9th Circuit: Trustee is Not Debt Collector But Reverses Trial Court on Rescission

This decision could be a lot worse for the banks and servicers than it might appear. The Trustee for a valid REMIC trust that owns the debt (and doesn’t just control the paper) is clearly NOT a debt collector. But considering that no Trustee has EVER claimed to be a holder in due course and that the Trust is in fact a holographic image of an empty paper bag, they most certainly are debt collectors. The catch is you have to plead correctly and undermine the assumption that they own the debt.

But the 9th Circuit reversed the trial court on the issue of TILA rescission. As to TILA Rescission, the 9th Circuit was merely restating the obvious after the unanimous Jesinoski decision render by SCOTUS. “The Court noted that it recently held in Merritt v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., 759 F.3d 1023, 1032-33 (9th Cir. 2014), that a mortgagor need not allege the ability to repay the loan in order to state a rescission claim under TILA. However, this was the basis of the trial court’s dismissal of the TILA claim.”

Apparently restating the obvious is what is necessary to get trial courts to fall in line with the fact that rescission is effective when mailed and is legally a perfect defense to foreclosure. But trial courts keeping adding caveats that are not in the statute even after the Supreme Court made it crystal clear that trial courts had no such option. The statute is clear on its face. Trial courts have no right to re-write the statute as they think it should have been written.

The failure of the banks to contest the rescission within the 20 day window is not the fault of the homeowner. And the inability of the banks to file such an action to vacate the rescission is a problem for the banks who have nothing to lose anyway in most of the foreclosures.

As for the three year “expiration” or “statute of limitations” there is still a simple answer. Once you mail the rescission it is effective. Once you record it in the public records, the whole world knows that the mortgage or deed of trust is void. Once you mail it using US Postal Service the parties claiming through the note and mortgage or deed of trust have no further claim unless and until they either perform the three duties specified by statute or they file an action to vacate the rescission.THAT they won’t do because they are not really the owners of the debt.

So THEY have a choice — either go along with the rescission or file something in court contesting the rescission. And the fact that they can’t file anything is testimony that they are not the owners of the debt and do not have any authority to pursue the claim on behalf of the owner(s) of the debt. If that were not true they would gleefully produce the proof to establish the identity of the creditor and their authority to pursue claims on behalf of that creditor. And so far I have seen no lawsuit or even a motion that seeks to vacate the TILA rescission. Foreclosures that proceeded despite the rescission and without the ruling by the court that the rescission was void ab initio are themselves void as of the date of mailing the rescission notice.

Get a consult! 202-838-6345

https://www.vcita.com/v/lendinglies to schedule CONSULT, leave message or make payments.
 
THIS ARTICLE IS NOT A LEGAL OPINION UPON WHICH YOU CAN RELY IN ANY INDIVIDUAL CASE. HIRE A LAWYER.
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see http://www.insidearm.com/news/00042303-9th-cir-holds-foreclosure-trustee-not-fdc/

Rescission Redo: 9th Circuit AGAIN Rules that Tender is Not Necessary

Judicial Arrogance and Intolerance Keeps leading back to the same point — that TILA Rescission is not common law rescission. Yet Judges continue to rule on TILA rescission as though it were common law rescission. Here again the 9th Circuit confirms what the Supreme Court of the United States has already said — neither tender nor lawsuit is required for rescission to be effective. Any other holding is directly contrary tot eh wording of the statute, which as a matter of law is clear and NOT subject to interpretation.

The second important part of this decision is that the Court may not lay down conditions or advice concerning the filing of an amended complaint. The corollary is that the fact that an amended complaint was filed without the rescission count does not prevent the homeowner from preserving the issue on appeal — if the lower court said don’t file it unless you plead and prove tender of money.

And the third implied issue is what Congress intended when they passed TILA and the rescission statute, to wit: The whole notion of “tender” is ridiculous in the face of the legal conclusion that the note and mortgage no longer exist (void) and the factual basis that the whole issue of identification fo the creditor may not subverted. Hence the question “Tender to whom?”

Lastly the issue of whether a Trustee is a debt collector appears to be answered in the affirmative. Yes they are and not just because of the reasons set forth in the decision (see concurring opinion). Creditors are not normally regarded as debt collectors. But there is a growing awareness that the REMIC trusts are empty; hence the trustee of the REMIC Trust cannot be anything but a debt a collector unless they can prove that they are indeed the creditor — i.e., the party to whom the debt is owed. Likewise the Trustee on a Deed of Trust MUST be a debt collector because by definition it is an intermediary seeking to collect money.

Get a consult! 202-838-6345

https://www.vcita.com/v/lendinglies to schedule CONSULT, leave message or make payments.
 
THIS ARTICLE IS NOT A LEGAL OPINION UPON WHICH YOU CAN RELY IN ANY INDIVIDUAL CASE. HIRE A LAWYER.
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Hat tip to stopforeclosurefraud.com, whose article is republished in part.

The ruling upholds the ability to rescind despite ability to repay- Split court ruling of FDCPA applying to Trustee- dissenting judge vigorously argues that the FDCPA should apply to Trustee’s for all the right reasons. See below……

http://stopforeclosurefraud.com/2016/11/03/vien-phuong-ho-v-recontrust-company-n-a-et-a-9th-cir-holds-foreclosure-trustee-not-fdcpa-debt-collector/ 

Vien-Phuong Ho v. ReconTrust Company, N.A., et a | 9th Cir. Holds Foreclosure Trustee Not FDCPA ‘Debt Collector’

stopforeclosurefraud.com

Seeking damages under the FDCPA, the plaintiff alleged that the trustee of the deed of trust on her property sent her a notice of default and a notice of sale

I

The district court twice dismissed Ho’s TILA rescission claim without prejudice, and Ho didn’t replead it in her third complaint. We have held that claims dismissed without prejudice and not repleaded are not preserved for appeal; they are instead considered “voluntarily dismissed.” See Lacey v. Maricopa Cty., 693 F.3d 896, 928 (9th Cir. 2012). Here, however, the district court didn’t give Ho a free choice in whether to keep repleading the TILA rescission claim.

Rather, the court said that if Ho wished to replead the claim she “would be required to allege that she is prepared and able to pay back the amount of her purchase price less any downpayment

she contributed and any payments made since the time of her purchase.” The judge concluded that if Ho “is not able to make that allegation in good faith, she should not continue to maintain a TILA rescission claim.” It’s unclear whether the judge meant this as benevolent advice or a stern

command. But a reasonable litigant, particularly one proceeding pro se, could have construed this as a strict condition, one that might have precipitated the judge’s ire or even invited a sanction if disobeyed. Ho could not or would not commit to pay back the loan, and dropped the claim in her third complaint.

