THE LIMITS OF CALIFORNIA LAW IN THE MORTGAGE REFINANCE CONTEXT

THE LIMITS OF CALIFORNIA LAW IN THE MORTGAGE REFINANCE CONTEXT

A recent decision by no less than the California Supreme Court points once again to the difficulty of trying to sue National Banks under California law.

In Sheen v. Wells Fargo Bank (2002) 12 Cal.5th 905, 290 Cal. Rptr. 3d 834, Plaintiff Borrower refinanced his home, using the equity to acquire 2 loans from Wells Fargo. A few years later, borrower experienced financial problems, and sought to refinance. He asked the bank to renegotiate the loan.

Borrower sent in an application, to which Wells Fargo responded, without specifically addressing the modification question. Plaintiff understood the response to mean that Wells Fargo would not foreclose. Eventually, Wells Fargo sold the loan to a secondary lender, who foreclosed.

The California Supreme Court framed the basic question as follows:

“In this case, we address the issue dividing the lower courts: Does a lender owe the borrower a tort duty sounding in general negligence principles to (in plaintiff’s words) “process, review and respond carefully and completely to [a borrower’s] loan  modification application,” such that upon a breach of this duty the lender may be liable for the borrower’s economic losses — i.e., pecuniary losses unaccompanied by property damage or personal injury? (See, e.g., Southern California Gas Leak Cases (2019) 7 Cal.5th 391, 398, 247 Cal.Rptr.3d 632, 441 P.3d 881 (Gas Leak Cases).) We conclude that there is no such duty, and thus Wells Fargo’s demurrer to plaintiff’s negligence claim was properly sustained.” 12 Cal.5th at 915.

The California Supreme Court, by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, pointed out that there was no contract to renegotiate, and thus no breach of contract. Wells Fargo had no duty, either under contract  or under common law, to grant the loan modification. Because there was no duty, failure to modify the loan meant that there was no negligence.

Furthermore, the Court held that plaintiff could only recover “economic damages,” i.e., no pain and suffering. Because there was no breach of a common law duty, Plaintiff’s damages would appear limited to the value of the home at the time of foreclosure.

The California Supreme Court did suggest that other causes of action, such as promissory estoppel or negligent misrepresentation, might proceed past demurrer, given sufficient allegations. But those causes of action were not part of Sheen’s complaint. 12 Cal.5th at 916.

Plaintiffs might consider looking to federal law, such as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”), or the Truth in Lending laws, for greater protection with a national bank. Of course, the facts alleged must be adequate for such a complaint, which could also include state law claims. See, for example, 15 USC Sec. 1691; Taylor v. Accredited Home Lenders, Inc., 580 F.Supp.2d 1062, (D.C.S.D.CA, 2008) [each monthly mortgage payment constituted a continuing violation of Plaintiff’s rights under ECOA]; Schlegel v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 720 F.3d 1204 (2013) [ECOA applies to mortgage loans]; Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, Examiner’s Handbook: Fair Lending, (2010); Schwemm & Taren, “Discretionary Pricing, Mortgage Discrimination, and the Fair Housing Act,” 45 Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review 375, 417 (2010); Peterson, “Predatory Structured Finance,” 28 Cardozo Law Review 2185; Totten, “The Enforcers and the Great Recession,” 36 Cardozo Law Review 1611 (2015).

FAIR LENDING FIGHT: Battling Redlining

FAIR LENDING FIGHT: Battling Redlining

  During the years of the Financial Crash (2007-2012), one could read in the press about something called “predatory lending,” or “lending discrimination,” or “disparate treatment,” or “disparate impact.” These concepts and legal doctrines were important because they spoke to the fact that persons of color were treated deceptively or unfairly, or tended to receive subprime loans, or loans that they could not repay, or were preyed upon by certain lenders. The end result was that minority borrowers were much more likely to have their homes foreclosed upon than were Caucasian borrowers.

   Central to the effects of the Financial Crash upon minority borrowers, in particular, was the belief among certain lenders that they could do whatever they wanted with regard to minority borrowers.

   A recent ruling from Pennsylvania points to the continued need for vigilance with regard to lending discrimination. The US Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Trident Mortgage for redlining practices against borrowers of color in the Philadelphia area. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Trident Mortgage Company LP, Case No. 2:22-cv-02936, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

   In its press release of July 27, 2022, announcing the settlement with Trident Mortgage, the Department of Justice stated that:

“Redlining is an illegal practice in which lenders avoid providing credit services to individuals living in communities of color because of the race, color, or national origin of residents of those communities. The complaint in federal court today alleges that from at least 2015 to 2019, Trident failed to provide mortgage lending services to neighborhoods of color in the Philadelphia Metropolitan area, that its offices were concentrated in majority-white neighborhoods, and that its loan officers did not serve the credit needs of neighborhoods of color. The complaint also alleges that loan officers and other employees sent and received work e-mails containing racial slurs and referring to communities of color as ‘ghetto.’ ”

   The director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Rohit Chopra, stated the importance of fighting discrimination, when he said, in connection with the Trident settlement, “With housing costs so high, it is critical that illegal discrimination does not put homeownership even further out of reach.”

