Estate of James Singh v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

Filing 23

ORDER by Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley granting 12 Motion to Dismiss; granting 18 Motion to Remand. (ahm, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 5/9/2022)Any non-CM/ECF Participants have been served by First Class Mail to the addresses of record listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF)Order emailed and mailed to Plaintiff on May 9, 2022.

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 ESTATE OF JAMES SINGH, 7 Plaintiff, 8 ORDER RE: MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND REMAND v. 9 WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., 10 Re: Dkt. Nos. 12, 18 Defendant. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California Case No. 22-cv-01532-JSC 12 13 Plaintiff, the estate of James Singh, sued Wells Fargo Bank in Alameda County Superior 14 Court related to a 2006 home loan and 2018 foreclosure. (See Dkt. No. 1.)1 Defendant removed 15 to federal court. Now pending are Defendant’s unopposed motion to dismiss and Plaintiff’s 16 motion to remand. (Dkt. Nos. 12, 18.) Having carefully considered the parties’ briefing, the 17 Court concludes that oral argument is unnecessary, see N.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 7-1(b), VACATES the 18 May 12, 2022 hearing, GRANTS Defendant’s motion to dismiss, and DENIES Plaintiff’s motion 19 to remand. COMPLAINT ALLEGATIONS 20 21 James Singh owned a property at 21 Pembroke Court in Oakland, California from 1982 22 until his death on May 15, 2021. (Dkt. No. 1 at 11 ¶ 2, 12 ¶ 4.) Plaintiff is Mr. Singh’s estate, 23 acting through estate executor Vikash Singh without representation by a lawyer. (Id. at 12 ¶ 3.) 24 On January 20, 2006, James Singh signed an Adjustable Rate Mortgage Note agreement with 25 World Savings Bank, FSB. (Id. at 13 ¶ 15.) The note was later transferred from World Savings 26 27 28 Record citations are to material in the Electronic Case File (“ECF”) in Case No. 22-cv-01532JSC, unless otherwise noted; pinpoint citations are to the ECF-generated page numbers at the top of the documents. 1 1 Bank to Defendant. (Id.) The note required Defendant to give Mr. Singh written notice of the 2 amount claimed due and a date certain by which to pay it. (Id. at 13 ¶ 16.) The note also implied 3 a covenant of good faith and fair dealing that required Defendant to give Mr. Singh a reasonable 4 time to pay the amount claimed due. (Id. at 13 ¶ 16, 14 ¶ 20.) At a foreclosure sale on December 5 12, 2018, Defendant purportedly took ownership of the property. (Id. at 12 ¶ 5.) Plaintiff alleges 6 the foreclosure was invalid because Defendant violated the note’s express requirements as well as 7 the covenant of good faith and fair dealing implied by the note. (Id. at 13–14 ¶¶ 15–16, 20–21.) 8 Plaintiff does not know of any current encumbrances on the property and estimates its value at 9 $975,000, exceeding the “alleged encumbrances of record and costs of sale in relation to the real 10 property.” (Id. at 13 ¶¶ 10–11.) United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Plaintiff brings claims for quiet title, breach of the secured promissory note, breach of the 12 implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and declaratory relief indicating that it is the sole 13 and complete owner of the property as of December 7, 2021. DISCUSSION 14 15 16 I. Motion to Remand Plaintiff’s motion to remand asserts that the Court lacks federal subject matter jurisdiction 17 because the claims are based on California law and the parties are not diverse. Mr. Singh was a 18 citizen of California because he lived in California, (see Dkt. No. 1 at 12 ¶ 4), from 1982 until his 19 death in 2021. See Lew v. Moss, 797 F.2d 747, 749–50 (9th Cir. 1986). Plaintiff, his estate, is 20 therefore also a citizen of California. