Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Merritt v. Countrywide Financial Corp. (9th Cir. - July 16, 2014)

I'm not too super sympathetic towards Judge Kleinfeld's contention that the pro se complaint was, at 68 pages, way too long.  Especially since, the same day, a different panel issues an opinion in a case involving a represented party in which the complaint is three hundred pages long.  With nary a word about the duty to be "short and plain".

Nor am I compelled by Judge Kleinfeld's horror that the plaintiffs caused the defendants and their attorneys to prepare two whole 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss.  The horror.

But the best part of Judge Kleinfeld's dissent comes when he's winding it up.  Where he says:

If plaintiffs had what looked like a strong claim that ought to be adjudicated on the merits, judicial creation of a complaint for them might not be so unfairly prejudicial. But they do not. What they appear to be saying in their 398-paragraph complaint is that they bought a $729,000 house, and borrowed $739,000 for it, because the seller lowballed them into thinking they were going to get the house for $719,000. They seem to be saying that Countrywide’s agent persuaded them to lie, which they did, in their loan application, such as by saying that Mrs. Merritt was employed when she was actually receiving disability payments (later terminated). And they seem to be saying that because they were minorities they were offered a more ample adjustable rate mortgage instead of a less ample fixed rate mortgage loan than they would otherwise be entitled to.

Were we limited to 12(b)(6) dismissal, we would have to assume for purposes of decision that the plausible factual statements (but not the legal conclusions and editorializing rhetoric) in the complaint were true. We are not so limited under Rule 8 analysis, which I suggest ought to be applied. Under Rule 12 analysis, some of the claims are plausible at least in part. Obviously, if Countrywide did not properly provide the loan papers to the Merritts, a claim if timely could be made. Tender of the full amount received is not in all circumstances a sine qua non for a pleading claiming rescission, though some sort of equitable judgment requiring tender must be made if rescission is granted, to assure that the plaintiff does not get to keep what it bought and also get all the money back.

It is hard to say whether plaintiffs even seek a rescission remedy that could be allowed. The prayer in their complaint seeks a return of all the money they have “invested in their property,” plus compensatory damages, plus $2,000,000 in punitive damages, plus a “prime loan at current market rates” (far lower than the housing bubble interest rates that prevailed when they bought their $729,000 house), or for them to be able to walk away with the reimbursements and damages. Their appellate brief is more modest, but was not before the district court.

Their pleading seems to say that they have been living in a $729,000 house for what is now almost six years without paying anything toward the price. If they got past their Rule 8 problems, and their Rule 12 problems, their equities appear to be weak. The Merritts have had five chances to state this claim. Prejudice and futility counsel against giving them a sixth try. We ought to let the dismissal with prejudice stand."

That part tugs at my heartstrings a lot more than the thought that Countrywide's lawyers had to prepare two brief, incredibly easy motions.