   The Department of Justice, in commenting on the consent order, stated that the Truth in Lending Laws and other anti-discrimination laws must continue to be enforced. 15 USC §§1601, et seq (Truth in Lending Act); 15 USC §1691 (Equal Credit Opportunity Act); 15 USC §1681 et seq. (Fair Credit Reporting Act). Courts will have an important role, looking to the letter of the anti-discrimination laws, their intent, and to the reality on the ground, rather than finding excuses to look the other way, and blame the victim, simply because confronting reality may be uncomfortable or inconvenient.

Warning: These Posts Does Not Constitute Legal Advice; Please Consult An Attorney

IN TRUSTS WE TRUST: Comments Protect the Loan

IN TRUSTS WE TRUST: Comments Protect the Loan

When representing clients, attorneys rely on the words of the law (a “statute”) and ask the court to implement the plain, obvious meaning of its words.
When it comes to federal statutes, however, it is easy to overlook the “comments” by Congressional committees that draft the statutes, or the agencies which implement them. Such comments can be critical in court.
For example, a recent unanimous Court of Appeal used a statute’s agency staff comments to protect a consumer from a deceitful lender.
In Gilliam v. Levine, Case No. 18-56373 (9th Circuit, 2020), the court recounts that the borrower obtained a loan as trustee for a family trust. The purpose of the loan was to make home repairs. The home itself was the sole asset of the trust. Another family member, who occupied the home, was the trust beneficiary.
The borrower later discovered that the due date for the final loan payment was 1 year earlier than she had been led to believe. The borrower was alarmed, and sued to cancel (rescind) the loan under federal law, Truth in Lending Act (TILA), 15 U.S.C. § 1601, et seq., and the Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (RESPA), 12 U.S.C. § 2601. The borrower also asserted a claim under California’s Fair Lending Law [Rosenthal Act], 1788.1(b) of California’s Rosenthal Act, California Civil Code §§ 1788.1(b).  
The trial judge dismissed the lawsuit, because, according to that judge, the loan went to the trust, not to a person, and hence was not a consumer loan.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, noting the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Official Staff Commentary to Regulation Z (mortgage loans), which states that “[c]redit extended for consumer purposes to certain trusts is considered to be credit extended to a natural person rather than credit extended to an organization.” 12 C.F.R. pt.1026, Supp. 1, § 1026.3 Comment 3(a)-10. (And under California law, the trustee, not the trust, holds title to trust property – – Author)
The “certain trusts,” which fall under the rubric of “natural persons,” included the trust in this case, which was formed for tax or estate planning purposes [which benefit people]. The trust in question was “primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.” 15 U.S.C. § 1602(i). The borrower was the aunt (as Trustee); the niece was the beneficiary; and the trust property was a private home. As a result, the loan was a “consumer credit transaction,” which was subject to the Fair Lending Laws.
And the Comment makes the point: Look to the substance of the transaction. Here it was to benefit a consumer, not a company. 12 C.F.R. pt. 1026, Supp. 1, and § 1026.3 Comment 3(a)-10.i. Because this was a consumer loan, the Trustee had the right to rescind this deceptive loan.
WARNING: THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE; PLEASE CONSULT AN ATTORNEY

TRUTH IN LENDING: Inaccurate Credit Report 1

TRUTH IN LENDING: Inaccurate Credit Report 1

TRUTH IN LENDING: If a consumer feels that the information in her credit report (i.e., information actually sent to inquiring lenders or other agencies) is inaccurate, her ultimate remedy is to file a lawsuit pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. Secs. 1681–1681x. To succeed in such a lawsuit, however, the Plaintiff will need to compile evidence. For example, the courts have held that “to state a claim under § 1681e [inaccurate report], the plaintiff must show that the agency’s report contained factually inaccurate information, that the procedures it took in preparing and distributing the report weren’t “reasonable,” and that damages followed as a result.” Cahlin v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 936 F.2d 1151, 1157, 1160 (11th Cir. 1991); Nagle v. Experian Info. Sols., Inc., 297 F.3d 1305, 1307 (11th Cir. 2002). [Quotations reproduced as commentary.]

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