In re Cano

Decision Date10 August 2009
Docket NumberBankruptcy No. 02-70359.,Adversary No. 08-07019.
Citation410 B.R. 506
PartiesIn re Robert CANO, et al., Debtor(s). Robert Cano, et al., Plaintiff(s) v. GMAC Mortgage Corp., Defendant(s).
CourtU.S. Bankruptcy Court — Southern District of Texas

Ellen C. Stone, The Stone Law Firm, P.C., Brownsville, TX, Karen L. Kellett, Attorney at Law, Dallas, TX, Shennan Alexandra Kavanagh, Roddy Klein & Ryan, Boston, MA, for Plaintiffs.

Elizabeth Carol Freeman, Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP. W. Steven Bryant Locke Lord et al, Houston, TX, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

MARVIN ISGUR, Bankruptcy Judge.

Background

Plaintiffs are current and former chapter 13 debtors who executed mortgage1 contracts with GMAC. Plaintiffs allege that GMAC improperly charged and collected fees and costs during their pending chapter 13 plans and failed to disclose the activities to the bankruptcy court. Plaintiffs also allege that GMAC attempted to collect some non-disclosed, accumulated fees and costs after Plaintiffs received their chapter 13 discharges. Plaintiffs seek relief from GMAC's alleged conduct under a host of theories.

The Court dismisses the majority of Plaintiffs' claims. Most claims are based on Bankruptcy Code provisions that define the contents and mechanics of a chapter 13 plan but do not grant debtors substantive rights. Nothing within those provisions allows the Court to create private causes of action out of provisions that define contents and mechanics. The Court cannot graft into the Code rights and remedies that Congress chose not to create.

However, the Court also has the duty and authority to enforce court orders and substantive rights provided by the Code. Accordingly, the Court declines to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims for violation of court orders confirming Plaintiffs' chapter 13 plans, and violation of Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 2016.2

1. Summary of Allegations

Plaintiffs are former chapter 13 debtors who have mortgage contracts with GMAC Mortgage Corporation, L.L.C. Plaintiffs allege that they diligently completed their chapter 13 plans and received a discharge. Plaintiffs' plans provided for the cure of all arrears on their home mortgages. Accordingly, when Plaintiffs completed their final plan payment, they should have faced a "new opportunity in life with a clear field for future effort," unfettered by arrearages on their home mortgages. Local Loan Co. v. Hunt, 292 U.S. 234, 244-45, 54 S.Ct. 695, 78 L.Ed. 1230(1934).

Despite Plaintiffs' completion of their chapter 13 plans, Plaintiffs allege that they entered their first day of post-discharge life in default. Essentially, Plaintiffs allege that GMAC managed their mortgage accounts in a manner that violated Plaintiffs' chapter 13 plans and deprived them of the fresh start purpose of chapter 13. Plaintiffs allege that GMAC allocated chapter 13 plan payments among arrearages, pre-petition debts, and current principal and interest in contravention of Plaintiffs' plans. Plaintiffs also allege that defendant GMAC charged or accumulated fees and costs that were not authorized by the mortgage contracts or the orders confirming their chapter 13 plans. Plaintiffs allege that GMAC did not disclose to the Court the fees and costs during their chapter 13 bankruptcy cases. Plaintiffs allege that only now, after Plaintiffs received their discharge and the Bankruptcy Court's eyes have turned to other cases, GMAC is seeking to collect undisclosed and accrued fees and costs. Plaintiffs allege that GMAC has foreclosed on homes based on unwarranted and undisclosed fees and costs in the past and is threatening to foreclose on Plaintiffs' homes if they do not pay the thousands of dollars in accumulated fees and costs.

2. Specific Allegations

The Canos filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in August of 2002. The Bankruptcy Court issued an order confirming the Canos' chapter 13 plan on February 20, 2003. The plan and a subsequent modification to the plan provided for current monthly principal and interest payments, pre and post-petition arrearages, escrow shortages, and legal costs incurred by GMAC.

As of June, 2005, the Canos allege that they were current on all mortgage obligations, including property taxes. Nevertheless, the Canos allege that GMAC attempted to collect unauthorized fees and expenses in a manner that violated various provisions of the Bankruptcy Code, Bankruptcy Rules, and the court orders confirming their plan. In July, 2005, GMAC filed an amended proof of claim seeking an amount that exceeded the Canos' original principal balance and that allegedly contained unsupported and unauthorized amounts. During 2006 through 2008, the Canos allege that GMAC sent them statements showing "past due" or "unpaid" amounts that were unsupported and unauthorized.

