Macdonald et al v. Wells Fargo Bank N.A

Filing 78


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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 BRET MACDONALD, et al., Plaintiffs, 8 v. 9 10 WELLS FARGO BANK N.A, ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Re: Dkt. No. 63 Defendant. 11 United States District Court Northern District of California Case No. 14-cv-04970-HSG Pending before the Court is Defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.’s motion for summary 12 13 judgment. Dkt. No. 63 (“Mot.”). Having read the parties’ papers and carefully considered their 14 arguments and the relevant legal authorities, the Court hereby GRANTS IN PART AND 15 DENIES IN PART the motion.1 Summary judgment is proper when a “movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to 16 17 any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). 18 A fact is “material” if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson 19 v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). And a dispute is “genuine” if there is evidence 20 in the record sufficient for a reasonable trier of fact to decide in favor of the nonmoving party. Id. 21 But in deciding if a dispute is genuine, the court must view the inferences reasonably drawn from 22 the materials in the record in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Matsushita Elec. 23 Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986), and “may not weigh the evidence 24 or make credibility determinations,” Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir. 1997), 25 overruled on other grounds by Shakur v. Schriro, 514 F.3d 878, 884-85 (9th Cir. 2008). Plaintiffs’ first cause of action asserts that Defendant violated the Equal Credit 26 27 1 28 The Court finds that this matter is appropriate for disposition without oral argument. See N.D. Civ. L.R. 7-1(b). 1 Opportunity Act (“ECOA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1691(d)(1) (2012) by failing to timely notify Plaintiffs of 2 its determination on their October 2013 loan modification application. Dkt. No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 3 20-24. Defendant argues that “this claim fails as a matter of law because ECOA’s implementing 4 regulations do not apply the notice requirement to situations in which a borrower is already in 5 default.” Mot. at 10. The Court finds that there is no genuine dispute of material fact that 6 Plaintiffs were in default during the relevant time period, based upon both Plaintiffs’ June 10, 7 2013 hardship letter, see Dkt. No. 63-2 (Stonehocker Decl.), Ex. 25 (“[W]e are asking for hardship 8 assistance with a mortgage loan modification for our home mortgage. . . . [W]e have fallen behind 9 in making our mortgage payments.”), and Plaintiff’s own admission, see Dkt. No. 67 (“Opp.”) 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 (referring to Plaintiffs’ own “default or delinquency”). Moreover, the Court finds that Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law 12 because “the fact that [Plaintiffs were] in default when [they] applied for a loan modification 13 means that no ECOA notice was required regarding action on [their] application.” Smith v. Wells 14 Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 15-CV-01779-YGR, 2016 WL 283521, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 25, 2016); see 15 also Coury v. Caliber Home Loans, Inc., No. 16-CV-05583-RS, 2016 WL 6962882, at *5 (N.D. 16 Cal. Nov. 29, 2016) (“Because [the plaintiff borrower] requested that [the defendant mortgage 17 loan servicer] modify his loan in response to his default, ECOA’s notice requirements did not 18 apply.”); Perryman v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. 116CV00643LJOSKO, 2016 WL 19 4441210, at *8 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 23, 2016) (“[W]here an applicant is already in default, no notice is 20 required as to a modification request pertaining to that loan.”) (citing cases), order clarified on 21 other grounds, No. 116CV00643LJOSKO, 2016 WL 6124209 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 19, 2016). 22 The Court previously reached a contrary conclusion regarding section 1691(d)(1)’s notice 23 requirement in denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss. See Dkt. No. 35 (MacDonald v. Wells 24 Fargo Bank N.A, No. 14-CV-04970-HSG, 2015 WL 1886000, at *2-3 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 24, 2015)). 