In Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC v. Berry, a dispute about a home equity loan, the Fifth Circuit confirmed that “we now must follow the Texas Supreme Court’s holding in [Wood v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., 505 S.W.3d 542 (Tex. 2016)] that no statute of limitations applies to a borrower’s allegations of violations of section 50(a)(6) of the Texas Constitution in a quiet title action, rather than our prior holding in [Priester v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., 708 F.3d 667 (5th Cir. 2013)].” In so doing, the Court reminded that “the issues-not-briefed-are-waived rule is a prudential construct that requires the exercise of discretion,” and addressed the applicability of Wood notwithstanding the appellant not discussing the case in its opening brief, noting that the underlying issues had been briefed, and that the Court had received supplemental briefing on the pure question of law presented about the application of Wood. No. 16-10604 (March 29, 2017).
Recipients of Section 8 housing assistance sued mortgage originators, complaining that the originators either denied or discouraged the recipients’ credit applications by not considering their Section 8 income, in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims by recipients who had only inquired about, rather than actually starting, the application process, as well as claims based on Wells Fargo’s policies about the purchase of mortgages in the secondary market. It reversed as to one group of applicants, however, finding under Iqbal and the substantive law that they “plausibly alleged that AmeriPro refused to consider their Section 8 income in assessing their creditworthiness as mortgage applicants, and that they received mortgages on less favorable terms and in lesser amounts than they would have had their Section 8 income been considered.” No. 15-20710 (Feb. 16, 2017).
CitiMortgage sought to foreclose on Maldonado’s home; in the subsequent litigatoin, it offered summary judgment evidence that he owed a balance of $533,960.80. In response, Maldonado “disputed the amounts that CitiMortgage claimed in attorneys’ fees, inspection fees, escrow, taxes, and late charges,” but did “not provide any evidence of what the correct amounts should be.” Maldonado v. CitiMortgage, No. 16-20541 (Jan. 23, 2017, unpublished).
Foster sued about a foreclosure; the state court granted a TRO (so no foreclosure occurred); and the mortgage servicer defendants removed and obtained summary judgment. Foster challenged the denial of her motion to remand, arguing that she did not improperly join the substitute trustee appointed to conduct the foreclosure sale. The Fifth Circuit affirmed: “[B]reach of a trustee’s duty does not constitute an independent tort; rather, it yields a cause of action for wrongful foreclosure. A claim of wrongful foreclosure cannot succeed, however, when no foreclosure has occurred.” Foster v. Deutsche Bank, No. 16-11045 (Feb. 8, 2017).
1. Does a lender or holder violate Article XVI, Section 50(a)(6)(Q)(vii) of the Texas Constitution, becoming liable for forfeiture of principal and interest, when the loan agreement incorporates the protections of Section 50(a)(6)(Q)(vii), but the lender or holder fails to return the cancelled note and release of lien upon full payment of the note and within 60 days after the borrower informs the lender or holder of the failure to comply?
2. If the answer to Question 1 is “no,” then, in the absence of actual damages, does a lender or holder become liable for forfeiture of principal and interest under a breach of contract theory when the loan agreement incorporates the protections of Section 50(a)(6)(Q)(vii), but the lender or holder, although filing a release of lien in the deed records, fails to return the cancelled note and release of lien upon full payment of the note and within 60 days after the borrower informs the lender or holder of the failure to comply?
The Texas Supreme Court answered both questions “no” in Garofolo v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, No. 15-0437 (Tex. May 20, 2016). Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s contract claim in Garofolo v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, No. 14-51156 (Oct. 3, 2016, unpublished).
“We now make explicit what we have held in unpublished, nonprecedential opinions. HUD regulations govern the relationship between the reverse-mortgage lender and HUD as insurer of the loan. HUD regulations do not give the borrower a private cause of action unless the regulations are expressly incorporated into the lender-borrower agreement.” Johnson v. World Alliance Financial, No. 15-50881 (July 18, 2016).
Among other points raised in a challenge to a foreclosure on a Texas home equity loan, the trial court observed: “the curious backdating of the [assignment] confirms the suspicion that this document was generated to obscure the chain of title inquiry rather than to illuminate it.” In reversing the judgment below, on this point the Fifth Circuit held: “At least two Texas Courts of Appeals have considered this very question, and both have held that an assignment may have a retroactive ‘effective date.'” Deutsche Bank v. Burke, No. 15-20201 (June 9, 2016, unpublished).
Garza moved into her mother’s house after her mother died intestate in 2013. In August 2013, Garza filed an application to determine heirship as to the house. In October, Wells Fargo foreclosed, having refused to speak to Garza about the note since she was not the borrower. In December, Garza was awarded a 50% share of the property. In January 2014, Wells Fargo began eviction proceedings. The Fifth Circuit agreed that Wells Fargo had not violated section 51.002(d) of the Texas Property Code (passing on the question whether it provides a private right of action), as the statute only requires notice to “a debtor in default.” Garza v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. 15-10426 (Jan. 28, 2016, unpublished).
