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Stefanowicz v. Sun Trust Mortgage

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2018

JACKIE STEFANOWICZ, Plaintiff
v.
SUN TRUST MORTGAGE, et al., Defendants

          Caputo, Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge

         I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

         In this case we most assuredly do not write upon a blank slate. Quite the contrary, the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint has been the subject of protracted litigation, a comprehensive Report and Recommendation by our colleague, Judge Saporito, (Doc. 32), and a thoughtful opinion by the district court. (Docs. 36 and 37.) These prior rulings define for us the law of this case, and prescribe for us the course to follow in addressing the instant motions to dismiss which have been lodged by the defendants seeking dismissal of Stefanowicz's amended complaint. (Docs. 39 and 41.)

         Because the parties are thoroughly familiar with the background of this litigation, which is fully detailed in the prior rulings of this court, we will only address those facts which in our view are necessary to an informed understanding of the present motions to dismiss. The background of this litigation has been fully detailed by the district court in its March 22, 2017 decision dismissing Stefanowicz's original complaint, in which the court explained that:

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.), 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.
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.

Stefanowicz v. SunTrust Mortg., No. 3:16-CV-00368, 2017 WL 1079163, at *1-2 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2017) (footnote omitted).

         After canvassing the thorough Report and Recommendation of Judge Saporito, the district court concluded that Stefanowicz's complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted with respect to any of the federal consumer protection statutes cited by Stefanowicz. The court, therefore, “adopt[ed] the Magistrate Judge's Recommendation and dismiss[ed] with prejudice Stefanowicz's TILA and HOEPA claims, as well as her RESPA, ECOA, and FHA claims that arise out of the origination of Stefanowicz's 2007 mortgage loan.” Stefanowicz v. SunTrust Mortg., No. 3:16-CV-00368, 2017 WL 1079163, at *6 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2017). The district court went on to conclude, however, that:

[B]ecause it is not certain that an amendment would be futile with respect to a claim brought under RESPA, ECOA, or FHA that arises out of Stefanowicz's attempts to obtain a loan modification or an extended forbearance agreement in 2014 or 2015, the Court will grant Stefanowicz leave to file an amended complaint with respect to these claims. Stefanowicz shall have twenty-one (21) days from the date of entry of this Memorandum and accompanying Order to file an amended complaint that properly pleads a RESPA, ECOA, and/or FHA claim that arises out of her attempts to obtain a loan modification or an extended forbearance agreement in 2014 or 2015; otherwise, these claims will be dismissed with prejudice.

Stefanowicz v. SunTrust Mortg., No. 3:16-CV-00368, 2017 WL 1079163, at *6 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2017) (emphasis added).

         On April 7, 2017, Stefanowicz responded to this clear guidance by filing a 3 page amended complaint, along with some 24 pages of attached exhibits. (Doc. 38.) Ironically, these exhibits seemed to reveal that Stefanowicz requested, and received, a loan modification from one of the defendants, Specialized Loan Servicing, but remained displeased with her mortgage servicer. Moreover, this amended complaint addressed none of the deficiencies identified by the district court in its March 22 opinion and order. Instead, fairly construed, the amended complaint seemed to present in a cursory fashion a new array of loan servicing complaints, concerns that arose in 2017 and were unrelated to the matters set forth in Stefanowicz's original complaint. As for the district court's instruction that Stefanowicz's amended complaint needed to “properly plead[] a RESPA [or]

         ECOA, . . . claim that arises out of her attempts to obtain a loan modification or an extended forbearance agreement in 2014 or 2015; otherwise, these claims will be dismissed with prejudice, ” Stefanowicz v. SunTrust Mortg., No. 3:16-CV-00368, 2017 WL 1079163, at *6 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 22, 2017), the amended complaint simply contained the following cursory and cryptic averments: “the treatment is disparate and the impact is disparate; ECOA. With respect to RESPA not sending or providing information. In addition, not providing information when asked. Not producing statements showing the extra fees.” (Doc. 38, p.3.) On the basis of these threadbare legal claims and new factual averments, Stefanowicz sought to amend her complaint.

         The defendants, Sun Trust and SLS, have now moved to dismiss this amended complaint, arguing that the amended complaint does not comply with the court's March 22, 2017 order, does not relate to the claims initially brought in this lawsuit, and fails to state a claim under either RESPA or ECOA. (Docs. 39 and 41.) Stefanowicz has responded to these motions to dismiss, albeit in a one-page filing which cites no legal authority to support her claims, but simply repeats in a cryptic fashion her general dissatisfaction with these loan servicers. Accordingly, these motions are now ripe for resolution.

         For the reasons set forth below, it is recommended that the motions to dismiss be granted.

         II. ...


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