Monday, March 07, 2022

Sheen v. Wells Fargo Bank (Cal. Supreme Ct. - March 7, 2022)

You can see where all this comes from, no?

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye writes the opinion for a unanimous court that says that banks don't have a common law duty to respond to loan modification requests for borrowers. Maybe it's a good idea, maybe it's not, but that issue's really for the Legislature. If lenders and borrowers want to create a contractual relationship, that's fine, and there are (arguable) advantages to leaving 'em to it. If the Legislature wants to create affirmative duties, great, courts will enforce those, but we won't create a noncontractual duty of our own. I get it.

Justice Liu writes a concurring opinion and says, yeah, I agree, but seriously, Legislature, take a hard look at this, because borrowers are often getting hosed and lenders have an incentive to hose 'em. That makes sense too -- though I doubt the Legislature needs much prodding on this front from the courts, honestly. But, still, if that's what you're feeling, sure, feel free to speak out.

Justice Jenkins authors a concurring opinion as well, and this is the only one I'm a bit iffy about. He writes to rationalize his joining today's opinion with an earlier opinion -- back in 2014 -- that he joined when he was on the Court of Appeal that held that lenders do indeed have such a duty; an opinion of which the current opinion expresses disapproval. I get why Justice Jenkins might want to do so, but honestly, I think it's unnecessary. It's not like Justice Jenkins wrote the earlier opinion; he simply joined the thing. Justices do that sometimes, even when they might not be so certain about the result (it's going to be a 2-1 anyway, after all). Plus, that was a while ago, and it's merely one of a plethora of cases that are on a justice's plate on the Court of Appeal. Maybe times have changed. Maybe you thought more deeply about the issue and changed your mind upon further reflection. Maybe (as here) you're a new justice on the California Supreme Court and don't feel like dissenting in one of your first cases on an issue as to which you're pretty much sympatico with the otherwise-unanimous majority opinion anyway. Okay, if you want, I guess you can tell a story about why the one case came out the way it did and today's comes out the other way. But, sometimes, you're just better off leaving the thing be. It's a pretty much unanimous decision either way. Sometimes there's no need to spill a lot of ink on a point that's idiosyncratic anyway.

But, hey, to each their own.