Whitley et al v. The Ritchie Group et al

Filing 64

ORDER granting Defendants John G Ritchie, The Ritchie Group, The Spinnnell Group's 48 Motion for Summary Judgment; the claims against the Ritchie defendants are DISMISSED, signed by Judge Robert S. Lasnik. (SWT) (The Spinnnell Group, John G Ritchie and The Ritchie Group terminated.)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AT SEATTLE 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 _______________________________________ ) JED W. WHITLEY, et al., ) ) Plaintiffs, ) v. ) ) THE RITCHIE GROUP, et al., ) ) Defendant. ) _______________________________________) Case No. C17-0673RSL ORDER GRANTING THE RITCHIE DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 13 14 This matter comes before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed by 15 defendants John Ritchie (on behalf of himself, his spouse, and the marital community comprised 16 thereof), the Ritchie Group, and the Spinnell Group (hereinafter, “the Ritchie defendants”). Dkt. 17 # 48. Plaintiffs, the owners of real property in Stanwood,1 Washington, filed this lawsuit against 18 the lender, the Ritchie defendants, when they took steps to foreclose on a loan under the Deed of 19 Trust Act. Plaintiffs accuse the Ritchie defendants, the successor trustee, and various other 20 persons of violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act of 1970 (“RICO”). 21 With regards to the Ritchie defendants, the allegation is that they fabricated a deed of trust for a 22 1 23 24 25 26 The real property is described in the property records as: Lots 11 and 12, Block 23, C.D. Hillman’s Birmingham Water Front Addition to the City of Everett Division No. 1, according to the plat thereof recorded in volume 8 of plats, pages 21 to 23, inclusive, records of Snohomish County, State of Washington. ORDER GRANTING THE RITCHIE DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 1 non-existent $350,000 loan and caused the successor trustee to initiate non-judicial foreclosure 2 proceedings under the deed of trust, thereby clouding plaintiffs’ title and causing damage. The 3 Ritchie defendants seek summary judgment on all of the claims asserted against them. 4 Summary judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to 5 the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue of material fact that would preclude the entry of 6 judgment as a matter of law. The party seeking summary dismissal of the case “bears the initial 7 responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion” (Celotex Corp. v. 8 Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)) and “citing to particular parts of materials in the record” that 9 show the absence of a genuine issue of material fact (Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). Once the moving 10 party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to 11 designate “specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. 12 at 324. The Court will “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party . . . 13 and draw all reasonable inferences in that party’s favor.” Krechman v. County of Riverside, 723 14 F.3d 1104, 1109 (9th Cir. 2013). Although the Court must reserve for the jury genuine issues 15 regarding credibility, the weight of the evidence, and legitimate inferences, the “mere existence 16 of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party’s position will be insufficient” to 17 avoid judgment. City of Pomona v. SQM N. Am. Corp., 750 F.3d 1036, 1049 (9th Cir. 2014); 18 Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986). Factual disputes whose resolution 19 would not affect the outcome of the suit are irrelevant to the consideration of a motion for 20 summary judgment. S. Cal. Darts Ass’n v. Zaffina, 762 F.3d 921, 925 (9th Cir. 2014). In other 21 words, summary judgment should be granted where the nonmoving party fails to offer evidence 22 from which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in its favor. FreecycleSunnyvale v. Freecycle 23 Network, 626 F.3d 509, 514 (9th Cir. 2010). 24 25 Despite the well-known standards set forth above, plaintiffs’ opposition memorandum is nothing more than a mini-treatise on the elements of and case law interpreting RICO punctuated 26 ORDER GRANTING THE RITCHIE DEFENDANTS’ -2MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 1 by occasional footnotes indicating that “the Whitleys argue” or “the Whitleys allege.” See, e.g., 2 Dkt. # 33 at 15. Counsel does not deign to include a fact section in the memorandum, much less 3 identify the underlying evidence that supports the (absent) factual assertions. Instead, counsel 4 relies solely on the allegations of the complaint and non-specific references to three 5 declarations.2 The allegations of the complaint are not, of course, evidence and will not forestall 6 summary judgment where the allegations are controverted. Nor is the filing of a stack of uncited 7 declarations and documents sufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact. Rule 56(c) 8 specifically requires a party asserting that a fact is in dispute to support that assertion by “citing 9 to particular parts of materials in the record . . . .” The Court need not, and will not, scour the 10 hundreds of pages plaintiffs submitted in search of a material and triable issue of fact. Keenan v. 11 Allan, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996); White v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 904 F.2d 456, 12 458 (8th Cir. 1990) (the court need not “speculate on which portion of the record the nonmoving 13 party relies, nor is it obliged to wade through and search the entire record for some specific facts 14 that might support the nonmoving party’s claim”). 