Wisconsin Appeals Court: Affidavits Not Based On "Personal Knowledge" Sink Lender's Attempt To Score Summary Judgment In Foreclosure Action
A Wisconsin intermediate appeals court recently reached the relatively unremarkable, predictable, and certainly non-ground-breaking conclusion that affidavits filed by a foreclosing lender that are not based on the "personal knowledge" of the affiant are insufficient to establish a basis for summary judgment.
What does merit note is that, in reaching its ruling, it reversed the decision of Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Jacqueline R. Erwin, the lower court judge who apparently didn't have a problem with these obviously flawed affidavits in deciding to allow the foreclosure to go forward. Unlike the vast majority of cases, the homeowner/couple here exercised their right to have an appellate court review, a right that most homeowners in foreclosure are either unaware of, or lack the wherewithal to pursue.
From the ruling (footnotes contained in the original text, bold text is my emphasis):
- ¶ 13 The Bank submitted two affidavits to support its motion for summary judgment: one by an attorney for the Bank, and one by an agent for BAC Home Loans Servicing, L.P., f/k/a Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, L.P.
¶ 14 The attorney averred that Diane Cano executed a note secured by a mortgage on her property in July 2006; that an assignment of the mortgage to the Bank was recorded in June 2007; and that the Canos had failed to make the January 2007 and subsequent mortgage payments, leading the Bank to file this foreclosure action in April 2007. The attorney attached the following documents to his affidavit: the mortgage assignment; a statement of the Canos' mortgage payment history for September 2006 to May 2009 generated by Bank of America Home Loans on June 2, 2009, and indicating that the Canos' last mortgage payment was for December 2006; and a notice of default and acceleration Countrywide sent to Diane Cano in February 2007.
¶ 15 The BAC agent averred that he had access to the financial records for the Canos' mortgage; that Diane Cano executed a mortgage to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., acting as nominee for S&L Investment Lending, Inc.; and that the Canos had failed to make their January 2007 and subsequent mortgage payments. The agent did not attach any documents to his affidavit.
¶ 16 We conclude that the Bank's affidavits do not establish a prima facie case for summary judgment. Affidavits supporting a summary judgment motion must be based on personal knowledge and "set forth such evidentiary facts as would be admissible in evidence." WIS. STAT. § 802.08(3). Nothing in the attorney's affidavit indicates that the attorney's averments as to the Canos' payment history are based on personal knowledge. To the extent that the affidavit relies on the attached payment history with Bank of America, we conclude that the affidavit does not set forth the facts necessary to establish a prima facie case that the bank's purported payment history would be admissible at trial.
¶ 17 As we explained in Palisades, an affidavit must establish a prima facie case that attached payment statements are admissible evidence under an exception to the hearsay rule to support a motion for summary judgment. See Palisades, 324 Wis. 2d 180, ¶ 11 & n.3; WIS. STAT. § 908.01(3) (defining "hearsay" as "a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted") and § 908.02 (hearsay generally inadmissible). Here, the only arguably applicable exception to the hearsay rule is the exception for business records under WIS. STAT. § 908.03(6) (records "made at or near the time by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge, all in the course of a regularly conducted activity, as shown by the testimony of the custodian or other qualified witness" are not excluded by hearsay rule). Thus, for the statement of the Canos' payments to support a motion for summary judgment, the affidavit must establish that the affiant "is qualified to testify that: (1) the records were made at or near the time by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge; and (2) this was done in the course of a regularly conducted activity." Palisades, 324 Wis. 2d 180, ¶ 15. The attorney's affidavit contains no such averments.
¶ 18 The BAC agent's affidavit is similarly flawed. The agent avers that his knowledge of the Canos' default on their mortgage is based on his access to the financial records for the Canos' mortgage, yet no financial documents are attached to the affidavit. Even if we assume the BAC agent is referring to the statement attached to the attorney's affidavit, the agent's affidavit fails to set forth the necessary facts to establish a prima facie case for the admissibility of the statement. The agent's affidavit does not contain any facts to show that the agent is qualified to testify that the statement generated by Bank of America on June 2, 2009, was "made at or near the time by, or from information transmitted by, a person with knowledge," or that "this was done in the course of a regularly conducted activity." Id. We conclude that the Bank has not established a prima facie case for summary judgment. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.