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McAnany v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

March 1, 2017

JAMES McANANY
v.
NATIONSTAR MORTAGE, LLC; DOES 1 through 10, INCLUSIVE

          MEMORANDUM

          KEARNEY, J.

         Borrowers facing foreclosure proceedings in state court need to fully protect themselves and advocate all available defenses in the state court process. Long after the foreclosure judgment, the borrower cannot file in federal court raising the same arguments which he raised, or which he could have been raised, before the state court. We are not an appellate court for state court foreclosure proceedings. In the accompanying Order, we must dismiss a borrower's complaint raising notice and fraud claims (based on the lender allegedly not telling the state court of certain facts) available to the borrower when litigating the state court foreclosure. The borrower's claims are barred by res judicata. His claims for damages arising from the state court foreclosure are barred by the Rooker Feldman doctrine.

         I. Mr. McAnany's allegations.

         Bank of America, N.A. serviced a mortgage loan extended to James McAnany secured by his home.[1] Sometime during October 2012, Bank of America modified Mr. McAnany's payment terms on a trial basis.[2] The Bank lowered Mr. McAnany's scheduled payments for November 2012, December 2012, and January 2013.[3] If he timely paid these lower amounts, the Bank agreed to permanently modify the mortgage loan terms.[4] Mr. McAnany alleges he made his first payment before November 1, 2012, but the Bank told him it could not locate the payment.[5] As a result, Mr. McAnany defaulted on the trial modification and needed to apply for a new modification.[6]

         Bank of America transferred the servicing of Mr. McAnany's mortgage loan to Nationstar Mortgage, LLC on July 1, 2013.[7] Nationstar asked for documents and Mr. McAnany alleges he provided documents from September 19, 2014 to October 28, 2014, but Nationstar denied timely receiving these documents.[8] Mr. McAnany alleges Nationstar's denial of receiving his documents is a misrepresentation.[9]

         According to Mr. McAnany, Nationstar engaged in “dual tracking by scheduling and conducting a foreclosure sale” of his former residence while he “was seeking a loan modification.”[10] The foreclosure sale occurred on March 19, 2015. Mr. McAnany now complains Nationstar did not post notice of the foreclosure sale or serve him with a summons before the sale.[11]

         Mr. McAnany sued Nationstar on September 28, 2016. Mr. McAnany brings three claims of wrongful foreclosure.[12] The first claim of wrongful foreclosure comes under Pennsylvania's Loan Interest and Protection Law[13] and alleges a lack of notice.[14] His second claim, also alleging notice defects, is brought under Pennsylvania's Finance Housing Agency Law.[15] His final claim, under Pennsylvania's Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, [16] alleges Nationstar made a misrepresentation to Mr. McAnany concerning the foreclosure.[17] Mr. McAnany alleges injuries stemming directly from the Pennsylvania state court's judgment in the foreclosure action, i.e., damage to his reputation and credit rating as well as the loss of his home.[18]

         II. Analysis

         Nationstar moves to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. In the alternative, Nationstar moves to dismiss because Mr. McAnany's claims are barred by res judicata.

         A. Res judicata bars Mr. McAnany's claims.

         Mr. McAnany's claims are barred by res judicata. Res judicata provides “a federal court must give a state court judgment the same preclusive effect that the state court would give it.”[19]“Any final, valid judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction precludes any future suit between the parties or their privies on the same cause of action.”[20] Res judicata “applies not only to claims actually litigated, but also to claims which could have been litigated during the first proceeding if they were part of the same cause of action.”[21] A plaintiff's claims may be precluded based on the doctrine of res judicata if the following elements are present: “(1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving (2) the same parties or their privies and (3) a subsequent suit based on the same cause of action.”[22]

         A claim challenging a party's conduct that occurred before the state court entering judgment in a foreclosure proceeding may not be barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine but instead is subject to the principles of preclusion under res judicata.[23] For example, in Sherk v. Countrywide Home Loans, the court found to the extent the plaintiffs argued they were injured by the defendants' conduct before the entry of judgment, res judicata barred the claims because the plaintiffs could have litigated the claims in the state court foreclosure proceeding.[24]

         Mr. McAnany seeks relief for claims he could have brought against Nationstar in the now-concluded foreclosure proceedings, including failure to provide certain notices and misrepresenting its non-receipt of documents related to the foreclosure action. Mr. McAnany could and should have brought these claims in the foreclosure action, which he could have appealed to the proper Pennsylvania appellate court. We dismiss Mr. McAnany's claims as barred under the doctrine of res judicata.

         B. Rooker-Feldman bars claims for damages caused by the state court foreclosure.

         Mr. McAnany's claims also are barred by Rooker-Feldman to the extent he seeks compensation for damage caused by the foreclosure. “Under the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, a district court is precluded from entertaining an action, that is, the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, if the relief requested effectively would reverse a state court decision or void its ruling.”[25] The Supreme Court defined the contours of Rooker-Feldman, explaining that the doctrine deprives the lower federal courts of jurisdiction only in “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.”[26]Rooker-Feldman is not implicated “simply because a party attempts to litigate in federal court a matter previously litigated in state court.”[27] If the matter was previously litigated, as long as the “federal plaintiff ‘present[s] some independent claim, albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was a party . . ., then there is jurisdiction and state law determines whether the defendant prevails under principles of preclusion.'”[28]

         Clarifying the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, our Court of Appeals instructs we lack jurisdiction only if (1) the federal plaintiff lost in state court; (2) the plaintiff complains of injuries caused by the state court judgment; (3) the judgment was rendered before the federal suit was filed; and (4) the plaintiff has invited the district court to review and reject the state judgment.[29] When a “federal plaintiff brings a claim, whether or not raised in state court, that asserts injury caused by a state-court judgment and seeks review and reversal of that judgment, the federal claim is ‘inextricably intertwined' with the state judgment.”[30] In deciding whether a claim is inextricably intertwined, the federal court must determine exactly what the state court held.[31] The court must then articulate the federal relief sought by the plaintiff.[32] If this relief “requires determining that the state court decision is wrong or would void the state court's ruling, ” then the issues are inextricably intertwined and the federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.[33]

         On multiple occasions, our Court of Appeals has held the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal courts from providing relief invalidating a state court foreclosure decision.[34] For example, in Easley v. New Century Mortgage Corporation, the plaintiff sought compensation for “damage to her credit rating caused by the foreclosure.”[35] Our Court of Appeals held the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred the plaintiff's claims because the ...


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