by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher) (LinkedIn)
Lawsuits arising out of foreclosures and mortgage modifications are common. (Even more common than lawsuits about gyms or health clubs if you can believe that.) Nearly every day there is a decision from the Appellate Division arising out of a residential foreclosure. Most of these fall into the same category — borrower defaults and loses home through foreclosure then challenges lender's standing to foreclose after the fact — but some are more interesting. That was the case with GMAC Mortgage, LLC v. Willoughby, a decision released yesterday by the New Jersey Supreme Court involving a mortgage modification agreement entered into to settle a foreclosure lawsuit.
Almost two years ago, I wrote a post about Arias v. Elite Mortgage, a lawsuit over the alleged breach of a mortgage modification agreements. In that case, borrowers entered into a mortgage modification agreement with their lenders that included a Trial Period Plan ("TPP"). As the name suggests, a TPP requires borrowers to make reduced monthly payments in a timely manner for a trial period, after which, if they make the payments, the lender agrees to modify their mortgage. In Arias, the Appellate Division held, as a matter of first impression, that if a borrower makes the trial payments under the TPP, the lender must modify the mortgage, and if it doesn't, the borrower can sue for breach. However, the holding was purely academic because the borrower in that case failed to make one of the trial payments in a timely manner so it could not sue.
In GMAC Mortgage, the New Jersey Supreme Court faced a similar situation with a much less academic result.
Continue reading “NJ Supreme Court: If Borrower Abides By Terms Of Settlement Agreement, Lender Must Modify Mortgage”
by: Peter J. Gallagher (@pjsgallagher)
A recent published decision from the Appellate Division — Arias v. Elite Mortgage — resolved a question of first impression in New Jersey that is important as the State continues to dig its way out of the credit crisis. The issue in Arias involved mortgage modifications under the federal Home Affordable Mortgage Program, and specifically modifications that involve Trial Period Plan (“TPP”) agreements. As the name suggests, TPP agreements require borrowers who cannot make their regular monthly payments to make agreed upon reduced monthly payments in a timely manner for a trial period. Essentially, it allows borrowers to demonstrate to lenders that if their monthly payments are reduced then they can make their monthly mortgage payments. Accordingly, if they are able to make these payments during the trial period, then the lender agrees to modify their mortgage.
In Arias, Plaintiffs defaulted on their mortgage and then pursued a loan modification with their lender, which included a TPP agreement. However, the lender eventually refused to modify plaintiffs’ mortgage. Plaintiffs argued that this amounted to a breach of the promises the lender made in the TPP agreement, or alternatively, violated the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing contained in the TPP agreement. The trial court rejected their claims and the Appellate Division affirmed.
Continue reading “Borrower Can Sue Lender To Compel Loan Modification (But Only If It Does What It Promised To Do First)”
by: Peter J. Gallagher
Two more Appellate Division panels have refused to allow defendant's in foreclosure lawsuits to raise standing as an eleventh-hour defense. As we previously reported — Changing Tide in Forclosure Litigation? Courts Taking Closer Look When Defendants Assert Lack Of Standing At Last Minute — there is now a clear trend against allowing defendants to stay silent in the face of a foreclosure lawsuit only to appear at the last minute, usually on the eve of a sheriff's sale, and seek to vacate final judgment based on an alleged lack of standing to foreclose. Two recent Appellate Division cases continue to bring this point home.
In IndyMac Bank FSB v. DeCastro, a residential borrower moved to vacate final judgment and dismiss the complaint 15 months after it was entered, arguing that he was not served with the complaint. The motion was denied. Defendant filed a second motion to vacate, arguing, for the first time, that the bank lacked standing to foreclose because it was not assigned the mortgage until after the complaint was filed. This motion was denied as untimely and defendant appealed. In an opinion, dated March 13, 2013, the Appellate Division affirmed. In its decision, among other things, the Appellate Division rejected defendant's standing argument, noting: "[W]e have now made clear that lack of standing is not a meritorious defense to a foreclosure complaint." Moreover, the Appellate Division held that defendant's standing argument was meritless "particularly given defendant's unexcused, years-long delay in asserting that defense or any other claim." In arriving at this decision, the Appellate Division relied on many of the cases discussed in our prior post.
Similarly, in WellsFargo Bank, N.A. v. Lopez, a different Appellate Division panel rejected another residential home owner's last-minute attempt to raise standing as a defense to the foreclosure complaint. The facts in that case were a bit more egregious because the borrower contributed to the four-year delay between the entry of default and the filing of his motion to vacate by filing numerous bankruptcy petitions and seeking a stay to attempt to short sell the property. Nonetheless, the Appellate Division affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion to vacate holding, among other things, that the lack of standing, even if true, was not a meritorious defense to a foreclosure complaint, particularly in the post-judgment context. Again, the Appellate Division relied primarily on the cases included in our prior post.
by: Peter J. Gallagher
In a series of recent decisions, New Jersey courts appear to be taking a stance against defendants raising, as a last-minute defense, that a party lacks standing to foreclose. This is good news for lenders and their assignees, who, prior to these decisions, faced the prospect of proceeding to final judgment of foreclosure, only to have a party appear at the last minute, allege a lack of standing to foreclose, and send the process back to square one.
The changing body of case law began with the Appellate Division’s opinion in Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas v. Angeles, 428 N.J. Super. 315 (App. Div. 2013). In that case, defendant failed to defend the action or assert a standing issue until two years after default judgment was entered and more than three years after the complaint was filed. Id. at 316. Interestingly, the Appellate Division acknowledged that defendant raised a valid concern about plaintiff’s standing to foreclose, but nonetheless refused to vacate final judgment. In explaining its decision, the Appellate Division noted:
In foreclosure matters, equity must be applied to plaintiffs as well as defendants. Defendant did not raise the issue of standing until he had the advantage of many years of delay. Some delay stemmed from the New Jersey foreclosure system, other delay was afforded him through the equitable powers of the court, and additional delay resulted from plaintiff's attempt to amicably resolve the matter. Defendant at no time denied his responsibility for the debt incurred nor can he reasonably argue that [Plaintiff] is not the party legitimately in possession of the property. Rather, when all hope of further delay expired, after his home was sold and he was evicted, he made a last-ditch effort to relitigate the case. The trial court did not abuse its discretion in determining that defendant was not equitably entitled to vacate the judgment.
Id. at 320.
Continue reading “Changing Tide In Foreclosure Litigation? Courts Taking Closer Look When Defendants Assert Lack Of Standing At Last Minute”