Hines v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

Decision Date28 October 2013
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION H-13-00167
PartiesPATRICIA HINES, Plaintiff, v. WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Pending before the court is a combined motion for summary judgment and motion to dismiss filed by defendants Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. ("Wells Fargo"), America's Servicing Company ("ASC"), Deutsche Bank Trust Company as Trustee for Securitized Trust Morgan Stanley Home Equity Loan Trust 2007-1 ("Deutsche Bank"), and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. ("MERS") (collectively, "defendants"). Dkt. 38. The court has considered the motions, responsive briefing, record evidence, and applicable law. For the reasons that follow, the motions (Dkt. 38) are GRANTED IN PART & DENIED IN PART. Plaintiff Patricia Hines's ("Hines") claims are DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE, and defendants' request for attorneys' fees and costs is DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. The court will decide the issue of attorneys' fees when it adjudicates defendants' counterclaim. Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings (Dkt. 46) is DENIED AS MOOT.

I. BACKGROUND

Although the parties have drastically differing views of the applicable law in this case, the basic facts are not in dispute. On October 10, 2006, Hines took out a home loan in the amount of $130,160.00 in favor of First NLC Financial Services, LLC ("First NLC"), the "Lender," for the purchase of a home in Spring, Texas. Dkt. 38, Ex. A (the promissory note). Hines contemporaneously executed a deed oftrust (the "deed") to secure payment of the note.1 Dkt. 38, Ex. B (the deed). The deed named Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. ("MERS") as the nominee for First NLC and its successors and assigns.2 Id. at 1. The deed also specified that MERS had "the right to foreclose and sell the [home]; and to take any action required of Lender including, but not limited to, releasing and canceling this Security Instrument." Id. at 3. On September 30, 2008, MERS recorded an assignment of the note and deed in which MERS purported to assign the note and deed to Deutsche Bank. Dkt. 38, Ex. C (assignment). Wells Fargo, through its subsidiary ASC, services the loan for Deutsche Bank. Dkt. 38, Ex. H (declaration of Michael Dolan) at 2 ¶ 10.

The note required Hines to remit monthly payments to the Lender on the first day of each month beginning December 1, 2006. Dkt. 38, Ex. A at 1 ¶ 3. Hines fell behind her payments, however, and she defaulted under the terms of the note. Dkt. 38, Ex. H at 2 ¶ 11. In early October 2008, Hines and Wells Fargo entered into a special forbearance agreement, and she was approved for a loan modification on January 20, 2009. Id. at 2 ¶ 12; Dkt. 38, Ex. D (special forbearance agreement); Dkt. 38, Ex. E (first loan modification agreement). After Hines defaulted again, the parties executed a second loan modification on or about April 4, 2010. See Dkt. 38, Ex. H at 3 ¶ 13; Dkt. 38, Ex. F (second loan modification agreement).

Hines defaulted a third time on her home loan, and on October 17, 2012, ASC sent Hines a notice of default. Dkt. 38, Ex. H at 3 ¶ 14; Dkt. 38, Ex. G (notice). The notice required payment of the loan delinquency by November 20, 2012, and it stated that failure to do so would result in acceleration of thenote. Dkt. 38, Ex. H at 3 ¶ 15; Dkt. 38, Ex. G at 1. Hines failed to cure her default within the requisite time period, Dkt. 38, Ex. H at 3 ¶ 16, and no party has foreclosed on the home to date, in which Hines still resides.

On January 11, 2013, Hines filed this lawsuit in the 127th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas. Dkt. 1 (notice of removal) at 1 ¶ 1. Defendants timely removed the case to this court on January 23, 2013. Id. at 1. In Hines's live pleading, she asserts the following claims: a declaratory judgment claim to prevent a wrongful foreclosure; fraud in the concealment; fraud in the inducement; intentional infliction of emotional distress; slander of title; quiet title; rescission; violations of the Truth in Lending Act and the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act; violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act; and other miscellaneous violations.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Defendants have moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and/or moved for summary judgment under Rule 56 as to each of Hines's causes of action.

A. Motions to Dismiss

For most causes of action, Rule 8(a)(2) requires that the pleading contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2). In turn, a party against whom claims are asserted may move to dismiss those claims when the pleader has failed "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). To meet this standard, a pleading must offer "'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495 F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955 (2007)). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even ifdoubtful in fact) . . . ." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). While the allegations need not be overly detailed, a plaintiff's pleading must still provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, which "requires more than labels and conclusions," and "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do . . . ." Id.; see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009) ("[N]aked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement," along with "legal conclusions" and "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements," are not entitled to the presumption of truth). "[C]onclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions will not suffice to prevent a motion to dismiss." Fernandez-Montes v. Allied Pilots Ass'n, 987 F.2d 278, 284 (5th Cir. 1993). Instead, "[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Evaluating a motion to dismiss is a "context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679.

If a party's claim contains allegations of fraud, the pleading must meet a heightened standard and "state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake." FED. R. CIV. P. 9(b); United States ex rel. Grubbs v. Kanneganti, 565 F.3d 180, 185-86 (5th Cir. 2009) (noting that Rule 9(b) does not "supplant" Rule 8(a)). Instead, pleadings alleging fraud must contain "simple, concise, and direct allegations of the circumstances constituting fraud, which . . . must make relief plausible, not merely conceivable, when taken as true." Id. at 186 (internal quotation marks omitted) (referring to the standard enunciated in Twombly). The Fifth Circuit strictly interprets Rule 9(b) and requires the pleader "to specify the statements contended to be fraudulent, identify the speaker, state when and where the statements were made, and explain why the statements were fraudulent." Hermann Holdings Ltd. v.Lucent Techs., Inc., 302 F.3d 552, 564-65 (5th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). "At a minimum, Rule 9(b) requires that a plaintiff set forth the who, what, when, where, and how of the alleged fraud." Whiddon v. Chase Home Fin., LLC, 666 F. Supp. 2d 681, 690 (E.D. Tex. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted).

B. Motions for Summary Judgment Under Rule 56

Once the case moves beyond the pleadings, summary judgment is proper if "the movant shows that 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); see also Carrizales v. State Farm Lloyds, 518 F.3d 343, 345 (5th Cir. 2008). The movant bears the initial burden of informing the court of evidence, if any, that demonstrates the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). Only when the movant has discharged its initial burden does the burden shift to the nonmovant to demonstrate that there is a genuine dispute of material fact. Id. at 322. A dispute is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovant. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986); Cooper Tire & Rubber Co. v. Farese, 423 F.3d 446, 454 (5th Cir. 2005). A dispute is "material" if its resolution could affect the outcome of the action. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

Rule 56 requires the nonmovant to go beyond the pleadings and show by affidavits, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, or other admissible evidence that specific facts exist over which there is a genuine dispute for trial. Wallace v. Tex. Tech Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir.1996). The nonmovant's burden may not be satisfied by conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated assertions, metaphysical doubt as to the facts, or a scintilla of evidence. Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994); Wallace, 80 F.3d at 1047. Instead, the nonmovant must identify specific evidencein the record and articulate precisely how that evidence supports his or her claims. Ragas v. Tenn. Gas Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir.1998). When the nonmovant fails to set forth specific facts, by affidavits or otherwise, to show that there is a genuine dispute for trial, summary judgment is appropriate. Topalian v. Ehrman, 954 F.2d 1125, 1132 (5th Cir.1992). Factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, "'but only when there is an actual controversy,...

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