CA Trial Court Upholds Claims for Improper Assignment, Accounting, Unfair Practices
by Neil Garfield
Editor’s Note: In an extremely well-written and well reasoned decision Federal District Court Judge M. James Lorenz denied the Motion to dismiss of US Bank on an alleged WAMU securitization that for the first time recognizes that the securitization scheme could be a sham, with no basis in fact.
Although the Plaintiff chose not to make allegations regarding false origination of loan documents, which I think is important, the rest of the decision breaks the illusion created by the banks and servicers through the use of documents that look good but do not meet the standards of proof required in a foreclosure.
1. I would suggest that lawyers look at the claim and allegations that the origination documents were false and were procured by fraud.
2. Since no such allegation was made, the court naturally assumed the loan was validly portrayed in the loan documents and that the note was evidence of the loan transaction, presuming that SBMC actually loaned the money to the Plaintiff, which does not appear to be the case.
3. This Judge actually read everything and obvious questions in his mind led him to conclude that there were irregularities in the assignment process that could lead to a verdict in favor of the Plaintiff for quiet title, accounting, unfair practices and other claims.
4. The court recites the fact that the loan was sold to "currently unknown entity or entities." This implicitly raises the question of whether the loan was in fact actually sold more than once, and if so, to whom, for how much, and raises the issues of whom Plaintiff was to direct her payments and whether the actual creditor was receiving the money that Plaintiff paid. — a point hammered on, among others, at the Garfield Seminars coming up in Emeryville (San Francisco), 8/25 and Anaheim, 8/29-30. If you really want to understand what went on in the mortgage meltdown and the tactics and strategies that are getting traction in the courts, you are invited to attend. Anaheim has a 1/2 day seminar for homeowners.
5. For the first time, this Court uses the words (attempt to securitize" a loan as opposed to assuming it was done just based upon the paperwork and the presence of the the parties claiming rights through the assignments and securitization.
6. AFTER the Notice of Sale was recorded, the Plaintiff sent a RESPA 6 Qualified Written request. The defendants used the time-honored defense that this was not a real QWR, but eh court disagreed, stating that the Plaintiff not only requested information but gave her reasons in some details for thinking that something might be wrong.
7. Plaintiff did not specifically mention that the information requested should come from BOTH the subservicer claiming rights to service the loan and the Master Servicer claiming rights to administer the payments from all parties and the disbursements to those investor lenders that had contributed the money that was used to fund the loan. I would suggest that attorneys be aware of this distinction inasmuch as the subservicer only has a small snapshot of transactions solely between the borrower and the subservicer whereas the the information from the Master Servicer would require a complete set of records on all financial transactions and all documents relating to their claims regarding the loan.
8. The court carefully applied the law on Motions to Dismiss instead of inserting the opinion of the Judge as to whether the Plaintiff would win stating that "material allegations, even if doubtful in fact, are assumed to be true," which is another point we have been pounding on since 2007. The court went on to say that it was obligated to accept any claim that was "plausible on its face."
9. The primary claim of Plaintiffs was that the Defendants were "not her true creditors and as such have no legal, equitable, or pecuniary right in this debt obligation in the loan,’ which we presume to mean that the court was recognizing the distinction, for the first time, between the legal obligation to pay and the loan documents.
10. Plaintiff contended that there was not a proper assignment to anyone because the assignment took place after the cutoff date in 2006 (assignment in 2010) and that the person executing the documents, was not a duly constituted authorized signor. The Judge’s decision weighed more heavily that allegation that the assignment was not properly made according to the "trust Document," thus taking Defendants word for it that a trust was created and existing at the time of the assignment, but also saying in effect that they can’t pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other. The assignment, after the Notice of Default, violated the terms of the trust document thus removing the authority of the trustee or the trust to accept it, which as any reasonable person would know, they wouldn’t want to accept — having been sold on the idea that they were buying performing loans. More on this can be read in "whose Lien Is It Anyway?, which I just published and is available on www.livinglies-store.com
11. The Court states without any caveats that the failure to assign the loan in the manner and timing set forth in the "trust document" (presumably the Pooling and Servicing Agreement) that the note and Deed of trust are not part of the trust and that therefore the trustee had no basis for asserting ownership, much less the right to enforce.
