Saccameno v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC

Decision Date01 March 2019
Docket NumberCase No. 15 CV 1164
Parties Monette E. SACCAMENO, Plaintiff, v. OCWEN LOAN SERVICING, LLC, and U.S. Bank National Association, as Trustee for C-Bass Mortgage Loan Asset-Backed Certificates, Series 2007 RP1, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Illinois

Nick Heath Wooten, Nick Wooten, LLC, Conway, AR, Ahmad Tayseer Sulaiman, Joseph Scott Davidson, Mohammed Omar Badwan, Ross Michael Zambon, Sulaiman Law Group, Ltd., Majdi Y. Hijazin, Law Offices of Majdi Y. Hijazin, Ltd., Lombard, IL, Daniel John McGarry, Whiteside & Goldberg, Ltd., Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

Alexander Dominic Bono, Brett L. Messinger, Lynne E. Evans, Kelly K. Huff, Duane Morris LLP, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Joan B. Gottschall, United States District Judge

In February 2015, Monette Saccameno ("Saccameno") sued Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC ("Ocwen") and U.S. Bank National Association, as trustee for C-Bass Mortgage Loan Asset-Backed Certificates, Series 2007 RP1 ("U.S. Bank"), alleging that they had engaged in wrongful loan servicing and debt collection practices.1 In April 2018, the case went to trial and Saccameno prevailed on all of her claims. The jury awarded her a total of $ 582,000 in compensatory damages and $ 3 million in punitive damages. Ocwen has filed three post-trial motions: (1) a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 ; (2) a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a) ; and (3) a motion to amend the judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). For the reasons discussed below, the motions are denied.

I. Background

In January 2002, Saccameno obtained a home mortgage loan in the amount of $ 135,000 for a house located in Franklin Park, Illinois. See Ex. P1. In November 2008, Saccameno began to fall behind on her monthly payments, and in February 2009, U.S. Bank declared her to be in default. U.S. Bank accelerated the entire balance of the loan and filed a foreclosure action against her in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. See Ex. P2.

In December 2009, Saccameno filed for bankruptcy pursuant to Chapter 13. The bankruptcy plan called for Saccameno to repay the amount in arrears ($ 25,713.42) by making monthly payments to the Chapter 13 Trustee. It also required Saccameno to make forty-two monthly mortgage payments to Ocwen. See Exs. P5 & P6.2 It is undisputed that Saccameno made all of the payments to the Chapter 13 Trustee. See Tr. 295:14-16.3 The record also showed that Saccameno had made all forty-two monthly payments to Ocwen. See Tr. 287:9-293:23.

In June 2013, the Trustee filed a Notice of Final Cure Payment with the bankruptcy court. See Ex. P10. It is undisputed that Ocwen received notice of the final cure payment but did not file a response. See Tr. 471:25-472:5. On June 27, 2013, the bankruptcy court entered an order of discharge in the bankruptcy proceedings. See Ex. P11. It is undisputed that Ocwen received notice of the discharge as well. See , e.g. , Tr. 68:5-7.

The problems giving rise to this litigation began shortly after Saccameno's bankruptcy discharge. On or about July 2, 2013, an Ocwen employee identified as "Marla" mistakenly coded Saccameno's bankruptcy discharge as a dismissal in Ocwen's computer system. See, e.g. , Tr. 140:5-18. As a result, Saccameno's loan was returned to Ocwen's foreclosure department. During roughly the same time, Ocwen's bankruptcy department improperly advanced the post-petition due date for Saccameno's loan payments. See Tr. 116:7-15. In addition, Ocwen's records incorrectly indicated that Saccameno had made only forty of the forty-two ongoing mortgage payments required under her Chapter 13 plan. See, e.g. , Tr. 125:9-22; Tr. 181:11-21; Tr. 182:18-20; Tr. 775:17-21.

A few days later, Ocwen began sending letters to Saccameno stating that her account was delinquent. The first letter, dated July 6, 2013, stated:

Recently we called your attention to your severely delinquent mortgage loan referenced above. We either have not heard from you or we have not reached a resolution. It is imperative that you contact us immediately to resolve this matter. Failure to do so can result in the accumulation of fees and costs associated with foreclosure, the sale of this property at auction and even eviction.
Time is running out.
We may have resolutions available to help you avoid losing your home and having to make plans to vacate the property. Remember, poor credit may affect your ability to secure another place to live even as a tenant of a rental property.
There is still time to resolve this matter, and we may have programs available to help you.

Ex. P14 at 1. Ocwen sent Saccameno an identical letter dated July 9, 2013. Ex. D1 at 1.

