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Smith v. Encore Credit Corp.

December 9, 2008

RONALD J. SMITH, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ENCORE CREDIT CORP., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Dan Aaron Polster

MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER

After LaSalle Bank National Association ("LaSalle") obtained a judgment entry of foreclosure on the residence of Plaintiffs Ronald J. and Nancy L. Smith in state court, the Smiths filed this action alleging four federal law claims and seven state law claims against persons and entities related to the underlying refinancing mortgage loan transaction ("the Loan") other than LaSalle. The Smiths seek a declaration that the Loan was illegal, rescission of the Loan, an injunction against the foreclosure sale of their residence, and damages. Defendants have filed the following motions, which have been fully briefed and are ripe for review:

*Motion of Defendant Bear Stearns Residential Mortgage Corporation to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint (ECF No. 11);

*Motion of Defendants Motion Financial and Ellyn Klein Grober to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint (ECF No. 14);

*Motion of Defendant Sand Canyon Corporation F/K/A Option One Mortgage Corporation to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint (ECF No. 16); and

*Defendant Encore Credit Corporation's Motion to Dismiss the Complaint of Donald J. Smith and Nancy L. Smith (ECF No. 19).

For the reasons articulated below, the Motions are GRANTED IN PART, the federal law claims (Counts I through IV) are dismissed with prejudice, and the state law claims (Counts V through XI) are dismissed without prejudice.

I.

In January 2004, the Smiths had several discussions over the telephone with agents of Defendant Motion Financial ("Motion") concerning a possible refinancing of the mortgage on their home. (ECF No. 1 ("Compl.") ¶ 13.) The Smiths "directed Defendant Motion to extract equity from their home for the purpose of paying credit cards and other personal loans due to a deteriorating income stream versus prior year and also to be able to fund the March, 2004 mortgage payments." (Id.) The Smiths "believed that the best way to accomplish this would be through a fix-rate loan at the lowest interest rate for which [they] qualified and with a monthly payment plan which [they] could afford given their financial situation as to income and expenses." (Id.) On January 7, 2004, Defendant Ellyn Klein Grober allegedly represented to the Smiths that they qualified for a fixed rate mortgage loan in the principal amount of $528,500. (Id. ¶ 14.) Grober prepared a Uniform Residential Loan Application indicating that the Smiths were applying for a fixed rate loan, which the Smiths executed on January 9, 2004. (Id.) Grober also provided the Smiths with an early Truth In Lending Statement setting forth the fixed rate mortgage loan. In February 2004, Grober informed the Smiths that the fixed rate loan they initially qualified for would not provide a sufficient loan-to-value ratio to enable them to obtain a cash-out refinance program. (Compl. ¶ 17.) Grober told them that the only loan program available to them to obtain a cash-out refinance would be a program with a two-year fixed rate and an adjustable rate every six months thereafter that required an appraised value of the property of $630,000. (Id.) Grober arranged for an appraisal that valued the residence at $570,000 -- insufficient to provide cash to the Smiths. (Id. ¶ 20.) She arranged a second appraisal which valued the residence at $630,000 -- sufficient to provide a cash payout. (Id. ¶ 22.) With less than two weeks remaining before the Smiths would default on numerous obligations (including, presumably, their March 2004 mortgage payment), the Smiths "agreed to proceed with the closing on the adjustable rate mortgage." (Compl. ¶ 23.) On March 5, 2004, Defendants Motion and Encore Credit Corporation ("Encore") executed the refinancing Loan with the Smiths. (Id. ¶ 24.) The Smiths allege that the Loan, which was the result of predatory lending practices, "was sold to a securities firm" immediately after the closing and, within the Loan year, "ended up as collateral for Bear Stearns Asset-Backed Securities LLC Asset-Backed Certificates Series 2004-HES." (Id. ¶ 28(g).)

The Smiths subsequently defaulted on the loan and, on October 18, 2005, LaSalle, as Trustee for Certificate Holders of Bear Stearns Asset-Backed Securities LLC Asset-Backed Certificates Series 2004-HES ("LaSalle"), filed a foreclosure action against the Smiths and others in the Court of Common Pleas for Mahoning County, Ohio, in Case No. 2005-CV-3869 ("the Foreclosure Case"). (Compl. ¶ 49.) Nancy Smith filed an answer on December 29, 2005, and Ronald Smith filed an answer on January 10, 2006.

