For further information please call 954-495-9867 or 520-405-1688
Hat tip to anonymous
The full case was 25 pages, I redacted to about 4 below, but very substantial topics and analysis on this similar to Rivera in full version.
– A win on recovery of mortgage payments made to Wells, $73,000.
– Loss on recovery of attorneys fee’s to Debtor, BUT, court stated these would be proper if circumstances met criteria, just not here, and
– Very interesting analysis on return of note, which backs up your prior analysis; Note will not be returned to Debtor, as even though note is not enforceable by Wells or its servicers, real party in interest may show up at some point. Debtor also did not point to any prior case law that would require return of note.
I question whether the bankruptcy judge had the required jurisdiction to enter this order in all respects. But the analysis he presents is pretty much on target and once again Wells Fargo is shown to be making false statements and representations in court with virtual immunity even in this case.
Decision dated 10/21/14
UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
In re Chapter 13 Dennis E. Thompson and Pamela A. Thompson, Case No. 05-28262-svk Debtors.
MEMORANDUM DECISION ON DEBTORS’ MOTIONS FOR CERTAIN RELIEF AGAINST WELLS FARGO
Since this case’s inception in 2005, it has been fraught with litigation, failed mediations, discovery disputes, accusations of attorney misconduct and otherwise tumultuous actions. In 2013, these proceedings eventually culminated in this Court’s disallowance of the proof of claim filed on behalf of Wells Fargo Bank after it was established that Wells Fargo was not the holder of the mortgage note underlying the claim. As a result, the pro se debtors filed a flurry of motions to effectuate the claim disallowance decision. This memorandum decision will hopefully end the litigation concerning the mortgage note, at least in the bankruptcy court………………
……..“On January 12, 2006, the Court confirmed the Debtors’ Chapter 13 plan. Under the plan, the Debtors proposed to make direct current mortgage payments and cure their pre-petition mortgage arrearage via payments to the trustee. On June 27, 2011, the Debtors filed a motion to enter into the Court’s mortgage modification mediation program with Litton. (Docket No. 142.) In preparation for the mortgage mediation, the Debtors hired an attorney and conducted a title search on their property. (Hearing Recording, Docket No. 164, at 10:53:15.) The title search revealed that Wells Fargo did not hold the title to their mortgage. (Id.) Mediation attempts with both Litton and Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC4 (“Ocwen”), the current servicer for Wells Fargo, failed. (Docket No. 168; Docket No. 213.) On March 19, 2012, the Debtors filed a motion that the Court construed as an objection to the Claim. (Docket No. 159.) On April 2, 2012, Ocwen responded to the objection. After several preliminary hearings, discovery disputes, and a final evidentiary hearing, the Court entered an order disallowing the Claim. (Docket No. 217, 5.) The Court determined that neither Wells Fargo nor its servicers had standing to file a claim in the Debtors’ bankruptcy case. (Id.) Wells Fargo appealed. U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller affirmed the Court’s decision to disallow Wells Fargo’s Claim, holding:
“[E]ven if each version of the note self-authenticates under FRE 902(9), without testimony or other evidence from Ocwen to “‘connect the dots’” between the disputed allonge and the note, the evidentiary record contained only equally probable “authentic” versions of the note countervailing one another. Against that evidentiary backdrop, the bankruptcy court committed no error in finding insufficient evidence to confer standing on Ocwen to prosecute the disputed proof of claim.
Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC v. Thompson, No. 13-CV-487, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2109, at *14- 15 (E.D. Wis. Jan. 7, 2014).
Prior to the district court decision, the Debtors filed motions for reimbursement of mortgage payments (Docket No. 222) and attorneys’ fees. (Docket No. 223.) The Court entered an order determining that no action would be taken on the Debtors’ motions until after the district court entered a final order in the appeal. (Docket No. 225.) After the district court decision, the Debtors filed a motion to require the return of the original note to them. (Docket No. 239.) The Court set a briefing schedule. The parties have filed briefs. The motions are now ripe for decision.