The district court based its condition on Yamamoto v. Bank of N.Y., which gave courts equitable discretion to “impose conditions on rescission that assure that the borrower meets her obligations once the creditor has performed its obligations.” 329 F.3d 1167, 1173 (9th Cir. 2003). But, after

the district court dismissed Ho’s claims, we held that a mortgagor need not allege the ability to repay the loan in order to state a rescission claim under TILA that can survive a motion to dismiss. Merritt v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., 759 F.3d 1023, 1032–33 (9th Cir. 2014). Ho argues that her rescission claims were properly preserved for appeal and should be reinstated.

Where, as here, the district court dismisses a claim and instructs the plaintiff not to refile the claim unless he includes certain additional allegations that the plaintiff is unable or unwilling to make, the dismissed claim is preserved for appeal even if not repleaded. A plaintiff is the master of his claim and shouldn’t have to choose between defying the district court and making allegations that he is unable or unwilling to bring into court.

This rule is a natural extension of our holding in Lacey. The Lacey rule—which displaced our circuit’s longstanding and notably harsh rule that all claims not repleaded in an amended complaint were considered waived—was motivated by two principal concerns: judicial economy and fairness to the parties. 693 F.3d at 925–28. Those concerns apply here. We see no point in forcing a plaintiff into a drawn-out contest of wills with the district court when, for whatever reason, the plaintiff chooses not to comply with a court-imposed condition for repleading. We remand to the district court for consideration of Ho’s TILA rescission claim in light of Merritt v. Countrywide Fin. Corp., 759 F.3d at 1032–33.

AFFIRMED in part, VACATED and REMANDED in

part. No costs.

KORMAN, District Judge, dissenting in part and concurring

in part:

The majority opinion opens with the principal question presented by this case: “[W]hether the trustee of a California deed of trust is a ‘debt collector’ under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).” Maj. Op. at 6. After a discussion of the issue, the majority concludes by observing that the phrase “debt collector” is “notoriously ambiguous” and that, given this ambiguity, we should refuse to construe it in a manner that interferes with California’s arrangements for conducting nonjudicial foreclosures. Maj. Op. at 18–19. My reading of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), consistent with the manner in which it has been construed by every other circuit that has addressed whether foreclosure procedures are debt collection subject to the FDCPA, suggests that the only reasonable reading is that a trustee pursuing a nonjudicial foreclosure proceeding is a debt collector. See Kaymark v. Bank of Am., N.A., 783 F.3d 168, 179 (3d Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S.Ct. 794 (2016); Glazer v. Chase Home Fin. LLC, 704 F.3 453, 461–63 (6th Cir. 2013); Wilson v. Draper & Goldberg, P.L.L.C., 443 F.3d 373, 376–77 (4th Cir. 2006); see also Alaska Tr., LLC v. Ambridge, 372 P.3d 207, 213–216 (Alaska 2016); Shapiro & Meinhold v. Zartman, 823 P.2d 120, 123–24 (Colo. 1992) (en banc). The same is true of a judicial foreclosure proceeding—an alternative available in California. See Coker v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 364 P.3d 176, 178 (Cal. 2016). Both are intended to obtain money by forcing the sale of the property being foreclosed upon.

FDCPA and FCCPA: Temperatures rising

FDCPA and FCCPA (or similar state legislation) claims are getting traction across the country. Bank of America violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and the related Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act (“FCCPA”). (Doc. 26). The Goodin case is a fair representation of the experience of hundreds of thousands of homeowners who have tried to reconcile the numbers given to them by Bank of America and others.

In a carefully worded opinion from Federal District Court Judge Corrigan in Jacksonville, the Court laid out the right to damages under the FDCPA and FCCPA. The Court found that BOA acted with gross negligence because they continued their behavior long after being put on notice of a mistake on their part and awarded the 2 homeowners:

  • Statutory damages of $2,000
  • Actual damages for emotional distress of $100,000 ($50,000 per person)
  • Punitive damages of $100,000
  • Attorneys fees and costs

 

See http://www.leagle.com/decision/In%20FDCO%2020150623E16/GOODIN%20v.%20BANK%20OF%20AMERICA,%20N.A.

The story is the same as I have heard from thousands of other homeowners. The “servicer” or “bank” misapplies payments, negligently posts payments to the wrong place and refuses to make any correction despite multiple attempts by the homeowners to get their account straightened out. Then the bank refuses to take any more payments because the homeowners are “late, ” “delinquent”, or in “default”, following which they send a default notice, intent to accelerate and then file suit in foreclosure.

The subtext here is that there is no “default” if the “borrower” tenders payment timely with good funds. The fact that the servicer/bank does not accept them or post them to the right ledger does not create a default on the part of the borrower, who has obviously done nothing wrong. There is no default and there is no delinquency. The wrongful act was clearly committed by the servicer/bank. Hence there is no default by the borrower in any sense by any standard. It might be said that if there is a default, it is a default by Bank of America or whoever the servicer/bank is in another case.

Using the logic and law of yesteryear, we frequently make the mistake of assuming that if there is no posting of a payment, no cashing of a check or no acceptance of the tender of payment, that the borrower is in default but it is refutable or excusable — putting the burden on the borrower to show that he/she/they tendered payment. In fact, it is none of those things. When you parse out the “default” none of the elements are present as to the borrower.

This case stands out as a good discussion of damages for emotional distress — including cases, like this one, where there is no evidence from medical experts nor medical bills resulting from the anguish of trying to sleep for years knowing that the bank or servicer is out to get your house. The feeling of being powerless is a huge factor. If an institution like BOA fails to act fairly and refuses to correct its own “errors,” it is not hard to see how the distress is real.

I of course believe that BOA had no procedures in place to deal with calls, visits, letters and emails from the homeowner because they want the foreclosure in all events — or at least as many as possible. The reason is simple: the foreclosure judgment is the first legally valid instrument in a long chain of misdeeds. It creates the presumption that all the events, documents, letters and claims were valid before the judgment was entered and makes all those misdeeds enforceable.

The Judge also details the requirements for punitive damages — i.e., aggravating circumstances involving gross negligence and intentional acts. The Judge doesn’t quite say that the acts of BOA were intentional. But he describes BOA’s actions as so grossly negligent that it must approach an intentional, malicious act for the sole benefit of the actor.

 

PRACTICE NOTE ON MERGER DOCTRINE AND EXISTENCE OF DEFAULT:

It has always been a basic rule of negotiable instruments law that once a promissory note is given for an underlying obligation (like the mortgage contract), the underlying obligation is merged into the note and is suspended while the note is still outstanding. Discharge on the note would (due to the rule that the two are merged) result in discharge discharge of the underlying obligation. Thus paying the note would also pay the obligation. Because of the merger rule, the underlying obligation is not available as a separate course of action until the note is dishonored.