On July 15, 2013, Saccameno phoned Ocwen to discuss the possibility of modifying or refinancing her mortgage. Tr. 763:12-16. (At the time of the call, it appears that Saccameno had not yet seen the July 6, 2013 and July 9, 2013 letters. Id. ). During the conversation, an Ocwen representative told Saccameno that she was behind on her payments. See Tr. 763:12-764:24. On July 17, 2013, Saccameno sent a fax to Ocwen stating that she had recently completed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy lasting forty-two months and that she had never missed a payment. See Ex. P16 at 16. In fact, she stated, she had sent three extra mortgage payments in May 2013. Id. Saccameno's fax included a copy of the bankruptcy discharge order. Id. at 2; Tr. 166:2-20.

By July 25, 2013, Ocwen had corrected the miscoding of the bankruptcy discharge in its computer system. See, e.g. , Tr. 550:5-9; Tr. 1078:10-12. By this time, Ocwen's records also included all forty-two payments by Saccameno, See Tr. 293:17-20; Tr. 296:12-19, Ex. 21 at 000051 (showing Saccameno's forty-second post-petition payment on June 18, 2013). Nevertheless, Ocwen continued to treat her account as delinquent. (Indeed, it appears that it was only during the trial that Ocwen acknowledged that Saccameno had made all forty-two payments).

Saccameno continued to make monthly mortgage payments as per usual. However, in September 2013, Ocwen began returning her checks because, according to its records, the payments were insufficient to cure her default. See Tr. 311:20-312:1. For the next seventeen months, Saccameno continued to make mortgage payments and Ocwen continued to reject them. Id. During this time, Saccameno had numerous communications with Ocwen representatives in an attempt to show that she had never missed any mortgage payments. See, e.g. , Tr. 861:8-863:22. None of these efforts was successful. Meanwhile, Ocwen continued to send Saccameno letters informing that her mortgage loan was "severely delinquent." See, e.g. , Ex. D7 (Letter from Ocwen to Saccameno dated Jan. 1, 2014); Ex. D8 (Letter from Ocwen to Saccameno dated Jan. 7, 2014); Ex D15 (Letter from Ocwen to Saccameno dated Apr. 30, 2014).

In March 2014, Saccameno enlisted the help of attorney Susan Van Sky ("Van Sky"), a friend of a friend, to help resolve the problem. See, e.g. , Tr. 781:24-782:22; Tr. 821:10-13. Despite several phone calls and written communications with Ocwen, Van Sky's efforts proved unavailing. See, e.g. , Tr. 513:2-15; Ex. P33 (Letter from Van Sky to Ocwen, Mar. 20, 2014); Ex. P34 (Letter from Van Sky to Ocwen, April 28, 2014). In December 2014, Saccameno stopped making monthly payments to Ocwen, and in February 2015, she filed this suit, asserting claims for breach of contract (Count I); violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. (Count II); violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act ("ICFA"), 810 ILCS 505/1 et seq. (Count III); and violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act ("RESPA"), 12 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (Count IV).4

The case went to trial on April 3, 2018. During her testimony, Saccameno stated that she suffered from depression and anxiety as a result of Ocwen's conduct and that she lived in fear that her home would be repossessed. See, e.g. , Tr. 818:3-17; 780:6-1. She further testified that she was so upset by Ocwen's continued collection attempts that she was unable to concentrate on her job and was fired. See Tr. 779:17-19. In addition to several other witnesses, the jury heard from Saccameno's doctor, William Sarantos, MD ("Sarantos"), who testified that he had diagnosed Saccameno with depression and panic disorder

, see Tr. 205:23-206:9, and that he had prescribed medications to treat the conditions, see Tr. 210:2-6. Following the close of Saccameno's case, Ocwen moved for judgment as a matter of law. See ECF No. 265. The court reserved ruling on the motion. See Tr. 958:17-959:1; ECF No. 270. Ocwen's sole witness was Gina Feezer ("Feezer"), a senior loan analyst (whom Saccameno had also called as her first witness).

On April 11, 2018, the jury returned a verdict for Saccameno on all counts. It awarded her $ 500,000 in compensatory damages on her breach of contract, RESPA, and FDCPA claims. The jury awarded Saccameno an additional $ 82,000 in compensatory damages and $ 3 million in punitive damages on her ICFA claim.

Following the trial, Ocwen renewed its motion for judgment as a matter of law. In addition, Ocwen has separately moved for a new trial based on purported evidentiary errors by the court. Ocwen has filed a third motion seeking to amend the judgment, arguing that the jury's punitive damage award is excessive. The court addresses these motions in turn.

II. Renewed Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law

The court turns first to Ocwen's renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50, "a court may enter judgment as a matter of law when it ‘finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis’ to support its verdict." Martinez v. City of Chicago , 900 F.3d 838, 844 (7th Cir. 2018) (quoting Fed. R. Civ....

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