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Stephens v. Zucker, Goldberg & Ackerman LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 24, 2014

CRYSTAL MARIE STEPHENS
v.
ZUCKER, GOLDBERG & ACKERMAN LLC, et al.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

TIMOTHY J. SAVAGE, District Judge.

In this action challenging a state-court judgment of mortgage foreclosure, the pro se plaintiff, Crystal Marie Stephens ("Stephens"), claims that the defendants, Zucker, Goldberg & Ackerman, LLC, Nationstar Mortgage LLC ("Nationstar"), Aurora Bank FSB ("Aurora"), Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas ("Deutsche Bank") and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. ("MERS") wrongfully foreclosed on her home without producing proof of ownership of the mortgage that had been invalidly transferred. She also alleges that Nationstar breached its contract with her when it failed to honor the terms of a modified payment agreement. She requests that "the court... assist [her] in validating the true and legal owner of [her] mortgage so that [she] may proceed with a modification... [and] avoid foreclosure."[1]

The defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint. They contend that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and res judicata bar Stephens' claims, and that she has failed to sufficiently allege facts to state a claim against them.

We conclude that Stephens' action is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Therefore, we shall grant the motions to dismiss.

Procedural History and Factual Background

On January 26, 2007, Stephens refinanced the mortgage on her home which she has owned since 1990.[2] The mortgagee, Citizens Trust Financial Group ("CTFG"), assigned the mortgage to Residential Funding Corporation ("RFC").[3] Documentary proof of the assignment was lost when CTFG subsequently went out of business.[4] On December 19, 2008, in reliance on an affidavit detailing assignment from CTFG to RFC submitted in lieu of documentation, the mortgage was assigned from RFC to MERS.[5] MERS then assigned the mortgage to Aurora Loan Services, LLC.[6]

On September 17, 2009, Aurora filed a mortgage foreclosure action against Stephens in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.[7] Nine months later, a default judgment was entered on June 11, 2010.[8]

According to Stephens, sometime before December 7, 2009, she entered into a "workout agreement" with Aurora.[9] She claims she was instructed to pay $398 per month from December 7, 2009 to June 2010 and $540.05 from July 2010 to January 2011. She contends that she made all payments until she was informed that Aurora went out of business.[10] At that point, she stopped making payments.[11]

After judgment was entered, several sheriff's sales of the property were scheduled.[12] Between April 26, 2011 and April 24, 2014, Stephens filed ten petitions to postpone the sheriff's sales in state court.[13]

That three-year period was punctuated by various efforts to forestall a foreclosure sale of the property. Stephens filed bankruptcy petitions twice and had discussions to work out a payment plan.

On December 5, 2011, Stephens filed a Chapter 13 petition in the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.[14] The bankruptcy action was dismissed on February 15, 2012 because Stephens failed to file required information, including schedules.[15]

In August of 2012, Stephens received a loan modification packet from Nationstar, which identified it as the new servicer of her mortgage and identified documents required to modify the terms of her mortgage.[16] After she submitted documentation, her request for a modification was denied.[17]

On March 4, 2013, Stephens filed a second Chapter 13 petition in the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.[18] That action was dismissed for failure to make plan payments on August 28, 2013.[19]

Stephens filed this action on April 29, 2014. In her complaint, she alleges that because the mortgage assignment to Aurora was invalid, Aurora did not have the right to foreclose on her property.[20] She also contends that Nationstar, the current servicer of her mortgage loan, reneged on a workout ...


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