Reimbursement of Mortgage Payments made on Disallowed Claim
Based on the disallowance of the Claim, the Debtors request a refund of all mortgage payments and trustee payments made to Litton and Ocwen since their bankruptcy case was filed in 2005. (Docket No. 222, 1.) Arguing that they “have every legal right to believe that they were or should have been paying the proper party,” (Id.), the Debtors calculate that a total of $146,972.45 should be reimbursed to them. (Docket No. 257, 4.) This amount includes $21,587.64 for “lost mortgage payments,” $106,167.91 for mortgage payments made outside the plan from July 2005 to December 2011, $11,716.90 for disbursements made by the Chapter 13 trustee on the disallowed Claim, and $7,500.00 for “return of sanction.”5 (Id.)
Wells Fargo raises only two objections to the Debtors’ motion for a refund of mortgage payments. First, Wells Fargo contends that the Court previously denied this motion at the March 14, 2013 hearing on the Debtors’ objection to Wells Fargo’s Claim……………….”
“Second, Wells Fargo argues that the Court must balance the equities under the circumstances.6 Wells Fargo notes that Ocwen and Litton both expended funds during the course of the bankruptcy to prevent the Debtors’ property from going into tax foreclosure…Wells Fargo also argues that the Court’s decision disallowing the Claim did not alter the fact that the “Debtors borrowed money on April 14, 2000, and have yet to repay their debt,” and “[u]nder the circumstances, it would be inequitable to require Ocwen to take yet another loss on this account.” (Id. at 5-6.)
“The Court rejects Wells Fargo’s attempt to characterize the Court’s comments at the March 13, 2013 hearing as a definitive ruling on whether Wells Fargo should have to refund the payments it received from the Debtors during the bankruptcy case…………..
Wells Fargo’s second argument requests that the Court balance the equities under the circumstances. Wells Fargo cites one case to support its position, which notes that “[c]ourts exercising equitable powers must behave akin to doctors operating under the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm. We must do equity to all parties and not just the party seeking equitable assistance . . .” Briarwood Club, LLC v. Vespera, LLC, 2013 WI App 119, ¶ 1, 351 Wis. 2d 62, 839 N.W.2d 124. Wells Fargo suggests that if the Court grants the Debtors’ request, the Debtors will gain a free house. It notes that the Debtors borrowed money that they have not fully repaid, and as long as they are not required to repay it twice, the Debtors are obligated under the mortgage note. (Docket No. 246, 6.) Wells Fargo explains that while it may not have legal enforcement power under Wisconsin law, it does still hold physical possession of the note. (Id.)
And, according to Wells Fargo, since there have not been any competing claims for repayment on the loan, it would be inequitable for the Court to require Wells Fargo to take another loss on this delinquent account. (Id. at 7.)
A similar argument was made and rejected in Thomas v. Urban P’ship Bank, Residential Credit Solutions, Inc., 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59818 (N.D. Ill. April 26, 2013). In that case, Barbara Thomas filed suit against Urban Partnership Bank, alleging that Urban sought payments on a mortgage loan that it did not own. The central issue involved whether Thomas’s mortgage loan was included in an asset purchase agreement executed between Urban and Thomas’s original lender, ShoreBank. Urban moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing among other theories that there were no competing claims for payment on the note. But Thomas’s unjust enrichment claim survived the motion to dismiss. According to the district court:
“Thomas clearly alleges that she owes someone money under the mortgage loan and that that someone is not Urban, and so it is irrelevant that no one else is currently making claims to her mortgage payments. If Thomas is correct that she owes money to someone other than Urban, then by paying Urban she has lost money without reducing the debt she owes to the loan’s true owner. . . . That amounts to the enrichment of Urban to Thomas’s detriment, since Thomas has lost and Urban has gained money for nothing . . . If, as Thomas adequately alleges, Urban had no right under the mortgage loan to the payments it received and Thomas made the payments on the mistaken premise that Urban was the loan’s owner, then fundamental principles of justice, equity, and good conscience require that Urban disgorge the payments . . . .
