the jury in a single verdict or multiple verdicts referring to different claims or legal theories.” (Id. at p. 1159.)
The present case involves two separate causes of action, different theories, and two distinct items of compensable damages. Under these circumstances, no duplicative damages were awarded by the jury.
CHASE’S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT NOTWITHSTANDING THE VERDICT
Chase contends the trial court should have granted its motion for JNOV for two reasons. Chase repeats the argument that Bergman did not identify the employee who made the misrepresentation—an argument we have already rejected.
Second, Chase argues Bergman was not damaged because the proper measure of damages for the wrongful foreclosure of real property is the value of the equity in the property at the time of the foreclosure. (Munger v. Moore (1970) 11 Cal.App.3d 1, 11; Civ. Code, § 3333.) At the time of the foreclosure sale in July 2010, the unpaid principal balance, along with costs, totaled $1,022,256.92, leaving no equity.
Chase’s argument about wrongful foreclosure is not pertinent, however, because the jury rejected the wrongful foreclosure claim and did not award damages on that cause of action. Instead, the jury awarded damages for intentional misrepresentation and
breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. The jury was instructed Bergman
could prove damages for breach of contract based on what would reasonably compensate for the breach. (CACI No. 350.) The jury was also instructed it could award Bergman reasonable compensation for harm. (CACI No. 1923.) The instructions to the jury, as reasonably construed did not prohibit the jury from awarding damages for the original down payment or for the property improvements, even if the losses for those items of damage were not sustained until after Chase committed its breach or made its misrepresentations. The damages awarded were not for wrongful foreclosure and the measure of such damages is not relevant.
VIII ATTORNEY’S FEES
The trial court awarded Bergman attorney’s fees—reduced from $454,772.23 to
$188,100—finding that he could recover fees under both contract and tort based on the attorney’s fees provision in the original note and trust deed under which the foreclosure was conducted. The same result occurred in Smith v. Home Loan Funding, Inc. (2011) 192 Cal.App.4th 1331, 1337-1338. (Civ. Code, § 1717; Code Civ. Proc., § 1021.)
The subject note provides: “. . . the Note Holder will have the right to be paid back by me for all of its costs and expenses in enforcing this Note [including] reasonable attorneys’ fees.” The subject trust deed provides: “Lender shall be entitled to collect all expenses incurred in pursuing the remedies provided . . . including, but not limited to,
reasonable attorneys’ fees . . . .”
The Smith court construed the very same language and found that that “breach of the implied covenant can sometimes support an award of fees under section 1717.”
(Smith v. Home Loan Funding, Inc., supra, 192 Cal.App.4th at p. 1337.) Smith distinguished Sawyer v. Bank of America (1978) 83 Cal.App.3d 135, 140, 145, and held that, where one party had a fiduciary obligation and made an express oral promise, it was justifiable to treat the oral agreement and the loan documents as a single agreement because they were all part of the same transaction. (Smith, at pp. 1337-1338, citing Civ.
Code, § 1642 [“Several contracts relating to the same matters, between the same parties, . . . are to be taken together”].)
The oral contract between Bergen and Chase was part of a single agreement, including the note and deed of trust; the trial court found the oral contract was intended to effect a modification of the original obligation. Therefore, the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees was proper, allowing the prevailing party to recoup attorney’s fees under the intertwined tort and contract claims. (Xuereb v. Marcus & Millichap, Inc. (1992) 3 Cal.App.4th 1338, 1341-1343.)
- Special Verdict on Wrong Foreclosure
The special verdict on the cause of action for wrongful foreclosure asked: Did Chase “violate any law or regulation governing foreclosure?” Bergman contends the special verdict should have read: Did Chase Bank “cause an illegal, fraudulent or oppressive sale of the real property located at 22330 Foxhall Drive, Corona, CA 92883?” Bergman argues his claim is not for wrongful foreclosure based on a statutory violation
but “Chase’s fraudulent practice of inducing borrowers into default with the promise of a
loan modification.” The basis for this instruction is thus exactly the same as Bergman’s causes of action for intentional misrepresentation and breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, for which he recovered damages. Under these circumstances, there was no miscarriage of justice in refusing Bergman’s alternative instruction. (Mize- Kurzman v. Marin Community College Dist., supra, 202 Cal.App.4th at p. 862, citing Soule v. General Motors Corp., supra, 8 Cal.4th at p. 580.)