25 But as Defendant admits (without explaining why), its prior motion failed to address the 26 significance of the regulations implementing section 1691(d)(1)’s notice requirements, and the 27 Court thus did not consider those regulations. See Mot. at 12-13; see also Smith, 2016 WL 28 283521 at *5 (“In offering competing interpretations of an arguably ambiguous statutory 2 1 provision, the parties in MacDonald did not argue, and the court there did not consider, the effect 2 of the regulations implementing section 1691’s notice requirements.”) The regulations 3 conclusively resolve the statutory ambiguity identified by the Court in its prior order. See 4 MacDonald, 2015 WL 1886000, at *3 (addressing ambiguity of whether section 1691(d)(6)’s 5 exclusion for applicants in default impacted only the statement of reasons requirement under 6 subsection (d)(2) or also the 30-day notice requirement under subsection (d)(1)); 12 C.F.R. §§ 7 202.2(c)(2)(ii), 202.9(a)(1)(i) (clarifying together that the notice requirement does not apply when 8 the loan applicant is in default). Since the statute is ambiguous and the implementing regulations 9 resolving this ambiguity are reasonable, the Court defers to the agency interpretation. See Vega v. 10 Holder, 611 F.3d 1168, 1170 (9th Cir. 2010). Plaintiffs’ second cause of action asserts that Defendant violated section 2923.7 of the United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 California Civil Code by failing to provide a single point of contact (“SPOC”) who adequately 13 performed the duties required by the statute. 2 Compl. ¶¶ 25-31. The Court finds that there are 14 genuine disputes of material fact relating to this claim. For example, the opposition and reply 15 clash over whether Defendant’s representatives gave Plaintiffs conflicting information regarding 16 what was needed to complete their loan modification application during July and August of 2013. 17 Compare Opp. at 11-12 with Reply at 8. Resolving this dispute would require the Court to make 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 2 Section 2923.7(a) provides that “[u]pon request from a borrower who requests a foreclosure prevention alternative, the mortgage servicer shall promptly establish a single point of contact and provide to the borrower one or more direct means of communication with the single point of contact.” Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.7(a). Under section 2923(b), the SPOC has the following responsibilities: (1) Communicating the process by which a borrower may apply for an available foreclosure prevention alternative and the deadline for any required submissions to be considered for these options. (2) Coordinating receipt of all documents associated with available foreclosure prevention alternatives and notifying the borrower of any missing documents necessary to complete the application. (3) Having access to current information and personnel sufficient to timely, accurately, and adequately inform the borrower of the current status of the foreclosure prevention alternative. (4) Ensuring that a borrower is considered for all foreclosure prevention alternatives offered by, or through, the mortgage servicer, if any. (5) Having access to individuals with the ability and authority to stop foreclosure proceedings when necessary. 3 1 determinations regarding the credibility of Plaintiff Brett MacDonald’s declaration and the 2 reliability and proper interpretation of Defendant’s business records, which are tasks for the fact 3 finder at trial. Moreover, the Court is unable to find at this juncture that, under the safe harbor 4 provision of section 2924.12(c),3 any material violation of section 2923.7 that Defendant 5 committed in 2013 would regardless have been remedied by “Defendant’s full review and denial 6 of Plaintiff’s loan modification application in 2015,” see Mot. at 18, given that the Court finds that 7 there is a reasonable dispute of fact regarding whether the 2015 review was completed in good 8 faith, compare Opp. at 12-13 with Reply at 11. Finally, Plaintiffs’ third cause of action asserts that Defendant negligently handled their 9 loan modification application and loan account through 2013. Compl. ¶¶ 32-37. Defendant 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 moves for summary judgment on the grounds that it did not breach any legal duty and that its 12 action did not proximately cause any damages suffered by Plaintiffs. Mot. at 19; see also Alvarez 13 v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, L.P., 228 Cal. App. 4th 941, 944 (2014) (stating that the elements 14 of a negligence claim are duty of care, breach, and proximate cause). As