792 F.3d 406 (4th Cir. 2015), 14-1858, Poindexter v. Mercedes-Benz Credit Corp.

Docket Nº:14-1858
Citation:792 F.3d 406
Opinion Judge:AGEE, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:VIRGINIA M. POINDEXTER, Plaintiff - Appellant, v. MERCEDES-BENZ CREDIT CORPORATION, a/k/a Mercedes-Benz Financial, Defendant - Appellee
Attorney:Joanna Lee Faust, CAMERON MCEVOY, PLLC, Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellant. Frank Joseph Mastro, SCHLOSSBERG & MASTRO, Hagerstown, Maryland, for Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before WILKINSON, AGEE, and WYNN, Circuit Judges. Judge Agee wrote the opinion, in which Judge Wilkinson and Judge Wynn joined.
Case Date:July 07, 2015
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
SUMMARY

Plaintiff filed suit against MBCC, alleging claims arising from MBCC's failure to timely release a lien placed on her residence after she satisfied her underlying debt obligation. The district court granted summary judgment to MBCC and plaintiff appealed. The court rejected plaintiff's claims for breach of contract; slander of title; violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), ... (see full summary)

 
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Page 406

792 F.3d 406 (4th Cir. 2015)

VIRGINIA M. POINDEXTER, Plaintiff - Appellant,

v.

MERCEDES-BENZ CREDIT CORPORATION, a/k/a Mercedes-Benz Financial, Defendant - Appellee

No. 14-1858

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

July 7, 2015

Argued May 12, 2015

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Alexandria. (1:13-cv-01200-CMH-TCB). Claude M. Hilton, Senior. District Judge.

Joanna Lee Faust, CAMERON MCEVOY, PLLC, Fairfax, Virginia, for Appellant.

Frank Joseph Mastro, SCHLOSSBERG & MASTRO, Hagerstown, Maryland, for Appellee.

Before WILKINSON, AGEE, and WYNN, Circuit Judges. Judge Agee wrote the opinion, in which Judge Wilkinson and Judge Wynn joined.

OPINION

AGEE, Circuit Judge:

Virginia M. Poindexter appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment to Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation (" MBCC" ) on her claims arising from MBCC's failure to timely release a lien placed on her residence after she satisfied her underlying debt obligation. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the district court's judgment.

I.

In April 2001, Poindexter purchased an Audi sedan from HBL, Inc., an automobile dealer in northern Virginia. She originally entered into a retail installment contract with HBL, but HBL then assigned the contract to MBCC.

Soon after the assignment, MBCC offered Poindexter the opportunity to participate in its Home Owner's Choice program. Under that program, Poindexter would grant MBCC a lien against her Potomac Falls residence by a deed of trust as security for the outstanding automobile loan. MBCC marketed the program as a way for borrowers to make the interest paid on the loan deductible for federal tax purposes. Unless the loan was structured as a mortgage loan, this interest would not be deductible.

Poindexter voluntarily chose to participate in the program. In so doing, she signed a Servicing Disclosure Statement acknowledging that the " mortgage loan" would be covered by the federal Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (" RESPA" ), with MBCC acting as " servicer." (J.A. 96-97.) Consistent with this arrangement, Poindexter executed a Deed of Trust in favor of MBCC, which was properly recorded in the land records of the Loudoun County, Virginia Circuit Court. The Deed of Trust contained a covenant in which MBCC promised to release the lien " [u]pon payment of all sums secured by [it]." (J.A. 10.)

In the spring of 2004, Poindexter traded in her Audi as part of a transaction with HBL to lease a Mercedes-Benz sedan. Her obligation to make further payments related to the Audi ended at that time. For reasons not fully explained in the record, however, MBCC did not record a certificate of satisfaction releasing the Deed of Trust.

Poindexter discovered that the unreleased Deed of Trust remained a lien against her residence in May 2013, when she and her husband attempted to refinance their existing mortgage. Almost immediately, Poindexter's husband and her attorney contacted MBCC on her behalf to demand that MBCC file a certificate of satisfaction to release the lien.1 Although MBCC remained in discussions with Poindexter and never refused to record a certificate of satisfaction, it also did not timely fulfill Poindexter's demand. The lender Poindexter had approached to refinance her home denied her application.

Soon thereafter, in September 2013, Poindexter filed a complaint against MBCC in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Complaint alleged six causes of action: (1) breach of contract; (2) slander of title; (3) violation of RESPA; (4) violation of the Virginia Consumer Protection Act (" VCPA" ); (5) violation of Virginia Code § 55-66.3; and (6) declaratory judgment. She sought to have a certificate of satisfaction recorded and claimed $95,000 in damages, as she alleged that MBCC's actions had, among other things, prevented her from securing a better interest rate during her mortgage refinancing.

Several weeks later, MBCC recorded a certificate of satisfaction that released the lien of the Deed of Trust against Poindexter's residence. MBCC then moved for summary judgment on all of the claims, arguing they were time-barred. Furthermore, MBCC contended that Poindexter had, at least as to some of her claims, failed to demonstrate facts that would support all of their elements.

As discussed in greater detail in context below, the district court granted summary judgment to MBCC as to all claims, often providing multiple grounds for doing so.

Poindexter noted a timely appeal, and we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

II.

We review the district court's grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the district court. Greater Balt. Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc. v. Mayor & City of Balt., 721 F.3d 264, 283 (4th Cir. 2013) (en banc). Summary judgment is appropriate if " there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In addition to construing the evidence in the light most favorable to Poindexter, the non-movant, we also draw all justifiable inferences in her favor. Greater Balt. Ctr. for Pregnancy Concerns, Inc., 721 F.3d at 283.

III.

We now address each of the claims raised by Poindexter in turn.2

A. Breach of Contract

In analyzing Poindexter's central cause of action for breach of contract, the district court noted that her claim accrued under Va. Code § 8.01-230 in 2004, when the debt was satisfied, but MBCC failed to record the certificate of satisfaction. The district court thus concluded that Poindexter's claim, which was not filed until 2013, was untimely under any of the possible statutes of limitation, a point Poindexter concedes on appeal.3

Still, Poindexter contends, as she did below, that MBCC should be equitably estopped from pleading that the statute of limitations bars her claim. She argues that she should not be " held at fault for not realizing that MBCC had failed to release the lien" because MBCC had the duty to fulfill its contractual obligations under the Deed of Trust. (Opening Br. 19.) This amounts to no more than arguing that she is entitled to equitable estoppel because MBCC breached its contractual obligations. But Poindexter further posits that she was entitled to assume that MBCC had timely recorded a certificate of satisfaction, particularly in light of her 2004 and 2008 dealings with MBCC, which led her to believe that it had done so.

Although the district court did not directly address Poindexter's argument, she cannot successfully invoke equitable estoppel in this case. Under Virginia law, a party seeking to invoke equitable estoppel must prove " by clear, precise, and unequivocal evidence" that:

(1) A material fact was falsely represented or concealed; (2) The representation or concealment was made with knowledge of the facts; (3) The party to whom the representation was made was ignorant of the truth of the matter; (4) The representation as made with the intention that the other party should act upon it; (5) The other party was induced to act upon it; and (6) The party claiming estoppel was misled to his injury.

Boykinfs Narrow Fabrics Corp. v. Weldon Roofing & Sheet Metal, Inc.,

221 Va. 81, 266 S.E.2d 887, 890 (Va...

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