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US Bank National Association v. Finkel

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

May 23, 2017


         Appeal from the Judgment Entered December 15, 2015 In the Court of Common Pleas of Northampton County Civil Division at No(s): 2011-C-5023



          BOWES, J.

         Leslie M. Finkel a/k/a Leslie M. Altieri and Alexander Bryan Altieri appeal from the judgment entered December 15, 2015, in favor of U.S. National Association (the "Bank") as Trustee for Wells Fargo Alternative Loan Trust, Series 2005-1. Appellants challenge the trial court's June 26, 2013 order, as amended July 29, 2013, granting partial summary judgment in favor of the Bank and imposing an equitable lien on Appellants' property. After careful review, we vacate the judgment and remand for further proceedings in accordance herewith.

         The record indicates that, on March 12, 2004, Leslie Finkel individually secured a $300, 000 mortgage with Wells Fargo to purchase a residence located at 4120 Douglas Drive, Bethlehem, Northampton County, Pennsylvania (the "Property"). She purchased the Property with Alexander Bryan Altieri, who was then her boyfriend. Mr. Altieri neither applied for nor executed the mortgage. Rather, he contributed $300, 000 in cash to purchase the Property.

         Ms. Finkel and Mr. Altieri were present at closing. Both of their names appeared on the deed to the Property as grantees. Ms. Finkel executed the mortgage and note, which were in her name alone. She also signed various notices and documents associated with the mortgage. A HUD-1 statement bears the signatures of Ms. Finkel and Mr. Altieri on the lines designated for "Borrowers, "[1] although neither of them recalled signing the document at closing.

         In 2004, the mortgage was assigned to the Bank. Ms. Finkel and Mr. Altieri married on June 12, 2004, and continued to live at the Property. In February 2009, the mortgage was allegedly in default. On August 11, 2010, Ms. Finkel penned the first of three letters to the Bank seeking accommodation. She explained therein the reasons for the arrears on "our" mortgage, and how "they" intended to pay them.

         On June 2, 2011, the Bank commenced this action to reform the mortgage to add Mr. Altieri as a mortgage obligor on the Property. In the alternative, the Bank sought imposition of an equitable lien. The Bank pled that Mr. Altieri was not on the mortgage due to a "mutual mistake" which did not reflect the true intentions of the parties. Amended Complaint, 8/15/11, at ¶10. Appellants filed preliminary objections to the complaint and amended complaint, which were overruled. In their Answer and New Matter, Appellants denied that there was any mutual mistake, and averred that the mortgage, which was prepared by the Bank, was never intended to be in Mr. Altieri's name. Answer and New Matter and Counterclaims, 1/30/12, at ¶¶4, 5, 7. Appellants further alleged that the Bank "specifically and purposefully excluded [Alexander] Altieri from the loan." Id. at ¶10. They also filed counterclaims asserting violations of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act, and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

         At the close of the pleadings, the Bank moved for partial summary judgment on the equitable lien claim. At that point, minimal discovery was completed. The Bank had propounded requests for admissions, interrogatories, and requests for production of documents to which Appellants had responded. The trial court, by order of June 26, 2013, granted the Bank's request for partial summary judgment on the equitable lien claim, basing its decision on the HUD-1 form designating Mr. Altieri as a "Borrower, " Appellants' responses to requests for admission Nos. 6 and 8, Ms. Finkel's letters to the Bank, and Mr. Altieri's presence at the closing on the Property.

         On July 3, 2013, Appellants asked the trial court to amend its order to include a determination of finality pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 341(c), to permit an immediate appeal to this Court, which the trial court denied. The Bank sought clarification of whether the June 26, 2013 order imposing the equitable lien was interim or permanent relief. By order dated July 29, 2013, the court amended its earlier order to clarify that the equitable lien was indeed permanent and independent of the mortgage reformation claim.

         On August 30, 2013, Appellants filed an appeal to this Court from the order granting partial summary judgment. This Court quashed the appeal on March 20, 2014, as interlocutory. U.S. Bank National Association v. Finkel, 100 A.3d 313 (Pa.Super. 2014) (unpublished memorandum).[2]

         Discovery continued on Appellants' counterclaims. On June 10, 2015, the Bank filed a second motion for summary judgment on those claims. Appellants sought reconsideration of the June 2013 order, as amended July 2013, which imposed the equitable lien. By order dated December 15, 2015, the trial court granted the Bank's motion for summary judgment and denied reconsideration, thus finally disposing of all claims.

         Appellants timely appealed and present three questions for our review:

A. Whether the trial court failed to properly apply the standard applicable to summary judgment motions under Rule 1035.2(1)?
B. Whether it was an error of law to conclude that no showing of injustice or unjust enrichment was required to ...

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