January 29, 2016
A federal judge has held that a mortgage servicer committed “the tort of outrage when it charged attorney’s fees and costs to plaintiff’s mortgage account and refused to explain the charges upon request.” (1) Lucero v. Cenlar FSB, No. C13-0602RSL (W.D. Wash. Jan. 28, 2016) (Lasnik, J.) The case has an all-too-typical story of servicer misbehavior — the repeated phone calls that went nowhere, the absence of any servicer representative with actual knowledge of why the servicer was acting the way that it was, the unjustified fees that just kept compounding into five-figure nightmares.
The Court found that under Washington law,
The elements of the tort of outrage are “(1) extreme and outrageous conduct, (2) intentional or reckless infliction of emotional distress, and (3) severe emotional distress on the part of plaintiff.” Rice v. Janovich, 109 Wn.2d 48, 61 (1987). Based on the evidence submitted at trial, plaintiff has raised a reasonable inference and the Court finds that Cenlar, annoyed that plaintiff had sued it after obtaining a loan modification and looking for leverage to force her to abandon this litigation, adopted a strained and unprincipled analysis of the to justify the imposition of unpredictable and enormous charges directly onto plaintiff’s mortgage statements as “Amounts Due.” Cenlar, having reviewed plaintiff’s financial situation less than a year before and being fully aware that plaintiff was paying late charges every month, had no reason to believe that she could cope with these charges. Cenlar reasonably should have known (and was likely counting on the fact) that these charges would cause immense emotional distress, which they did. Cenlar compounded the distress by denying plaintiff information about these charges or the justification therefore. The first notice of the charges stated that they were charged “in keeping with Washington law.” This assertion is wholly unsupported: Cenlar’s witness acknowledges that the letter was a form into which the reference to “Washington law” was inserted simply because the loan originated in Washington. No Washington case law, statute, or regulation has been identified that authorize the charges levied against plaintiff’s mortgage account. When plaintiff requested information regarding the charges, she was ignored for months. Eventually various contract provisions were identified, and Cenlar asserted that it was simply keeping track of charges it might eventually seek to recover from plaintiff. Regardless of whether Cenlar was demanding immediate payment or was simply threatening to collect them in the future, the message was clear: continue this litigation and we will take your home. Such conduct is beyond the bounds of decency and is utterly intolerable. (14-15, footnotes omitted)
Decisions like this tend to give us a warm feeling in our stomach — justice has been done! But the truth is that for every case like this, there are thousands of homeowners who were severely mistreated and had to just take it on the chin. Federal regulation of the housing finance system should get to the point where these situations are the rare, rare exception. We have a long way to go.
HT Steve Morberg| Permalink