Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Reeder v. Specialized Loan Servicing (Cal. Ct. App. - July 29, 2020)

As I read the facts of this opinion, I kept thinking to myself:  "This guy sounds like a lawyer."  At the same time, however, I was thinking that few lawyers would be so reckless.  Plus, it's not a pro per case.

Still, I couldn't help but feel a vibe that this is the kind of neat-dealing that one might see from an attorney trying to negotiate a good deal.  See if you get the same feeling that I did upon reading the facts:

"Plaintiff owned a property on Tiara Street in Encino, originally as his principal residence and then, starting in 2008, as an investment property. On March 16, 2005, plaintiff obtained a home equity line of credit from defendant E-Loan, Inc. The line of credit (or loan), evidenced by a written credit agreement, had a maximum indebtedness of $245,000, a variable interest rate, and a balloon payment due on its April 1, 2015 maturity date. The loan was secured by a second deed of trust on the Encino property. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (not a party) held third and fourth lien positions, with deeds of trust recorded later in April 2005.

Plaintiff alleges that before he accepted the line of credit, loan officer Veronica Harmon promised him in a verbal discussion that the 2005 line of credit “would provide a 10-year draw or advance period, subject to a balloon payment at maturity, but [plaintiff] could refinance or re-amortize the loan into a 20-year amortized, principal and interest repayment period.” Plaintiff refers to this as the “verbal loan commitment,” and alleges he would not have entered into the transaction had he known E-Loan would not honor the verbal loan commitment.

In early 2015, defendant Specialized Loan Servicing LLC (SLS) began servicing plaintiff’s loan. Plaintiff did not receive any demand for the balloon payment due on April 1, 2015, and continued to make monthly payments. Later in 2015, SLS returned plaintiff’s payments for August, September, and October 2015.

Plaintiff began active inquiries with SLS in September 2015, and learned SLS had reported to credit bureaus that he was 60 days late in paying off the loan. Plaintiff submitted a formal request for loss mitigation assistance from SLS, seeking “to proceed on the correct loan terms as he understood them,” and submitted documentation to SLS multiple times in the ensuing months. . . .

In January 2016, SLS erroneously closed its review of plaintiff’s loss mitigation request, claiming lack of required documentation. Plaintiff submitted more documents and continued to seek assistance from SLS. In August 2016, SLS offered plaintiff a trial loan modification. Plaintiff rejected this offer “because it was not in accordance with the terms he was  verbally promised” in 2005. Plaintiff then sent SLS an email reiterating his request for a 20-year amortization on the loan and removal of any negative credit reporting. He submitted additional documents in October 2016, and resubmitted them in January 2017 after being told they could not be located.

In June 2017, plaintiff told SLS he intended to sell the property, because SLS was unwilling to provide loan terms as in the verbal loan commitment, and requested removal of the notice of default. In July, he asked SLS to take a “discounted payoff.” In August and September, he submitted and resubmitted documents and further requests for mortgage assistance. . . .

Plaintiff submitted a short sale package to SLS on October 5, 2017, and SLS requested additional information from plaintiff over the next several weeks. SLS continued the trustee’s sale date, and plaintiff believed this was because of the ongoing discussions. On November 1, 2017, plaintiff received an October 18, 2017 letter denying plaintiff’s short sale request because there was sufficient equity in the property to fully pay off the loan.

The trustee’s sale occurred on November 3, 2017, with no advance notice to plaintiff. The property was sold to a third party for $300,000. Plaintiff filed this lawsuit in March 2018."

There's admittedly nothing in there about being a lawyer.  But there was something about the plaintiff just continuing to make offers, and continuing to be sure that he could work the system -- even while they're setting up selling the property, and despite the fact that there's equity therein -- that seemed to me to be a classic "lawyer" flaw.

So I looked up the name of the plaintiff:  Christopher Reeder.  Sure enough:  there's an attorney in Los Angeles with that same name.  Same middle initial ("S.") as well.  Which made me think:  Yeah, that's him.

But to be sure, I then looked up the briefs in the case.  No mention of the plaintiff being an attorney in the opening or reply briefs.  But there it is in the appellee's brief.  Right on the first line (which is what you'd expect, no?):  "Plaintiff/Appellant Christopher S. Reeder, a seasoned attorney . . . ."

One attribute you've got to have as an attorney is knowing when things just aren't going your way, so it's time to pull the plug.  That just didn't happen here.  Either in the lawsuit or in the transactions that underlie it.

P.S. - Though Mr. Reeder does seem to pull the plug (or have the plug pulled) vis-a-vis his employment history.  From his LinkedIn profile, it seems like he worked for Kern & Wooley as an associate for two years, then as an associate for Kaye Scholer for six years, then was a partner at Lord Bissel for a year and a half, then at Sheppard Mullin for a year and a half, then a partner at Reeder & Wu (presumably he's the "Reeder") for two and a half years, then a partner at Robins Kaplan for seven years, and now he's the principal at "CSReeder" (his name) for the last two years.  That's a lot of firms.  The mantra of the current firm is -- ironically, given today's opinion -- "Chris Reeder and his team win trials, litigation, and make deals."  Though, clearly, some deals, like some litigations, don't work out.