Articles Posted in U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals

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The plaintiffs invested $3 million in a multi‐use real‐estate project in Caseyville, Illinois, called Forest Lake, having previously worked with the developers. Their agreement with the developers promised a first‐priority mortgage, but they received only a junior mortgage. Meridian Bank had acquired a mortgage on Forest Lakes ($20 million) in 2005. When the bank foreclosed in 2009, the plaintiffs lost everything. They sued Belco, which had been created to carry out title work for the Forest Lakes transactions, including the Meridian mortgage. None of the plaintiffs’ $3 million were ever escrowed with Belco, but went directly to the developer. Belco never contacted the plaintiffs, before, during, or after the closing. After the development failed, the plaintiffs alleged Illinois state‐law claims of breach of fiduciary duty against Belco, claiming that as the “closing agent” for the transaction, Belco owed a duty to disclose that they were not receiving the first‐priority mortgage. The magistrate judge granted summary judgment for Belco, finding that Belco was the plaintiffs’ agent for the purposes of the escrow and closing, but, under Illinois law, owed only the very limited duty “to act only according to the terms of the escrow instructions.” Belco complied with the terms of the escrow agreement in that the funds were disbursed according to the agreement. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Edelman v. Belco Title & Escrow, L.L.C." on Justia Law

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Based on a real estate financing fraud scheme during the housing bubble, Brunt, Farano, Murphy, and Scullark were charged with mail and wire fraud; Brunt and Scullark with money laundering and Farano with theft of federal government funds, 18 U.S.C. 641, 1341, 1343, 1957(a). The scheme involved buying HUD-owned properties at a discount by using a “front” nonprofit corporation that received kickbacks. The properties were resold, with false promises that the defendants would rehabilitate the properties and find tenants. The defendants obtained the mortgages for buyers by submitting false information regarding the conditions of the properties and buyers’ assets, income, employment, and intentions to occupy the properties. A loan officer and appraisers were bribed. The judge refused to severe the trials. A jury convicted the defendants, and the judge sentenced Brunt to 151 months in prison, Farano to 108, Murphy to 72, and Scullark to 78. He ordered them all to pay restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed except regarding an order of restitution to refinancing lenders, which it vacated for consideration of whether the refinancing banks that are seeking restitution had based their refinancing decisions on fraudulent representations by the defendants. The court expressed concern about how long the case has taken. View "United States v. Scullark" on Justia Law

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Malone owned a cattle feedlot. He cared for cattle, including some owned by GLS, and worked as an agent of GLS to buy cattle. Anderson was president of GLS, which was owned by others. GLS’s cattle were collateral for its loans. In 2008, the feedlot started losing money, jeopardizing Malone’s business and GLS’s loans. Malone and Anderson began kiting checks; one would write a check to the other, and before it was collected, the other would write a check back to the first. Malone was overdrawn by $400,000 in 2009. Malone and Anderson arranged to sell O’Hern 700 cattle. O’Hern paid $400,000, which Malone deposited to his overdrawn bank account. In reality, there were no cattle. Malone gave O’Hern $115,000. Unsatisfied, O’Hern visited the feedlot and removed cattle that did not belong to Malone; obtained liens on property owned by Malone and Anderson; and filed a state court civil suit. Malone pled guilty to bank fraud and money laundering. He urged the district judge to refrain from ordering restitution, arguing that O’Hern had already received full recovery and that the judge exercise her discretion under 18 U.S.C. 3663A(c)(3)(B), because the need to compensate O’Hern was outweighed by the burden of determining complex issues regarding his losses. The judge imposed restitution of $285,000, stating that she had no discretion under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act, 18 U.S.C. 3663A.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the award as supported by the preponderance of the evidence regarding O’Hern’s loss and the cash returned to him, the only relevant factors. It would have been error for the judge to consider other amounts O’Hern may be adjudged to owe Malone or Anderson in the state court litigation. View "United States v. Malone" on Justia Law

