September 13, 2013
STATE RESOURCES CORP., ASSIGNEE OF WACHOVIA BANK, N.A., Appellee
ROBERT H. ANGELONI AND CLAIRE T. ANGELONI, Appellants STATE RESOURCES CORP., ASSIGNEE OF WACHOVIA BANK, N.A., Appellee
ROBERT H. ANGELONI AND CLAIRE T. ANGELONI, Appellants
Appeal from the Judgment Entered October 5, 2012 In the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County Civil Division at No(s): 12-CV-213, 2012-212
BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., PANELLA, J., and PLATT, J. [*]
Appellants, Robert H. Angeloni and Clare T. Angeloni, appeal from the orders entered October 5, 2012, by the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, denying Appellants' Petition to Open Confession of Judgment against them. Appellants allege, among other things, that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the petitions. After reviewing the record, we vacate and remand for further proceedings.
On January 28, 2003, David Culp and Robert Angeloni, as principals of non-party borrower Advanced Medical Imaging, Inc. (hereinafter "Borrower"), executed a Promissory Note with Wachovia Bank, National Association. This note was later assigned to States Resources Corp. (hereinafter "Appellee"). At the time the note was executed, the lender also had Culp and Angeloni sign Unconditional Guaranty agreements.
Appellees filed two Complaints in Confession of Judgment against Appellants in Lackawanna County on January 10, 2012. Confession of Judgment was also filed against David Culp and his wife (hereinafter "the Culps") in Luzerne County. Appellants filed Petitions to Open on February 9, 2012, which the trial court denied.
Appellants raise two issues for our review. We begin with the first issue: whether the lower court abused its discretion in denying Appellants' petition to open when they alleged discrimination under the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (hereinafter "ECOA").
We review a trial court's order denying a petition to open a confessed judgment for an abuse of discretion. See PNC Bank, Nat. Ass'n. v. Bluestream Techonlogy, Inc., 14 A.3d 831, 835 (Pa. Super. 2010). These petitions appeal to the equitable and discretionary powers of the trial court and will not be disturbed absent manifest error. See Courtney v. Ryan Homes, Inc., 497 A.2d 938, 941 (Pa. Super. 1985). In order to succeed in a petition to open a judgment by confession, a petitioner must act promptly, produce evidence in support of a meritorious defense, and provide evidence sufficient for submission to a jury. See id., at 941.
In the present case, Appellants' petition was timely, pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. § 2959(a)(3), requiring petitions to strike or open a confessed judgment to be filed within thirty days of the date the creditor filed written notice of the judgment. See ESB Bank v. McDade, 2 A.3d 1236, 1240 (Pa. Super. 2010). Here, the judgment was filed on January 10, 2012, and Appellants filed their petition on February 9, 2012.
Appellants allege that the bank violated the ECOA by requiring Mrs. Angeloni to sign the guaranty form. The ECOA makes it unlawful for a creditor to discriminate against an applicant in any aspect of a credit transaction on the basis of marital status. See Southwestern Pennsylvania Regional Council, Inc. v. Gentile, 776 A.2d 276, 282 (Pa. Super. 2001) (citing Silverman v. Eastrich Multiple Investor Fund, L.P., 51 F.3d 28, 31 (1995)). Our courts have recognized that a violation of the ECOA may be asserted by a guarantor as a legitimate defense to a confession of judgment. See id. To determine whether requiring a spousal signature violates the ECOA a court must determine whether the spouse was a joint applicant applying contemporaneously for shared or joint credit. See id. "[A] creditor shall not require the signature of an applicant's spouse . . . other than a joint applicant, on any credit instrument if the applicant qualifies under the creditor's standards of creditworthiness." Id. at 281 (citing 12 C.F.R. 202.7(d)(1)).
In the present case, we find nothing in the record to suggest Mrs. Angeloni was a joint applicant. Appellants assert that at all times relevant to the transaction Mr. Angeloni was independently creditworthy as an applicant, and therefore there was no reason to require her to sign a guaranty form. Appellee does not claim that Mrs. Angeloni was a joint applicant, nor does Appellee claim Mr. Angeloni was not creditworthy under the creditors' standards. Appellants have presented the guaranty form signed by Mrs. Angeloni. See Appellants' Reproduced Record ("R.R.") at 28a. Appellants have also provided the promissory note, which names Borrower, along with the signatures of Mr. Culp, and Mr. Angeloni in their professional capacities as principals of Borrower. See R.R. at 20a. The note gives no indication that any other party was involved or would benefit from shared or joint credit from the note. See R.R. at 20a.
Appellee's only argument with respect to this issue is that the petition must fail because there is no evidence Appellee had knowledge of the violation and therefore cannot be considered a creditor for purposes of the ECOA. However, the only authority in Appellee's brief referencing a knowledge requirement is an unreported decision from the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania, not binding on this Court. See Martin v. Hale Products, Inc., 699 A.2d 1283, 1287 (Pa. Super. 1997) (decisions by federal courts other than the United States Supreme Court have persuasive authority and are not binding on state courts).
In order to find Appellants' defense was without merit, the trial court would have to make a factual finding either that Mrs. Angeloni was a joint applicant, or that Mr. Angeloni was not independently creditworthy at the time the note was executed. See Southwestern Pennsylvania Regional Council, supra. Without a supporting opinion from the trial court, it is difficult to determine what factual basis there is for such a determination when the record appears to suggest otherwise. Therefore, we find the trial court abused its discretion in denying Appellants' motion and reverse and remand for further proceedings.
In their second issue, Appellants argue that the Lackawanna County Court was obligated to follow the earlier decision of the Luzerne County Court and grant the Culps' petition to open confession of judgment. Given our disposition of the first issue, we need not address the second issue.
Orders vacated. Case remanded for proceedings consistent with this memorandum. Jurisdiction relinquished.