- Special Verdict on Punitive Damages
Bergman claims the jury should have been instructed that Chase could be directly liable for fraud and punitive damages. A corporate employer may only be liable for punitive damages as a result of its employees’ acts where it somehow ratified the behavior. (Civ. Code, § 3294, subd. (b); Weeks v. Baker & McKenzie (1978) 63 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1153.) The special verdict on punitive damages was based on CACI No.VF-3904: “Did an agent or employee of [Chase] engage in the conduct of malice, oppression, or fraud against Plaintiff?” The jury was also given an instruction based on CACI No. 3936 about liability for punitive damages for a corporate entity based on the acts of its agents. Chase could not be found directly liable for punitive damages for its own conduct. (Davis v. Kiewit Pacific Co. (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 358, 365.) The jury was properly instructed on punitive damages.
- Motion to Amend
At the end of trial, the court denied Bergman’s request for leave to amend to add a claim for breach of a written contract under HAMP or the Chase trial payment plan. An appeal from a trial court’s decision in granting or denying a request to amend the
pleadings is reviewed for a clear showing of an abuse of discretion. (Garcia v. Roberts (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 900, 909.) The guiding principles are: “(1) whether facts or legal theories are being changed and (2) whether the opposing party will be prejudiced by the proposed amendment.” (City of Stanton v. Cox (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 1557, 1563.)
Throughout the trial, Bergman had relied on a theory of an oral promise, not a written contract. The trial court properly denied Bergman’s oral motion to amend, and subsequent motion for JNOV, because the introduction of new facts and theories would cause prejudice to Chase. There was no reason for Bergman to wait years to amend his claims. We reject Bergman’s contentions on this issue.
- Attorney’s Fees
Bergman argues he should have been allowed to offer evidence of the attorney’s fees he incurred in the unlawful detainer action and he was entitled to recover those fees under the note and trust deed. We conduct a de novo review on whether there is a legal basis for a fee award. (Conservatorship of Whitley, supra, 50 Cal.4th at p. 1212.)
After Chase objected to the submission of evidence on attorney’s fees for the unlawful detainer action, Bergman’s counsel stated he would raise it later. Bergman’s counsel did not raise the issue again. The record shows Bergman waived this issue. (Estate of Odian (2006) 145 Cal.App.4th 152, 168.) Furthermore, Bergman’s claim was for attorney’s fees sustained in a separate unlawful detainer action by Mraz, the third party who purchased the property at trustee’s sale. Bergman cites no authority for the recovery of attorney’s fees under these circumstances. In fact, he concedes there is no
authority but asks this court to resolve the issue in a published opinion. We decline to do so.
We reject both appeals and affirm the judgment. In the interests of justice, we order the parties to bear their own costs on appeal.
NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS
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.
NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, LLC v. Brown, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2015
NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE, LLC, Appellant,
GERMAINE R. BROWN a/k/a GERMAINE R. BROWN; ANDREA E. BROWN, Appellees.
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.
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.
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.
381 F.3d 793
Stanley William STARK; Patricia Garnet Stark, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
SANDBERG, PHOENIX & VON GONTARD, P.C.; Scott Greenberg; EMC Mortgage Corporation; SpvG Trustee, Defendants-Appellees.
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.
Stanley and Patricia Stark appeal the district court’s order vacating in part an arbitration award granting them punitive damages. We reverse.
* 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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
Appellee’s app. at 22.
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
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.
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.
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).
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).
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
(1) Where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means.
(2) Where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them.
(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.
(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.
9 U.S.C. § 10(a).
Similarly, under 9 U.S.C. § 11 a reviewing court may only modify the arbitrator’s award
(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.
(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.
(c) Where the award is imperfect in matter of form not affecting the merits of the controversy.
9 U.S.C. § 11.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
The agreement’s arbitration clause provides,
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.
Appellee’s app. at 19 (emphasis added).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Accordingly, we conclude the arbitrator’s finding that the contract was ambiguous was not irrational.
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.
“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).
“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)).
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).
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).
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.
“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.
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.]
Lee v. Chica, 983 F.2d 883, 889 (8th Cir. 1993) (Beam, J. concurring in part and dissenting in part).
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).
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.
Mortgage Exam Ethically Mandatory Prior to Negotiation with Bank
I write to toss a business philosophy gauntlet before you. I do not run a business. I function as ombudsman and consumer activist in support of mortgage victims. I help people with mortgage problems obtain the best possible advantage for any negotiation with the bank and its agents, or to beat them in a lawsuit.
I consider ANYTHING that operates to defeat that purpose as inimical to it. So, I might become YOUR enemy. I DO NOT SUPPORT efforts of negotiators and other service providers who undermine the mortgage victim’s ability to negotiate from a position of power. I shall explain why.
