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Rimas Properties v. Amalgamated Bank

August 3, 2010

RIMAS PROPERTIES, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
AMALGAMATED BANK, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS TRUSTEE OF LONGVIEW ULTRA CONSTRUCTION LOAN INVESTMENT FUND, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schiller, J.

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs Rimas Properties LLC, Rimas Properties, LP, and Samir Benakmoume (collectively "Rimas") initiated a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that Defendant Amalgamated Bank ("Amalgamated") violated Pennsylvania's Deficiency Judgment Act and requesting that Rimas be released from any further debt obligation to Amalgamated. Currently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Amalgamated's motion and will deny Rimas's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

Rimas Properties, LP is a Pennsylvania limited partnership and Rimas Properties, LLC, a Pennsylvania limited liability company, is its general partner. (Compl. ¶¶ 8--9; Answer ¶¶ 8--9.) Amalgamated is a commercial bank organized under the laws of New York, with its principal corporate offices in New York. (Compl. ¶ 11; Answer ¶ 11.) On or about September 2, 2005, Rimas borrowed thirty-three million dollars from Amalgamated, secured by a mortgage on a residential condominium complex known as "The Lofts," located at 1352 South Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Compl. ¶ 16; Answer ¶ 16.) Samir Benakmoume, a Pennsylvania citizen, was a guarantor of Rimas's obligations under the loan. (Compl. ¶ 10; Answer ¶ 10.)

In June of 2009, after Rimas defaulted on the loan by the extended maturity date, Amalgamated filed a confession of judgment in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas against Rimas and received a judgment for $28,496,782.72. (Compl. ¶¶ 19--20; Answer ¶¶ 19--20.) In August of 2009, Amalgamated filed a "Praecipe for Writs of Execution Upon Confessed Judgment" in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and submitted for issuance twenty-three writs of execution to sell bundles of the condominiums at sheriff's sale. (Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. 4 [Defs. Resp. to Pls.' Interrogs.] ¶ 6.) Rimas claims that the units referenced in each writ are separate pieces of alienable real property that the bank arbitrarily bundled together for the sale or that each bundle represents a separate piece of real property owned by Amalgamated. (Compl. ¶¶ 22--23.) Amalgamated, on the other hand, contends that the Sheriff's instructions limited each writ to only five or six units, which is the standard method the Sheriff uses when selling properties in order to produce higher bids. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 22.)

The Sheriff's sale took place on December 1, 2009, and the minimum bid on the first bundle was set at $9,400. Because there were no bids from other parties on this bundle, Amalgamated purchased it for the minimum amount. (Compl. ¶¶ 28--29; Answer ¶¶ 28, 34.) The Sheriff's office continued to auction off the bundles. Without seeking a deficiency judgment, Amalgamated proceeded to buy all of the remaining bundles at that one day auction proceeding, save one condominium, which was purchased by an independent buyer for $625,000. (Compl. ¶¶ 31--35; Answer ¶ 34.)

Rimas filed this lawsuit on December 4, 2009, seeking a declaratory judgment that Amalgamated had violated the Pennsylvania Deficiency Judgment Act ("DJA"), 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 8103(a), and that Rimas's debt obligation has been satisfied. On May 28, 2010, Amalgamated filed a petition for deficiency judgment in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and Amalgamated amended that petition on June 3, 2010. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 4.) In the petition, Amalgamated asked the court to fix the value of the property it purchased during the Sheriff's sale at $16 million. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. K [Deficiency J. Pet.].)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate when the admissible evidence fails to demonstrate a dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247--48 (1986). When the moving party does not bear the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party may meet its burden on summary judgment by showing that the nonmoving party's evidence is insufficient to carry its burden of persuasion at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323--24 (1986). Thereafter, the nonmoving party demonstrates a genuine issue of material fact if sufficient evidence is provided to allow a reasonable jury to find for it at trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. In reviewing the record, "a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor." Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994). Furthermore, a court may not make credibility determinations or weigh the evidence in making its determination. See Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); see also Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F.3d 655, 665 (3d Cir. 2002).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

The DJA states in relevant part:

[T]he debtor, obligor, guarantor or any other person liable directly or indirectly to the judgment creditor for the payment of the debt, or any person interested in any real estate which would, except for the provisions of this section, be bound by the judgment, may file a petition, as a supplementary proceeding in the matter in which the judgment was entered, in the court having jurisdiction, setting forth the fact of the sale, and that no petition has been filed within the time limited by section 5522 to fix the fair market value of the property sold, whereupon the court, after notice as prescribed by general rule, and being satisfied of such facts, shall direct the clerk to mark the judgment satisfied, released and discharged. 42 PA. CONS. STAT. § 8103(d). Amalgamated argues that the Act's provision that a debtor seeking to complain that a judgment-creditor has not sought a judicial valuation of the property sold "may file a petition as a supplementary proceeding in the matter in which the judgment was entered, in the court having jurisdiction" establishes that the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (in which the initial judgment by confession was filed in June 2009)has exclusive jurisdiction over this action. The Court disagrees.

This Court has jurisdiction over Rimas's claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. It is undisputed that there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties and that the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. The Pennsylvania state legislature lacks the authority to strip this Court of jurisdiction bestowed upon the federal courts by Congress. See Penn Gen. Cas. Co. v. Pennsylvania ex rel. Schnader, 294 U.S. 189, 197 (1935) ("The jurisdiction conferred on the District Courts by the Constitution and laws of the United States cannot be affected by state legislation."); Burtsell v. Toumpas, Civ. A. No. 08-455, 2009 WL 1322594, at *4 (D.N.H. May 12, 2009) ("The premise of this argument, i.e., that state law impacts the subject-matter jurisdiction of the federal courts, is fundamentally wrong." (citing Pusey & Jones Co. v. Hanssen, 261 U.S. 491, 498 (1923)). Federal courts have frequently entertained DJA claims. E.g. Munoz v. Sovereign Bank, Civ. A. No. 06-2876, 2006 WL 2707399 (E.D. Pa. Sept. 18, 2006) (jurisdiction based on diversity); Resolution Trust Corp. v. Cosgrove, Civ. A. No. 92-2809, 2001 WL 64777 (E.D. Pa. 2001); United States v. Branch Coal Corp., 285 F. Supp. 514, 517 (E.D. Pa. 1968) (finding that federal court had jurisdiction to hear DJA claim stemming from 28 U.S.C. ยง 1345 because United States was plaintiff). Amalgamated seeks to distinguish these cases, saying that the issue of jurisdiction was not raised in those cases or that jurisdiction was "based on an express grant of jurisdiction," such as the Bankruptcy Code. (Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. at 8.) This Court's jurisdiction over diversity cases is also an express grant of jurisdiction from a ...


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