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(2); e.g., Kocher v. Hilton 21 Worldwide Holdings, Inc., No. 3:18-cv-00449-SB, 2018 WL 6735086, at *2 (D. Or. Nov. 9, 2018) 22 (analyzing decedent’s domicile at time of death to determine representative’s citizenship); Est. of 23 Ruffu ex rel. Jensen Beach Marine Ctr., Inc. v. Collier, No. 06–3531 (NLH), 2008 WL 801274, at 24 *1 (D.N.J. Mar. 20, 2008) (noting that decedent’s estate was a citizen of New Jersey because 25 decedent had been a citizen of New Jersey). 26 Defendant is a “national banking association” not organized under the laws of any state. 27 28 U.S.C. § 1348. As such, it is a citizen “only in the state designated as its main office.” Rouse 28 v. Wachovia Mortg., FSB, 747 F.3d 707, 708 (9th Cir. 2014); see id. at 709 n.1 (noting that a 2 1 national bank must “designate the place where its operations of discount and deposit are to be 2 carried on, which serves as the bank’s main office” (cleaned up)). Defendant’s main office is in 3 South Dakota, (see Dkt. No. 22 at 3–9),2 and therefore it is a citizen only of South Dakota. See 4 also Rouse, 747 F.3d at 715 (“Wells Fargo is a citizen only of South Dakota.”). Finally, Plaintiff does not contest that the amount in controversy is satisfied. See 28 5 6 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The complaint does not demand a dollar amount, (see Dkt. No. 1 at 16), but 7 estimates that the property for which it seeks to quiet title is worth $975,000, (id. at 13 ¶ 11). 8 Thus, the value of “the object in litigation” exceeds the $75,000 minimum amount in controversy. 9 Chapman v. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Tr. Co., 651 F.3d 1039, 1045 n.2 (9th Cir. 2011). Because the parties are diverse and the required amount in controversy is met, the Court 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 has federal subject matter jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Plaintiff’s motion to remand is 12 DENIED. (Dkt. No. 18.) 13 II. Motion to Dismiss Defendant moves to dismiss on the grounds that Plaintiff’s claims are barred by res 14 15 judicata or otherwise fail as a matter of law. “The preclusive effect of a judgment is defined by 16 claim preclusion and issue preclusion, which are collectively referred to as ‘res judicata.’” Taylor 17 v. Sturgell, 553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008). Plaintiff’s predecessor, Mr. Singh, filed five other suits 18 against Defendant related to this property. (See Case No. 18-cv-07376, Dkt. No. 13 at 3–5); see 19 also In re Singh, No. NC–17–1217–FBTa, 2018 WL 2671444, at *1–3 (B.A.P. 9th Cir. June 5, 20 2018) (describing procedural history). Defendant filed two unlawful detainer actions against 21 Plaintiff in state court. The lawsuits are described below. • 22 Plaintiff’s October 2011 suit brought six causes of action related to Defendant’s handling 23 of the 2006 loan. See Singh v. Wells Fargo Bank N.A., No. C 11–5485 PJH, 2012 WL 24 294663 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2012). It resolved after the court dismissed with prejudice 25 26 The Court takes judicial notice of Defendant’s articles of association as a matter of public record. (See Dkt. No. 22); Harris v. County of Orange, 682 F.3d 1126, 1132 (9th Cir. 2012) (noting that judicial notice is appropriate for “undisputed matters of public record, including documents on file in federal or state courts” (citation omitted)). 3 2 27 28 1 Plaintiff’s claim for quiet title and Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the remaining claims. 2 (See Case No. 18-cv-07376, Dkt. No. 13 at 3.) 3 • In July 2012, there was a foreclosure sale on the property and Defendant purportedly took 4 ownership. In an attempt to take possession, Defendant filed an unlawful detainer action 5 against Plaintiff. See In re Singh, 2018 WL 2671444, at *2. In June 2013, a jury found 6 that the 2012 sale was improper. See id. at *2, *4; (see also Case No. 18-cv-07376-JSC, 7 Dkt. No. 13 at 4 n.7). 