 

The problem here is that most lawyers and most judges are not very familiar with the UCC even though it constitutes state law in whatever state they are in. They see the UCC as a problem when in fact it is a solution. it answers the hairy details without requiring any interpretation. It just needs to be applied. But just then the banks make their “free house” argument and the judge “interprets a statute that is only vaguely understood.

The banks know that judges are not accustomed to using the UCC and they come in with a presumed default simply because they show the judge that on their own books no payment was posted. And of course they have no record of tender and refusal by the bank. The court then usually erroneously shifts the burden of proof, as to whether tender of the payment was made, onto the homeowner who of course does not  have millions of dollars of computer equipment, IT platforms and access to the computer generated “accounts” on multiple platforms.

This merger rule, with its suspension of the underlying obligation until this honor of the note cut is codified in §3-310 of the UCC:

(b) unless otherwise agreed and except as provided in subsection (a), if a note or an uncertified check is taken for an obligation, the obligation is suspended to the same extent the obligation would be discharged if an amount of money equal to the amount of the instruments were taken, and the following rules apply:

(2) in the case of a note, suspension of the obligation continues until dishonor of the note or until it is paid. Payment of the note results in the discharge of the obligation to the extent of the payment.

thus until the note is dishonored there can be no default on the underlying obligation (the mortgage contract). All foreclosure statutes, whether permitting self-help or requiring the involvement of court, forbid foreclosure unless the underlying debt is in”Default.” That means that the maker of the promissory note must have failed to make the payments required by the note itself, and thus the node has been dishonored. Under UCC §3-502(a)(3) a hello promissory note is dishonored when the maker does not pay it when the footnote first becomes payable.

FDCPA Claims Upheld in 9th Circuit Class Action

The court held that the FDCPA unambiguously requires any debt collector – first or subsequent – to send a section 1692g(a) validation notice within five days of its first communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt.

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS NOT A LEGAL OPINION UPON WHICH YOU CAN RELY IN ANY INDIVIDUAL CASE. HIRE A LAWYER.

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If anyone remembers the Grishom book “The Firm”, also in movies, you know that in the end the crooks were brought down by something they were never thinking about — mail fraud — a federal law that has teeth, even if it sounds dull. Mail fraud might actually apply to the millions of foreclosures that have taken place — even if key documents are sent through private mail delivery services. The end of month statements and other correspondence are definitely sent through US Mail. And as we are seeing, virtually everything they were sending consisted of multiple layers of misrepresentations that led to the detriment of the receiving homeowner. That’s mail fraud.
Like Mail Fraud, claims based on the FDCPA seem boring. But as many lawyers throughout the country are finding out, those claims have teeth. And I have seen multiple cases where FDCPA claims resulted in the settlement of the case on terms very favorable to the homeowner — provided the claim is properly brought and there are some favorable rulings on the initial motions.
Normally the banks settle any claim that looks like it would be upheld. That is why you don’t see many verdicts or judgments announcing fraudulent conduct by banks, servicers and “trustees.”And you don’t see the settlement either because they are all under seal of confidentiality. So for the casual observer, you might see a ruling here and there that favors the borrower, but you don’t see any judgments normally. Here the banks thought they had this one in the bag — because it was a class action and normally class actions are difficult if not impossible to prosecute.
It turns out that FDCPA is both a good cause of action for damages and a great discovery tool — to force the banks, servicers or anyone else that is a debt collector to respond within 5 days giving the basic information about the loan — like who is the actual creditor. Discovery is also much easier in FDCPA actions because it is forthrightly tied to the complaint.
This decision is more important than it might first appear. It removes any benefit of playing musical chairs with servicers, and other debt collectors. This is a core of bank strategy — to layer over all defects. This Federal Court of Appeals holds that it doesn’t matter how many layers you add — all debt collectors in the chain had the duty to respond.
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Justia Opinion Summary

Hernandez v Williams, Zinman and Parham, PC No 14-15672 (9th Cir, 2016)

Plaintiff filed a putative class action, alleging that WZP violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692(g)(a), by sending a debt collection letter that lacked the disclosures required by section 1692(g)(a) of the FDCPA. Applying well-established tools of statutory interpretation and construing the language in section 1692g(a) in light of the context and purpose of the FDCPA, the court held that the phrase “the initial communication” refers to the first communication sent by any debt collector, including collectors that contact the debtor after another collector already did. The court held that the FDCPA unambiguously requires any debt collector – first or subsequent – to send a section 1692g(a) validation notice within five days of its first communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt. In this case, the district court erred in concluding that, because WZP was not the first debt collector to communicate with plaintiff about her debt, it had no obligation to comply with the statutory validation notice requirement. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded.

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NJ FDCPA Case: Psaros v Green Tree et al

WE HAVE REVAMPED OUR SERVICE OFFERINGS TO MEET THE REQUESTS OF LAWYERS AND HOMEOWNERS. This is not an offer for legal representation. In order to make it easier to serve you and get better results please take a moment to fill out our FREE registration form https://fs20.formsite.com/ngarfield/form271773666/index.html?1453992450583 
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For further information please call 954-495-9867 or 520-405-1688. You also may fill out our Registration form which, upon submission, will automatically be sent to us. That form can be found at https://fs20.formsite.com/ngarfield/form271773666/index.html?1452614114632. By filling out this form you will be allowing us to see your current status. If you call or email us at neilfgarfield@hotmail.com your question or request for service can then be answered more easily.
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THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS NOT A LEGAL OPINION UPON WHICH YOU CAN RELY IN ANY INDIVIDUAL CASE. HIRE A LAWYER.

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Hat tip to Ken MCLeod
I have already written about this case. But at the promoting of my friend Ken McLeod, it deserves further comment. This is a New Jersey Federal case based upon violations of the FDCPA. The court found that the Plaintiff had indeed stated a case not only against the parties seeking to collect from him, but also the law firm who certified they had done due diligence.
In this case the facts were very clear. They threw him under the bus of foreclosure for failure to pay insurance premiums which, as it turned out, had indeed been paid. Thus the case stated that the law firm and the alleged claimant were wrong and that they had misstated the amount allegedly due, which is the essence of the FDCPA remedial act.
The interesting thing about the opinion written by the NJ Federal Judge is that he picked up on the fact that representations in court ARE included in the scope of the FDCPA. Usually the general rule is what is said in court stays in court. Not so, says this Judge relying upon several other decisions. And I agree with his interpretation. Based upon Congress’ exclusion of court proceedings in other statutes and Congress’ failure to put that language in FDCPA, he correctly concluded that Congress didn’t put it in FDCPA because they didn’t want it in.
So it would appear that most foreclosure mills that are proffering documents or testimony that they knew or should have known to be false are liable for all sorts of damages.  And law firms are in for a nasty surprise if they are relying upon the indemnification of a servicers or even a bank (who is signing not on their own behalf but as trustee of a trust). Borrowers who have been wrongfully foreclosed probably have a cause of action against the law firm and the “plaintiff” (Judicial states) or against the law firm and the “Trustee and Beneficiary” (nonjudicial states).
Like rescission, the FDCPA is a path to clarity and reality of what is really happening. Law firms who represent banks and servicers should take note that they are walking into a buzz saw if they are relying upon the truthfulness of their clients.