12. THEN this Judge uses simple logic and applies existing law: if the assignment was void, then the notices of default, sale, substitution of trustee and any foreclosure would have been totally void.
13. I would add that lawyers should consider the allegation that none of the transfers were supported by any financial transaction or other consideration because consideration passed at origination from the investors directly tot he borrower, due to the defendants ignoring the provisions of the prospectus and PSA shown to the investor-lender. In discovery what you want is the identity of each entity that ever showed this loan is a loan receivable on any regular business or record or set of accounting forms. It might surprise you that NOBODY has the loan posted as loan receivable and as such, the argument can be made that NOBODY can submit a CREDIT BID at auction even if the auction was otherwise a valid auction.
14. Next, the Court disagrees with the Defendants that they are not debt collectors and upholds the Plaintiff’s claim for violation of FDCPA. Since she explicitly alleges that US bank is a debt collector, and started collection efforts on 2010, the allegation that the one-year statute of limitation should be applied was rejected by the court. Thus Plaintiff’s claims for violations under FDCPA were upheld.
15. Plaintiff also added a count under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL) which prohibits any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice. Section 17200 of Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code. The Court rejected defendants’ arguments that FDCPA did not apply since "Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the UCL by collecting payments that they lacked the right to collect, and engaging in unlawful business practices by violating the FDCPA and RESPA." And under the rules regarding motions to dismiss, her allegations must be taken as absolutely true unless the allegations are clearly frivolous or speculative on their face.
16. Plaintiff alleged that the Defendants had created a cloud upon her title affecting her in numerous ways including her credit score, ability to refinance etc. Defendants countered that the allegation regarding a cloud on title was speculative. The Judge said this is not speculation, it is fact if other allegations are true regarding the false recording of unauthroized documents based upon an illegal or void assignment.
17. And lastly, but very importantly, the Court recognizes for the first time, the right of a homeowner to demand an accounting if they can establish facts in their allegations that raise questions regarding the status of the loan, whether she was paying the right people and whether the true creditors were being paid. "Plaintiff alleges facts that allows the Court to draw a reasonable inference that Defendants may be liable for various misconduct alleged. See Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.
Here are some significant quotes from the case. Naranjo v SBMC TILA- Accounting -Unfair practices- QWR- m/dismiss —
No allegations regarding false origination of loan documents:
SBMC sold her loan to a currently unknown entity or entities. (FAC ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges that these unknown entities and Defendants were involved in an attempt to securitize the loan into the WAMU Mortgage Pass-through Certificates WMALT Series 2006-AR4 Trust ("WAMU Trust"). (Id. ¶ 17.) However, these entities involved in the attempted securitization of the loan "failed to adhere to the requirements of the Trust Agreement
In August 2009, Plaintiff was hospitalized, resulting in unforeseen financial hardship. (FAC ¶ 25.) As a result, she defaulted on her loan. (See id. ¶ 26.)
On May 26, 2010, Defendants recorded an Assignment of Deed of Trust, which states that MERS assigned and transferred to U.S. Bank as trustee for the WAMU Trust under the DOT. (RJN Ex. B.) Colleen Irby executed the Assignment as Officer for MERS. (Id.) On the same day, Defendants also recorded a Substitution of Trustee, which states that the U.S. Bank as trustee, by JP Morgan, as attorney-in-fact substituted its rights under the DOT to the California Reconveyance Company ("CRC"). (RJN Ex. C.) Colleen Irby also executed the Substitution as Officer of "U.S. Bank, National Association as trustee for the WAMU Trust." (Id.) And again, on the same day, CRC, as trustee, recorded a Notice of Default and Election to Sell. (RJN Ex. D.)
