Justia Banking Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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Wolfington brought a claim under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. 1601, stemming from reconstructive knee surgery he received from Reconstructive Orthopaedic Associates (the Rothman Institute). Wolfington alleged that Rothman failed to provide disclosures required by the Act when it permitted him to pay his deductible in monthly installments following surgery. The district court entered judgment, rejecting Wolfington’s claim because it determined he had failed to allege that credit had been extended to him in a “written agreement,” as required by the Act’s implementing regulation, Regulation Z. The court also sua sponte imposed sanctions on Wolfington’s counsel. The Third Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that Wolfington failed to adequately allege the existence of a written agreement, but concluded that counsel’s investigation and conduct were not unreasonable. In imposing sanctions, the district court placed emphasis on the statement by Rothman’s counsel, not Wolfington’s. The statement by Wolfington’s counsel did not amount to an “unequivocal” admission that there was no written agreement. View "Wolfington v. Reconstructive Orthopaedic Associates II, PC" on Justia Law

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Ahmed co‐owned an LLC that owned a condominium building. Ahmed recruited individuals to pose as buyers for the building's units and to submit fraudulent loan applications to lenders, including Fifth Third. The participants split the loan proceeds; no payments were made on the loans. Kaufman was the seller's attorney for every closing. The closings were conducted by Traditional Title at Kaufman’s law office. Traditional received closing instructions from Fifth Third to notify it immediately of any misrepresentations and to suspend the transaction if “the closing agent has knowledge that the borrower does not intend to occupy the property.” Kaufman concealed the buyers’ misrepresentations and instructed closing agents to complete closings even when buyers were purchasing multiple properties. Ahmed and Kaufman extended the scheme to other buildings. Although Kaufman testified that he was not aware of the fraud, Ahmed testified that Kaufman knew the buyers were part of the scheme. Two closing agents testified that they informed Kaufman about misrepresentations in loan applications. The Seventh Circuit affirmed a fraud judgment for Fifth Third. Kaufman participated individually in each closing as counsel and personally directed Traditional’s employees to conceal the fraud from Fifth Third, for his personal gain. The judgment against Kaufman was not derived solely from Traditional’s liability, based on his membership in the LLC, so the Illinois LLC Act does not bar his liability. Kaufman is not shielded by being the attorney for the seller in the fraudulent transactions. View "Fifth Third Mortgage Company v. Kaufman" on Justia Law

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After plaintiff's foreclosure action was dismissed, the trial court ordered plaintiff to pay attorney fees to defendants, finding certain provisions in the deed of trust she signed authorized the fee award. In the published portion of the opinion, the Court of Appeal held that the deed of trust authorized the addition of attorney fees to the loan amount, not a separate award to pay fees. The court also held that the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act provided no independent basis for ordering plaintiff to pay attorney fees. Accordingly, the trial court's order compelling plaintiff to pay attorney fees was reversed and the matter remanded. View "Chacker v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A." on Justia Law

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Attorney Goodson received an email from “Fumiko Anderson,” stating that she wanted to hire Goodson to recover money that she was owed in a divorce. Fumiko later stated that her ex-husband had agreed to settle and would mail a check to cover Goodson’s fee plus the settlement amount. The check was drawn on the First American account of an Illinois manufacturer. Goodson deposited the $486,750.33 check in his Citizens Bank client trust account. Fumiko told Goodson she needed the money immediately. Goodson directed the bank to transfer it to a Japanese entity that he believed to be Fumiko. It actually was an Internet-based fraudulent scheme: the “Fumiko Bandit.” When the fraud was discovered First American reimbursed its depositor and sought recovery from Citizens Bank, Goodson, and the Federal Reserve Bank. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment for the defendants, rejecting a breach of warranty argument. First American had received a “truncated” electronic image from the Federal Reserve but could have demanded a “substitute check” or could have refused to honor the check. First American was the victim of a mistake, but Illinois law provides no remedy for such a victim against “a person who took the instrument in good faith and for value.” The lawyer and the banks reasonably believed that they were engaged in the commonplace activity of forwarding a check; they did not fall below “reasonable commercial standards of fair dealing.” There was no “negligent spoliation of evidence” in Citizens Bank’s destruction of the original paper check. Goodson owed no professional duty to First American. View "First American Bank v. Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta" on Justia Law

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Kaymark defaulted on a mortgage held by Bank of America (BOA). On behalf of BOA, Udren Law Offices initiated foreclosure proceedings. The body of the Foreclosure Complaint listed not-yet-incurred fees as due and owing, which, Kaymark alleged, violated state and federal fair debt collection laws and breached the mortgage contract. The Third Circuit reversed dismissal of claims that the disputed fees constituted actionable misrepresentation under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692, but affirmed dismissal of all other claims. By attempting to collect fees for legal services not yet performed in the mortgage foreclosure, Udren violated FDCPA section 1692e(2)(A), (5), and (10), which imposes strict liability on debt collectors who “use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt,” and section 1692f(1) by attempting to collect “an[] amount (including any interest, fee, charge, or expense incidental to the principal obligation) unless such amount is expressly authorized by the agreement creating the debt or permitted by law.” The court analogized to similar claims in a debt collection demand letter. View "Kaymark v. Bank of America NA" on Justia Law

