Bridges v. Nationstar Mortg. L.L.C.

Decision Date31 August 2022
Docket NumberCV-21-0024-PR
Parties Lavelle BRIDGES, Plaintiff/Appellee, v. NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE L.L.C., a Delaware Corporation, Defendant/Appellant.
CourtArizona Supreme Court

78 Arizona Cases Digest 8
515 P.3d 1270

Lavelle BRIDGES, Plaintiff/Appellee,
NATIONSTAR MORTGAGE L.L.C., a Delaware Corporation, Defendant/Appellant.

No. CV-21-0024-PR

Supreme Court of Arizona.

Filed August 31, 2022

Nathaniel Nickele (argued), Law Office of Nathaniel P. Nickele, PLLC, Peoria, Attorney for Lavelle Bridges

Andrew M. Jacobs (argued), Amanda Z. Weaver, Snell & Wilmer L.L.P., Phoenix; and Erin E. Edwards, Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, Chicago, Illinois, Attorneys for Nationstar Mortgage L.L.C.


JUSTICE BEENE, Opinion of the Court:

¶1 When parties execute a deed of trust and the debtor later defaults on the debt secured by the deed of trust, Arizona law authorizes the sale of the trust property. A.R.S. § 33-807. If the trustee chooses to sell the property, the trustee must first record and serve a notice of trustee's sale. A.R.S. § 33-808. Here, we address whether recording this notice accelerates the debt as a matter of law.1 For the following reasons, we hold that it does not.


¶2 Lavelle Bridges worked as a branch manager for a home loan company. In 2007, he obtained a $500,000 loan for which he executed a promissory note secured by a deed of trust against his residential property. The promissory note and deed of trust included optional acceleration clauses authorizing the lender to accelerate the debt if Bridges defaulted. To initiate the acceleration clauses, the promissory note required that Bridges be given notice of acceleration, and the deed of trust also required that the lender provide notice to Bridges of "(a) the default; (b) the action required to cure the default; (c) a date ... by which the default must be cured; and (d) that failure to cure the default ... may result in acceleration ... and sale of the property."

¶3 In 2008, Bridges defaulted on the loan. The lender sent Bridges a notice of default, but it did not state that failure to cure the default would result in the acceleration of the loan or sale of the property. Bridges did not cure the default, which led to two notices of trustee's sales being recorded, one in January 2009 and another in May 2009. However, neither notice invoked the optional acceleration clause, and the property was not sold. In 2011, Nationstar Mortgage L.L.C. ("Nationstar") began servicing the loan.

¶4 In January 2016, Bridges sought declaratory relief, arguing that Nationstar could not foreclose on the property because the six-year statute of limitations had expired. See A.R.S. § 12-548(A)(1). Bridges then moved for summary judgment asserting that the 2009 notices of trustee's sales accelerated the debt, triggering the statute of limitations, and that the statute of limitations had run by either January or May 2015. Nationstar responded and cross-moved for summary judgment, arguing that the notices of trustee's

515 P.3d 1272

sales did not accelerate the debt and that Bridges presented no evidence that Nationstar intended to accelerate the debt. The trial court granted Bridges’ summary judgment motion, concluding that the notices of trustee's sales accelerated the debt.

¶5 The court of appeals reversed. Bridges v. Nationstar Mortg., L.L.C. , 250 Ariz. 475, 476 ¶ 1, 481 P.3d 701 (App. 2021). It held that "absent an express statement of acceleration in the notice of trustee's sale, or other evidence of an intent to accelerate, recording a notice of trustee's sale, by itself, does not accelerate a debt." Id.

¶6 We granted review to determine whether recording a notice of trustee's sale accelerates a debt as a matter of law, a matter of statewide concern. We have jurisdiction pursuant to article 6, section 5(3) of the Arizona Constitution.


¶7 "[W]e review a grant of summary judgment de novo, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom summary judgment was entered." Dabush v. Seacret Direct LLC , 250 Ariz. 264, 267 ¶ 10, 478 P.3d 695 (2021).

¶8 Bridges argues that recording a notice of trustee's sale accelerates the debt as a matter of law because the debtor has a reasonable expectation that the lender intends to sell the property and collect on the entire debt, notwithstanding the requirements for acceleration in the note and deed of trust. We disagree.

¶9 A promissory note is a contract secured by a deed of trust. See A.R.S. § 33-813(A) ; see also Hogan v. Wash. Mut. Bank , 230 Ariz. 584, 587 ¶ 10, 277 P.3d 781 (2012). Parties are generally "free to contract as they please," Shattuck v. Precision-Toyota, Inc. , 115 Ariz. 586, 588, 566 P.2d 1332 (1977) (quoting Naify v. Pacific Indem. Co. , 11 Cal.2d 5, 76 P.2d 663, 667 (1938) ), and when entered into voluntarily, courts will enforce the contract's provisions, 1800 Ocotillo, LLC v. WLB Grp., Inc. , 219 Ariz. 200, 202 ¶ 8, 196 P.3d 222 (2008) ("[B]argains struck between competent parties will be enforced.").

¶10 Here, the promissory note gave the lender discretion to accelerate the debt, rather than automatically accelerating the debt upon default. See Prevo v. McGinnis , 142 Ariz. 298, 302, 689 P.2d 557 (App. 1984) (concluding that default resulted in automatic acceleration). Additionally, the promissory note required the lender to give notice of acceleration. We must enforce the provisions of the promissory note, and the parties are bound by their agreement. See 1800 Ocotillo , 219 Ariz. at 202 ¶ 8, 196 P.3d 222.

¶11 A deed of trust, however, "is a creature of statutes." In re Krohn , 203 Ariz. 205, 208 ¶ 9, 52 P.3d 774 (2002) ; see also A.R.S. §§ 33-801 to -821. The deed of trust statutory scheme allows lenders to sell property without judicial action, and "thus strip[s] borrowers of many of the protections available under a mortgage." Krohn , 203 Ariz. at 208 ¶ 10, 52 P.3d 774 (emphasis omitted) (quoting Patton v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n , 118 Ariz. 473, 477, 578 P.2d 152 (1978) ). For this reason, courts should interpret a deed of trust consistent with its plain language and in favor of protecting borrowers. Id. ; see also Schaeffer v. Chapman , 176 Ariz. 326, 328, 861 P.2d 611 (1993).

¶12 As previously noted, Bridges defaulted on the loan. While the terms of...

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