Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

March 4, 2015

Wells Fargo Smackdown

By David Reiss

Circuit Judge Elliott of Missouri Circuit Court issued a Judgment in Holm v. Wells Fargo et al. (No. 08CN-CV00944 Jan. 26, 2015) that awarded nearly three million dollars in punitive damages. This is just one of a number of searing judicial opinions that I’ve discussed on the blog. The Court found that

Wells Fargo and its agents expended immeasurable, if not incomprehensible, time and effort to avert reinstatement. The result of Wells Fargo’s egregious conduct was to impose approximately six and one-half years of uncertainty, lost optimism, emotional distress, and paralysis of Plaintiffs’ family.

The evidence established that Wells Fargo’s intentional choice to foreclose arose from its own financial incentives. Dr. Kurt Krueger testified that Wells Fargo had financial incentives to seek reimbursement of its fees at a foreclosure sale. This economic motivation collided with the well-being of David and Crystal Holm, and was clearly contrary to the interests of Freddie Mac. In other words, in this case, a powerful financial company exerted its will over a financially distressed family in Clinton County, Missouri. The result is predictable. Plaintiffs were severely damaged; Wells Fargo took its money and moved on, with complete disregard to the human damage left in its wake.

Defendant Wells Fargo is an experienced servicer of home loans. Wells Fargo knew that its decision to foreclose after reinstatement was accepted would inflict a devastating injury on the Holm family. Wells Fargo’s actions were knowing, intentional, and injurious. (7)

It is not certain that this judgment will be held up on appeal. If it is, it is still worth asking whether the occasional verdict of this magnitude is sufficient to change the behavior of servicers. There have been many efforts to change the incentives that servicers have, but cases such as these make one wonder if there is some deeper problem that has not yet been identified and addressed. One cannot imagine how Wells Fargo employees could have let this go on for so long in this case. But they did.

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