Mortgage Attack, the Only Worthy Methodology
ONE and ONLY one methodology has proven worthy at enabling the best financial outcome possible for mortgagors. I term it the “Mortgage Attack” methodology. The Mortgage Attack methodology consists of finding any and all of the ways the mortgage lender and its agents and associates injured the borrower, and using those injuries as negotiating leverage against the bank. This applies whether or not the borrower faces foreclosure. And the negotiating scenario can include a simple negotiation for a loan modification favoring the borrower, as well as a lawsuit or counter/cross-complaint against the injurious parties.
The Mortgage Attack methodology provides a negotiating advantage to the borrower because it carries an explicit or implicit threat of litigation against the injurious parties for injuring the borrower. It has become common knowledge that jurors loath lenders and associates who injure borrowers with scurrilous tactics. Since lawyers for the bank know this, the smarter ones will encourage their clients to settle in some way to avoid the litigation and related damage to the lender’s reputation, not to mention the possibility of monumental damages awards against the bank by the courts.
The Bad Guys in the Transaction
By “lender and its agents and associates” I mean the loan originator, owners of beneficial interest in the note, Realtor, mortgage broker, appraiser, title company operative, servicer, and/or related attorney. In short, it includes everyone involved in the mortgage transaction and related events other than the borrower. These are the “Bad Guys” in the transaction, EVEN IF the borrower erred too. Why? Because YOU work for the borrower, not the bank, etc.
The borrower’s own attorney or other practitioner can become culpable for injuries to the borrower resulting from the attorney’s failure aggressively to look for such causes of action and to lodge corresponding affirmative defenses, motions to dismiss, or counter/cross-complaints against the lenders and its agents and associates who injured the borrower.
By implication, EVERY PRACTITIONER employed by the mortgagor, including agents for short sale and loan modifications, has ethical and moral duties to guide the borrower toward the Mortgage Attack methodology before undertaking any negotiation for short sale or loan modification on behalf of a mortgage victim. The reason: only that methodology lets you negotiate from a position of power for the borrower.
Mortgage Examination Critically Important for Finding Evidence of Wrongdoing
The Mortgage Attack paradigm requires a comprehensive mortgage examination by a competent professional to find the causes of action against the lender and its agents and associates. The examination service provider should render a report showing the causes of action in a form that facilitates admission into evidence in a court of law. I know of only ONE firm capable of performing such an examination and delivering such a report. I shall happily divulge the identity of the firm to any with sincere need for the information.
The Challenge, the Gauntlet for Negotiators
I write this commentary to challenge short sale and loan modification agents to encourage their mortgage victim prospects to spend the necessary money on a proper mortgage examination (as above) BEFORE undertaking any short sale or loan modification effort. The reason should seem obvious, but I’ll explain it anyway. The prospect might decide to sue the injurious parties instead of negotiating from a position of weakness. As a consequence of winning such a law suite, the borrower might win huge compensatory and punitive damages, enough to buy several houses. That will certainly leave the borrower in possession of the mortgaged property at risk. Furthermore, the borrower can negotiate a short sale or loan modification or keys for cash deal from a position of power and strength, rather than from a position of weakness.
Certainly, the agents for short sale and loan mods will lose some commissions by advocating Mortgage Attack. But they will also win better negotiated settlements AND more clients because of their integrity.
In essence, I assert in this commentary that agents for short sale and loan mod commit ethics breaches and violate their duties to their prospective clients by telling them a mortgage exam is not always the best way to go when the opposite is obviously true.
Mortgage Attack and Mortgage Exam ALWAYS Come First
Mortgage Attack paradigm demands that the mortgage examination ALWAYS comes first in an effort to deal with a troubling mortgage. In point of fact, a mortgagor who owes more for a property that its actual value, and a mortgagor facing foreclosure, should ALWAYS purchase a comprehensive mortgage examination by a competent professional FIRST AND FOREMOST, before doing any other thing, to minimize the danger in the mortgage. ONLY a mortgage examination can give the mortgagor the necessary negotiating leverage for dealing with a bank and its stable of attorneys.
You’ll Earn More Commissions If You DO THE RIGHT THING
Agents for short sale and loan mod seem so terribly desperate for commissions that they will sacrifice the mortgagor client’s best interest by denigrating a mortgage exam as the primary step in resolving the mortgagor’s problems. That is, plainly, unethical and immoral.
Thus the gauntlet becomes the challenge to do the right thing. Recommend a mortgage examination for all of your clients as a prerequisite for doing business with them.
Contact me NOW for free help with that process.
Call 727 669 5511 • Or Click Here.