Bank of America Hit with FDCPA Damages PLUS PUNITIVE Damages $100,000

For more information please email us at gtchonors.llblog@gmail.com or call 954-495-9867 or 520-405-1688.

This is not a legal opinion on your case. It is general information only. Consult an attorney before you make any decisions.

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Hat tip to Ken McLeod

see Goodin v Bank of America NA

I think this case decision should be studied. While it is easy to be dismissive of emotional distress damages, this case clearly enunciates the basis for it. I think we tend to demote the claim because of the underlying bias that the borrower has been getting a “free ride.” This case states quite clearly that the ride was neither wanted nor free.Perhaps just as importantly, the Court finds that punitive damages are appropriate in order to get the attention of Bank of America — such that it will stop it’s malevolent behavior. It sets the bar at deterring the bank from this behavior and not just a “cost of doing business.”

For those who don’t think we have turned the corner, this case shows clearly that judges are not allowing themselves to be spoon-fed the diet of illusion, smoke and mirrors that has prevailed so long in the American court system. If these decisions were made 10 years ago we would not have had a foreclosure crisis.

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KM Writes:

This is an interesting new FDCPA decision.  The judge found that BANA violated the FDCPA and awarded 50k/each to husband and wife for compensatory damages, based mainly on emotional distress as proved by the consumers’ testimony of anxiety, frustration, and sleeplessness.  Also, he awarded $100,000 in punitives under the FDCPA, even given a very stringent Florida statute, because BANA’s negligence was gross, by a clear and convincing standard, primarily because the debtors tried to fix the discrepancy numerous times, but the bank did not fix it, and initiated foreclosure.  The “Bank employees were inattentive, unconcerned and haphazard,” but more importantly, in taking no action to prevent errors from continuing, despite repeated notice, “the Bank employees’ conduct was so wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard and indifference to the Goodins’ rightsIt was as if the Goodins did not exist.”  And it was “only stopped by the filing of this federal lawsuit.”  Moreover, in creating a system where one Bank department did not communicate with another, where there were inadequate internal controls to ensure statements provided correct information, and where there was no way for Bank customers to get the attention of the Bank to correct the Bank’s errors, the Bank engaged in grossly negligent conduct. As such, it should be held liable for punitive damages for its employees’ gross negligence.”

Other interesting snippets:

 

As we know, BANA is a debt collector if “acquired the loan at issue while the loan was in default.”

Bank of America contends, however, that it is not a debt collector. A mortgage servicing company is a debt collector under the FDCPA if it acquired the loan at issue while the loan was in default. Williams v. Edelman, 408 F.Supp.2d 1261, 1266 (S.D.Fla.2005). Under the terms of their note, the Goodins were in default if they missed two or more consecutive payments. (Doc. 75 at 15). When Bank of America took over their loan, the Goodins had previously missed two or more consecutive payments and remained behind by more than two payments. (Trial Tr. vol. I at 30). Nevertheless, Bank of America argues that the Goodins were not in default because their bankruptcy plan cured any pre-existing default and the Goodins never defaulted on any payment due under the bankruptcy plan.7 (Doc. 101 at 6).

*5 While a bankruptcy plan may “provide for the curing or waiving of any default,” this does not mean, as Bank of America argues, that the entry of a bankruptcy plan itself cures a default. See11 U.S.C. § 1322(b)(3) (2014). Indeed, the bankruptcy statute also provides that the plan may “provide for the curing of any default within a reasonable time and maintenance of payments while the case is pending on any unsecured claim or secured claim on which the last payment is due after the date on which the final payment under the plan is due ….“ § 1322(b)(5). This provision suggests what is common sense: that the curing of the default occurs upon the repayment of the back payments owed, not upon the mere institution of the bankruptcy plan. See In re Agustin, 451 B.R. 617, 619 (Bankr.S.D.Fla.2011) (“Using [§ ] 1322(b)(5), the Debtors are able to cure arrearages over a time period exceeding the life of the Chapter 13 Plan.”); see also In re Alexander, 06–30497–LMK, 2007 WL 2296741 (Bankr.N.D.Fla. Apr.25, 2007) (finding it reasonable to cure a default over the five-year life of the bankruptcy plan). Bank of America is a debt collector.

Goodin v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 3:13-CV-102-J-32JRK, 2015 WL 3866872, at *4-5 (M.D. Fla. June 23, 2015)

Act “in connection with the collection of a debt” only must have “animating purpose” to induce payment:

To be “in connection with the collection of a debt,” a communication need not make an explicit demand for payment. Grden v. Leikin Ingber & Winters PC, 643 F.3d 169, 173 (6th Cir.2011). However, “an animating purpose of the communication must be to induce payment by the debtor.”Id.; see also McIvor v. Credit Control Servs., Inc., 773 F.3d 909, 914 (8th Cir.2014); cf. Caceres v. McCalla Raymer, LLC, 755 F.3d 1299, 1303 n. 2 (11th Cir.2014) (noting that an implicit demand for payment constituted an initial communication in connection with a debt). Where a communication is clearly informational and does not demand payment or discuss the specifics of an underlying debt, it does not violate the FDCPA. Parker v. Midland Credit Mgmt., Inc., 874 F.Supp.2d 1353, 1358 (M.D.Fla.2012).

*6 Some of the communications alleged to be FDCPA violations did not have the animating purpose of inducing the Goodins to pay a debt. Specifically, Bank of America’s October 8, 2010 notice that the Goodins may be charged fees while their loan is in default status (Pl.’s Ex. 5), the December 3, 2010 letter alerting the Goodins to the existence of a program to avoid foreclosure despite their “past due” home loan payment (Pl.’s Ex. 6),9 the refusal to accept an alleged partial payment (Pl.’s Ex. 17), and the notice that the Goodins’ loan had been referred to foreclosure (Pl.’s Ex. 27), did not ask for or encourage payment and were not intended to induce payment. Likewise, the Bank of America branch employee’s refusal to accept Mr. Goodin’s payment was not an act in connection with the collection of a debt.

A regular bank statement sent only for informational purposes is also not an action in connection with the collection of a debt. See Helman v. Udren Law Offices, P.C., No. 0:14–CV–60808, 2014 WL 7781199, at *6 (S.D.Fla. Dec.18, 2014). As such, the Goodins’ November 10, 2009 account statement, which did not have the purpose of inducing payment from the Goodins, was not an FDCPA violation. (See Pl.’s Ex. 4 at 5).