A Notice of Trustee’s sale was recorded, stating that the estimated unpaid balance on the note was $989,468.00 on July 1, 2011. (RJN Ex. E.)
On August 8, 2011, Plaintiff sent JPMorgan a Qualified Written Request ("QWR") letter in an effort to verify and validate her debt. (FAC ¶ 35 & Ex. C.) In the letter, she requested that JPMorgan provide, among other things, a true and correct copy of the original note and a complete life of the loan transactional history. (Id.) Although JPMorgan acknowledged the QWR within five days of receipt, Plaintiff alleges that it "failed to provide a substantive response." (Id. ¶ 35.) Specifically, even though the QWR contained the borrow’s name, loan number, and property address, Plaintiff alleges that "JPMorgan’s substantive response concerned the same borrower, but instead supplied information regarding an entirely different loan and property." (Id.)
The court must dismiss a cause of action for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). The court must accept all allegations of material fact as true and construe them in light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cedars-Sanai Med. Ctr. v. Nat’l League of Postmasters of U.S., 497 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2007). Material allegations, even if doubtful in fact, are assumed to be true. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, the court need not "necessarily assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Warren v. Fox Family Worldwide, Inc., 328 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). In fact, the court does not need to accept any legal conclusions as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, ___, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)
the allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. Thus, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to `state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’" Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a `probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law either for lack of a cognizable legal theory or for insufficient facts under a cognizable theory. Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984).
Plaintiff’s primary contention here is that Defendants "are not her true creditors and as such have no legal, equitable, or pecuniary right in this debt obligation" in the loan. (Pl.’s Opp’n 1:5-11.) She contends that her promissory note and DOT were never properly assigned to the WAMU Trust because the entities involved in the attempted transfer failed to adhere to the requirements set forth in the Trust Agreement and thus the note and DOT are not a part of the trust res. (FAC ¶¶ 17, 20.) Defendants moves to dismiss the FAC in its entirety with prejudice.
The vital allegation in this case is the assignment of the loan into the WAMU Trust was not completed by May 30, 2006 as required by the Trust Agreement. This allegation gives rise to a plausible inference that the subsequent assignment, substitution, and notice of default and election to sell may also be improper. Defendants wholly fail to address that issue. (See Defs.’ Mot. 3:16-6:2; Defs.’ Reply 2:13-4:4.) This reason alone is sufficient to deny Defendants’ motion with respect to this issue. [plus the fact that no financial transaction occurred]
Moving on, Defendants’ reliance on Gomes is misguided. In Gomes, the California Court of Appeal held that a plaintiff does not have a right to bring an action to determine a nominee’s authorization to proceed with a nonjudicial foreclosure on behalf of a noteholder. 192 Cal. App. 4th at 1155. The nominee in Gomes was MERS. Id. at 1151. Here, Plaintiff is not seeking such a determination. The role of the nominee is not central to this action as it was in Gomes. Rather, Plaintiff alleges that the transfer of rights to the WAMU Trust is improper, thus Defendants consequently lack the legal right to either collect on the debt or enforce the underlying security interest.
Plaintiff requests that the Court "make a finding and issue appropriate orders stating that none of the named Defendants . . . have any right or interest in Plaintiff’s Note, Deed of Trust, or the Property which authorizes them . . . to collect Plaintiff’s mortgage payments or enforce the terms of the Note or Deed of Trust in any manner whatsoever." (FAC ¶ 50.) Defendant simplifies this as a request for "a determination of the ownership of [the] Note and Deed of Trust," which they argue is "addressed in her other causes of action." (Defs.’ Mot. 6:16-20.) The Court disagrees with Defendants. As discussed above and below, there is an actual controversy that is not superfluous. Therefore, the Court DENIES Defendants’ motion as to Plaintiff’s claim for declaratory relief.