In Villarreal v. Wells Fargo Bank, the Fifth Circuit published a straightforward Rule 12 affirmance in a mortgage servicing case, likely to make abundantly clear what law governs several recurring issues in such cases. Those principles include: (1) a plaintiff’s failure to allege her own performance bars a breach of contract claim, (2) a negligence claim about servicing should arise from a duty independent of the contract, (3) a wrongful foreclosure claim requires allegation of the allegedly grossly inadequate price, and (4) typical mortgage servicing activity is “incidental to the loan” and does not create DTPA standing. No. 15-40243 (Feb. 26, 2016). (See also the recent case of Meachum v. Bank of New York, No. 15-10237 (Jan. 11, 2016, unpublished).
In the fourth opinion in recent months about whether a mortgage servicer waived acceleration of the loan by inconsistent conduct, the Fifth Circuit again rejected such an argument in Martin v. Fannie Mae: “Wells Fargo accepted payments only after [the borrower’s] default in 2009, not after the bank had accelerated the note. . . . These differences matter because the [Deed of Trust’s] non-waiver provisions allow Wells Fargo to accept payments less than the entire obligation or to defer acceleration and foreclosure (and any other remedy) after default without waiving its rights.” In reaching this holding on these facts, the Court noted situations in which post-acceleration conduct could potentially amount to a waiver. No. 15-41104 (Feb. 22, 2016). See also Alvarado v. U.S. Bank, N.A., No. 15-51017 (June 20, 2016, unpublished).
In a wrongful foreclosure case, the borrower alleged that PNC Bank had not proved its ownership of the note. Then, “an attorney representing [defendants] showed an attorney employed by [Barrett-Bowie’s law firm] the original blue ink note signed by Barrett-Bowie. The Firm’s attorney acknowledged that the note was indorsed from the original lender to First Franklin Financial Corporation and from First Franklin Financial Corporation to PNC Bank. The Firm’s attorney retained a copy of the original note and reported what she had seen to her colleagues at the Firm.” Nevertheless, the firm filed two more pleadings repeating the standing allegations, and in response to a summary judgment motion — while not directly disputing the servicer’s proof of standing in response — asked that the court “deny [the servicer’s ]motion ‘in its entirety’ and argued that genuine issues of material fact existed ‘on elements in each of Plaintiff’s remaining causes of action.'” An award of Rule 11 sanctions against the plaintiff’s firm was affirmed in Barrett-Bowie v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., No. 14-11249 (Nov. 25, 2015, unpublished).
A mortgage servicer can violate the Texas Finance Code by asserting legal rights it does not actually have. See McCaig v. Wells Fargo Bank, 788 F.3d 463 (5th Cir. 2015). But seemingly inconsistent communications by a servicer do not violate the Code:
“[Plaintiff] does not contend that any one letter is a misrepresentation in
and of itself but rather that the amounts differ, so the letters are misleading
as a whole. But the letters explicitly state that they are describing two different
types of obligations: notices of the entire outstanding obligation and notices
of the amount due to bring the loan current. Each category is internally consistent
and consistent with the other. [Plaintiff’s] amount to bring the loan current
continued to grow over time because she was not making adequate payments
and still occupied the property. The total outstanding obligation grew for the
same reason. The letters were not misrepresentations but, instead, were
accurate descriptions of two different types of obligations and were specifically
identified as such.”
Rucker v. Bank of America, 15-10373 (Nov. 20, 2015).
U.S. Bank sent notices of acceleration, and began foreclosure proceedings, several times before suing for judicial foreclosure. The borrowers contended that suit was time-barred. The Fifth Circuit disagreed, finding that the bank’s second notice “unequivocally manifested an intent to abandon the previous acceleration and provided the [borrowers] with an opportunity to avoid foreclosure if they cured their arrearage. As a result, the statute of limitations period under [Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code] § 16.035(a) ceased to run at that point and a new limitations period did not begin to accrue until [they] defaulted again and U.S. Bank exercised its right to accelerate thereafter.” Boren v. U.S. Nat’l Bank Ass’n. No. 14-20718 (Oct. 26, 2015).
The case of Ferguson v. Bank of New York reminds of two basic principles in the area of mortgage servicing litigation: (1) MERS can be named as a beneficiary under a deed of trust; and (2) a borrower does not ordinarily have standing to enforce the terms of a pooling & servicing agreement. The Court sidestepped an issue of whether the Texas fraudulent lien statute could apply if a lender simply transferred a lien as opposed to creating it. No. 14-20585 (Oct. 1, 2015).
Building on momentum after winning a challenge to the MERS business model, MERS succeeded in arguing that an earlier suit against Bank of America created a res judicata bar to a later suit against MERS because MERS and the bank were in privity. Warren v. MERS, No. 14-11102 (July 2, 2015, unpublished).