Id. at *27-29 (internal citations and quotations omitted).8
The district court in Thomas relied on Bank of Naperville v. Catalano, 86 Ill. App. 3d 1005, 408 N.E.2d 441, 444, 42 Ill. Dec. 63 (Ill. App. 1980), in which the court held,
“As a general rule, where money is paid under a mistake of fact, and payment would not have been made had the facts been known to the payor, such money may be recovered.”
The court also cited the Restatement (Third) of Restitution and Unjust Enrichment § 6 (2011) “Payment of Money Not Due” to the effect that payment by mistake gives the payor a claim in restitution against the recipient to the extent payment was not due, and a payor’s mistake as to liability may be a mistake about the identity of the creditor. The Restatement discusses two examples of payment by mistake that may be applicable here: mistake as to payee and mistake as to liability.9 Under mistake as to payee, the Restatement notes that “[a] mistaken payor has a claim in restitution when money is mistakenly transferred to someone other than the intended recipient.”…………..
“Under mistake as to liability, the Restatement states that “[a] payor’s mistake as to liability may be a mistake about the identity of the creditor. In such a case, the payor believes that an obligation runs to the payee when in fact the obligation is to someone else.” The latter example applies here.10 The Debtors mistakenly believed that Wells Fargo was entitled to enforce the mortgage note. Wells Fargo’s servicers filed proofs of claim in the bankruptcy case, and they directed the Debtors to send their mortgage payments to Wells Fargo, in care of the servicers. The servicers accepted the Debtors’ mortgage payments on behalf of Wells Fargo, when in fact, Wells Fargo did not validly hold the mortgage note, and Wells Fargo was not entitled to the payments.
Although Wells Fargo has responded to the Debtors’ request for a refund with a plea for equity,11 in fact, the equities here favor the Debtors.
“A claim for unjust enrichment is based on the “universally recognized moral principle that one who received a benefit has the duty to make restitution when to retain such a benefit would be unjust.” Puttkammer v. Minth, 83 Wis. 2d at 689 (quoting Fullerton Lumber Co. v. Korth, 37 Wis. 2d 531, 536 (Wis. 1968))…..
However, it is not enough to merely establish that a benefit was conferred and retained; the retention must also be inequitable. Id. This Court previously determined that Wells Fargo is not the holder of the Debtors’ mortgage note with legal authority to enforce it; that determination was affirmed on appeal. Without authority to enforce the note, Wells Fargo is not entitled to receive payments under the note. Only the party with a legally enforceable right to enforce the note is entitled to retain the benefit of the Debtors’ mortgage payments. Nevertheless, Wells Fargo, through its servicers, received voluntary payments from the Debtors and payments from the Trustee since the commencement of this bankruptcy case, subjecting the Debtors to the possibility of having to pay twice if the true owner of the note appears. Since Wells Fargo and its servicers have no legal right to the Debtors’ mortgage payments, retention of the Debtors’ mortgage payments would be inequitable.
Adding all of the entries for “payment” shows that the Debtors paid $97,979.68 from February 2006 to July 2011. (Docket No. 211, Ex. 11).12 Additionally, Wells Fargo should credit the Debtors with $7,500 for the sanctions awarded in the prior claim objection proceeding. (See Docket No. 103, at 10), for a total of $105,479.68. Wells Fargo points out that it made real estate tax payments on the Debtors’ behalf that should be deducted from any refund claim. The Court agrees. After subtracting $32,438.19 for the tax payments made on the Debtors’ behalf, the Debtors’ total claim for unjust enrichment is $73,041.49. Under the circumstances, Wells Fargo should be required to return this amount to the Debtors to avoid being unjustly enriched………….
