Justia Washington Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Consumer Law
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Plaintiff Laura Jordan defaulted on a mortgage payment, and one day after returning home from work, she could not enter the house: the locks had been changed without warning. Nationstar Mortgage left a notice on the house that she needed to contact them to retrieve her belongings. Jordan removed those belongings the next day, and did not return. The house was secured by a deed of trust that contained provisions that allowed Nationstar to enter her home upon default without providing any notice. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court's review was whether those provisions conflicted with Washington law. Jordan represented a class action proceeding in federal court, which certified two questions of Washington law: (1) whether the deed of trust provisions conflicted with a Washington law that prohibited a lender from taking possession of property prior to foreclosure; and (2) whether Washington's statutory receivership scheme was the exclusive remedy by which a lender may gain access to the property. The Washington Supreme Court held that the deed of trust provisions in this case conflicted with Washington law because they allowed Nationstar to take possession of the property after default. Furthermore, the Court held that nothing in Washington law established the receivership statutes as an exclusive remedy. View "Jordan v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff in this putative class action was a Texas resident. Plaintiff alleged she received deceptive debt collection letters from defendant Seattle Service Bureau Inc. (SSB), a corporation with its principal place of business in Washington, pursuant to the referral of unliquidated subrogation claims to SSB by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, a corporation with its principal place of business in Illinois. Plaintiff alleges these letters constitute CPA violations by both SSB and State Farm as its principal. Plaintiff asserted she incurred damages caused by the alleged deceptive acts. This case involved two certified questions from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. First, the Washington Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA), chapter 19.86 RCW) allowed a cause of action for a plaintiff residing outside Washington to sue a Washington corporate defendant for allegedly deceptive acts. Second, the Court was asked to determine whether the CPA supported a cause of action for an out-of-state plaintiff to sue an out-of-state defendant for the allegedly deceptive acts of its instate agent. The United States District Court noted an absence of Washington case law providing guidance on these issues. The Washington Supreme Court answered both certified questions in the affirmative. View "Thornell v. Seattle Serv. Bureau, Inc." on Justia Law

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Rocio Trujillo's home loan was secured by a deed of trust encumbering the home. She defaulted, and Northwest Trustee Services Inc. (NWTS), the successor trustee, sent a notice of default and scheduled a trustee's sale of her property. NWTS had a beneficiary declaration from Wells Fargo Bank. RCW 61.24.030(7)(a) (part of the Deeds of Trust Act) required that a trustee not initiate such a nonjudicial foreclosure without "proof that the beneficiary [of the deed of trust] is the owner of any promissory note ... secured by the deed of trust," and must include "[a] declaration by the beneficiary made under the penalty of perjury stating that the beneficiary is the actual holder of the promissory note or other obligation secured by the deed of trust shall be sufficient proof as required under this subsection." NTWS' declaration did not contain that specific statutory language. Instead, it stated under penalty of perjury, "Wells Fargo Bank, NA is the actual holder of the promissory note . . . or has requisite authority under RCW 62A.3-301 to enforce said [note]" (This declaration language differed from the language of RCW 61.24.030(7)(a), by adding the "or" alternative). Following the Washington Supreme Court's decision in "Lyons v. U.S. Bank National Ass 'n," (336 P.3d 1142 (2014)), the Court held in this case that a trustee could not rely on a beneficiary declaration containing such ambiguous alternative language. The Court found that Trujillo alleged facts sufficient to show that NWTS breached the DTA and also to show that that breach could support the elements of a Consumer Protection Act (CPA) claim. However, her allegations did not support a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress or criminal profiteering. The Court therefore reversed in part and remanded for trial. View "Trujillo v. Nw. Tr. Servs., Inc." on Justia Law

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The plaintiffs' complaint alleged that two groups of defendants, (1) Premera, Premera Blue Cross, and Life Wise Health Plan of Washington (collectively Premera) and (2) the Washington Alliance for Healthcare Insurance Trust and its trustee, F. Bentley Lovejoy (collectively WAHIT), colluded and made false and misleading representations to the plaintiffs that induced the plaintiffs to purchase health insurance policies under false pretenses. Plaintiff-policyholders claimed that Premera and WAHIT violated the Washington Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The plaintiffs requested only two specific forms of damages: (1) for the "unfair business practices and excessive overcharges for premiums," the plaintiffs requested "the sum of the excess premiums paid to the defendants;" and (2) "[i]f the surplus is excessive and unreasonable," the plaintiffs asserted that "the amount of the excess surplus should be refunded to the subscribers who have paid the high premiums causing the excess." On Premera and WAHIT's motion, the trial court dismissed the Policyholders' suit in its entirety based on the filed rate, primary jurisdiction, and exhaustion of remedies doctrines. Specifically, the trial court dismissed all claims of class B (small group) and class C (individuals) pursuant to CR 12(b )( 6) and dismissed all claims of class A (large group) on summary judgment under CR 56. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court in relation to certain of the Policyholders' CPA claims. Because awarding the specific damages requested by the plaintiffs would require a court to inappropriately substitute its judgment for that of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner (OIC), the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's dismissal of the plaintiffs' claims. View "McCarthy Fin., Inc. v. Premera" on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Western District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. The issue centered on whether Washington law recognized a cause of action for monetary damages where a plaintiff alleges violations of the deeds of trust act (DTA), chapter 61.24 RCW, but no foreclosure sale has been completed. The Supreme Court was also asked to articulate the principles that would apply to such a claim under the DTA and the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), chapter 19.86 RCW. The Court held that the DTA does not create an independent cause of action for monetary damages based on alleged violations of its provisions where no foreclosure sale has been completed. The answer to the first certified question was no-at least not pursuant to the DT A itself. Furthermore, the Court found that under appropriate factual circumstances, DTA violations may be actionable under the CPA, even where no foreclosure sale has been completed. The answer to the second certified question was that the same principles that govern CPA claims generally apply to CPA claims based on alleged DTA violations. View "Frias v. Asset Foreclosure Servs., Inc." on Justia Law

