Where Equitable Relief Described in “Sole Remedy Clause” is Impossible, Monetary Damages Are Available
The First Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Sweeney, in a case addressing many specific-contract-provision issues not summarized here, determined that where the sole remedy clause of a contract allows only equitable relief, and that equitable relief is impossible, monetary damages may be available. The action stems from the collapse of the residential mortgage -backed securities (RSMB) market. The complaints alleged the breach of several representations and warranties (concerning the underlying mortgages) in the mortgage loan purchase agreement (MLPA). The “sole remedy clause” in the agreement purported to limit relief to the defendant’s repurchase of defective mortgages. However repurchase of foreclosed or liquidated mortgages was impossible. In that situation, the First Department held, equity allows the imposition of monetary damages:
Under defendant’s interpretation of the “sole remedy” clause, loans that have been foreclosed upon or liquidated cannot be repurchased and, by agreeing to those provisions, plaintiff accepted the risk of loss such an event would entail. However, such an interpretation would leave plaintiffs without a remedy with respect to those loans, as their only recourse would be to commence an action for specific performance, which would be impossible to fulfill. The present state of the law does not support defendant’s contention.
New York law has long held that contracting parties are generally free to limit their remedies. “A limitation on liability provision in a contract represents the parties’ agreement on the allocation of the risk of economic loss in the event that the contemplated transaction is not fully executed, which the courts should honor” … . Therefore, by the terms of the “sole remedy” clause, the agreements limit plaintiffs to seeking an order of specific performance requiring defendant to repurchase the defective loans at the purchase price defined in those agreements, or to cure the defects in those loans.
However, specific performance is an equitable remedy. In the RMBS context, most courts have repeatedly held that “while a provision providing for equitable relief as the sole remedy’ will generally foreclose alternative relief, where the granting of equitable relief appears to be impossible or impracticable, equity may award damages in lieu of the desired equitable remedy'” … . Such a rule makes sense, for to hold otherwise would create a “perverse” incentive for a sponsor “to fill the trust with junk mortgages that would expeditiously default so that they could be released, charged off, or liquidated before a repurchase claim is made” … . Nomura Home Equity Loan, Inc., Series 2006-FM2 v Nomura Credit & Capital, Inc., 2015 NY Slip Op 07458, 1st Dept 10-13-15