“The Debtors also filed a motion for attorneys’ fees, arguing that Wells Fargo should pay approximately $12,500 in fees and costs the Debtors expended in connection with the failed mediations with Litton and Ocwen. According to the Debtors, “[u]nnecessary protracted negotiations have been ongoing since 2010. Starting with Litton Loan and ending with Ocwen. The plaintiff has misrepresented their standing, despite the efforts of the debtors to discuss this matter in the mediation process.” (Docket No. 223 at 1-2.) The Debtors also request punitive damages under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 for “vexatious litigation conduct” by Litton and Ocwen. (Id. At 2.) They note that Litton failed to attend several scheduled mediation sessions, and when Ocwen reinitiated mediation proceedings in 2012, there was a “delay to the debtors of 6 hours in the first and only scheduled mediation, with the debtors believing that progress was being established.”……………………… Although the Debtors have the right to be disappointed that the mediation did not succeed despite the attorneys’ fees that the Debtors expended, Wells Fargo’s attorneys acted under the impression that their client had proper standing. The Court finds that Wells Fargo’s attorneys did not unreasonably and vexatiously multiply the proceedings by their conduct in this case, and the Debtors’ request for attorneys’ fees is denied.
Request for Return of Note
The Debtors’ final motion asks the Court to order Wells Fargo to turn over the original mortgage note to them. Despite the Court’s ruling that Wells Fargo cannot enforce the note, the Debtors are concerned that Wells Fargo will somehow sell, transfer or trade the note, subjecting the Debtors to further litigation, emotional distress and financial hardship. Wells Fargo responds by attempting to discern the legal theories under which the Debtors are attempting to proceed, and then casting aspersions on those theories. The Court generally agrees with Wells Fargo that the Debtors could not succeed on a replevin claim or turnover action based on the note as property of the bankruptcy estate. However, the theory that the surrender of the original note consequently follows from the disallowance of Wells Fargo’s Claim warrants further analysis. The Court also takes this opportunity to clarify that, while not “undoing” any part of the Foreclosure Court’s judgment, Wells Fargo’s ability to enforce that judgment was never finally determined by the Foreclosure Court, and the disallowance of Wells Fargo’s Claim on standing grounds strongly suggests that Wells Fargo has no such ability………………..
Neither the Debtors nor Wells Fargo cited any case law supporting their position on whether the note should be returned to the Debtors after disallowance of the Claim, and the Court’s independent research uncovered no case directly on point…………………..Here, while the validity of the note and mortgage in favor of Provident was actually litigated and determined in the Foreclosure Case, Wells Fargo’s substitution as the plaintiff was summarily ordered without notice to the Debtors or any hearing on the issue. The Debtors were not afforded a reasonable opportunity to obtain review of the substitution order before the automatic stay intervened. That the party sought to be precluded had a reasonable opportunity to obtain review of the prior court’s order is a basic premise of the fundamental fairness prong of the issue preclusion analysis. Id. This Court previously denied Wells Fargo’s attempt to establish its standing to file the Claim based on the judgment and order of substitution in the Foreclosure Case. For the same reasons, issue preclusion does not act to bar the Debtors’ claim for return of the note……………..
“The court agreed with other courts that simply because a creditor lacks standing to enforce a note, the debtor is not discharged of her obligations under the note. Id. This Court has concluded (and the district court on appeal agreed) that Wells Fargo is neither the holder of the note nor a nonholder in possession of the instrument with the rights to enforce it. (Docket No. 233, 11.) Therefore, Wells Fargo (and its affiliates, servicers, successors and assigns) cannot enforce the note, but that fact does not cancel the note nor discharge the Debtors’ obligations to the true owner. In the absence of any authority for their request for turnover of the original note and analogizing to the cases requesting dismissal with prejudice, the Debtors’ motion to require Wells Fargo to surrender the original note is denied….
The Debtors’ motion for reimbursement of the payments made on Wells Fargo’s disallowed Claim is granted, subject to offset for real estate taxes paid by Wells Fargo. Within 30 days of the date of this Order, Wells Fargo must pay $73,041.49 to the Debtors and $11,716.90 to the Chapter 13 trustee. The Debtors’ motions for reimbursement of attorneys’ fees and turnover of the original note are denied. The foregoing constitutes the Court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law. The Court will enter separate orders on each motion.
Dated: October 21, 2014