8 • Plaintiff’s December 2012 suit brought seven causes of action related to the 2006 loan. See Singh v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. C–12–06566 EDL, 2013 WL 1787157 (N.D. Cal. 9 Mar. 8, 2013), report and recommendation adopted, 2013 WL 1787156 (Apr. 25, 2013). It 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 resolved in dismissal without leave to amend, which was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit. 12 Singh v. Wells Fargo Bank, NA, 671 F. App’x 973 (9th Cir. 2016). 13 • Plaintiff’s March 2015 suit challenged Defendant’s attempt to resume the foreclosure 14 process, arguing that the unlawful detainer verdict in Plaintiff’s favor meant that Defendant 15 could never foreclose. See In re Singh, 2018 WL 2671444, at *2. The suit resolved in 16 voluntary dismissal. (See Case No. 18-cv-07376-JSC, Dkt. No. 13 at 3–4.) 17 • Plaintiff’s April 2016 suit, an adversary complaint in bankruptcy court, again alleged that 18 the unlawful detainer verdict prevented Defendant from foreclosing. See In re Singh, 2018 19 WL 2671444, at *2. The bankruptcy court “held that claim preclusion applied to all of the 20 causes of action except the quiet title claim, because the [December 2012 suit] was fully 21 adjudicated adversely to the Plaintiff by both the District Court and the [Ninth Circuit] and 22 contained claims based on the same underlying facts.” Id. at *3 (cleaned up). The 23 bankruptcy court also held that the two-dismissal rule “barred relitigation of the claims 24 previously asserted (and dismissed)” in the October 2011 and March 2015 suits. Id. 25 Finally, the bankruptcy court held that all of Plaintiff’s claims, including the quiet title 26 claim, otherwise failed as a matter of law. Id. The suit resolved in dismissal with 27 prejudice, which was affirmed by the Ninth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel. See id. at 28 *4–8. 4 • 1 Plaintiff’s December 2018 suit brought “causes of action related to the same underlying 2 loan and alleged conduct as the previous conduct or involving conduct that could have 3 been challenged in previous actions.” (Case No. 18-cv-7376-JSC, Dkt. Nos. 13.) It 4 resolved in dismissal without leave to amend because the claims were barred by claim 5 preclusion and the two-dismissal rule. (Case No. 18-cv-7376-JSC, Dkt. No. 19.) • 6 After the December 2018 foreclosure sale, Defendant again tried to take possession by 7 filing an unlawful detainer action against Plaintiff in April 2019. (See Dkt. No. 13 at 200– 8 12.)3 The state court granted summary judgment to Defendant, which was affirmed by the 9 state court of appeal in March 2022. (See id. at 214–23.) The judgment reflected that Defendant purchased the property at a non-judicial foreclosure sale on December 12, 2018; 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 perfected title by recording the Notice of Trustee’s Deed Upon Sale on December 19, 12 2018; served Plaintiff with a three-day notice to quit; and that Plaintiff remained in 13 possession. (See id. at 223.) 14 Here, the Court must consider the preclusive effect of federal court judgments based on 15 diversity (e.g., Plaintiff’s suits filed in state court and removed to federal court on the basis of 16 diversity) and state court judgments (e.g., Defendant’s unlawful detainer actions against Plaintiff 17 in state court). “The preclusive effect of a federal-court judgment is determined by federal 18 common law.” Taylor, 553 U.S. at 891. For federal court judgments in diversity cases, federal 19 common law “incorporates the rules of preclusion applied by the State in which the rendering 20 court sits.” Id. at 891 n.4. The preclusive effect of a state court judgment is determined by that 21 state’s law. See Marrese v. Am. Acad. of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 470 U.S. 373, 380 (1985). 22 Accordingly, the Court applies California’s law of preclusion, which substantially echoes the 23 federal counterpart. See In re Singh, 2018 WL 2671444, at *5–6 (applying California law of 24 preclusion). 