to breach, the Court finds 15 that there is a dispute of material fact regarding whether Defendant’s delay in reviewing Plaintiffs’ 16 loan modification during 2013 was caused by Plaintiffs’ hiring of the Ayayo Law Firm to 17 postpone the sale of their property or by Defendant’s allegedly negligent actions related to 18 determining whether Plaintiffs’ loan was subject to bankruptcy. Compare Mot. at 21-22 with Opp. 19 at 13-14. And viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs, the Court cannot find that 20 no reasonable juror could conclude that Defendant’s negligence caused Plaintiff to suffer damages 21 such as emotional distress. Determining whether any damages suffered by Plaintiff were “self- 22 inflicted,” as Defendant asserts, Mot. at 23, is a job for the fact finder at trial. That said, the Court has substantial questions as to whether Defendant owed Plaintiffs a 23 24 duty of care as a matter of law. In denying Defendant’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ negligence 25 26 27 28 3 The safe harbor provision states that “[a] mortgage servicer, mortgagee, trustee, beneficiary, or authorized agent shall not be liable for any violation that it has corrected and remedied prior to the recordation of a trustee’s deed upon sale, or that has been corrected and remedied by third parties working on its behalf prior to the recordation of a trustee’s deed upon sale.” Cal. Civ. Code § 2924.12(c). 4 1 claim, the Court recognized that the California appellate courts have split on the issue of whether 2 “financial institutions . . . owe borrowers a duty of care in connection with making or servicing 3 loans.” MacDonald, 2015 WL 1886000, at *5 (comparing Lueras v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, 4 221 Cal. App. 4th 49 (2013) with Alvarez, 228 Cal. App. 4th 941). The Court held that Alvarez 5 was more likely to be adopted by the California Supreme Court, and therefore held that Defendant 6 had a duty to “process [Plaintiffs’] application with ordinary care.” Id. at *6. Subsequently, the 7 Ninth Circuit held that, under California law, lenders do not owe borrowers a duty of care to 8 process a borrower’s loan modification application within a particular time frame. See Anderson 9 v. Deutsche Bank Nat. Trust Co. Ams., 649 F. App’x 550, 552 (9th Cir.), cert. denied sub nom. Anderson v. Aurora Loan Servs., LLC, 137 S. Ct. 496 (2016).4 The Court has since relied on 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 Anderson in dismissing certain negligence claims. See Ivey v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A., No. 12 16-CV-00610-HSG, 2016 WL 4502587, at *5 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 29, 2016). Nevertheless, the Court 13 finds that sua sponte dismissal of Plaintiffs’ negligence claim without notice would be 14 unwarranted here, given that the parties have not had the opportunity to brief whether the analysis 15 set out in Anderson controls the facts of this case.5 The parties should, however, be prepared to 16 address this issue in their pretrial filings and at the pretrial conference. 17 // 18 // 19 // 20 // 21 // 22 // 23 // 24 25 26 27 28 4 As an unpublished Ninth Circuit decision, Anderson is not precedent, but may be considered for its persuasive value. See Fed. R. App. P. 32.1; CTA9 Rule 36-3. 5 The Court observes that, on the face of the complaint, Plaintiffs’ negligence claim appears largely dependent on the theory, rejected in Anderson, that Defendant owed them a duty of care to process their loan modification within a particular time frame. See, e.g., Compl. ¶ 36 (alleging that Defendant’s negligence caused Plaintiffs to “wait[] [for] a determination on their application to no avail”). 5 1 For the foregoing reasons, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED as to 2 Plaintiff’s first cause of action, and DENIED as to Plaintiffs’ second and third causes of action.6 IT IS SO ORDERED. 3 4 Dated: 3/28/2017 ______________________________________ HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. United States District Judge 5 6 7 8 9 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 6 27 28 In conjunction with its motion for summary judgment, Defendant requested that the Court take judicial notice of thirteen documents, a dozen of which were recorded in the Official Records of the Alameda County Recorder’s Office. See Dkt. No. 64. Because the Court does not rely on any of these documents, Defendant’s request for judicial notice is DENIED AS MOOT. 6

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