Pleading Requirements for Unjust Enrichment and Fraud Not Met

The Second Department determined the complaint against defendant bank alleging unjust enrichment and fraud was properly dismissed for failure to state a cause of action. The action stemmed from a foreclosure sale.  After the property had been sold, the judgment of foreclosure and sale was vacated because the bank did not properly serve process on one of the parties. The full amount paid for the property was refunded to the plaintiff.  The plaintiff then sued for unjust enrichment claiming the bank collected banK fees and interest.  Re: unjust enrichment: the complaint failed to allege the bank had been enriched at plaintiff’s expense. And the plaintiff sued for fraud alleging the bank knew it had failed to properly serve one of the parties at the time it prosecuted the foreclosure action.  Re: fraud: the complaint included only conclusory allegations of fraud without out the requisite supporting factual allegations. The Second Department explained:

The elements of a cause of action to recover for unjust enrichment are “(1) the defendant was enriched, (2) at the plaintiff’s expense, and (3) that it is against equity and good conscience to permit the defendant to retain what is sought to be recovered” … . “The essential inquiry in any action for unjust enrichment or restitution is whether it is against equity and good conscience to permit the defendant to retain what is sought to be recovered” … .

Here, the plaintiff merely alleged in the amended complaint that U.S. Bank was “unjustly enriched in that it collected bank fees and interest.” Even accepting these allegations in the amended complaint as true, the amended complaint failed, as a matter of law, to sufficiently allege that U.S. Bank was enriched at the plaintiff’s expense … . * * *

“The elements of a cause of action sounding in fraud are a material misrepresentation of an existing fact, made with knowledge of the falsity, an intent to induce reliance thereon, justifiable reliance upon the misrepresentation, and damages” … . All of the elements of a fraud claim “must be supported by factual allegations containing the details constituting the wrong” in order to satisfy the pleading requirements of CPLR 3016(b)… .

Here, the amended complaint consisted of conclusory allegations regarding U.S. Bank’s knowledge that it had commenced and prosecuted the underlying foreclosure action without properly effecting service on all of the necessary parties. Furthermore, the facts alleged in the amended complaint do not give rise to a reasonable inference that U.S. Bank had knowledge of, or participated in, the alleged fraud … . GFRE, Inc. v U.S. Bank, N.A., 2015 NY Slip Op 05640, 2nd Dept 7-1-15

 


Although the Mortgage Note Was Discharged In Bankruptcy, the Bank Holding the Mortgage Note Had Standing to Bring a Foreclosure Action (In Rem) Seeking the Proceeds of the Foreclosure Sale—The Bank Could Not, However, Seek a Deficiency Judgment (In Personam) Against the Borrower

The Second Department, in a full-fledged opinion by Justice Cohen, determined that the assignee of a mortgage note discharged in bankruptcy (Deutsche Bank) has standing to bring a foreclosure action for the sale of the mortgaged property. The borrower, Stephanos, because of the discharge in bankruptcy, could not be held liable on the note in personam (no deficiency judgment was possible).  But the bank could proceed against the property in rem seeking the proceeds of a foreclosure sale:

Under New York law, in order to have standing to commence a foreclosure action, a plaintiff generally must be the holder or assignee of the note which the mortgage secures. On this appeal, we are asked to consider whether a note discharged in bankruptcy can be subsequently assigned, with the mortgage passing incident thereto, so as to convey standing to the assignee. … [W]e answer the question in the affirmative. Although a bankruptcy discharge extinguishes a debtor’s personal liability on a mortgage note, it does not impair a creditor’s right to assign that note, and an assignee who holds the discharged note and mortgage has standing to bring a foreclosure action and seek payment through the sale of the mortgaged property. Accordingly, even if the note at issue in this case was assigned or delivered to the plaintiff after it was discharged in bankruptcy, a fact which is not clear from this record, the defendant homeowners failed to establish their entitlement to dismissal of the complaint on the ground that the plaintiff lacked standing. * * *