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CLC’s principal, Erwin, was general counsel for the bank. CLC deferred invoicing the bank in 2008 when it fell on hard times. In 2009 the Office of Thrift Supervision put the bank into receivership. CLC claims that, days before the takeover, the bank granted it security interests in bank properties. CLC waited months to record attorney liens for the security interests. CLC sought $176,750 in deferred legal fees. The FDIC denied the claim. CLC initially denied possessing the original retainer agreement, claiming oral agreements, until, in 2013, Erwin produced a 1989 agreement. The district court granted the FDIC summary judgment, finding the evidence prejudicial and the delay not “substantially justified.” The fees arrangement did not comply with 12 U.S.C. 1823(e)’s documentation requirements and the security interests were similarly deficient and “taken in contemplation of” insolvency. The court rejected CLC’s argument that the statutory documentation requirements and the D’Oench doctrine (an estoppel rule shielding the FDIC from claims and defenses based on unwritten agreements that reduce bank assets) apply only to secret agreements affecting traditional banking transactions, like loans. The court acknowledged evidence indicating that Erwin and the bank may have backdated the security interests. The Sixth Circuit reversed; D’Oench and its statutory progeny do not apply to its legal services arrangement with the bank. View "Commercial Law Corp., P.C. v. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp." on Justia Law

Posted in: Banking, Legal Ethics
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Haddad bought his condominium in 1991 and lived in the unit until 2005, when he began renting it out. In 2008, a law firm, representing the association, sent Haddad a notice of delinquency, stating that Haddad owed $803 in unpaid condominium assessments, $40 in late charges, and $55 in legal fees and costs. Haddad notified the firm that he disputed the amount demanded, that he had never missed a monthly dues payment, but that he had been “singled out and charged with various violations” by the management company. Correspondence continued for several months, with the amount owed increasing each month and Haddad contesting the charges. The law firm ultimately recorded a Notice of Lien, which was discharged about six months later. Haddad sued under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692, and the Michigan Collection Practices Act, alleging use of a false, deceptive or misleading representation in the collection of a debt, and continuing collection of a disputed debt before verification of the debt. The district court rejected the claims on the ground that the debt was commercial because the unit was rented when collection began. The Sixth Circuit court reversed, holding that an obligation to pay assessments arose from the original purchase and constituted a “debt” under the FDCPA. On remand, the district court granted summary judgment, finding that the firm had properly verified the debt and that the collection efforts were not deceptive or misleading. The Sixth Circuit reversed and remanded, based on failure to properly verify the debt.View "Haddad v. Alexander, Zelmanski, Danner & Fioritto, PLLC" on Justia Law

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Manning, a lawyer who served as the executor of Barney’s estate and the trustee of a trust for Mrs. Barney, set up accounts at National City Bank, one for the estate and one for the trust. He then wired funds, totaling about $1,250,000, from the bank accounts into the account of his business in violation of his fiduciary duties. Manning’s business failed and Manning confessed to Mrs. Barney that he had absconded with the money from the two accounts. The estate, trust, and Mrs. Barney sued Manning’s law firm in state court, but the suit was rejected on summary judgment. The Barneys then sued the successor to National City Bank to try to recover the money Manning stole. The district court dismissed, citing the affirmative defense of Ohio’s version of the Uniform Fiduciaries Act. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, stating that the Barneys failed to plead facts giving rise to an inference that the Bank committed any wrongdoing. View "Estate of Barney v. PNC Bank, Nat'l Ass'n" on Justia Law

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Westerfield was a lawyer working for an Illinois title insurance company when she facilitated fraudulent real estate transfers in a scheme that used stolen identities of homeowners to “sell” houses that were not for sale to fake buyers, and then collect the mortgage proceeds from lenders who were unaware of the fraud. Westerfield facilitated five such transfers and was indicted on four counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343. She claimed that she had been unaware of the scheme’s fraudulent nature and argued that she had merely performed the typical work of a title agent. She was convicted on three counts. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence, to admission of a codefendant’s testimony during trial, and to the sentence of 72 months in prison with three years of supervised release, and payment of $916,300 in restitution. View "United States v. Westerfield" on Justia Law

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Homeowners challenged the validity of the foreclosure of their home mortgages. The district court dismissed the suit under Rule 12(b)(6). The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the law firm as fraudulently joined and concluded that the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the appeal because the doctrine of prior exclusive jurisdiction was inapplicable. The court concluded that Homeowners' pleadings mirrored those in Karnatcheva v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. and affirmed the district court's dismissal. Homeowners have failed to plead factual content that permitted the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct where the pleadings contained nothing but naked assertions that one or more of the named defendants suspected that Wells Fargo lacked legal title to the mortgages yet chose to publish statements to the contrary. The district court was well within its discretion to file sanctions. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Dunbar, et al v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., et al" on Justia Law