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As a mortgage broker, Chandler was able to falsify documents, close fraudulent loans, and judge what a house would appraise for after cosmetic work. In 2005, Causey and Rainey founded a construction company to make minimal changes to houses. They recruited real estate novices to buy houses. Chandler would fill out a mortgage application, falsifying income, down payments and other information to make the buyer a viable loan candidate. She would order appraisals, title work and pre‐approval from the lender. A “trainee” appraiser reported a greatly inflated price. Chandler gave false information to the lenders on HUD‐1 statements. Chandler made up false construction invoices for the remainder of the loan after expenses were paid. Before the participants were arrested, they had executed the mortgage scheme 25 times. Causey, the only co‐conspirator who did not plead guilty, was convicted. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the court improperly admitted prejudicial photographs taken of the houses around the time of trial rather than at the time of the sale and evidence of a fraudulent sale that took place outside of the conspiracy. A defense witness’s testimony was properly excluded as undisclosed expert testimony. The court also upheld admission of testimony by a co-conspirator and a two‐level sentencing enhancement for being an “organizer, leader, manager, or supervisor.” View "United States v. Causey" on Justia Law

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Abair emigrated from Russia in 2005 and married an American citizen. Abair owned an apartment in Moscow. After her divorce, Abair sold the apartment and deposited the proceeds with Citibank Moscow. She signed a contract to buy an Indiana home for cash. Citibank refused to transfer funds because her local account was in her married name and the Moscow account used her birth name. Over two weeks Abair withdrew the daily maximum ($6400) from Citibank ATMs and deposited $6400 to $9800 at her local bank. A deposit on Tuesday, May 31 followed the Memorial Day weekend and was posted with one made on Saturday, pushing her “daily” deposit over the $10,000 trigger for reporting, 31 U.S.C. 5313(a). Abair was charged with structuring financial transactions to evade reporting. IRS agents testified that during her unrecorded interview, Abair, who is not fluent in English, revealed knowledge of the reporting rules. Abair testified that she was aware of the limit when she spoke with the agents, but had learned about it after making the deposits, when she asked why identification was required. She said her deposit amounts were based on how much cash would fit in her purse. Abair was convicted and agreed to forfeit the entire proceeds. The Seventh Circuit remanded, finding that the government lacked a good faith basis for believing that Abair lied on tax and financial aid forms and that the court erred (Rule 608(b)) by allowing the prosecutor to ask accusatory, prejudicial questions about them. On the record, Abair is at most a first offender, according to the court, which expressed “serious doubts” that forfeiture of $67,000 comports with the “principle of proportionality” under the Excessive Fines Clause. View "United States v. Abair" on Justia Law

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Target Guest Cards only permit purchases only at Target. Target Visa Cards are all-purpose credit cards that can be used anywhere. Target used different underwriting criteria and agreements for the cards. Between 2000 and 2006, Target sent unsolicited Visas to 10,000,000 current and former Guest Card holders, with agreements and marketing materials to entice activation of the new card. If a customer activated a new Visa, its terms became effective and the Guest Card balance was transferred to the Visa. If the customer did not activate the Visa, Target closed the account. The materials did not suggest that keeping the Guest Card was an option, but customers could opt out. A Guest Card holder could call Target to reject the Visa but ask to keep the Guest Card. If a holder attempted to use the Guest Card after the Visa was mailed, she was informed that the account had been closed but that she could reopen it. The credit limits on the Autosubbed Visas were between $1,000 and $10,000, and Target could change the credit limit. New customers had to open a Target Visa through a standard application, and cards could have credit limits as low as $500. The Autosub materials did not indicate that credit limits were subject to change; customers often had their credit limits reduced after activation. The district court rejected a putative class action under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. 1642, which prohibits mailing unsolicited credit cards and requires credit card mailings to contain certain disclosures in a “tabular format.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "Acosta v. Target Corp." on Justia Law

