Articles Posted in Vermont Supreme Court

by
Defendant-borrowers Skip and Paris Watts appealed the trial court’s summary judgment decision in favor of plaintiff-lender Deutsche Bank National Trust Company in this mortgage foreclosure action. They argued that the trial court erred by finding that a dismissal with prejudice under Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) was not an adjudication on the merits given preclusive effect in a foreclosure action. Lender argues in response that earlier decisions of this Court that gave preclusive effect to the dismissal of foreclosure actions should be applied only prospectively and not to this case. Defendants entered into the mortgage at issue here in 2006. They failed to make payments in 2008. The lender accelerated payments and called for the note in late 2008. Foreclosure proceedings were initiated, and publication by service was completed in early 2010. Borrowrs did not file an answer to the complaint. The case sat for approximately one year; the trial court dismissed the case in July 2011. Following the dismissal, the borrowers attempted to find a solution that would allow the borrowers to resume payments. The Lender then filed suit again in 2013, alleging the borrowers defaulted on the 2008 promissory note. Borrowers answered the complaint, arguing that the 2013 action was precluded by res judicata by the 2009 action. The trial court granted lender’s motion, applying equitable principles to find that the 2011 dismissal was not a preclusive adjudication on the merits but that lender was entitled to recover interest only if it was due after the date of lender’s first, 2009, complaint against borrowers. The Vermont Supreme Court reversed, finding that the lender did not advance a new default theory by refiling its 2009 case in 2013. Therefore, its claims were precluded by the dismissal of the 2009 case. View "Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. v. Watts" on Justia Law

by
The lender Cenlar FSB appealed a judgment in favor of the borrowers Laurie and Joseph Malenfant, Jr. in the lender’s second action for a judgment on the note and foreclosure, after the first was dismissed with prejudice. The lender argued that the first dismissal could not be interpreted as vacating the judgment on the note and for foreclosure that the trial court had previously issued in that case. Alternatively, the lender contended that its notice of default in the initial foreclosure action was sufficient to satisfy its notice obligation in connection with its second foreclosure action. After review, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court’s dismissal with prejudice of the first action on the promissory note and complaint for foreclosure did effectively vacate that court’s prior judgment for lender on the note and for foreclosure. Furthermore, the lender was not, on this record, entitled to pursue a second action because it had not taken any steps to reinstate borrower’s monthly payment obligations after lender had accelerated the note. Accordingly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "Cenlar FSB v. Malenfant, Jr." on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff-lender Deutsche Bank National Trust Company (as trustee) appealed a superior court decision to grant defendant-borrower Kevin Pinette's motion to dismiss. The lender tried to foreclose on property of Pinette, but the superior court dismissed its claims on foreclosure, the unpaid balance on a promissory note, and a deficiency judgment on the ground that they were barred by claim preclusion, as lender had previously instituted an identical action against borrower in 2013, which had been dismissed for failure to prosecute. On appeal, the lender argued that because the 2013 action did not actually adjudge the enforceability of the note and mortgage, the dismissal did not have preclusive effect. Further, lender urged the Vermont Supreme Court to hold that in the mortgage foreclosure context, dismissals with prejudice did not bar subsequent actions based upon new defaults occurring after dismissal of the prior action. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Deutsche Bank v. Pinette" on Justia Law

by
This appeal stemmed from a superior court decision to grant summary judgment in favor of defendant Caroline Marini on plaintiff EverBank’s complaint for foreclosure on a mortgage that Caroline signed in 2009 together with her co-defendant and then-husband Gary Marini. In ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, following a hearing, the trial court concluded that Caroline was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on EverBank’s foreclosure complaint because the undisputed material facts established that Caroline signed the mortgage under the threat of physical violence from Gary and thus the mortgage was void as to her. The trial court also concluded that regardless of whether the mortgage was void as to Caroline, EverBank was not a bona fide purchaser. EverBank subsequently moved to alter or amend the judgment on the ground that the grant of summary judgment as to Caroline unjustly enriched her. The trial court denied the motion, explaining that EverBank had not raised the issue of unjust enrichment in response to Caroline’s cross-motion for summary judgment. EverBank appealed both decisions. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the decision granting summary judgment in favor of Caroline on the issue of whether the mortgage was void, and directed the trial court to enter judgment for EverBank on that issue. The Court remanded for trial the issues of whether the mortgage was voidable and, if so, whether it was enforceable because it was ratified by Caroline, but affirmed the trial court’s decision that the bona fide purchaser doctrine was not available to EverBank. View "Everbank v. Marini" on Justia Law