A mortgage secures an obligation … . However, it is not necessary that an obligation involve personal liability in order for a mortgage to remain valid after a bankruptcy discharge. Here, Stefanos obtained a personal discharge in bankruptcy; thus, his personal liability for the obligation was released … . This did not affect the mortgage securing the note. Post-bankruptcy, the mortgage still secures an obligation; it is simply no longer personal, but in rem … . A discharge in bankruptcy is a discharge from personal liability only and, without more, does not affect a lien … . Although a bankruptcy discharge extinguishes one mode of enforcing a note—namely, an action against the debtor in personam, it leaves intact another—namely, an action against the debtor in rem … . * * *

… “[A]n assignee of a mortgage takes it subject to the equities attending the original transaction” … . After assignment, a note remains subject to any defense, legal and equitable, that existed between the original parties … . Thus, although Stefanos’s personal bankruptcy did not “extinguish” the note for every purpose, he maintains the right to assert, as a defense, his personal discharge in bankruptcy to the extent the note was to be enforced against him in personam. By amending the complaint to limit the relief sought against Stefanos, Deutsche Bank essentially recognized the defendants’ affirmative defense, such that, upon proof of a valid discharge in bankruptcy, Deutsche Bank would not seek a deficiency judgment against Stefanos. Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Ams. v Vitellas, 2015 NY Slip Op 05634, 2nd Dept 7-1-15

 


Either Possession of the Note or an Assignment of the Note Confers Standing

The Second Department explained that standing to bring a foreclosure action is demonstrated either by possession of the note or an assignment of the note on the date the action is commenced:

In a foreclosure action, a plaintiff has standing if it is either the holder of, or the assignee of, the underlying note at the time that the action is commenced … . Either a written assignment of the underlying note or the physical delivery of the note to the plaintiff, prior to the commencement of the action, is sufficient to transfer the obligation … . Emigrant Bank v Larizza, 2015 NY Slip Op 05151, 2nd Dept 6-17-15

 


Promise Made or Advice Given by a Municipal Employee Does Not Give Rise to Equitable Estoppel

The Second Department noted that the doctrine of equitable estoppel is applied only rarely against municipalities.  Here plaintiff alleged the four-month statute of limitations for redemption (re: a foreclosure action) passed because of a municipal employee’s promise to hold papers submitted in support of an attempt at redemption.  The court held that a promise made or advice given by a governmental employee will not give rise to equitable estoppel: “… [E]quitable estoppel is applied against a municipality performing governmental functions only in the rarest of cases …, and “erroneous advice by a governmental employee will not give rise to an exception to the general rule”… . Wilson v Neighborhood Restore Hous., 2015 NY Slip Op 05176, 2nd Dept 6-17-15

 


Court’s Equitable Power to Set Aside a Foreclosure Sale as “An Instrument of Injustice” Explained and Applied

The Fourth Department, over a dissent, exercised its equitable power to set aside a foreclosure sale which, it determined, had been made an “instrument of injustice.” The facts of the case, which include an extensive appellate history, defy adequate summarization here.  The court explained its equitable power to set aside the foreclosure sale:

It is well settled that, even after a judicial sale to a good faith purchaser, “[a] court may exercise its inherent equitable power over a sale made pursuant to its judgment or decree to ensure that it is not made the instrument of injustice . . . Although this power should be exercised sparingly and with great caution, a court of equity may set aside its own judicial sale upon grounds otherwise insufficient to confer an absolute legal right to a resale in order to relieve [a party] of oppressive or unfair conduct” … . Generally, such discretion, “which is separate and distinct from any statutory authority” …, is exercised where fraud, mistake, exploitive overreaching, misconduct, irregularity or collusion “casts suspicion on the fairness of the sale” … . It may also be exercised where “the price is so inadequate as to shock the court’s conscience” … or where the judicial sale has been “made the instrument of injustice” … .

