Sunday, October 9, 2011

Florida Lower Court Ruling Reversals In Foreclosure Cases Continue; Appellate Court Review Appears Necessary As Trial Judges Continue Getting It Wrong

A Florida appeals court recently reversed another lower court screw-up in a foreclosure case. The guilty judge in this case, Marion County Circuit Court Judge Frances King:

  • Here, the record does not contain the original Mortgage. To prove its ownership, U.S. Bank filed a copy of the Mortgage as well as two assignments. The first assignment transferred the Mortgage from Advent Mortgage, the original mortgagee, to Option One. The second assignment purported to transfer the mortgage from American Home, as successor in interest of Option One, to U.S. Bank. However, and significant to our consideration, U.S. Bank provided nothing to demonstrate how American Home came to be the successor in interest to Option One.2

    Incredibly, U.S. Bank argues that "[i]t would be inequitable for [Ms. Gee] to avoid foreclosure based on the absence of an endorsement to [it]." But that argument flies in the face of well-established precedent requiring the party seeking foreclosure to present evidence that it owns and holds the note and mortgage in question in order to proceed with a foreclosure action. See Verizzo, 28 So. 3d at 978; Philogene v. ABN Amro Mortg. Group Inc., 948 So.2d 45, 46 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006). When Ms. Gee denied that U.S. Bank had an interest in the Mortgage, ownership became an issue that U.S. Bank, as the plaintiff, was required to prove. See Lizio, 36 So. 3d at 929; Carapezza v. Pate, 143 So.2d 346, 347 (Fla. 3d DCA 1962).

    As U.S. Bank failed to offer any proof of American Home's authority to assign the Mortgage, we conclude that it failed to establish its standing to bring the foreclosure action as a matter of law.
    3 See Servedio v. U.S. Bank Nat'l Ass'n, 46 So.3d 1105, 1107 (Fla. 4th DCA 2010) (explaining that plaintiff may submit evidence of assignment from payee to plaintiff or affidavit of ownership to prove its status as holder of note); see also Khan v. Bank of Am., N.A., 58 So.3d 927, 928 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011) (holding that bank failed to establish it had standing to foreclose mortgage as matter of law where copy of note attached to amended complaint bore endorsement assigning note to another bank); Verizzo, 28 So. 3d at 977 (finding genuine issue of fact as to whether bank owned and held note where record did not reflect assignment or endorsement of note to bank). Cf. Isaac v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co., 36 Fla. L. Weekly D727 (Fla. 4th DCA Apr. 6, 2011) (holding that assignee of promissory note and mortgage adequately established its ownership of note and mortgage, as necessary to confer standing to bring foreclosure action, where assignee filed original note and mortgage, along with allonge payable to bearer, and affidavit from representative of successor in interest to previous assignee); Taylor v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Trust Co., 44 So.3d 618 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010) (holding that written assignment of promissory note and mortgage from nominee of original lender to bank was sufficient to confer upon bank authority to foreclose mortgage, even though nominee had no beneficial interest in note and note was not endorsed by original lender; mortgage gave nominee explicit power to enforce note by foreclosing note and nominee assigned that right to bank).

    Ms. Gee also asserts that the trial court improperly entered summary judgment on the reestablishment and reformation claims when these claims were not raised in U.S. Bank's summary judgment motion.

    We agree. A motion for summary judgment must "state with particularity the grounds upon which it is based and the substantial matters of law to be argued . . . ." Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510(c). The burden to conclusively establish the nonexistence of a disputed issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law rests squarely with the movant. See Holl v. Talcott,
    191 So.2d 40, 43-44 (Fla. 1966); Bloch v. Berkshire Ins. Co., 585 So.2d 1137, 1138 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991). The purpose of this rule is "to prevent `ambush' by allowing the nonmoving party to be prepared for the issues that will be argued at the summary judgment hearing." City of Cooper City v. Sunshine Wireless Co., 654 So.2d 283, 284 (Fla. 4th DCA 1995). "It is reversible error to enter summary judgment on a ground not raised with particularity in the motion." Williams v. Bank of Am. Corp., 927 So.2d 1091, 1093 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006).

    As Ms. Gee contends, U.S. Bank's summary judgment motion made no mention of its claim to reestablish the lost Mortgage and identified no evidence to support its claim that these documents were lost. Instead, the motion declared the opposite—that "[t]he original promissory note, mortgage and assignment of mortgage will be filed on or before the hearing."

    Yet, the court considered a lost documents affidavit at the summary judgment hearing and reestablished the Mortgage in the final judgment. Similarly, the summary judgment motion made no mention of U.S. Bank's claim to reform the legal description in the deed and mortgage, nor was the issue discussed at the summary judgment hearing. Still, the court reformed the original mortgage and deed, and modified the legal description.

    Because U.S. Bank's motion did not address any facts or law pertaining to its entitlement to summary judgment on its claims to reestablish the lost instruments and reform the deed and mortgage, the trial court erred in entering summary judgment on these grounds. By failing to state with particularity the grounds upon which its summary judgment motion was based, U.S. Bank failed to provide Ms. Gee with proper notice of the separate issues to be resolved and why U.S. Bank was entitled to summary judgment.
    4 See Locke v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 509 So.2d 1375, 1376-77 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987) (holding that summary judgment motion was insufficient to place non-moving party on notice of issues to be argued at hearing as motion merely stated that no material issues existed and movant was entitled to judgment); see also State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Mashburn, 15 So.3d 701, 706 (Fla. 1st DCA 2009) (reversing summary judgment entered against insurer based on notice issue, which was not raised with particularity in summary judgment motion; raising issue in attached affidavits was insufficient); Deluxe Motel, Inc. v. Patel, 727 So.2d 299, 301 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999) (reversing summary judgment that was based on arguments made at hearing but not in motion); Sunshine Wireless Co., 654 So. 2d at 284 (reversing summary judgment for insufficient notice of issues to be addressed and noting that particularity rule was designed to prevent "ambush" by allowing nonmoving party to be prepared for issues that will be argued at summary judgment hearing); Boucher v. First Cmty. Bank of Orange City, 626 So.2d 979, 982 (Fla. 5th DCA 1993) (reiterating that on summary judgment, court is limited to grounds raised in motion).

    For these reasons, we reverse the final summary judgment of foreclosure entered in favor of U.S. Bank, and remand for further proceedings

For the ruling, see Gee v. U.S. Bank National Association, Case No. 5D10-1687 (Fla. App. 5th DCA, September 30, 2011).

Representing the homeowner in this case was Enrique Nieves, III, of Ice Legal, P.A., Royal Palm Beach, Florida.

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