25 26 3 27 28 The Court takes judicial notice of the 2019 unlawful detainer action orders. (See Dkt. No. 13); Harris, 682 F.3d at 1132; Bennet v. Medtronic, Inc., 285 F.3d 801, 803 n.2 (9th Cir. 2002) (recognizing that courts “may take notice of proceedings in other courts, both within and without the federal judicial system, if those proceedings have a direct relation to matters at issue”). 5 A. 1 Claim Preclusion Claim preclusion “bar claims that were, or should have been, advanced in a previous suit 2 3 involving the same parties,” “prevent[ing] relitigation of entire causes of action.” DKN Holdings 4 LLC v. Faerber, 352 P.3d 378, 386 (Cal. 2015); Samara v. Matar, 419 P.3d 924, 926 (Cal. 2018). 5 It “applies only when a second suit involves (1) the same cause of action (2) between the same 6 parties or their privies (3) after a final judgment on the merits in the first suit.” Samara, 419 P.3d 7 at 926 (cleaned up); see Owens v. Kaiser Found. Health Plan, Inc., 244 F.3d 708, 713 (9th Cir. 8 2001) (noting federal elements are “(1) an identity of claims, (2) a final judgment on the merits, 9 and (3) identity or privity between parties”). Here, there is no dispute that Plaintiff (through its 10 predecessor Mr. Singh) and Defendant were named in Plaintiff’s previous suits. “California courts employ the ‘primary rights theory’ to determine if two actions constitute United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 a single cause of action.” In re Singh, 2018 WL 2671444, at *5. 13 A cause of action under the primary rights theory considers the broader question of the injury or harm suffered. The most salient characteristic of a primary right is that it is indivisible: the violation of a single primary right gives rise to but a single cause of action. Therefore, if an action involves the same injury to the plaintiff and the same wrong by the defendant then the same primary right is at stake even if in the second suit, the plaintiff pleads different theories of recovery, seeks different forms of relief and/or adds new facts supporting recovery. 14 15 16 17 18 Id. (cleaned up); see Owens, 244 F.3d at 714 (noting, under federal law, that “[t]he central 19 criterion in determining whether there is an identity of claims between the first and second 20 adjudications is whether the two suits arise out of the same transactional nucleus of facts” (cleaned 21 up)). 22 Central to Plaintiff’s current complaint is the allegation that the December 12, 2018 23 foreclosure sale was invalid. That question was not and could not have been litigated or decided 24 in any of Plaintiff’s previous suits because the latest was filed on December 7, 2018. (See Case 25 No. 18-cv-7376-JSC, Dkt. No. 1.) The 2018 sale is a “significant factual distinction that affects 26 the application of claim preclusion,” analogous to the unlawful detainer verdict that changed the 27 operative nucleus of facts between Plaintiff’s December 2012 suit and the April 2016 adversary 28 complaint in bankruptcy court. In re Singh, No. 15-40917 (WJL), 2017 WL 2859754, at *5 6 1 (Bankr. N.D. Cal. July 3, 2017), aff’d, 2018 WL 2671444, at *5–6. As the bankruptcy court 2 concluded: “Therefore, any cause of action that relies on facts surrounding the [unlawful detainer 3 verdict] would not be barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion because it does not rely on the 4 same operative nucleus of facts.” Id. Here, any cause of action that relies on facts surrounding the 5 2018 sale would not be barred by claim preclusion because it could not have been litigated in 6 Plaintiff’s previous suits. Cf. In re Singh, 2018 WL 2671444, at *7 n.7 (“[T]here is no reason to 7 allow Mr. Singh to file an amended complaint based on his fear that Wells Fargo might err again. . 8 . . If Wells Fargo manages to get a new foreclosure off the ground, Mr. Singh could assert any 9 proper challenges to that foreclosure at an appropriate time and in an appropriate forum.”). 