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The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court. This lawsuit involved two consolidated suits. Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint, alleging claims under Washington's Consumer Protection Act (WCPA), chapter 19.86 RCW, and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. sections 1692-1692p. These claims were based in part on plaintiffs' assertion that Midland Funding's business arrangements and debt collection processes violated the WCAA. The questions the federal court raised were: (1) Does the definition of "collection agency" in RCW 19.16.1 00(2) include a person who purchases claims that are owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another, undertakes no activity on said delinquent consumer account but rather contracts with an affiliated collection agency to collect the purchased claims, and is the named plaintiff in a subsequent collection lawsuit for said purchased claims?; and (2) Can a company file lawsuits in Washington on delinquent consumer accounts without being licensed as a collection agency as defined by RCW 19.16.1 00(2)? The Supreme Court responded that that debt buyers fall within the definition of "collection agency" under the Washington Collection Agency Act (WCAA), chapter 19.16 RCW, when they solicit claims for collection. Accordingly, if the court finds that a company (party in this suit) solicited claims, then the company was a collection agency and it could not file collection lawsuits without a license. View "Gray v. Suttell & Assocs." on Justia Law

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Desperate to save his home from foreclosure, Lawrence Jametsky sought help securing a loan. Through a series of connections, he was introduced to mortgage broker Matthew Flynn. Flynn made Jametsky an offer for a $100,000 loan that would cover Jametsky's debts, save his house, and allow him to regain financial solvency. Instead of receiving a loan, Jametsky deeded his house to Rodney Olsen for $100,000 and entered into an 18-month lease with a buy-back option. After J ametsky realized what had happened months after the fact, he sought relief under the distressed property conveyances act (DPCA), among other things. His suit was dismissed at summary judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed, finding that Jametsky's property was not distressed at the time of the sale because no certificate of delinquency had been issued by King County. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded: a property can be distressed under RCW 61.34.020(2)(a) before a certificate of delinquency is issued and instruct the trial court to consider a variety of factors in making this factual determination. View "Jametsky v. Olsen" on Justia Law

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AllianceOne Receivables Management Inc. instituted a collections action against William Carl Lewis Jr. and then voluntarily dismissed it. Lewis claimed he was entitled to attorney fees as the "prevailing party" under RCW 4.84.250 and .270 since under RCW 4.84.270 a defendant is a prevailing party when the plaintiff "recovers nothing." The district court denied Lewis' fee request, holding that there is no prevailing party for the purposes of an award of attorney fees when the plaintiff voluntarily dismisses the action. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "AllianceOne Receivables Mgmt., Inc. v. Lewis" on Justia Law

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The issue before the Supreme Court in this case was whether particular officers and employees of a bank owed a quasi-fiduciary duty to particular bank depositors. Michael and Theresa Annechino deposited a large amount of money at a bank specifically to ensure that their savings would be protected by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The Annechinos relied on bank employees’ recommendations of how to structure their accounts to meet FDIC coverage rules. Unfortunately, the bank went into receivership, and the FDIC found that nearly $500,000 of the Annechinos’ deposits were not insured. The Annechinos alleged that individual officers and employees of the bank owed them a duty, the breach of which resulted in their loss. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the individual defendants, and the Court of Appeals affirmed. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals. The officers and employees of the bank did not owe the Annechinos a quasi-fiduciary duty. Holding the officers and employees personally liable under these facts would have contravened established law regarding liability for acts committed on behalf of a corporation or principal. View "Annechino v. Worthy" on Justia Law

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The Federal District Court for the Western District of Washington has asked the Washington Supreme Court to answer three certified questions relating to two home foreclosures pending in King County. In both cases, the Mortgage Electronic Registration System Inc. (MERS), in its role as the beneficiary of the deed of trust, was informed by the loan servicers that the homeowners were delinquent on their mortgages. MERS then appointed trustees who initiated foreclosure proceedings. The primary issue was whether MERS was a lawful beneficiary with the power to appoint trustees within the deed of trust act if it did not hold the promissory notes secured by the deeds of trust. A plain reading of the applicable statute leads the Supreme Court to conclude that only the actual holder of the promissory note or other instrument evidencing the obligation may be a beneficiary with the power to appoint a trustee to proceed with a nonjudicial foreclosure on real property. "Simply put, if MERS does not hold the note, it is not a lawful beneficiary." The Court was unable to determine the "legal effect" of MERS not being a lawful beneficiary based on the record underlying these cases. Furthermore, the Court was asked to determine if a homeowner had a Consumer Protection Act (CPA), chapter 19.86 RCW, claim based upon MERS representing that it was a beneficiary. The Court concluded that a homeowner may, "but it would turn on the specific facts of each case." View "Bain v. Mortg. Elec. Registration Sys." on Justia Law