15 Because this case involves plaintiffs’ residence, the Court has nevertheless reviewed the 16 declarations submitted to determine whether there is evidence from which a reasonable jury 17 could find that the Ritchie defendants acted with fraudulent intent in connection with plaintiffs’ 18 loan and/or whether plaintiffs have suffered cognizable damage. There is not. By all accounts, 19 plaintiffs borrowed, and the Ritchie defendants loaned, $80,000 as indicated on the relevant 20 promissory notes and in correspondence between the parties. The parties intended that the debt 21 be secured by the Stanwood property. Neither party intended the associated deed of trust to 22 reference a $350,000 promissory note dated September 5, 2006 -- if such a document exists 23 24 25 26 2 Each of the three declarations incorporates by reference prior submissions from the witnesses. Counsel also provides his own declaration at Dkt. # 53. It is not, however, cited or referenced anywhere in the opposition memorandum, and it is unclear how consumer complaints filed on the Whitley’s behalf establish or are relevant to any element of the RICO claims asserted in this litigation. ORDER GRANTING THE RITCHIE DEFENDANTS’ -3MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 1 somewhere, it is not between these parties. While it is true that the Ritchie defendants caused the 2 erroneous deed of trust to be generated, it is also true that plaintiffs signed the erroneous deed of 3 trust despite noting the error. More importantly, both parties have consistently maintained that 4 the principal amount of the loan is $80,000 as reflected in the promissory notes,3 and the escrow 5 agent has now corrected the scrivener’s error. There is not even the faintest inference that the 6 Ritchie defendants participated in an artifice or scheme to defraud plaintiffs or to collect 7 anything more than what they were actually owed using the procedures set forth in state law. Nor 8 have plaintiffs established damages arising from the recording of an incorrect deed of trust or the 9 prospect of having to pay back the money they borrowed (or turn over the collateral that secured 10 the debt). 11 12 // 13 14 // 15 16 // 17 18 19 3 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 The one instance in which the Ritchie defendants reported that there was a $350,000 deed of trust lien on the Stanwood property was in a motion for relief from the bankruptcy stay. Dkt. # 34-12 at 3. Whether such a statement was material or could be construed as fraud on the bankruptcy court is doubtful given that plaintiffs had no equity in the property whether the lien was $350,000 or $80,000. Regardless, a fraud on the bankruptcy court is not the equivalent of a fraud on plaintiffs. As is shown by the remainder of the bankruptcy record, plaintiffs were well aware that they had an outstanding principal of $80,000 that was secured by the Stanwood property, and the Ritchie defendants readily agreed to that fact. See, e.g., Dkt. # 34-14 at 12. Any confusion caused by the reference to a $350,000 secured loan in the motion was put to rest when Ritchie unequivocally declared in reply that he is owed $80,000 in principal, that he has never alleged or claimed that he was owed $350,000, and that the reference in the deed of trust was a typo or scrivener’s error. Dkt. # 16-17 at 2. ORDER GRANTING THE RITCHIE DEFENDANTS’ -4MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT 1 For all of the foregoing reasons, plaintiffs have failed to raise a genuine issue of fact 2 regarding the Ritchie defendants’ liability under RICO.4 The motion is therefore GRANTED and 3 the claims against the Ritchie defendants are DISMISSED. 4 5 Dated this 24th day of October, 2017. 6 A Robert S. Lasnik 7 United States District Judge 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 4 In the declarations submitted by plaintiffs, they and their witnesses state facts which may (or may not) support a claim that the Ritchie defendants violated the Deed of Trust Act, failed to comply with state licensing requirements, and/or used unusual mechanisms to record the loans. No such claims have been asserted, however. The only basis for liability alleged in the complaint is RICO. ORDER GRANTING THE RITCHIE DEFENDANTS’ -5MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

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