10 Only Plaintiff’s claim for quiet title relies on facts surrounding the 2018 sale. That claim United States District Court Northern District of California 11 alleges the sale was invalid and did not transfer title to Defendant. (Dkt. No. 1 at 11–13 ¶¶ 1–13.) 12 Therefore, the quiet title claim is not barred by claim preclusion. (However, it is barred by issue 13 preclusion, as explained below.) 14 Plaintiff’s claims for breach of secured promissory note and breach of the implied 15 covenant of good faith and fair dealing do not rely on facts surrounding the 2018 sale. (Id. at 13– 16 14 ¶¶ 15–16, 20–21.) Instead, they rely on facts predating the 2018 sale because Plaintiff alleges 17 the breaches caused the later sale to be invalid. These claims are barred by claim preclusion 18 because they assert the same primary rights as previous cases, arising from the terms of Plaintiff’s 19 2006 loan and Defendant’s handling of the loan thereafter. They could have been brought in the 20 December 2012 suit, which rested on “the processing and servicing of Plaintiff’s loan.” Singh, 21 2013 WL 1787157, at *4; see also In re Singh, 2017 WL 2859754, at *5 (“In the same vein that 22 [the magistrate judge] found that the operative facts in the [December 2012 suit] revolved around 23 ‘the processing and servicing of Plaintiff’s loan,’ the Court finds that the operative nucleus of facts 24 being alleged in [eight] causes of action plead in the [complaint] are effectively the same as they 25 were in the [December 2012 suit].”). They could also have been brought in the 2016 suit. See In 26 re Singh, 2018 WL 2671444, at *4 n.3 (noting, in affirming dismissal of 2016 suit: “Mr. Singh 27 argues that Wells Fargo could not foreclose because it violated the conditions precedent to a 28 foreclosure under the deed of trust. It is not clear that he made this argument in the bankruptcy 7 1 court; if he did not, the argument is waived. But even if he did, he does not explain this argument. 2 He cites a lengthy paragraph purportedly from the deed of trust but does not state how Wells 3 Fargo allegedly violated it. We can discern no error based on this argument.”). Both the 4 December 2012 and April 2016 suits resolved in a final judgment on the merits. Singh, 671 F. 5 App’x at 973 (affirming dismissal of December 2012 suit for failure to state a claim under Rule 6 12(b)(6)); In re Singh, 2018 WL 2671444, at *9 (affirming dismissal of April 2016 suit with 7 prejudice); see Stewart v. U.S. Bancorp, 297 F.3d 953, 957 (9th Cir. 2002) (“[A] dismissal for 8 failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is a ‘judgment on the merits’ to which res judicata 9 applies.”); see also In re Singh, 2017 WL 2859754, at *4 (concluding same). 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims for breach of secured promissory note and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing are barred by claim preclusion. 12 B. 13 In contrast to claim preclusion, issue preclusion prevents “relitigation of previously Issue Preclusion 14 decided issues.” Samara, 419 P.3d at 926. It applies “only (1) after final adjudication (2) of an 15 identical issue (3) actually litigated and necessarily decided in the first suit and (4) asserted against 16 one who was a party in the first suit or one in privity with that party.” Id. (cleaned up); see Robi v. 17 Five Platters, Inc., 838 F.2d 318, 322 (9th Cir. 1988) (noting, under federal law, that issue 18 preclusion “prevents relitigation of all issues of fact or law that were actually litigated and 19 necessarily decided in a prior proceeding” (cleaned up)). 20 Plaintiff’s quiet title claim was actually litigated and necessarily decided in the 2019 21 unlawful detainer action—a final adjudication against Plaintiff. “[O]rdinary” unlawful detainer 22 actions are “limited to resolution of the question of possession” and “given limited res judicata 23 effect.” Malkoskie v. Option One Mortg. Corp., 115 Cal. Rptr. 3d 821, 825 (Cal. Ct. App. 2010). 