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U.S. Bank, N.A. v. Pautenis

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 29, 2015

U.S. BANK, N.A., AS TRUSTEE SUCCESSOR IN INTEREST TO BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., AS TRUSTEE AND SUCCESSOR BY MERGER TO LaSALLE BANK, N.A., AS TRUSTEE FOR WAMU MORTGAGE PASSTHROUGH CERTIFICATES SERIES 2007-OA2 TRUST, Appellants
v.
CHRISTINE PAUTENIS, Appellee

Argued March 18, 2015

Page 387

Appeal from the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas, Delaware County, Civil Division, No. CV-12-006771. Before BURR, J.

Adam M. Shienvold, Harrisburg, for appellants.

Michael P. Forbes, Wayne, for appellee.

BEFORE: BOWES, DONOHUE and STABILE, JJ.

OPINION

Page 388

DONOHUE, J.

U.S. Bank, N.A. (" U.S. Bank" ) appeals from the July 14, 2014 judgment entered by the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas finding in favor of Christine Pautenis[1](" Home Owner" ) in this mortgage foreclosure action[2] and dismissing its complaint with prejudice. On appeal, U.S. Bank challenges the denial of its post-trial motions as untimely; the verdict in favor of Home Owner based on allegedly erroneous evidentiary rulings by the trial court; and the trial court's dismissal of U.S. Bank's complaint with prejudice.[3] Upon review, we reverse the trial court's denial of U.S. Bank's post-trial motion as untimely; in all other respects, we affirm.

As summarized by the trial court:

The undisputed facts surrounding the origination of this law suit [sic] are that

Page 389

[Home Owner], borrowed the sum of $187,000.00 from Washington Mutual Bank, FA (" WaMu" ) to finance the purchase of the subject property situated at 257 Windermere Avenue, Lansdowne, PA[,] pursuant to a deed recorded on May 22, 2007 in Book 4106, Page 940 in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds of Delaware County, PA. On January 25, 2007, [Home Owner] executed and delivered a promissory note and, to secure the obligation under the note, a purchase money mortgage to WaMu, the latter instrument having been subsequently recorded on May 22, 2007 in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds of Delaware County, PA[,] in Book 4106, Page 945. The terms of remuneration of the [n]ote required [Home Owner] to make initial monthly payments of $788.40 commencing on March 1, 2007, and continuing each month thereafter until the maturity date of February 1, 2037. [Home Owner] admittedly stopped making her required mortgage payments on or about September 1, 2011, and following her subsequent failure to cure the default, [U.S. Bank] commenced this action in mortgage foreclosure on August 8, 2012.[FN]1
[FN]1[Home Owner]'s [n]ote and [m]ortgage in favor of WaMu were assigned, on May 25, 2008, by the Federal Deposit Insurance [Corporation] [" FDIC" ] to JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. [" Chase" ], from whence it was reportedly assigned to [U.S. Bank].

Trial Court Opinion, 9/29/14, at 3 (footnote in the original).

Home Owner filed preliminary objections to U.S. Bank's complaint on November 7, 2012. Following receipt of U.S. Bank's response thereto, the trial court denied the preliminary objections on February 21, 2013 and ordered Home Owner to file an answer to the complaint within twenty days of the order. Home Owner filed an answer and new matter on March 21, 2013. U.S. Bank filed a reply to the new matter on April 8, 2013. On October 22, 2013, U.S. Bank filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied on December 6, 2013.

The one-day bench trial took place on February 25, 2014. At trial, the trial court sustained Home Owner's objection to the admission of U.S. Bank's trial exhibits P-2 through P-8. These exhibits included the adjustable rate note; the mortgage; the assignment of the mortgage from Chase to U.S. Bank; the payment history report compiled by Select Portfolio Servicing (" SPS" ); [4] the default notice allegedly sent to Home Owner by Chase; a calculation of the current payoff of the loan through February 25, 2014; and the original version of the note. The trial court found that the documents " totally lack trustworthiness," and excluded the exhibits from evidence. N.T., 2/25/14, at 212.

The trial court issued its verdict on March 3, 2014, finding in favor of Home Owner. The prothonotary sent notice of the verdict to the parties on March 5, 2014. U.S. Bank filed a motion for post-trial relief on March 17, 2014, which the trial court dismissed as untimely on June 18, 2014. Judgment was entered on July 14, 2014. Thereafter, U.S. Bank filed its notice of appeal, followed by a court-ordered concise statement of errors complained of on appeal. U.S. Bank now raises the following issues for our review, which we reordered for ease of disposition:

1. Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt erred as a matter of law by striking and dismissing

Page 390

the [m]otion for [p]ost-[t]rial [r]elief as untimely and/or refusing to accept the [m]otion where it was filed on the tenth day following notice by the [p]rothonotary of the entry of the [v]erdict following a non-jury trial?
2. Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt committed prejudicial error and abused its discretion in refusing to take judicial notice of [Chase]'s ownership of the [n]ote and [m]ortgage and of [Chase]'s authority to assign the [m]ortgage and [n]ote to U.S. Bank?
3. Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt's refusal to admit into evidence the copies or original of the [n]ote is prejudicial error and [an] abuse of discretion despite [Home Owner]'s admission that she signed at least one of the copies?
4. Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt's refusal to admit into evidence the [d]efault [n]otice sent to [Home Owner] is prejudicial error and [an] abuse of discretion[?]
5. Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt committed prejudicial error and abused its discretion by excluding evidence of [Home Owner]'s indebtedness and failing to deem admitted [Home Owner]'s indebtedness as pleaded and proven by [U.S.] Bank?
6. Whether the [t]rial [c]ourt erred as a matter of law by dismissing the case " with prejudice[]" [?]

