This New York foreclosure opinion from Tuesday, August 12, 2014, LaSalle Bank N.A. v. Dono, has some classic moments from Judge Spinner. This is a New York judicial foreclosure case so the Plaintiff is LaSalle Bank, as trustee for the mortgage-backed trust, blah, blah, blah (yeah, okay), and the Defendant is the homeowner, who tried to modify umpty-million times, like everybody else, and to participate in a good faith settlement conference.
In essence, Defendant asserts, without any factual or admissible contravention by Plaintiff, that since at least October 1, 2010, he has fully complied with each and every document request received from Plaintiff’s various loan servicers, each of whom, it is claimed, have acted in bad faith. Defendant claims, again without contraversion by Plaintiff, that the real property that secures the loan has an approximate fair market value of $ 317,265.00 juxtaposed against a claimed balance due of $ 676,361.45. Defendant further states, once again without opposition, that Plaintiff has unreasonably and wrongfully delayed these proceedings by interposing multiple and duplicitous document demands, that Plaintiff and its servicers have willfully failed to comply with the applicable HAMP guidelines, to which its initial servicer was subject, by offering a “modified” payment equal to 70% of his gross monthly income while knowing that the “cap” was set at 31% within those guidelines, that Plaintiff surreptitiously conveyed the loan to a different, non-HAMP servicer so as to avoid being subject to the HAMP guidelines and which also caused the process to start anew, that Plaintiff failed and neglected to provide HAMP-compliant denials, that Plaintiff refused to consider Defendant’s reasonable counter-offer which fell well within HAMP guidelines and finally, that Plaintiff has refused to negotiate, instead propounding a “take it or leave it” modification which contained unconscionable terms including a waiver of defenses, counterclaims and setoff together with a reverter clause in the nature of a penalty. While Defendant’s sworn averments are supported by efficacious documentation together with Affirmations from two respected attorneys who possess actual and personal knowledge of this particular matter (both attorneys have appeared before the undersigned on multiple occasions with respect to this matter), Plaintiff has failed to submit any evidence whatsoever in opposition, instead relying upon counsel’s cavalier Affirmation.
Plaintiff’s opposition, distilled to its essence, consists solely of counsel’s stentorian albeit factually unsupported assertions that inasmuch as a mortgage is a contract, the Court may neither interfere with nor modify its terms; that since this proceeding is one sounding in equity this Court is bound to comply with the rules of equity (and hence must rule in Plaintiff’s favor), citing IndyMac Bank F.S.B. v. Yano-Horoski 78 AD3d 895 (2nd Dept. 2010) and Bank of America v. Lucido 114 AD3d 714 (2nd Dept. 2014), among others; that the Court may not force a settlement upon the parties; and finally, counsel refers this Court to the decision of a court of co-ordinate jurisdiction in such a manner as to strongly suggest that said opinion is controlling herein. Counsel urges this Court to summarily deny the relief sought by Defendant, stating that Plaintiff has asked for nothing more than that the note and mortgage be strictly enforced according to their terms and further, that it is Defendant who has acted in bad faith. None of these meretricious assertions are supported by so much as a scintilla of evidence and indeed, they are both factuallly inaccurate and decidedly fallacious. Counsel fails and neglects to substantively address any of Defendant’s efficacious claims, instead stridently admonishing this Court that it may not act in a manner that is based upon sympathy, citing Graf v. Hope Building Corp. 254 NY 1 (1930) and further strongly admonishing this Court that in view of the clear language of the note and mortgage, that this Court is “…not at liberty to revise while professing to construe” citing Sun Printing & Publishing Ass’n v. Remington Paper & Power Co. 235 NY 338 (1923).
Interestingly, the Affirmation of Plaintiff’s counsel does not state the basis upon which his bald and unsupported statements are based, other than his position as an associate with Plaintiff’s successor counsel. Again, the opposition submitted is quite conspicuous for its complete absence of any Affidavit of a party with actual knowledge herein and as counsel surely must be aware, an Affirmation of counsel, absent proof of actual first-hand knowledge, is wholly devoid of probative value, Barnet v. Horwitz 278 AD 700 (2nd Dept. 1951).
In accord with the ruling of the Appellate Division in US Bank N.A. v. Sarmiento, supra, close and careful examination and consideration of the totality of the circumstances reveals that Defendant has fully complied with Plaintiff’s various document demands on multiple occasions, that Defendant and/or his counsel have appeared on at least 24 occasions before the undersigned with respect to mandatory settlement conferences, that Plaintiff has failed to comply with the HAMP guidelines by offering a “modification” which was facially and obviously not affordable and which exceeded the applicable housing expense ceiling by 39%, that Plaintiff failed and refused to negotiate at all with Defendant, that Plaintiff failed and refused to produce a representative in court despite a Court order to do so, that Plaintiff conveyed the loan to a different servicer which engendered further delay in that the process had to begin anew, all of which has inured to the detriment of Defendant. Since October 1, 2010, interest has continued to accrue at an adjustable rate of not less (and possibly greater) than 8.2% together with the accrual of added costs, disbursements and, presumably, a claim for reasonable counsel fees.
Based upon the totality of circumstances, this Court is constrained to find that Plaintiff, and the servicers acting upon its behalf, have acted in bad faith throughout the mandatory settlement conference process, as “bad faith” has been defined in US Ban k N.A. v. Sarmiento, supra, thus inexorably warranting the granting of Defendant’s application.
It is, therefore,
ORDERED that Defendant’s application shall be and is hereby granted in its entirety; and it is further
ORDERED that all interest, disbursements, costs and attorneys fees which have accrued upon the loan at issue since October 1, 2010 shall be and the same are hereby permanently abated, shall not be a charge on account of or to the detriment of Defendant and that Plaintiff and any assignee is forever barred, prohibited and foreclosed from recovering the same from Defendant; and it is further
ORDERED that such abatement shall continue in futuro and that no further interest, disbursements, costs or attorney’s fees shall accrue or be chargeable to Defendant absent further Order of this Court; and it is further
ORDERED that any relief not expressly granted herein shall be and is hereby denied; and it is further
ORDERED that Defendant’s counsel shall, within twenty one days after entry hereof, serve a copy of this Order with Notice of Entry upon all parties in this action as well as all counsel who have appeared in [*4]this action.
The judge granted the homeowner’s request for an Order tolling interest and other costs on the mortgage debt, asserting that [LaSalle and servicers] has failed to negotiate in good faith, as mandated by CPLR § 3408.