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Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. White

Supreme Court of Maine

November 12, 2015

WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A.
v.
JEFFREY WHITE

Submitted On Briefs: September 28, 2015

Lewiston District Court docket number RE-2011-159

On the briefs:

Jeffrey White, appellant pro se

Daniella Massimilla, Esq., Litchfield Cavo, LLP, Lynnfield, Massachusetts, for appellee Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

Panel: ALEXANDER, GORMAN, JABAR, HJELM, and HUMPHREY, JJ.

JABAR, J.

[¶1] After consenting in January 2014 to the entry of a foreclosure judgment in favor of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Jeffrey White moved in September 2014 for relief from that judgment. Jeffrey now appeals from an order of the District Court (Lewiston, Oram, J.) denying his motion for relief. Jeffrey argues that the court abused its discretion by denying relief pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1) because, at the time that he consented to the judgment, he mistakenly believed that Wells Fargo possessed standing to foreclose. Jeffrey also contends that the court erred by denying relief pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 60(b)(4) because the judgment is void due to Wells Fargo's failure to prove the elements of standing. We reject these contentions and affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

[¶2] On July 13, 2011, Wells Fargo filed a foreclosure complaint against Jeffrey that alleged the following facts: On April 11, 2007, Jeffrey executed and delivered to Cornerstone Home Loans, LLC, (Cornerstone) a promissory note for $262, 500. To secure the note, Jeffrey executed and delivered to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS), as nominee for Cornerstone, a mortgage on real property located in Mechanic Falls. MERS thereafter assigned its interest in the mortgage to Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo's complaint did not allege, and its foreclosure mediation information did not include, evidence that Wells Fargo acquired any interest in Jeffrey's mortgage other than the interest that it obtained from MERS.

[¶3] Jeffrey filed a pro se answer to the complaint, asserting, inter alia, that Wells Fargo was not a holder of the note and therefore lacked standing to foreclose. In June 2013, an attorney entered an appearance for Jeffrey and represented Jeffrey throughout the remainder of the case. On January 29, 2014, based on an agreed-to judgment that was signed by the parties, the court entered a final judgment of foreclosure and sale that provided Jeffrey with an extended 180-day period of redemption.[1] Jeffrey did not appeal, and his redemption period expired in July 2014.

[¶4] On September 9, 2014, Jeffrey moved for relief from judgment pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1) and (4). As grounds for relief, Jeffrey alleged that Cornerstone had not assigned the mortgage to Wells Fargo and that Wells Fargo had not acquired ownership of the mortgage through its assignment from MERS. He argued that relief was warranted pursuant to Rule 60(b)(1) because the parties had mistakenly believed that MERS's assignment gave Wells Fargo standing to foreclose, and asserted that the parties could not have realized their mistake until July 2014, when we issued our decision in Bank of America, N.A. v. Greenleaf (Greenleaf I), 2014 ME 89, 96 A.3d 700. Jeffrey also argued that Wells Fargo's failure to establish standing deprived the court of jurisdiction, rendering the judgment void and justifying relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4).

[¶5] In its objection to Jeffrey's motion, Wells Fargo asserted that neither party had been mistaken, and that Jeffrey had simply failed to anticipate the future course of the law. Wells Fargo further contended that Greenleaf I had "imposed a new principle of law" and that retroactive application of that law would jeopardize the finality of an untold number of foreclosure judgments. In reply, Jeffrey argued that the parties could not have litigated Wells Fargo's standing before we issued Greenleaf I, and that res judicata was therefore inapplicable. He also argued that Greenleaf I should retroactively apply and render the judgment void because such application would ensure that Maine citizens were vulnerable to a foreclosure action brought only by a party with standing.

[ΒΆ6] After a hearing, the court entered an order denying Jeffrey's motion. The court determined that Jeffrey was not entitled to relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(1) because the parties had not been mistaken about the facts or the law regarding standing when they agreed to the entry of judgment. The court found that Jeffrey had deliberately, and with the advice of counsel, decided not to contest Wells Fargo's standing, and concluded that Jeffrey was not entitled to relief from this deliberate decision. The court also determined that Jeffrey was not entitled to relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4), finding that Jeffrey had both a fair opportunity and a significant incentive to challenge ...


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