U.S. Bank's Brief at 7-8.

1. Timeliness of Post-Trial Motion

As its first issue on appeal, U.S. Bank asserts that the trial court erroneously found that its post-trial motion was untimely. Id. at 13-14. In its written opinion pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(a), the trial court stands by its decision to dismiss the post-trial motion as untimely, but states that " the issue of the late filing ... is [now] moot," as this Court declined to quash the appeal and the trial court constructed a written opinion addressing the issues raised on appeal.[5] Trial Court Opinion, 9/29/14, at 2. The trial court contends that the proper course of action is for this Court to remand the case for the trial court to decide the issues raised in the motion, as " there can be no direct appeal from a [v]erdict[.]" Id. The trial court nonetheless addressed all of the issues raised on appeal, which were also included in U.S. Bank's post-trial motion.

Our review of the record reveals that U.S. Bank timely filed its post-trial motion. Rule 227.1(c) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure requires the filing of post-trial motions within ten days of the filing of the decision in a nonjury trial. Pa.R.C.P. 227.1(c)(2). As the trial court recognizes, this ten-day period does not commence until the prothonotary sends notice of the decision to the parties. See Trial Court Opinion, 9/29/14, at 2; Carr v. Downing, 388 Pa.Super. 195, 565 A.2d 181, 181 (Pa. Super. 1989) (" the time period for purposes of Rule 227.1 did not commence until notice of the adjudication was sent to the parties" ); see also Brednick v. Marino, 434 Pa.Super. 513, 644 A.2d 199, 200 (Pa. Super. 1994) (same). The trial court asserts, however, that because U.S. Bank did not file its post-trial motion until twelve days after

Page 391

the prothonotary sent notice to the parties of the verdict, the motion was untimely and properly dismissed. Trial Court Opinion, 9/29/14, at 2. This is incorrect, as the tenth day following the provision of notice of the trial court's verdict -- March 15, 2014 -- fell on a Saturday. The law is clear: " Whenever the last day of any such period shall fall on Saturday or Sunday, or on any day made a legal holiday by the laws of this Commonwealth or of the United States, such day shall be omitted from the computation." Pa.R.C.P. 106(b). Therefore, U.S. Bank's post-trial motion, which was filed the following Monday, was timely.

We further disagree with the trial court that remand is necessary in this case. In its written opinion, the trial court states that it believes U.S. Bank's " post-trial contentions are utterly lacking in merit," and only recommends remand in " an abundance of judicial caution" to provide U.S. Bank with " a final and appealable order." Trial Court Opinion, 9/29/14, at 23 (citing Diamond Reo Truck Co. v. Mid-Pac. Indus., Inc., 2002 PA Super 272, 806 A.2d 423 (Pa. Super. 2002)). This Court has made clear, however, that it is the failure to timely file post-trial motions that results in waiver of issues raised on appeal, not the trial court's failure to consider the merits thereof. D.L. Forrey & Associates, Inc. v. Fuel City Truck Stop, Inc., 2013 PA Super 140, 71 A.3d 915, 919 (Pa. Super. 2013).

Here, U.S. Bank timely filed post-trial motions. Although the trial court initially failed to consider the contentions raised therein, the trial court ultimately did so in its opinion authored for purposes of appeal. This is the functional equivalent of a case involving the dismissal of post-trial motions by operation of law, and in such cases, the trial court does not address the contentions raised in the post-trial motion, if at all, until it authors its 1925(a) opinion. See Pa.R.C.P. 227.4(1)(b) (authorizing the entry of judgment, upon praecipe of a party, if the trial court does not enter an order disposing of timely filed post-trial motions within 120 days of the filing of the motion). Furthermore, this is not an appeal from a verdict as the trial court suggests, but an appeal following the entry of judgment. See Trial Court Opinion, 9/29/14, at 2; supra, n.2.

" [T]he twofold purpose of post-trial motions: (1) to afford the trial court in the first instance, the opportunity to correct asserted trial errors[] and (2) to clearly and narrowly frame issues for appellate review," Diamond Reo Truck Co., 806 A.2d at 430, have been met in this case. There is no purpose in remanding the case for the trial court to again address the issues raised in the motion. We therefore proceed to our review of the issues raised on appeal.

2. Judicial Notice

U.S. Bank's second issue on appeal alleges error based on the trial court's failure to take judicial notice of Chase's acquisition of Home Owner's mortgage pursuant to the FDIC's takeover of WaMu and subsequent transfer of " substantially all" of WaMu's assets and liabilities to Chase. U.S. Bank's Brief at 17-20. We review challenges to the trial court's evidentiary rulings according to the following standard:

When we review a trial court ruling on admission of evidence, we must acknowledge that decisions on admissibility are within the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be overturned absent an abuse of discretion or misapplication of law. In addition, for a ruling on evidence to constitute reversible error, it must have been harmful or prejudicial to the complaining party.

Page 392

An abuse of discretion is not merely an error of judgment, but if in reaching a conclusion the law is overridden or misapplied, or the judgment exercised is manifestly unreasonable, or the result of partiality, prejudice, bias or ill-will, ...

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