The letter Bank of America’s counsel sent to the Goodins on October 25, 2013 (Joint Ex. 11) was likewise not an FDCPA violation because it did not falsely represent the amount or status of the Goodins’ debt, did not threaten an action Bank of America could not or did not intend to take, and did not constitute the use of a false representation or deceptive means in an attempt to collect a debt.

Goodin v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 3:13-CV-102-J-32JRK, 2015 WL 3866872, at *5-6 (M.D. Fla. June 23, 2015)

Foreclosure as debt collection activity, only if seeks deficiency judgment

 

The lone remaining alleged violation is Bank of America’s filing of a foreclosure complaint against the Goodins. (Pl.’s Ex. 28). Foreclosing on a home is the enforcement of a security interest, not debt collection. Warren v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc., 342 F. App’x 458, 461 (11th Cir.2009). However, a deficiency action does constitute debt collection activity.Baggett v. Law Offices of Daniel C. Consuegra, P.L., No. 3:14–CV–1014–J–32PDB, 2015 WL 1707479, at *5 (M.D.Fla. Apr.15, 2015). Communication that attempts to enforce a security interest may also be an attempt to collect the underlying debt. Reese v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams, LLP, 678 F.3d 1211, 1217–18 (11th Cir.2012).

When a foreclosure complaint seeks a deficiency judgment if applicable, it attempts to collect on the security interest and the note. Roban v. Marinosci Law Grp., No. 14–60296–CIV, 2014 WL 3738628 (S.D.Fla. July 29, 2014). As such, two cases have found that foreclosure complaints that ask for a deficiency judgment “if applicable” constitute debt collection activity under the FDCPA. See id.; Rotenberg v. MLG, P.A., No. 13–CV–22624–UU, 2013 WL 5664886, at *2 (S.D.Fla. Oct.17, 2013). Similarly, a foreclosure complaint constitutes debt collection activity where it requests “that the court retain jurisdiction to enter a deficiency decree, if necessary.”Freire v. Aldridge Connors, LLP, 994 F.Supp.2d 1284, 1288 (S.D.Fla.2014).

Goodin v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 3:13-CV-102-J-32JRK, 2015 WL 3866872, at *7 (M.D. Fla. June 23, 2015)

What they knew and when they knew it

At least two people in the Bank, Duane Dumler and Leslie Hodkinson, knew long before Mr. Juarez’s error that the Bank needed to file a transfer of claim to obtain the missing funds. Either because of the Bank’s size, because its departments were compartmentalized and did not properly communicate with each other, or some other reason, this knowledge did not make its way to the foreclosure department or to the part of the Bank responsible for sending out the communications that violated the FDCPA. Then, after Mr. Juarez’s negligent audit, the Goodins’ attorney contacted Bank of America to fix the problem, but the Bank still proceeded to misrepresent the amount the Goodins owed and ultimately filed a foreclosure complaint, only dismissing the foreclosure action after the Goodins literally had to make a federal case out of it.

Goodin v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 3:13-CV-102-J-32JRK, 2015 WL 3866872, at *9 (M.D. Fla. June 23, 2015)

Factual Evidence of Emotional Damages; No Doctor Testimony Necessary

Since Bank of America began servicing the Goodins’ loan, Mrs. Goodin has felt anxious every day, worrying about the status of her loan. (Id. at 239–40). At times, she has lost sleep because of her concern about the loan. (Id. at 240). However, she never went to a doctor for treatment, in part because she did not have insurance to do so and in part because she did not believe a doctor would make a difference. (Id. at 241).

Mr. Goodin likewise suffered anxiety and sleeplessness as a result of Bank of America’s improper servicing. (Trial Tr. vol. II at 105). Mr. Goodin was immensely frustrated by Bank of America’s lack of responsiveness to his attempts to fix the problems with his loan. (Id. at 74). He sent letters, talked to a Bank of America employee face-to-face, and tried everything that he could think of, but could not find a way to get Bank of America to file the transfer of claim or correct its servicing of the Goodins’ loan. (Id. at 74). While Mr. Goodin’s description of his life as “a pure living hell” is perhaps hyperbolic, it is clear that Bank of America’s letters and Mr. Goodin’s inability to correct the problem made him feel powerless and caused him considerable anger and distress. (See id. at 74, 86).

Most of the Goodins’ testimony dealt generally with emotional distress they suffered throughout the Bank’s servicing of their loan. However, Mrs. Goodin was especially concerned when the Goodins’ bankruptcy was discharged because Bank of America was not getting their payments and she knew that, absent payment, Bank of America would take legal action against them. (Id. at 18). The Goodins noted that they also suffered particular stress upon being served with the foreclosure complaint. (Id. at 79). The possibility of losing their home to foreclosure upset Mr. Goodin and left Mrs. Goodin worried and scared. (Id. at 79).

Bank of America was not the only cause of stress in the Goodins’ lives. Mrs. Goodin was under stress before they filed for bankruptcy because the Goodins were having trouble paying their bills. (Id. at 13). She also suffered the loss of her mother around 2011. (Id. at 69). In June 2013, the Goodins sued TRS Recovery Services, Bennett Law, PLLC, and Wal–Mart (Id. at 22), alleging that they were the victims of check fraud in September 2011 (Id. at 24). Because of the wrongful debt incurred by the fraud, TRS sent the Goodins collection letters from October 2011 through November 2012 and called frequently from October 2011 until July 2012. (Id. at 24–25). As a result, the Goodins lost sleep, felt anxious, and suffered other symptoms of emotional distress. (Id. at 26). However, the Goodins testified credibly that the stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness caused by the events underlying the TRS lawsuit pale in comparison to the emotional distress the Goodins suffered as a result of Bank of America’s actions. (Id. at 64, 106).

*11 While not accepting every aspect of their testimony, overall, the Court found the Goodins’ testimony regarding the emotional distress caused by the Bank’s FDCPA and FCCPA violations to be believable. The tumult of receiving repeated erroneous communications from the Bank, their inability to get anybody at the Bank to listen to them, their feelings of loss of control and the very real fear of losing their home combined to create a very stressful situation.

Goodin v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 3:13-CV-102-J-32JRK, 2015 WL 3866872, at *10-11 (M.D. Fla. June 23, 2015)

  1. THE COURT’S DECISION ON DAMAGES
  2. Statutory Damages

Under both the FDCPA and FCCPA, prevailing plaintiffs are entitled to statutory damages of up to $1,000. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k; Fla. Stat. § 559.77. In determining the appropriate amount, the Court must consider “the frequency and persistence of noncompliance by the debt collector, the nature of such noncompliance, and the extent to which such noncompliance was intentional ….“ 15 U.S .C. § 1692k; see alsoFla. Stat. § 559.77(2). Upon consideration of the Bank’s repeated statutory violations and inability to correct the problems with the Goodins’ loans despite a plethora of chances to do so, the Court finds Mr. and Mrs. Goodin are each entitled to $1,000 under the FDCPA and $1,000 under the FCCPA.