by
In July 2003, Michael Bandler and Michael Bandler & Company, Inc., (collectively “Bandler”) sued Charter One for various claims based primarily on Charter One’s alleged failure to honor advertising promises and other representations in connection with Bandler’s checking account at Charter One. Charter One moved to dismiss the case on the ground that Bandler had failed to exhaust his contractual remedy of arbitration before the American Arbitration Association (AAA) as required by Bandler’s depositor agreements with Charter One.  The trial court granted Charter One’s motion to dismiss and indicated that the parties should arbitrate Bandler’s claims as agreed by contract.  The trial court issued a final judgment in favor of Charter One in November 2003, and subsequently denied Bandler’s post-judgment motions for relief. In November 2004, Bandler made a demand to Charter One to arbitrate under the arbitration clauses in his depositor agreement with Charter One, thereby initiating an arbitration proceeding before the AAA.  Bandler’s initial arbitration demand did not include any class-based claims. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the superior court had authority to review questions regarding arbitrability in the midst of an arbitration, and outside of the specific review provisions in the Vermont Arbitration Act (VAA). Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that it did not, and reversed the superior court’s ruling concerning the arbitrability of class claims in this case. View "Bandler v. Charter One Bank " on Justia Law

by
This case was an interlocutory appeal from the trial court's denial of Appellant RBS Citizens, N.A.'s motion for a writ of attachment to Appellee Jan Ouhrabka's property, which Appellee owned jointly with his wife as tenants by entirety.  The trial court held that a creditor like RBS cannot attach property owned jointly by a debtor and a nondebtor when they hold that property as tenants by entirety.  RBS contended on appeal that the estate of tenancy by entirety is an anachronism whose continuing utility should be reconsidered.  In the alternative, RBS argued that Vermont law did not explicitly preclude granting a creditor prejudgment attachment where the property is held jointly by the debtor and a nondebtor in a tenancy by entirety.  Upon review of the applicable legal authority, the Supreme Court disagreed with RBS' argument and affirmed the lower court's decision.

by
Plaintiff US Bank National Association appealed a trial court order that granted summary judgment to Defendant Homeowner Christine Kimball and dismissed with prejudice US Bank’s foreclosure complaint for lack of standing.  On appeal, US Bank argued that it had standing to prosecute the foreclosure claim and that the court’s dismissal with prejudice was in error.  Homeowner cross-appealed, arguing that the court erred in not addressing her claim for attorney’s fees. Homeowner purchased the property in question in June 2005.  To finance the purchase, she executed an adjustable rate promissory note in favor of Accredited Home Lenders, Inc. (Accredited).  The note was secured by a mortgage deed to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) as nominee for Accredited. In 2009, US Bank filed a foreclosure complaint for Homeowner’s failure to make required payments.  The complaint alleged that the mortgage and note were assigned to US Bank by MERS, as nominee for Accredited.  Attached to the complaint was a copy of the instrument signed by a "Duly Authorized Agent" of MERS.  The promissory note was also attached to the complaint and appended to it was an undated allonge signed by a corporate officer of Accredited, endorsing the note in blank. Homeowner moved for summary judgment claiming, among other things, that US Bank failed to present sufficient evidence that it held homeowner’s note and corresponding mortgage. Because neither note submitted by US Bank was dated, the court concluded that there was no evidence that the note was endorsed to US Bank before the complaint was filed.  Therefore, the court held that US Bank lacked standing to bring the foreclosure action.  Following a hearing, the court denied the motions for reconsideration and to amend the complaint.  The court concluded that US Bank had submitted a defective complaint and the deficiencies were not mere technicalities, but essential items, without which the case could not proceed.  The court held that US Bank lacked standing when the complaint was filed, and dismissed the complaint “with prejudice.”  Upon review of the trial record and briefs submitted by the parties, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's decision in all respects but for the 'with prejudice': "this may be but an ephemeral victory for homeowner.  Absent adjudication on the underlying indebtedness, the dismissal cannot cancel her obligation arising from an authenticated note, or insulate her from foreclosure proceedings based on proven delinquency." The Court dismissed the foreclosure complaint and remanded the case for consideration of the parties' fees dispute.