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Hughes v. Abell

November 16, 2010

GEORGE R. HUGHES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VINCENT ABELL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff George R. Hughes brings this action against Vincent Abell, Calvin Baltimore, Modern Management Company ("Modern Management"), and Wells Fargo Bank ("Wells Fargo"). With respect to Abell, Baltimore, and Modern Management, Hughes alleges violations of the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act ("CPPA"), the Truth in Lending Act ("TILA") and the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act ("HOEPA"), common law fraud, usury, and a claim for an equitable mortgage. As to Wells Fargo, Hughes alleges violations of CPPA and a common law negligence claim. And as against both Abell and Wells Fargo, Hughes seeks to quiet title to his primary residence after refinancing his mortgage.

Hughes alleges that while he believed he was securing a loan to save his home from foreclosure, in fact, Abell, Baltimore, and Modern Management engaged in a scheme to defraud Hughes of his home. Arising from a separate transaction, Hughes alleges that Wells Fargo provided him financing on unconscionable terms and misrepresented material facts. Now before the Court are Abell's motion to dismiss and motion for partial summary judgment, and Wells Fargo's motion to dismiss for unclean hands and for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons discussed below, Abell's motions will be granted in part and denied in part, and Wells Fargo's motion will be denied.

BACKGROUND

This Court previously ruled on Wells Fargo's motion to dismiss Hughes's original complaint. Hughes v. Abell, 624 F. Supp. 2d 110 (D.D.C. 2009). There, the Court ruled that Hughes had alleged facts sufficient to state an unconscionability claim under the CPPA, and that Hughes's quiet title count also survived. Wells Fargo's motion to dismiss was, however, granted in part, because Hughes failed to adequately allege misrepresentation under the CPPA. Plaintiffs were granted leave to file an amended complaint, and did so. The alleged facts, however, have remained largely the same.

Hughes purchased 5236 5th Street NW, Washington, DC ("the Property") in November 1997. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 9. He took out two mortgages against the Property in order to pay for it, the larger of the two from Chase Manhattan Bank. Id. ¶¶ 10, 12. After Hughes became delinquent on the larger loan in 2004, Chase Manhattan notified Hughes that it would foreclose. Id. ¶¶ 13, 14. Hughes needed to pay arrears in the amount of $16,485.51, plus costs and fees, to prevent the auction of his home in September 2004. Id. ¶ 4. Prior to foreclosure, Baltimore, working with Abell and Modern Management, solicited Hughes's business and represented that he would help Hughes remain in his home. Id. ¶¶ 15--17, 24. Hughes signed a series of documents, the effect of which was to transfer title to the property to Abell, who then rented it back to Hughes. Id. ¶¶ 20, 25. Hughes alleges that he understood the transaction "as a way to retain ownership of his home." Id. ¶ 24.

The only paper Baltimore provided Hughes at the end of the transaction was a lease agreement. Id. ¶ 21. Baltimore told Hughes that he would provide him with copies of the other papers, but never did, despite Hughes's repeated attempts to contact Baltimore and obtain copies. Id. The lease agreement provided that Hughes would pay $1034.76 per month, which Hughes alleges that he believed would "cover his mortgage as well as the loan." Id. ¶ 20. Attached to the lease was an "Option Agreement" that provided that Hughes could purchase his home for $75,000.00 within the next year. Id. ¶ 22. Baltimore explained that Modern Management would help Hughes refinance the loan at the end of the year. Id. ¶ 20. Hughes also received $10,000.00 as part of this transaction. Id. Assuming Hughes borrowed $30,000 under this loan -- the $10,000 payment and approximately $20,000 to cover arrears -- the annual percentage rate would have been 122.57%, based on twelve monthly payments of $1034.76 and a final payment of $75,000. Id. ¶ 23. At the time of this transaction in September 2004, the property was worth $147,060, according to D.C. property tax assessment records. Id. ¶ 24.