  1. Actual Damages

The Goodins also each seek $500,000 in actual damages to compensate for their emotional distress. (Doc. 100–1 at 17). A plaintiff may recover actual damages for emotional distress under the FDCPA and FCCPA. Minnifield v. Johnson & Freedman, LLC, 448 F. App’x 914, 916 (11th Cir.2011) (finding that a plaintiff can recover for emotional distress under the FDCPA); Fini v. Dish Network L.L.C., 955 F.Supp.2d 1288, 1299 (M.D.Fla.2013) (finding the same under the FCCPA).

In determining what actual damages are appropriate in this case, the Court has only considered those damages caused by the Bank’s FDCPA and FCCPA violations, and not any distress caused by other aspects of the Bank’s improper servicing of the Goodins’ account. To recap, Bank of America violated the FDCPA when it (1) mailed ten statements from April 25, 2011 to March 29, 2012, indicating, amongst other misstatements, an overstated balance on the loan; (2) mailed statements in March and August 2011 misstating that the Goodins owed foreclosure fees; (3) sent the Goodins six letters between December 27, 2011 and March 16, 2012 requesting over $15,000 in payments and threatening to accelerate the debt or foreclose in the absence of payment; and (4) filed a foreclosure complaint on September 17, 2012. Any emotional distress the Goodins suffered as a result of the Bank’s violations therefore occurred between March 2011, the date of the first violation, and October 2013, when the Bank finally corrected its servicing errors.

“Emotional distress must have a severe impact on the sufferer to justify an award of actual damages.”Alecca v. AMG Managing Partners, LLC, No. 3:13–CV–163–J–39PDB, 2014 WL 2987702, at *2 (M.D.Fla. July 2, 2014). As such, a number of courts have declined to award damages for emotional distress where the plaintiff’s testimony was not supported by medical bills. See, e.g., Lane v. Accredited Collection Agency Inc., No. 6:13–CV–530–ORL–18, 2014 WL 1685677, at *8 (M.D.Fla. Apr.28, 2014) (adopting a report and recommendation recommending no actual damages despite testimony that the plaintiff suffered nervousness, anxiety, and sleeplessness); compare Marchman v. Credit Solutions Corp., No. 6:010–CV–226–ORL–31, 2011 WL 1560647, at *10 (M.D.Fla. Apr.5, 2011)report and recommendation adopted,No. 6:10–CV–226–ORL–31, 2011 WL 1557853 (M.D.Fla. Apr.25, 2011) (awarding no actual damages where the plaintiff testified that she spent nights awake with worry and was withdrawn and depressed but did not provide evidence she required medical or professional services) with Latimore v. Gateway Retrieval, LLC, No. 1:12–CV–00286–TWT, 2013 WL 791258, at *10–11 (N.D.Ga. Feb.1, 2013)report and recommendation adopted,No. 1:12–CV–286–TWT, 2013 WL 791308 (N.D.Ga. Mar.4, 2013) (awarding $10,000 in emotional distress damages where the plaintiff submitted medical bills to support her testimony). Indeed, both courts and juries have rejected claims for emotional distress in cases involving serious FDCPA violations. See Montgomery v. Florida First Fin. Grp., Inc., No. 6:06–CV–1639ORL31KR, 2008 WL 3540374, at *9 (M.D.Fla. Aug.12, 2008) (adopting a Report and Recommendation recommending no actual damages despite the defendant threatening six times, to plaintiff, plaintiff’s daughter, and plaintiff’s mother, that it would have plaintiff arrested, and despite plaintiff’s testimony she was scared and struggled to sleep for fear that she would be arrested); Jordan v. Collection Services, Inc., Case No. 97–600–CA–01, 2001 WL 959031 (Fla. 1st Cir. Ct. April 5, 2001) (jury awarded no damages despite defendant’s debt collection calls that threatened, amongst other consequences, that a hospital would refuse to admit plaintiffs’ ill child if they did not pay their debt).

*12 Still, other courts have awarded actual damages for emotional distress for FDCPA and FCCPA violations, albeit usually in relatively small amounts. For example, in Barker v. Tomlinson, No. 8:05–CV–1390–T–27EAJ, 2006 WL 1679645 (M.D.Fla. June 7, 2006), the plaintiff received $10,000 in actual damages where the defendant called her at work to demand payment for an illegitimate debt, threatened her with arrest if she did not pay, and faxed a request for an arrest warrant to her workplace. Barker, at *3. Similarly, where the plaintiff suffered three panic attacks after the defendant threatened that she could go to jail, threatened to send a deputy to her house, and told her daughter that her mom would be arrested, the court awarded $1,000 in actual damages.Rodriguez v. Florida First Fin. Grp., Inc., No. 606CV–1678–ORL–28DAB, 2009 WL 535980, at *6 (M.D.Fla. Mar.3, 2009).

There are two notable exceptions to the small damages awards usually given in FDCPA cases. In Mesa v. Insta–Service Air Conditioning Corp., Case No. 03–20421 CA 11, 2011 WL 5395524 (Fla. 11th Cir.Ct. Aug. 2, 2011), a jury awarded $150,000 in compensatory damages where an air conditioning company defrauded the plaintiff into buying a defective air conditioner and, unbeknownst to the plaintiff, took out a line of credit in his name. However, it is unclear what amount of those compensatory damages were based on emotional distress and what amount were economic damages. In Beasley v. Anderson, Randolf, Price LLC, Case No. 16–2007–CA–005308, 2010 WL 6708036 (Fla. 4th Cir. Ct. April 19, 2010), a jury awarded $75,000 for mental anguish, inconvenience, or loss of capacity for the enjoyment of life after the defendant repeatedly called the plaintiff’s cell phone to collect a debt, even after being told that it was a work phone number, after receiving a cease and desist letter, and after learning the plaintiff was represented by an attorney.

While not precisely on point, there are two FDCPA cases that represent somewhat similar facts to this case.13In Campbell v. Bradley Fin. Grp., No. CIV.A. 13–604–CG–N, 2014 WL 3350054 (S.D.Ala. July 9, 2014), the defendant repeatedly called the plaintiff, wrongfully alleging that she owed a debt, that she would be sued, and that her wages would be garnished if she did not pay. Campbell, at *4. The plaintiff tried to explain that she had already paid the debt but, because the defendant insisted, she paid the illegitimate debt. Id. Based on the plaintiff’s testimony of her fear of legal action being taken against her, the threatening nature of the phone calls, and the fact that the plaintiff paid the illegitimate debt, the court awarded $15,000 in emotional distress damages. Id.