After an evidentiary hearing, the state court granted LaSalle's motion for summary and default judgment, and entered judgment against the Smiths on January 12, 2007. (ECF No. 12-2 at 1.) The state court decreed that if the amount then due on the loan was not fully paid within three days of the judgment, the right of the Smiths in the property "shall be foreclosed and [ ] an order of sale may be issued to the Mahoning County Sheriff, directing him to appraise, advertise in a paper of general circulation within the County and sell said premises as upon execution and according to law free and clear of the interest of all parties to this action." (Id. at 4.)

In August 2007, LaSalle filed a motion to withdraw the order of sale scheduled for August 7, 2007 upon the representation that Ronald Smith had filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding on August 3, 2007. The court granted LaSalle's request to have the order of sale returned by the sheriff unexecuted and granted leave to LaSalle to file an alias order of sale. On October 15, 2007, the state court granted LaSalle's request to vacate the bankruptcy stay, reinstate the case to the active docket and for leave to continue with the prosecution of the case.

On June 17, 2008, the Smiths filed this case in federal court asserting a laundry list of state and federal claims against Defendants Grober, Motion, Encore, Bear Stearns Residential Mortgage Corporation ("BSRMC") and Option One Mortgage Corporation (which is alleged to be in an agency relationship with Encore, Compl. ¶ 4) for their predatory lending practices.*fn1 Specifically, the Smiths allege claims for violation of the Homeowners Equity Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1639, the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act , 12 U.S.C. § 2601, the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1605, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681, the Ohio Consumer Protection Act, O.R.C. Chapter 1345, the Ohio Mortgage Brokers Act , O.R.C. Chapter 1322, and the Ohio Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations ("RICO") Act, O.R.C. § 2929.32. They also allege claims of fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment, and civil conspiracy. The Smiths ask this Court to treat the Complaint as a "Notice of Rescission" and declare the refinancing transaction illegal and void in the first instance, rescind the Loan, and enjoin the foreclosure sale of their home. They seek damages as well.

On July 21, 2008, Defendant BSRMC filed the first motion to dismiss, followed by the other pending motions to dismiss. Defendants all argue that the Court lacks the jurisdiction to granted the requested declaratory and injunctive relief based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the Anti-Injunction Act, that the Court should abstain from adjudicating the case based on Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), and that issue preclusion bars adjudication of the alleged claims. They argue, in the alternative, that most of the claims are time-barred and all of them fail to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Having reviewed the motions, the briefs and the record, the Court is prepared to issue its ruling.

II.

Defendants move for dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants make a facial attack on the subject matter jurisdiction of this Court. In reviewing a facial attack, a trial court takes the allegations in the complaint as true, which is a similar safeguard employed under 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss. Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990); see also Nat'l Ass'n of Minority Contractors v. Martinez, 248 F.Supp.2d 679, 681 (S.D. Ohio 2002) (applying standard).

When ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the complaint liberally in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 677 (6th Cir. 1998). The Court "must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, --- U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ---, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (citations omitted)). See also, NicSand, Inc. v. 3M Co., 507 F.3d 442, 449 (6th Cir. 2007) (en banc) (viewing a complaint "through the prism of Rule 12(b)(6) [requires] us to accept all of its allegations and all reasonable inferences from them as true") (citing Mich. Paytel Joint Venture v. City of Detroit, 287 F.3d 527, 533 (6th Cir. 2002)). When reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must "determine whether the plaintiff can prove a set of facts in support of its claims that would entitle it to relief." Daubenmire v. City of Columbus, 507 F.3d 383, (6th Cir. Nov. 6, 2007) (quoting Bovee v. Coopers & Lybrand C.P.A., 272 F.3d 356, 360 (6th Cir. 2001)). In order to preclude dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations which comprise all of the essential, material elements necessary to sustain a claim for relief under some viable legal theory. Lewis v. ACB Bus. Serv., Inc., 135 F.3d 389, 406 (6th Cir. 1998).

III.

Defendants argue that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims and grant the requested relief based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, issue preclusion, the Anti-Injunction Act, and the Younger abstention doctrine. The Court will address each argument in turn.

A. Rooker-Feldman

First, Defendants argue that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits this federal district court from granting the Smith's request for declaratory and injunctive relief (i.e., declaring the refinancing Loan illegal and void, and enjoining the foreclosure sale of their residence). The Smiths disagree.

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine stands for the proposition that federal district courts generally lack subject matter jurisdiction to review state court judgments. It derives from two Supreme Court decisions: Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 ...


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