Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

July 11, 2013

First Circuit Grants Wells Fargo’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff-Homeowner’s Suit to Preclude Foreclosure Sale

By Ebube Okoli

The court in McKenna v Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. Case No. 11-1650 (C.A. 1, Aug. 16, 2012) was faced with questions relating to the district court’s subject matter jurisdiction. Here, Wells Fargo’s primary assertion in its removal papers – “that there was federal question jurisdiction present in the case” – turned out to be mistaken as no federal claim was present. However, diversity jurisdiction was found to be sufficient enough to support the state statutory claims that were asserted in the complaint.

Wells Fargo brought a foreclosure action against the plaintiff [McKenna], the plaintiff responded by asserting a right to rescind the mortgage and then filed suit to preclude the foreclosure sale.

The plaintiff claimed a right to rescind on the grounds that [1] Wells Fargo had provided her with only one Truth in Lending disclosure statement at the time of the loan rather than two copies, and [2] Wells Fargo had understated the finance charge in its Truth in Lending statement by more than $35. The lower court then issued a preliminary injunction restraining Wells Fargo from taking further action to sell the plaintiff’s home.

On March 10, 2010, Wells Fargo removed the case to the federal district court in Massachusetts. Wells Fargo asserted that federal question jurisdiction existed. The bank then moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, and the district court granted the motion. On review, the court found that diversity jurisdiction existed as Wells Fargo was a bank and a citizen of the state where it is “located.” The bank’s location being North Dakota, and the plaintiff being a citizen of Massachusetts, allowed for diversity jurisdiction.

On review the court determined that the plaintiff’s complaint alleged that Wells Fargo made certain misrepresentations. However, the court found that the plaintiff failed to specify the time or place of these misrepresentations or their real content and, as the district court held, these assertions were “too vague to meet the particularity requirement of Rule 9.” The First Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Further, the suit was not timely under the federal Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. 1635(a), and the complaint failed to state claims under the equivalent state law.

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