Similarly, in Gibson v. Rosenthal, Stein, & Associates, LLC, No. 1:12–CV–2990–WSD, 2014 WL 2738611 (N.D.Ga. June 17, 2014), the defendant called the plaintiff and alleged that she owed a debt that she did not owe. Gibson, at *2. The defendant threatened to call the sheriff and have the plaintiff arrested if she did not make a payment. Id. Afraid of going to jail, the plaintiff paid the illegitimate debt using money she needed for living expenses, causing her to go without electricity for two weeks and without water. Id. The court therefore awarded her $15,000. Id.

*13 While these cases are useful as guidance, ultimately, the Court as fact-finder must determine the appropriate amount of damages based on the evidence in this case. Emotional distress damages are particularly difficult to quantify. For example, the Eleventh Circuit pattern jury instructions for emotional distress damages in employment actions contain this language: “You will determine what amount fairly compensates [him/her] for [his/her] claim. There is no exact standard to apply, but the award should be fair in light of the evidence.”Eleventh Circuit Pattern Jury Instructions (Civil) Adverse Employment Action Claims Instructions 4.1, 4.2, 4.3, 4.4, 4.5, 4.9 (2013 Edition).

The Goodins suffered prolonged (over two and a half years) stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness as a result of Bank of America’s misrepresentations regarding the amount of the debt the Goodins owed. This emotional distress reached its peak when the Bank repeatedly threatened the Goodins that, if they did not pay in excess of $15,000, the Goodins’ debt would be accelerated and the Goodins could face foreclosure. The Bank then filed the foreclosure action, and did not dismiss it until six months later (and only after the Goodins were forced to file this lawsuit). While the Goodins did not present evidence from an expert or doctor and in fact did not seek medical attention for their emotional distress, the Court found credible their testimony that they suffered real and severe emotional distress. See supra Part III. Mr. Goodin had worked all his life (Trial Tr. vol. II at 72), but the family was forced into bankruptcy by a poor business investment (Id. at 119). Nevertheless, the Goodins remained ready to continue paying on their mortgage, even while in bankruptcy, but for Bank of America’s gross negligence. While they had other causes of stress as well, their fear of losing their home and feeling of helplessness in the face of Bank of America’s indifference was far and away the primary cause of stress in their lives. Given the facts of this case and the duration of the Goodins’ emotional distress, the Court finds the Goodins are entitled to a larger award than in the mine-run FDCPA case (but nowhere near their request of $500,000 each). Accordingly, the Court, as fact-finder, finds that Mr. and Mrs. Goodin have proven entitlement to $50,000 each for their emotional distress.

  1. Punitive Damages

In addition to statutory and actual damages, the Goodins request ten million dollars in punitive damages under the FCCPA.14(Doc. 100–1 at 21). The Court may award punitive damages under the FCCPA. Fla. Stat. § 559.77. The Goodins argue that punitive damages are appropriate where the defendant acted with malicious intent, meaning that it did a wrongful act “to inflict injury or without a reasonable cause or excuse.”(Doc. 100–1 at 18) (quoting Story v. J.M. Fields, Inc., 343 So.2d 675, 677 (Fla.Dist.Ct.App.1977). Bank of America likewise cites this standard (Doc. 101 at 16), as have a number of courts that considered punitive damages under the FCCPA, see, e.g., Crespo v. Brachfeld Law Grp., No. 11–60569–CIV, 2011 WL 4527804, at *6 (S.D.Fla. Sept.28, 2011); but see Alecca, 2014 WL 2987702, at *1 (finding unpersuasive the plaintiff’s argument that behavior that had no excuse was equated with malicious intent).

*14 As Bank of America points out, however, Fla. Stat. § 768.72 was amended in 1999, subsequent to the decision in Story, to provide a new standard for punitive damages. Now, “[a] defendant may be held liable for punitive damages only if the trier of fact, based on clear and convincing evidence, finds that the defendant was personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence.”Fla. Stat. § 768.72(2). Punitive damages may be imposed on a corporation for conduct of an employee only if an employee was personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence and (1) the corporation actively and knowingly participated in that conduct; (2) the officers, directors, or managers of the corporation knowingly condoned, ratified, or consented to the conduct; or (3) the corporation engaged in conduct that constituted gross negligence and that contributed to the loss suffered by the claimant. § 768.72(3).“ ‘Intentional misconduct’ means that the defendant had actual knowledge of the wrongfulness of the conduct and the high probability that injury or damage to the claimant would result and, despite that knowledge, intentionally pursued that course of conduct, resulting in injury or damage.”§ 768.72(2)(a).“ ‘Gross negligence’ means that the defendant’s conduct was so reckless or wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard or indifference to the life, safety, or rights of persons exposed to such conduct.”§ 768.72(2)(b). Barring the application of certain exceptions not present here, any punitive damages award is limited to the greater of: “Three times the amount of compensatory damages awarded to each claimant entitled thereto” or $500,000. § 768.73(1).

Those cases that have applied the Story standard subsequent to the amendment to § 768.72 have not addressed § 768.72. See, e.g., Montgomery, 2008 WL 3540374, at *10. The Goodins contend that the punitive damages provisions of § 768.72 et seq. do not apply to this case because those provisions are in the “Torts” section of the Florida code rather than the “Consumer Collection Practices” section where the FCCPA is. However, the punitive damages section applies to “any action for damages, whether in tort or in contract.”Fla. Stat. § 768.71. Thus, the Eleventh Circuit has assumed that the punitive damages cap in Fla. Stat. § 768.73(1)(a) applies to FCCPA cases. McDaniel v. Fifth Third Bank, 568 F. App’x 729, 732 (11th Cir.2014). A number of other courts have also assumed that the procedural requirements in § 768.72 would apply to FCCPA actions if they did not conflict with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Brook v. Suncoast Sch., FCU, No. 8:12–CV–01428–T–33, 2012 WL 6059199, at *5 (M.D.Fla. Dec.6, 2012).15 As such, the Court will apply the punitive damages standard dictated by the statute. Cf. City of St. Petersburg v. Total Containment, Inc., No. 06–20953–CIV, 2008 WL 5428179, at *25–26 (S.D.Fla. Oct.10, 2008)report and recommendation adopted in part, overruled in part sub nom. City of St. Petersburg v. Dayco Products, Inc., No. 06–20953, 2008 WL 5428172 (S.D.Fla. Dec.30, 2008) (applying § 768.72’s provisions instead of the common law standard laid out in White Const. Co. v. Dupont, 455 So.2d 1026, 1028–29 (Fla.1984)).

*15 As well documented in earlier sections of these findings, the Bank employees were inattentive, unconcerned, and haphazard in their repeated and prolonged mishandling of the Goodins’ loan. Then, the auditor whose very job it is to correct errors, was himself negligent in his review of the Goodins’ file. If that was the sum of Bank of America’s actions, it would be guilty of negligence many times over, but perhaps not gross negligence.