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Sentinel specialized in short-term cash management, promising to invest customers’ cash in safe securities for good returns with high liquidity. Customers did not acquire rights to specific securities, but received a pro rata share of the value of securities in an investment pool (Segment) based on the type of customer and regulations that applied to that customer. Segment 1 was protected by the Commodity Exchange Act; Segment 3 customers by the Investment Advisors Act and SEC regulations. Despite those laws, Sentinel lumped cash together, used it to purchase risky securities, and issued misleading statements. Some securities were collateral for a loan (BONY). In 2007 customers began demanding cash and BONY pressured Sentinel for payment. Sentinel moved $166 million in corporate securities out of a Segment 1 trust to a lienable account as collateral for BONY and sold Segment 1 and 3 securities to pay BONY. Sentinel filed for bankruptcy after returning $264 million to Segment 1 from a lienable account and moving $290 million from the Segment 3 trust to the lienable account. After informing customers that it would not honor redemption requests, Sentinel distributed the full cash value of their accounts to some Segment 1 groups. After filing for bankruptcy Sentinel obtained bankruptcy court permission to have BONY distribute $300 million from Sentinel accounts to favored customers. The trustee obtained district court approval to avoid the transfers, 11 U.S.C. 547; 11 U.S.C. 549. The Seventh Circuit, noting the unique conflict between the rights of two groups of wronged customers, reversed. Sentinel’s pre-petition transfer fell within the securities exception in 11 U.S.C. 546(e); the post-petition transfer was authorized by the bankruptcy court, 11 U.S.C. 549. Neither can be avoided. View "Grede v. FCStone LLC" on Justia Law

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IMCC loaned Harbins $60 million to buy Georgia land to construct a shopping center. In addition to a mortgage, IMCC obtained a guaranty from Chivas, providing that if IMCC “forecloses … the amount of the debt may be reduced only by the price for which that collateral is sold at the foreclosure sale, even if the collateral is worth more than the sale price.” Harbins defaulted; IMCC foreclosed in a nonjudicial proceeding, involving a public auction conducted by the sheriff after public notice. IMCC successfully bid $7 million and filed a petition to confirm the auction. Unless such a petition is granted, a mortgagee who obtains property in a nonjudicial foreclosure cannot obtain a deficiency judgment if the property is worth less than the mortgage balance owed. A Georgia court denied confirmation. Chivas refused to honor the guaranty. A district court in Chicago awarded IMCC $17 million. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that the Georgia statute “is odd by modern standards,” but does not prevent a suit against a guarantor. The agreement guaranteed IMCC the difference between what it paid for the land and the unpaid balance of the loan, even if the land is worth more than what IMCC paid for it. The agreement is lawful under Georgia and Illinois law. View "Inland Mortg. Capital Corp v. Chivas Retail Partners, LLC" on Justia Law

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Beginning in 1998, consumer class actions were filed against Trans Union alleging violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. 1681, by selling consumer information to target marketers and credit and insurance companies. The court approved a settlement. Trans Union agreed to give all class members “basic” credit monitoring services. Class members could also either claim cash from a $75 million fund or claim “enhanced” in-kind relief consisting of additional financial services. Trans Union was to provide $35 million worth of enhanced relief. The class was estimated at 190 million people. The Act authorizes damages of between $100 and $1000 per consumer for willful violations, so Trans Union faced theoretically possible liability of $190 billion. To persuade the court to approve the settlement, the parties agreed to an unusual provision that preserved substantive claims after settlement. Instead of releasing their claims, class members who did not get cash or enhanced in-kind relief retained the right to bring individual claims. Trans Union also partially waived the limitations period. The settlement authorized reimbursements from the fund to Trans Union itself “equal to any amounts paid to satisfy settlements or judgments arising from Post-Settlement Claims,” not including defense costs. There have been more PSCs than expected, depleting the fund. In a second appeal, the Seventh Circuit affirmed the orders authorizing disbursement of the remainder of the fund. View "Wheelahan v. Trans Union LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs received letters from defendants that stated: Unless you notify this office within 30 days after receiving this notice that you dispute the validity of this debt or any portion thereof, this office will assume this debt is valid. If you notify this office within 30 days from receiving this notice, this office will obtain verification of the debt or obtain a copy of the judgment and mail you a copy of such judgment or verification. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C 1692g(a) requires the debt collector to include “a statement that unless the consumer, within thirty days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector” and a “statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt or a copy of a judgment against the consumer and a copy of such verification or judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector.” Plaintiffs claimed noncompliance because the notice omits the phrase “that the debt, or any portion thereof, is disputed.” One letter referred to “your just debt;” the recipient alleged that the phrase suggests that the debt’s validity has been confirmed. Four trial courts dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, stating that any written request for verification constitutes a dispute for purposes of the Act. The reference to “just debt” was mere puffery. View "Borucki v. Vision Fin. Corp." on Justia Law