Fla 4th DCA Slams Door on “another Ditech loan” in foreclosure claims

The trial court erred (i.e., it was wrong) when it accepted unfounded hearsay testimony over Defendant’s timely objections.

Kudos to Mark Stopa, Esq.

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Spencer v Ditech involving Everhome

We are seeing a paradigm shift reflecting changes in consensus of appellate courts. Contrary to thousands of decisions over the years, the courts are now applying the laws and rules of evidence in court proceedings and motions for summary judgment. I spy a suspicious attitude towards the banks and servicers that is long overdue.

Just because the bank or servicer says a fact is true doesn’t make it so. Applied to homeowners that would mean if they said they made a payment it would be automatically true. The informal rule allowing representations to be made in court and then treating it as evidence seems to be finally coming to an end.

Here we have the usual musical chairs of companies claiming to be servicers and in this case claiming that they sent a notice of default. The denial by the homeowner that they received the notice of default has nearly always been taken with a grain of salt, thus giving an insurmountable edge to the servicer or bank who filed the action.

The fact that the servicer had no way to prove the notice of default had been sent combined with the denial, in the pleadings, that the notice of default ahd ever been received should, under existing law, be sufficient to involuntarily dismissing the foreclosure lawsuit.

The  foreclosure complaint said they had complied with all conditions precedent. BUT then they had to prove it. They could not prove it. The trial judge allowed testimony and exhibits that were patently without foundation, testimony that was obviously without foundation and which fell apart in cross examination.

And THIS TIME the 4th DCA said it had enough of the ‘refiling” of cases after banks and servicers lost the first round of litigation to the homeowner. The 4th DCA specifically instructed that the case could NOT be refiled. In short, the case was over. However it is possible, although highly unlikely, that the banks will come up with a whole new string of fabricated documents providing the basis by a new lawsuit by a new foreclosing party.

As you will see, hearsay and personal knowledge was the basis of this opinion from the appellate court. Pressed for how the witness came into knowledge she acknowledged that it came from other co-workers. Textbook hearsay.

Interesting quotes from case:

EverHome, Ditech’s predecessor in interest, failed to establish as a condition precedent to filing suit that the Spencers were given notice of default as required by paragraph 22 of the mortgage.

EverHome filed a foreclosure complaint against the Spencers. EverHome alleged that it was the servicer of the loan and the holder of the note. EverHome also alleged generally that all conditions precedent to the acceleration of the note and mortgage and the filing of the foreclosure suit had been fulfilled.

In addition to the default letter itself, Ms. Knight’s testimony was the only evidence that EverHome provided to show that the letter had been sent to the Spencers. Throughout Ms. Knight’s testimony, Spencer repeatedly objected based on hearsay, arguing that Ms. Knight lacked personal knowledge to testify about EverHome’s routine business practices because she was not an employee of EverHome. The court overruled Spencer’s objections, and Ms. Knight testified that pursuant to EverHome’s procedure and policy, once a letter is generated it is mailed. But she explained that her knowledge of these procedures and policies was based on “training.” And when pressed, she admitted that this “training” consisted of informally discussing EverHome’s policies and procedures with coworkers who currently worked for Ditech but had previously worked for EverHome.

Ms. Knight admitted that no such discussions about this loan or any other loan had taken place prior to 2014, when the service transfer occurred—years after the default letter, dated June 17, 2010, had been generated by EverHome.

Testimony regarding a company’s routine business practices may establish a rebuttable presumption that the default letter was mailed. Id. (citing § 90.406, Fla. Stat. (2014) ). But the witness must have personal knowledge of the company’s general mailing practice—meaning that the witness must be employed by the entity drafting the letters and must have firsthand knowledge of the company’s routine practice for mailing letters. See id.; Edmonds, 215 So.3d at 630; see also CitiMortgage, Inc. v. Hoskinson, 200 So.3d 191, 192 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016) (holding that there was sufficient evidence to establish mailing based on routine business practices where witness testified that she had personally observed coworkers generate breach letters and deliver them to the mail room to be collected by the postal service). Here, Ms. Knight admitted that she was never employed by EverHome and did not have firsthand knowledge of EverHome’s mailing practices as of the date the default letter was generated. Therefore, her testimony was insufficient to establish that the default letter was mailed.

