United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
ROGER A. POWELL, Plaintiff
PNC BANK, et al., Defendants
E.K. PRATTER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Powell's story is unfortunately familiar. In 2008, with
the American economy experiencing a significant economic
downturn, Mr. Powell found himself unemployed and unable to
keep up with his mortgage payments. Despite his attempts to
participate in federal programs aimed at helping homeowners
avoid foreclosure, Mr. Powell's efforts fell short.
Ultimately, his home was sold at a sheriffs sale. The
question here, however, is not whether Mr. Powell's
circumstances are regrettable. Instead, the Court must decide
whether Mr. Powell's claims against his mortgage
holder-PNC Bank-and mortgage servicer-Wells Fargo Bank-are
actionable and adequately pleaded. Because the Court
concludes that Mr. Powell does not have standing to bring his
claims, the Court must dismiss the complaint.
Powell purchased his home in Harleysville, Pennsylvania in
2006. To finance the purchase, Mr. Powell took out a mortgage
with PNC Bank, which in turn used Wells Fargo as an
"Agent/Servicer" of the mortgage.
2008, Mr. Powell's employer went out of business. Mr.
Powell-a mechanical engineer-was unable to find work in his
profession, and instead took a job in retail, along with a
30% pay cut. Around the same time, "serious medical
circumstances" affected Mr. Powell, eventually causing
him to lose his retail position. Mr. Powell continued to pay
his mortgage until he eventually exhausted his savings. He
also attempted-unsuccessfully-to sell his home, and he was
unable to refinance his mortgage.
point thereafter, Wells Fargo contacted Mr. Powell and
provided him with an application for the Federal Making Home
Affordable (MHA) program. To be eligible under the MHA
program, Wells Fargo required Mr. Powell to miss two
consecutive mortgage payments before applying. Mr. Powell
complied and then submitted his application, which was
accepted for evaluation. Mr. Powell next attempted to
continue making mortgage payments to Wells Fargo. But Mr.
Powell appears to have made only his monthly payment (as
opposed to paying off his full outstanding balance), and so
in January, 2015, Wells Fargo rejected the payment. Wells
Fargo stated that "[b]ecause this payment [wa]s less
than the total amount due reflected on [Mr. Powell's]
reinstatement quote," Wells Fargo was "unable to
apply these funds to [Mr. Powell's] account."
Amended Compl., Ex. E.
problems arose during Mr. Powell's MHA application
process, including broad issues as well as issues
specifically concerning Mr. Powell's application. First,
Mr. Powell identified several universal issues with Wells
Fargo's review of MHA applications. Mr. Powell observed
"a great number of computation errors, 'lost'
paperwork, apparent ineptitude, and delays[.]" Amended
Compl. at 3. Further, Mr. Powell learned that Wells Fargo was
using more stringent criteria to review MHA applicants when
compared to the metrics used by PNC Bank. Wells Fargo only
accepted applicants with a Debt-to-income ratio between 25%
and 42%. PNC Bank, however, accepts applicants with a
Debt-to-income ratio between 10% and 55%.
Mr. Powell's MHA application in particular encountered
various issues, culminating in its rejection. Initially,
Wells Fargo rejected Mr. Powell's MHA application after
determining that his Debt-to-income ratio was below 25%. Mr.
Powell notified Wells Fargo that its calculation was
incorrect, however, and the bank eventually proceeded with
Mr. Powell's application.
Powell's MHA application was again denied-this time
conclusively-in a November 30, 2016 letter. Wells Fargo sent
a letter dated December 13, 2016 denying an appeal, and Mr.
Powell's loan was removed from review on December 22,
2016. See Amended Compl., Ex. J (describing appeal
denial). Nonetheless, on December 18, 2016, Mr. Powell sent
Wells Fargo a letter raising various grounds on which he
sought to appeal the November 30, 2016 denial. See
Amended Compl., Ex. H. On February 16, 2017, Wells Fargo
wrote to Mr. Powell, responding to each individual argument
supporting the appeal. See Amended Compl., Ex. J.
Among other things, Wells Fargo reiterated that it had denied
Mr. Powell's application for two reasons: (1) because
Wells Fargo would not be able to reduce his "monthly
principal and interest payment" by at least 10%, and (2)
because Mr. Powell's account had a negative "Net
Present Value." Id. On March 3, 2017, Mr.
Powell responded to Wells Fargo's February 16, 2017
letter, reiterating and expanding on his previous criticisms
of the review of his MHA application. See Amended
Compl., Ex. F. On May 5, 2017, Wells Fargo answered Mr.
Powell, sequentially addressing each of Mr. Powell's
Mr. Powell's home was sold at sheriffs sale in Montgomery
pro se pleading must be "liberally construed."
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); see
also Bieros v. Nicola, 839 F.Supp. 332, 334 (E.D. Pa.
1993) ("[A] court must construe pro se
complaints liberally[.]"). Pro se litigants are
"held to 'less stringent standards' than trained
counsel." Benckini v. Hawk, 654 F.Supp.2d 310,
316 n.l (E.D. Pa. 2009) (quoting Haines v, Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972)). The Court stands prepared to
"apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether
a. pro se litigant has mentioned it by name."
Holley v. Dep't of Veteran Affairs, 165 F.3d
244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999) (citations omitted).
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of a
complaint. Although Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure requires only "a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief," Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), "to give the
defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds
upon which it rests," the plaintiff must provide
"more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
555 (2007) (citations, quotations, and alteration omitted).
survive a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must plead
"factual content that allows the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). Specifically,
"[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right
to relief above the speculative level[.]"
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). The
question is not whether the claimant "will ultimately
prevail on his . . . claim, but whether his complaint [is]
sufficient to cross the federal court's threshold."
Skinner v.Switzer,562 U.S. 521, 530
(2011) (citations and quotation omitted). Thus, assessment of
the sufficiency of a complaint is "a context-dependent
exercise" because "[s]ome claims require more