On January 11, 2008, the trustee for the Canos' bankruptcy case filed a motion for an order declaring the Canos' mortgage current. The motion stated that the debtor had completed all plan payments and all amounts claimed in GMAC's proofs of claim were paid. GMAC did not object to the motion. On February 4, 2008, the Bankruptcy Court issued an order finding that the Canos had paid all amounts claimed in GMAC's proofs of claim and that the Canos were current on their mortgage obligations. The order also required the Canos to resume making monthly payments directly to GMAC.

On February 21, 2008, the trustee filed a report and notice of bar date that showed all the plan payments made to GMAC and required GMAC to file a supplemental proof of claim to recover any additional amounts authorized by their mortgage contract. The report stated that any claim not filed within 60 days would be barred. The report also stated that GMAC must provide the trustee, the debtor, and debtor's counsel with written notice of any changes in the debtor's monthly payment obligations. GMAC did not file a supplemental claim or object to the notice.

The Bankruptcy Court granted the Canos a chapter 13 discharge on February 26, 2008. Despite the discharge, the court order finding the Canos current, and the trustee's final report, GMAC allegedly continued to attempt to collect amounts allegedly incurred during the Canos' bankruptcy case. On March 18, 2008, GMAC allegedly sent the Canos a statement demanding payment for "unpaid amounts," "late charge," and "other," totaling $5,936.71. A similar statement was allegedly sent on April 3, 2008, alleging that $5,932.44 was due. On May 6, 2008, GMAC allegedly sent a notice of intent to accelerate and foreclose if $5,193.57 was not paid within 30 days.

On May 19, 2008, the Canos filed this adversary proceeding on behalf of a nationwide class. Plaintiffs seek to represent a class consisting of:

All residential mortgage customers of GMAC in the United States who filed a chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding prior to October 16, 2005 and received a Chapter 13 discharge but to whom GMAC nonetheless represented that their mortgage was in arrears or that they owed any interest, fees, charges, or expenses not specifically approved by an order of a United States Bankruptcy Court.

Plaintiffs request relief based on alleged violations of: Plaintiffs' chapter 13 plans, court orders confirming Plaintiffs' plans, Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Procedure 2016(a), and §§ 362(a)(1), (3), (4), (5), and (6), 524, 1322(a)(1), 1322(b)(5), 1326(c), 1327, and 1328 of the Bankruptcy Code. Plaintiffs also assert claims for breach of contract, contempt, and abuse of process, and seek declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs seek relief pursuant to the Court's § 105 power. Plaintiffs seek actual and punitive damages, legal costs, and sanctions.

3. Pending Motions

Early in this adversary proceeding, GMAC filed a motion to dismiss and a motion to withdraw the reference. On November 10, 2008, the Court held a hearing on the motion to withdraw the reference and the motion to dismiss.

A. Report and Recommendation

On April 2, 2009, the Court issued its Report and Recommendation recommending that the District Court not withdraw the reference to this Court. GMAC argued that withdrawal was mandatory because resolution of Plaintiffs' complaint would require this Court to interpret federal statutes that affect interstate commerce. GMAC also contended that there was cause for permissive withdrawal because resolution of the adversary by the District Court would lead to greater efficiencies.

The Court's Report and Recommendation found that this adversary proceeding was a core proceeding arising from Bankruptcy Code provisions and principles. Resolving the adversary will require close scrutiny of the Bankruptcy Code, not non-title 11 statutes. Bankruptcy courts are designed and are best suited for resolving core bankruptcy issues.

The Court's Report and Recommendation is pending in the District Court.

B. Motion to Dismiss

On April 29, 2009, GMAC filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint (docket # 42). GMAC generally asserts two bases for dismissal: (1) Plaintiffs' causes of action fail to state a valid claim; and (2) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

GMAC's failure to state a claim argument focuses on GMAC's mortgage contract rights and § 1322(b)(2) of the Bankruptcy Code. GMAC contends that its mortgage contracts allow GMAC to charge the fees and costs at issue and collect the fees and costs whenever GMAC chooses. GMAC contends that § 1322(b)(2) protects these contract rights in the bankruptcy process.

The Court has considered and rejected similar arguments in great detail in prior opinions. Rodriguez v. Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (In re Rodriguez), 396 B.R. 436 (Bankr.S.D.Tex.2008); Padilla v. Wells...

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