 

Another Countrywide Sham Goes Down the Drain

Banks use several ploys to distract the court, the borrower and the foreclosure defense attorney from the facts. One of them is citing a merger in lieu of presenting documents of transfer of the debt, note or mortgage. We already know that the debt is virtually never transferred because the transferor never had any interest in the debt and thus had no authority to administer the debt (i.e., as servicer).

So the banks have successfully pulled the wool over everyone’s eyes by citing a merger, as though that automatically transferred the note and mortgage from one party to another. Mergers come in all kinds of flavors and here the 5th Circuit in Florida recognizes that simple fact and emphatically states that the relationship between the parties must be proven along with proof that the note, or authority to enforce the note, must be proven by competent evidence.

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see Green v Green Tree Servicing Countrywide Home Loans et al 5D15-4413.op

*Judgment for Borrower (Involuntary Dismissal)
*Failure to provide evidence to explain relationships in mergers
*Failure to provide evidence of the terms of the merger and the transfer of the subject loan
* Failure to to provide evidence of standing at commencement of the lawsuit

An interesting side note to this case is that it never mentions the debt, which is the third rail of all claims of transfers and securitization. The opinion starts off with a recital of facts that differs from most other cases, to wit: it talks about how the homeowner signed the note and mortgage, and does not reference a loan made to him by the originator, Countrywide Home Loans (CHL).

The court remains strictly in the confines of who owns, controls or has the right to enforce the note — a fact that is relevant only if the note is evidence of an underlying debt. If no such debt exists between CHL and the homeowner, then the note is irrelevant — unless a successor possessor actually paid for it, in which case the successor could claim that it is a holder in due course and that the risk of loss shifts to the maker of the note under such circumstances.

The Green case here stands for the proposition that the banks may not paper over ownership or control or the right to enforce the note with vague references to a merger. The court points out that a merger might not include all the assets of one party or the other. More particularly, a merger, if it occurred must be proven along with some transfer of the subject note and mortgage.

And very specifically, the court says that entities may not be used interchangeably. The foreclosing party must explain the relationship between the parties affiliated with the “merged” entities.

[NOTE: Bank of America did not directly acquire CHL. CHL was merged into Red Oak Merger Corp., controlled by BofA. One of the reasons for doing it that way is to segregate questionable assets and liabilities from the rest of the BofA. BofA claimed ownership of CHL, and changed the name of CHL to BAC Home Loans. But it didn’t just change the name; it also made assertions, when it suited BofA that BAC was a separate entity, possibly an independent entity, which is also not true. So the Court’s objection to the lack of evidence on the merger is very well taken].

The Court also takes note of the claim that DiTech Financial was formerly known as Green Tree Servicing. That is not true. The DiTech name has been used by several different entities, been phased out, then phased in again. Again a reason why the court insists upon evidence that explains the actual relationship between actual entities, and not just names thrown around as though that meant anything.

Ultimately Green Tree, which no longer existed, was made the Plaintiff in the action. Some certificate of merger was introduced indicating a merger again, this time between DiTech Financial and GreenTree. In this lawsuit Green tree was presented as the surviving entity. But in all other cases DiTech Financial is presented as the surviving entity — or at least the DiTech name survived. There is considerable doubt whether the combination of Green Tree was anything more than rebranding an operation merging out of the Ally Financial bankruptcy and ResCap operations.

A sure sign of subterfuge is when the lawyer for the foreclosing party attempts to lead the court into treating multiple independent companies as a single entity. That, according to this court, would ONLY be acceptable if there was competent evidence admitted into the court record showing a clear line of succession such that a reasonable person could only conclude that the present successor company in fact encompasses all of the business activities and assets of the predecessors or, at the very least, encompasses a clear chain of possession, title and authorization of the subject loan.

[PRACTICE NOTES: Discovery of actual merger documents and documents of transfer should be vigorously pursued against expected opposition. Cite this case as mandatory or persuasive authority that the field of inquiry is perfectly proper — as long as the foreclosing entity is attempting tons the mergers and presumptive transfers against the homeowner.]

 

 

 

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