Around August 2006, Hughes received notice from Chase Manhattan that it had changed his contact information to that of the offices of Modern Management. Id. ¶ 29. He also received notice from Modern Management that he was behind in his payments. Id. ¶ 30. Sensing problems with Modern Management and with Chase Manhattan, which he "believed to be connected to Modern Management," Hughes approached defendant Wells Fargo to seek refinancing of his Chase Manhattan mortgage. Id. ¶¶ 31, 32. Wells Fargo offered to refinance his Chase Manhattan mortgage so long as Hughes consolidated his second mortgage and other, nonmortgage debts, which together totaled $33,517.03, into his agreement with Wells Fargo. Id. ¶¶ 33, 36. The statute of limitations had passed for some of these nonmortgage debts. Id. ¶ 35.

Hughes's outstanding balance on his Chase Manhattan mortgage was $87,775.43, so that after consolidation Wells Fargo was proposing to make a loan with a 38% increase over the value of Hughes's prior mortgage debt. Id. ¶ 36. Hughes was to pay $1,604.18 per month for this loan, when his previous monthly payment to Chase Manhattan was $815 per month. Id. ¶¶ 11, 42. This payment amounted to approximately 46% of Hughes's monthly income of $3,511.83. Id. ¶ 38. Hughes reported this income to Wells Fargo and made no representations about whether it would increase or decrease in the future. Id. The application that Wells Fargo prepared for his loan indicates that Mr. Hughes had monthly income of $3,783.33 per month. Id. ¶ 37.

Wells Fargo reserved the right to increase the loan's initial interest rate of 7.875% up to a limit of 13.875% after the first two years of the loan. Id. ¶ 41. Wells Fargo's representative told Hughes that "he did not need to worry about the loan being an adjustable-rate mortgage, because he should be able to refinance the loan before the rate changed," which Hughes has not been able to do. Id. ¶ 43-44. Hughes accepted these terms and closed the loan on September 22, 2006. Id. ¶ 40. Hughes paid $10,127.32 in closing costs and received $61,080.22 under the loan. Id. ¶¶ 36, 46.

Hughes brought the present action on January 15, 2009 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Wells Fargo removed the case to this Court on January 29, 2009. Hughes asserts the following claims against Abell, Baltimore, and Modern Management: violations of CPPA (Count I), creation of an equitable mortgage (Count II), violations of TILA and HOEPA (Count III), common law fraud (Count IV), and usury (Count VIII). Id. ¶¶ 50--79, 95-98. Against Wells Fargo, Hughes also alleges violations of CPPA (Count V) and common law negligence (Count VII). Id. ¶¶ 80--84, 90-94. Count VI seeks to quiet title against both Wells Fargo and Abell. Id. ¶¶ 85--89.

Defendant Abell has filed a motion for partial summary judgment as well as a motion to dismiss. However, the motion to dismiss includes a standard of review that sets forth the standard for a summary judgment motion and includes a "statement of material facts not in dispute." The Court will treat both of Abell's motions as motions for summary judgment. Wells Fargo has filed a motion to dismiss Hughes's first amended complaint. These motions are fully briefed and ripe for resolution.

LEGAL STANDARD

A. Motion to Dismiss

All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); Atherton v. District of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009). A complaint is plausible on its face "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, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach" under which a court first identifies the factual allegations entitled to an assumption of truth and then determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

The notice pleading rules are not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff. Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512-13 (2002). When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor. Leatherman v. Tarrant Cnty. Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979); see also Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56). The plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Nor does the court accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," or "naked assertions [of unlawful misconduct] devoid of further factual enhancement." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Aktieselskabet AF 21. November 21 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (explaining that the court has "never accepted legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations").

B. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings and the evidence demonstrate that "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial responsibility of demonstrating the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party may successfully support its motion by identifying those portions of "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits" which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2); see Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323.

In determining whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to preclude summary judgment, the court must regard the non-movant's statements as true and accept all evidence and make all inferences in the non-movant's favor. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A non-moving party, however, must establish more than the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in support of its position. Id. at 252. By pointing to the absence of evidence proffered by the non-moving party, a moving party may succeed on summary judgment. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." Anderson, 477 ...


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