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Stefanowicz v. Suntrust Mortgage

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 22, 2017

SUNTRUST MORTGAGE et al., Defendants.



          A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge.

         Presently before the Court is the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Saporito (Doc. 32) to a Motion to Dismiss (Case No. 368, Doc. 13; Case No. 374, Doc. 9) filed by Defendant SunTrust Mortgage, Inc. (“SunTrust”) and a Motion to Dismiss (Case No. 368, Doc. 22; Case No. 374, Doc. 15) filed by Defendant Specialized Loan Serving, LLC (“SLS”). Plaintiff Jackie Stefanowicz, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, brings this consolidated action pursuant to, inter alia, the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act (“HOEPA”), the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (“ECOA”). (See Case No. 368, Doc. 1; Case No. 374, Doc. 1.) Magistrate Judge Saporito recommended that the Court grant Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, dismiss Plaintiff's federal-law claims as either frivolous and malicious pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) or for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3). For the reasons that follow, the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation will be adopted in its entirety.

         I. Background

         On February 9, 2007, Plaintiff Jackie Stefanowicz took out a mortgage from Defendant SunTrust on a home located at 311 New Street, Duryea, Pennsylvania. The mortgage instrument was duly recorded in the Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds Office on April 9, 2007.

         On June 25, 2010, Stefanowicz filed a complaint in Stefanowitz v. SunTrust Mortgage, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:10-cv-01321 (M.D. Pa.), [1] in which she made substantially similar factual allegations regarding the origination and servicing of her mortgage loan. On April 27, 2011, a magistrate judge issued a Report that recommended the Court dismiss the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”) claim as time-barred under the applicable statute of limitations, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”) claim for failure to state a claim, and the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (“HMDA”) claim and state-law claims for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. On July 20, 2011, the Court adopted the Report and dismissed the action.

         On January 5, 2015, SunTrust assigned the mortgage to Defendant SLS. The assignment instrument was duly recorded in the Luzerne County Recorder of Deeds Office on January 26, 2015.

         On March 1, 2016, Stefanowicz filed two separate Complaints, which were docketed by the Clerk as Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-00368 (“Case No. 368") and Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-00374 (“Case No. 374"), respectively. Both Complaints named SunTrust and SLS as Defendants, and both concerned the origination and servicing of the mortgage on the home at 311 New Street, Duryea, Pennsylvania. The Magistrate Judge exercised his discretion to consolidate the two actions pursuant to Rule 42(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[2]

         In the Case No. 368 Complaint, Stefanowicz asserted claims against the Defendants under TILA, HOEPA, and RESPA, as well as state-law claims of predatory lending practices, an unconscionable mortgage agreement, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence, and unjust enrichment. Specifically, Stefanowicz alleged that Defendants failed to cooperate in her efforts to secure a loan modification or to extend a forbearance agreement, failed to properly credit her escrow account for expenses that she paid directly, and reported inaccurate credit information about her to national credit bureaus.

         In the Case No. 374 Complaint, Stefanowicz alleged that Defendants' same conduct constituted discrimination in violation of the FHA and ECOA. In particular, Stefanowicz alleged that Defendants discriminated against her due to her financial status (poverty), her familial status (a family with a child under the age of 18), her gender (female), her national origin (natural-born United States citizen), her race (Caucasian), her age (unspecified), and the fact that she is neither a military veteran nor disabled. Additionally, Stefanowicz alleged that, on multiple occasions, she was forced to speak with someone at SunTrust who “could barely speak English.”

         Stefanowicz alleged that, in August 2014, following a period of unemployment, she entered into a three-month forbearance agreement with SunTrust with the understanding that, if she continued to have financial difficulties, the forbearance period could be extended or her loan payment terms could be modified. She further alleged that when she later sought to obtain such additional relief from her mortgage payment obligations, SunTrust failed to return her telephone calls or, when she was able to speak with customer service representatives on the phone, provide her with the forbearance or loan modification application forms she requested. After the mortgage loan was assigned to SLS, Stefanowicz entered into a three-month agreement with SLS under which she made three payments of approximately $500 per month toward her mortgage loan arrears in September, October, and November 2015. When she attempted to contact SLS to extend this arrangement and obtain a new monthly payment amount, SLS failed to return her calls. Stefanowicz claims that, on multiple occasions, she returned home to find notices affixed to her front door advising her that someone had been on the property and directing her to contact SLS. Each time this occurred, she called SLS and left a voicemail message, apparently without any response from SLS.

         In February 2016, when Stefanowicz investigated a possible refinance loan with another mortgage lender, she learned that her credit report indicated that her mortgage was approximately $1000 past due, an allegedly inaccurate figure. In addition, on multiple, unspecified occasions, Defendants allegedly advised Stefanowicz's homeowner's insurance carrier that her home was unoccupied, which was untrue, potentially jeopardizing her ability to maintain insurance coverage as required by the mortgage agreement.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Reviewing a Report & Recommendation

         When objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report are filed, the court must conduct a de novo review of the contested portions of the Report. Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)). However, this only applies to the extent that a party's objections are both timely and specific; if objections are merely “general in nature, ” the court “need not conduct a de novo determination.” Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). Indeed, the Third Circuit has instructed that “providing a complete de novo determination where only a general objection to the report is offered would undermine the efficiency the magistrate system was meant to contribute to the judicial process.” Id. at 7. In conducting a de novo review, the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Owens v. Beard, 829 F.Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993).

         Although the review is de novo, the law permits the court to rely on the recommendations of the magistrate judge to the extent it deems proper. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7; Ball v. United States Parole Comm'n, 849 F.Supp. 328, 330 (M.D. Pa.1994). Uncontested portions of the Report may be reviewed at a standard determined by the district court. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7. At the very least, the court should review uncontested portions for clear error or manifest injustice. See, e.g., Cruz v. Chater, 990 F.Supp. 375, 376-77 (M.D. Pa. 1998). Therefore, the Court reviews the portions of the Report & ...

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