24 “However, a qualified exception to the rule that title cannot be tried in unlawful detainer is 25 contained in Code of Civil Procedure section 1161a, which extends the summary eviction remedy 26 beyond the conventional landlord-tenant relationship to include certain purchasers of property.” 27 Id. (cleaned up). Thus, “subsequent fraud or quiet title suits founded upon allegations of 28 irregularity in a trustee’s sale are barred by the prior unlawful detainer judgment.” Id. 8 1 Defendant brought the 2019 unlawful detainer action under Section 1161a. (Dkt. No. 13 at 201 ¶ 5, 202 ¶ 8.) Defendant “expressly alleged . . . the specific facts it contended established it 3 had perfected legal title to the property, including that the foreclosure sale was conducted in 4 accordance with Civil Code section 2924.” Malkoskie, 115 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 826; (see Dkt. No. 13 5 at 200 ¶ 1). “The conduct of the sale and the validity of the resulting transfer of title . . . were 6 therefore directly in issue,” and “it was proper for limited issues pertaining to the validity of title 7 obtained . . . in the sale to be raised and conclusively resolved.” Malkoskie, 115 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 8 826; see id. at 825 n.4 (noting that issue preclusion “is the more accurate term to use on these 9 facts”). The action resulted in a judgment that Defendant had title because it bought the property 10 at the properly conducted 2018 foreclosure sale and perfected title by recording notice. (Dkt. No. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 2 13 at 214–23.) Thus, the issue of who owned title after the 2018 foreclosure sale has already been 12 decided. 13 Additionally, Plaintiff’s complaint states: 14 [Defendant] failed to include rebuttal evidence at the summary judgment motion in the unlawful detainer matter regarding the conduct of the trustee’s sale even though it was in its power to do so under California Evidence Code Section 412. Defendant[’s] lack of evidence on this issue should be looked upon with distrust by the court. 15 16 17 18 (Dkt. No. 1 at 15–16.) This is an implicit admission that the quiet title claim seeks to relitigate 19 issues decided in the unlawful detainer action. 20 Accordingly, Plaintiff’s quiet title claim is barred by issue preclusion. 21 C. 22 Plaintiff’s fourth cause of action is styled “declaratory relief.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 15.) It Declaratory Relief Claim 23 requests that the Court “make a determination of the validity of the trustee’s sale and [] issue a 24 ruling on who is the lawful owner of the real property.” (Id. at 16 ¶ 28.) Declaratory relief is a 25 form of relief, not a substantive claim or cause of action. Because Plaintiff’s other three claims 26 fail as a matter of law, there is no basis for declaratory relief. See Flores v. EMC Mortg. Co., 997 27 F. Supp. 2d 1088, 1111–12 (E.D. Cal. 2014) (“The [federal Declaratory Judgment Act’s] operation 28 is procedural only. A declaratory judgment is not a theory of recovery.” (cleaned up)); 28 U.S.C. 9 1 § 2201(a) (requiring “a case of actual controversy”). Accordingly, the declaratory relief claim 2 must be dismissed as well. CONCLUSION 3 4 Plaintiff’s claims for breach of secured promissory note and breach of the implied 5 covenant of good faith and fair dealing are barred by claim preclusion. The claim for quiet title is 6 barred by issue preclusion and there is no remaining basis for the declaratory relief claim. 7 Defendant’s motion to dismiss is GRANTED; Plaintiff’s motion to remand is DENIED. 8 The dismissal is without leave to amend because Plaintiff’s claims fail as a matter of law, and 9 therefore amendment would be futile. See Yagman v. Garcetti, 852 F.3d 859, 863 (9th Cir. 2017). This Order disposes of Docket Nos. 12, 18. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 IT IS SO ORDERED. 12 Dated: May 9, 2022 13 14 JACQUELINE SCOTT CORLEY United States District Judge 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 10

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?