While we agree with defendants that there has been no showing of fraud, mistake, exploitive overreaching, misconduct, irregularity or collusion, and the price is not so inadequate as to shock the conscience, we agree with plaintiff that, under the circumstances of this case, the judicial sale has been made the instrument of injustice. Altshuler Shaham Provident Funds, Ltd. v GML Tower LLC, 2015 NY Slip Op 04952, 4th Dept 6-12-15

 


Possession of the Note, Not the Mortgage, Confers Standing to Foreclose

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Lippman, determined that possession of the note, not the mortgage, when the foreclosure proceedings are commenced is sufficient to confer standing upon the note-holder. ” ‘[A]ny disparity between the holder of the note and the mortgagee of record does not stand as a bar to a foreclosure action because the mortgage is not the dispositive document of title as to the mortgage loan; the holder of the note is deemed the owner of the underlying mortgage loan with standing to foreclose’… . . Accordingly, the [defendants’] argument that [plaintiff] lacked standing because it did not possess a valid and enforceable mortgage as of the commencement of this action is simply incorrect. The validity of the … assignment of the mortgage is irrelevant to [plaintiff’s]  standing;”

… [T]o have standing, it is not necessary to have possession of the mortgage at the time the action is commenced. This conclusion follows from the fact that the note, and not the mortgage, is the dispositive instrument that conveys standing to foreclose under New York law. In the current case, the note was transferred to [plaintiff] before the commencement of the foreclosure action — that is what matters.

A transfer in full of the obligation automatically transfers the mortgage as well unless the parties agree that the transferor is to retain the mortgage (Restatement [Third] of Property [Mortgages] § 5.4, Reporter’s Note, Comment b). The [defendants] misconstrue the legal principle that “an entity with a mortgage but no note lack[s] standing to foreclose” … to also mean the opposite — that an entity with a note but no mortgage lacks standing. Once a note is transferred, however, “the mortgage passes as an incident to the note” … . Aurora Loan Servs., LLC v Taylor, 2015 NY Slip Op 04872, CtApp 6-11-15

 


“Lack of Standing” Defense to Foreclosure Action Is Waived If Not Raised in the Answer or a Pre-Answer Motion to Dismiss

The Second Department determined plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on its foreclosure action, noting that any defense based upon plaintiff’s alleged lack of standing was waived because it was not raised in the answer or in a pre-answer motion to dismiss the complaint:

“A party’s alleged lack of standing to commence [an] action is a defense that is waived if not raised in an answer or in a pre-answer motion to dismiss the complaint” … . “Where, as here, the defendants in a mortgage foreclosure action waive the issue of standing by failing to assert the defense in an answer or pre-answer motion to dismiss the complaint (see CPLR 3211[e]), the plaintiff need not establish its standing in order to demonstrate its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law” … . In this case, the plaintiff established, prima facie, its entitlement to judgment as a matter of law for the unpaid principal balance of the note … . In this regard, the plaintiff presented the subject mortgage, the unpaid note, evidence of [defendant’s] default, and evidence demonstrating that the unpaid principal balance remaining on the note totaled $434,382.89 … . In opposition, [defendant] failed to raise a triable issue of fact … . JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A. v Butler, 2015 NY Slip Op 04812, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 


Because Prior Mortgage Foreclosure Action Had Been Abandoned Plaintiff Was Not Entitled to Dismissal of the Instant Action Pursuant to Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (RPAPL) 1301(3) (Which Prohibits More than One Such Action at a Time)

The Second Department determined Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law (RPAPL) 1301(3) did not require dismissal of plaintiff’s foreclosure action.  Although the statute prohibits more than one action to recover a mortgage debt at a time, the pending action had been abandoned (although not formally discontinued). Therefore plaintiff’s action was viable:

RPAPL 1301(3) provides that “[w]hile [an] action is pending or after final judgment for the plaintiff therein, no other action shall be commenced or maintained to recover any part of the mortgage debt, without leave of the court in which the former action was brought.” The purpose of this statute is to protect the mortgagor “from the expense and annoyance” of simultaneously defending against two independent actions to recover the same mortgage debt … . Courts have recognized that this statute “should be strictly construed since it is in derogation of a plaintiff’s common-law right to pursue the alternate remedies of foreclosure and recovery of the mortgage debt at the same time” … .