It is the Bank’s employees’ failure to respond to the Goodins’ many efforts to correct the Bank’s errors that sets this case apart. Bank of America received numerous communications from the Goodins and their attorney explaining the problems with the Bank’s servicing. (Joint Ex. 5 at 2; Joint Ex. 6 at 37, 39, 40; Pl.’s Ex. 23). Yet, beyond noting that the communications were received, the Bank employees did nothing to correct the servicing errors. With their home at stake, the Goodins might as well have been talking to a brick wall.

In taking no action to prevent the errors from continuing, even after being repeatedly notified of them, the Bank employees’ conduct was so wanting in care that it constituted a conscious disregard and indifference to the Goodins’ rights. It was as if the Goodins did not exist. Because the Bank’s employees disregarded the Goodins’ complaints, the servicing errors continued unabated, the Bank continued to send the Goodins false information about the amount of their debt, and then the Bank filed a misbegotten foreclosure action. The Bank employees’ continued gross negligence was only stopped by the filing of this federal lawsuit.

Moreover, in creating a system where one Bank department did not communicate with another, where there were inadequate internal controls to ensure statements provided correct information, and where there was no way for Bank customers to get the attention of the Bank to correct the Bank’s errors, the Bank engaged in grossly negligent conduct. As such, it should be held liable for punitive damages for its employees’ gross negligence.

In justifying their request for $10 million in punitive damages, the Goodins cite to only one case they believe to be similar, Toddie v. GMAC Mortgage LLC, No. 4:08–cv–00002, 2009 WL 3842352 (M.D.Ga. March 26, 2009), where the Court awarded $2,000,0001 in punitive damages and $570,000 in compensatory damages. (Doc. 100–1 at 19–20).Toddie, however, was a wrongful foreclosure and breach of contract case, not an FCCPA case, and involved much more egregious facts, as the defendant actually foreclosed on the plaintiff’s home.

Where courts have awarded punitive damages in FCCPA cases, the amounts have typically been small. See Rodriguez, 2009 WL 535980, at *6 (awarding $2,500 in punitive damages); Montgomery, 2008 WL 3540374, at *11 (awarding $1,000 in punitive damages); Barker, 2006 WL 1679645, at *3 (awarding $10,000 in punitive damages).16 However, this case presents a different situation, one of a very large corporation’s institutional gross negligence.

*16 The goal of punitive damages is to punish gross negligence and to deter such future misconduct. Thus, the award must be large enough to get Bank of America’s attention, otherwise these cases become an acceptable “cost of doing business.” Bank of America is a huge company with tremendous resources, a factor that the Court may and has considered in determining an appropriate award. See Myers v. Cent. Florida Investments, Inc., 592 F.3d 1201, 1216 (11th Cir.2010).17 Also, this is a serious FCCPA case, in which there were a large number of violations that occurred over a long period of time, and in which the Bank ignored the Goodins’ repeated attempts to fix its many errors. The Court, as fact-finder, finds that the Goodins have proven by clear and convincing evidence that a punitive damages award of $100,000 is appropriate.18

Goodin v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 3:13-C

FDCPA Strikes Again: West Virginia Slams Wells Fargo

YARNEY v. OCWEN LOAN SERVICING, LLC, Dist. Court, WD Virginia 2013

SARAH C. YARNEY, Plaintiff,

v.

OCWEN LOAN SERVICING, LLC, ET AL., Defendants.

No. 3:12-cv-00014. United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division.

March 8, 2013

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NORMAN K. MOON, District Judge.

The Plaintiff Sarah C. Yarney (“Plaintiff”), pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, seeks summary judgment as to liability on all claims asserted in her complaint. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Wells Fargo Bank N.A., as Trustee for SABR 2008-1 Trust (“Wells Fargo”), and its loan servicer, Ocwen Loan Servicing, LCC (“Ocwen”), attempted to collect on her home mortgage loan after she had settled the debt with Wells Fargo.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff’s FDCPA Claims as a Matter of Law

In summary, mortgage servicers are considered debt collectors under the FDCPA if they became servicers after the debt they service fell into default. At the time Ocwen became the servicer on Plaintiff’s home loan, the loan was already in default. Therefore, Ocwen is a debt collector seeking to collect an alleged debt for the purposes of FDCPA liability in this case.[4]

1. Defendants’ Liability under 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(2)(A)

Given the contents of the monthly bills and notices sent to Plaintiff directly, along with the continued calls she received from collection agents, I find that the least sophisticated consumer in Plaintiff’s position could believe that she still owed a debt. Thus, Plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on her count that Ocwen violated § 1692e(2)(A) of the FDCPA.
2. Defendants’ Liability under 15 U.S.C. § 1692c(a)(2)

Because Plaintiff continued to directly receive bills, statements and phone calls from Ocwen representatives seeking to collect on an alleged debt obligation, despite notice that she was represented by counsel, Plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment that Ocwen violated section 1692c(a)(2).

B. Plaintiff’s Breach of Contract Claim as a Matter of Law

Plaintiff contends that Wells Fargo breached its agreement with Plaintiff, through the action of its agent, Ocwen ….
plaintiff contends, Wells Fargo failed to comply with its obligations, due to the actions of Ocwen, its servicer.
By attempting to collect payments from Plaintiff on behalf of Wells Fargo, Ocwen acted as Wells Fargo’s agent with respect to the original mortgage loan.[10] Further, the undisputed facts in this case demonstrate that Ocwen continued to behave in all respects towards Plaintiff as Wells Fargo’s agent after the March 18, 2011 settlement agreement.[11] While a party may delegate the performance of its duties under a contract, it retains the ultimate obligation to perform….
[11] While Defendants argued during the February 25, 2013 motion hearing that Wells Fargo shouldn’t be held liable for Ocwen’s conduct from now until eternity, Ocwen’s actions at the center of this case constituted collection efforts in connection with the same mortgage loan debt for which Ocwen had been assigned to service, and that Plaintiff and Wells Fargo had attempted to resolve under the March 18, 2011 settlement agreement. Thus, given the facts of this case, Ocwen continued to act as Wells Fargo’s agent with respect to Plaintiff following the settlement agreement.
Due to Ocwen’s subsequent attempts to collect mortgage loan payments from Plaintiff, Wells Fargo neither absolved Plaintiff of her possible deficiency nor properly accepted the deed in lieu of foreclosure.
. . .
“… and thus, due to the actions of its servicer, Plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment that Wells Fargo breached the March 18, 2011 contract agreement.
IV. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment is granted. This case is scheduled for a jury trial on April 9, 2013, at 9:30 a.m. in Charlottesville, VA, at which time Plaintiff will have the opportunity to testify in regards to any damages she may be entitled to in this matter.[12] An appropriate order accompanies this memorandum opinion

 

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