Defendants argue that they are not "debt collectors" within the meaning of the FDCPA. (Defs.’ Mot. 9:13-15.) That argument is predicated on the presumption that all of the legal rights attached to the loan were properly assigned. Plaintiff responds that Defendants are debt collectors because U.S. Bank’s principal purpose is to collect debt and it also attempted to collect payments. (Pl.’s Opp’n 19:23-27.) She explicitly alleges in the FAC that U.S. Bank has attempted to collect her debt obligation and that U.S. Bank is a debt collector. Consequently, Plaintiff sufficiently alleges a claim under the FDCPA.
Defendants also argue that the FDCPA claim is time barred. (Defs.’ Mot. 7:18-27.) A FDCPA claim must be brought "within one year from the date on which the violation occurs." 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(d). Defendants contend that the violation occurred when the allegedly false assignment occurred on May 26, 2010. (Defs.’ Mot. 7:22-27.) However, Plaintiff alleges that U.S. Bank violated the FDCPA when it attempted to enforce Plaintiff’s debt obligation and collect mortgage payments when it allegedly had no legal authority to do so. (FAC ¶ 72.) Defendants wholly overlook those allegations in the FAC. Thus, Defendants fail to show that Plaintiff’s FDCPA claim is time barred.
Accordingly, the Court DENIES Defendants’ motion as to Plaintiff’s FDCPA claim.
Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s letter does not constitute a QWR because it requests a list of unsupported demands rather than specific particular errors or omissions in the account along with an explanation from the borrower why she believes an error exists. (Defs.’ Mot. 10:4-13.) However, the letter explains that it "concerns sales and transfers of mortgage servicing rights; deceptive and fraudulent servicing practices to enhance balance sheets; deceptive, abusive, and fraudulent accounting tricks and practices that may have also negatively affected any credit rating, mortgage account and/or the debt or payments that [Plaintiff] may be obligated to." (FAC Ex. C.) The letter goes on to put JPMorgan on notice of
potential abuses of J.P. Morgan Chase or previous servicing companies or previous servicing companies [that] could have deceptively, wrongfully, unlawfully, and/or illegally: Increased the amounts of monthly payments; Increased the principal balance Ms. Naranjo owes; Increased the escrow payments; Increased the amounts applied and attributed toward interest on this account; Decreased the proper amounts applied and attributed toward the principal on this account; and/or Assessed, charged and/or collected fees, expenses and miscellaneous charges Ms. Naranjo is not legally obligated to pay under this mortgage, note and/or deed of trust.
(Id.) Based on the substance of letter, the Court cannot find as a matter of law that the letter is not a QWR.
California’s Unfair Competition Law ("UCL") prohibits "any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice. . . ." Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200. This cause of action is generally derivative of some other illegal conduct or fraud committed by a defendant. Khoury v. Maly’s of Cal., Inc., 14 Cal. App. 4th 612, 619 (1993). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated the UCL by collecting payments that they lacked the right to collect, and engaging in unlawful business practices by violating the FDCPA and RESPA.
Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s allegation regarding a cloud on her title does not constitute an allegation of loss of money or property, and even if Plaintiff were to lose her property, she cannot show it was a result of Defendants’ actions. (Defs.’ Mot. 12:22-13:4.) The Court disagrees. As discussed above, Plaintiff alleges damages resulting from Defendants’ collection of payments that they purportedly did not have the legal right to collect. These injuries are monetary, but also may result in the loss of Plaintiff’s property. Furthermore, these injuries are causally connected to Defendants’ conduct. Thus, Plaintiff has standing to pursue a UCL claim against Defendants.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants owe a fiduciary duty in their capacities as creditor and mortgage servicer. (FAC ¶ 125.) She pursues this claim on the grounds that Defendants collected payments from her that they had no right to do. Defendants argue that various documents recorded in the Official Records of San Diego County from May 2010 show that Plaintiff fails to allege facts sufficient to state a claim for accounting. (Defs.’ Mot. 16:1-3.) Defendants are mistaken. As discussed above, a fundamental issue in this action is whether Defendants’ rights were properly assigned in accordance with the Trust Agreement in 2006. Plaintiff alleges facts that allows the Court to draw a reasonable inference that Defendants may be liable for various misconduct alleged. See Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.