Under the circumstances of this case, the Supreme Court properly determined that the defendant John Conlin was not entitled to dismissal of the complaint pursuant to RPAPL 1301(3). The record supports the conclusion that the plaintiff’s assignor, the former mortgagee, effectively abandoned its prior action to foreclose the mortgage because its status as a junior mortgagee made it improbable that foreclosure would satisfy the underlying debt. Although the foreclosure action was not formally discontinued, the effective abandonment of that action is a “de facto discontinuance” which militates against dismissal of the present action pursuant to RPAPL 1301(3) … . Old Republic Natl. Tit. Ins. Co. v Conlin, 2015 NY Slip Op 04826, 2nd Dept 6-10-15

 


Where Proof of the Fair Market Value of Foreclosed Property (Offered in Support of a Motion for a Deficiency Judgment) Is Insufficient, Rather than Deny the Motion Outright, the Court Should Direct the Bank to Submit Additional Proof

The Court of Appeals, in a full-fledged opinion by Judge Pigott, determined Supreme Court properly failed to award a post-foreclosure-sale deficiency judgment to the bank because the bank’s proof of the fair market value of the foreclosed property, although uncontested, was insufficient.  However, Supreme Court should have allowed the bank to present additional proof establishing the fair market value:

RPAPL 1371 (2) directs that, when a lender makes a motion for a deficiency judgment,

“the court, whether or not the respondent appears, shall determine, upon affidavit or otherwise as it shall direct, the fair and reasonable market value of the mortgaged premises as of the date such premises were bid in at auction or such nearest earlier date as there shall have been any market value thereof and shall make an order directing the entry of a deficiency judgment” … .

This provision is a directive that a court must determine the mortgaged property’s “fair and reasonable market value” when a motion for a deficiency judgment is made. As such, when the court deems the lender’s proof insufficient in the first instance, it must give the lender an additional opportunity to submit sufficient proof, so as to enable the court to make a proper fair market value determination. * * *

It is, of course, within the court’s discretion to elucidate the type of proof it requires so it can render a proper determination as to fair market value. The court may also order a hearing if it deems one necessary. In proceedings that are governed by section 1371, the court is in the best position to determine the type of proof that will allow it to comply with the directives of that section. Lenders seeking deficiency judgments, however, must always strive to provide the court with all the necessary information in their first application.  Flushing Sav. Bank, FSB v Bitar, 2015 NY Slip Op 04678, CtApp 6-4-15

 


Bank Did Not Demonstrate It Had Possession of the Note Prior to Commencing Foreclosure Action—Bank Did Not Have Standing to Bring the Action

The Second Department determined plaintiff-bank did not demonstrate it had possession of the note at the time the action was commenced, and therefore the bank did not have standing to bring the foreclosure action:

In a mortgage foreclosure action, where, as here, the plaintiff’s standing to commence the action is placed in issue by a defendant, “the plaintiff must prove its standing in order to be entitled to relief” … . “[A] plaintiff has standing where it is both the holder or assignee of the subject mortgage and the holder or assignee of the underlying note at the time the action is commenced” … . “Either a written assignment of the underlying note or the physical delivery of the note prior to the commencement of the foreclosure action is sufficient to transfer the obligation, and the mortgage passes with the debt as an inseparable incident” … .

Here, the plaintiff failed to establish, prima facie, that it had standing to commence this action. The relevant affidavits the plaintiff submitted contained conclusory statements regarding the plaintiff’s possession of the note, without any factual details of a physical delivery and, thus, failed to establish that the plaintiff had physical possession of the note prior to commencing the action … . The copy of the note the plaintiff submitted in support of its motion included an indorsement to the plaintiff but, because the indorsement was undated, it is not clear whether the indorsement was effectuated prior to the commencement of this action … . Although the written assignment of the mortgage that the plaintiff submitted was dated and recorded prior to the date this action was commenced, that assignment only transferred the mortgage. The plaintiff failed to show that the note also was assigned at that time … . Flagstar Bank, FSB v Anderson, 2015 NY Slip Op 04606, 2nd Dept 6-3-15

Similar issue and result in Bank of Am., N.A. v Kyle, 2015 NY Slip Op 04705, 3rd Dept 6-4-15

 

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