Category Archives: Foreclosure

Jurisdiction – Why it Matters in FDCPA and Foreclosure

jurisdiction could mean difference between losing home or not
jurisdiction could mean difference between losing home or not

If someone is trying to take away your house for nonpayment of some debt, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) may – or may not – be useful to you. The law differs according to jurisdiction, and you will want to choose the one that gives you your best chance.

This article is a very basic primer on the interaction of state and federal jurisdiction when it comes to debt collection generally, and foreclosure more specifically. Wherever you live, you will want to consider both federal and state cases on applying the FDCPA to foreclosure if you want to sue a debt collector for its acts in taking, or trying to take, away your house.

Most Debtor-Creditor and Property Law is “State” Law

In theory, federal law only applies to areas of the law designated by the constitution, whereas everything else is controlled by state law. That can lead to confusing results where those interests overlap. In general, the laws creating and enforcing property rights (e.g., contract rights, debt, or property ownership rights) are state law. If you get sued for a debt, the action will almost certainly occur in a state (as opposed to federal) court. Foreclosure rights are also determined by state law.

Debt Collection Is a Special Situation

Claims under the FDCPA can be brought in either state or federal court. While property rights are creatures of state law, debt collection was considered so extensive a problem that it was a national (i.e., federal) problem. Thus Congress carved out a piece of debtor-creditor law for itself when it enacted the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which makes certain actions taken by debt collectors (primarily) illegal. The FDCPA is federal law, in other words, but as it happens it provides that it can be enforced in either federal or state courts.

Because of the way the federal and state law systems mesh, you could conceivably defend a collection action or foreclosure in state court by filing a counterclaim and seeking an injunction, by filing a separate action in state court under the FDCPA, or by filing a federal claim under the FDCPA and seeking an injunction in federal court. Likewise you could defend or settle a state collection action and then bring suit under the FDCPA in federal court (although remember that the FDCPA has a one-year statute of limitations). All of these variations occur quite often.

States are Independent of Each Other

The state law of the court in which the suit is brought will always determine some the procedures in the case and usually the actual “substantive” rights. Under certain circumstances other state laws might also apply (this comes up most frequently where there is a contract that specifies the state’s law that will apply). State laws and procedures can be different from state to state. If you live in Tennessee, you will be subject to the state laws of Tennessee, and these may (or may not) be very different in some important way than the laws of Pennsylvania, for example, or any other state.

If you are pro se (representing yourself), therefore, your first action must be to determine which state laws (and of which states) apply to which parts of your case at the basic debtor-creditor level. In other words, if you are being sued on a credit card debt, is the company suing you under the law of your home state? Or is it suing you under the laws of some other state? In foreclosure law, it will almost always be suing you (or foreclosing without suit) under the law of your own state.

The courts of one state are not bound in any way by the courts of any other state when they are dealing with their own laws, but they are subject to state courts of appeals and the state supreme courts (and sometimes in certain areas of the law, the U.S. Supreme Court).

State Courts are Independent of Federal Courts, too

Things get a little more complicated when it comes to state courts applying other states’ laws or federal law. In a general sense, they “should” determine what the appropriate court applying its own law would do. In reality, there is usually no appeal to those courts, and so the decisions can vary widely.

The Federal Law

The federal system is similar to the state system, except that eventually they all answer to the Supreme Court. That is, when the Supreme Court has spoken, all the federal courts are supposed to make decisions which are consistent with what the Supreme Court says. Because cases are always decided on the narrowest set of facts possible, and because there are so many laws and cases, however, the Supreme Court often will take many years before deciding a given issue. That leaves the lower courts to guess what the Supreme Court would say. One area where that is happening right now regards whether the FDCPA applies to foreclosure. Eventually the Supreme Court will decide one way or another, but until that time, the lower courts apply the law as they see fit. Sort of.

Each Federal Circuit Controls the District Courts below it

The federal (civil) judicial system is divided into three levels: district courts (where lawsuits are filed and tried); courts of appeal (“circuit courts of appeal”) and the Supreme Court. As described above, all courts answer to the Supreme Court. Below that, the federal circuit courts of appeal control all the district courts below them. Appeals are expensive, specially to the Supreme Court, and they are hard to win. Therefore it is vitally important to win, if at all possible, at the trial court level.

How the Different Jurisdictions Interact

Because the federal circuits are independent of one another, and the states are independent of one another and the federal courts, different places develop different rules arising out of the same law. A perfect example of that would be the way the 3rd, 4th and 9th federal circuits (and all the district courts below them) allow FDCPA claims against foreclosers, whereas the 7th and 11th federal circuits limit those rights. The states also vary from each other and the federal circuits.

Forum Shopping

What all those different decisions mean is that if you are being foreclosed on and think the FDCPA applies to your case, you need to “forum shop.” That is, after determining the state laws that apply to the foreclosure itself, your second task is to determine whether or not your state applies the FDCPA to foreclosure. If not, then does your federal circuit? You will need to look at the law for each and decide where to bring your claim. You can bring it in either federal or state law – you should bring it in the jurisdiction that seems most likely to apply the FDCPA to your foreclosure. Although this isn’t necessarily easy to tell, it can make or break your case, and you need to consider the question as a part of your initial strategy.

About Your Legal Leg Up

Your Legal Leg Up is a business dedicated to helping people fight debt collectors without having to hire expensive lawyers to do it. We offer you everything you need to defend your rights – with special help through our membership services to help make the process smoother, easier, and less worrisome. YourLegalLegUp.com has been in operation since 2007. Before that, Ken Gibert practiced law representing people being sued for debt among other types of consumer law.

If you would like to get a personalized evaluation of your situation, follow this link: https://yourlegallegup.com/pages/evaluation.

For further help, consider our Manuals and Memberships. We have materials on debt negotiations and settlement, forcing debt collectors to leave you alone, credit repair, and many other issues that arise when you are facing debt trouble.

Click here to sign up for our free newsletter, Fightdebt.

Foreclosure: A Debt Collection Method in Ordinary Life

Foreclosure is a form of collection
Foreclosure is collection

Foreclosure is Debt Collection

Foreclosure is a form of debt collection in the real world. Debt Collectors threaten to repossess and auction off property that secures a loan unless that loan is paid, or else they actually repossess and sell off the property, in order to pay the debt. This video and article discuss the way the process works.

What Foreclosure Does

Foreclosure is designed to allow for possession (or repossession) of property that was used to secure a debt that was subsequently unpaid. Most people simply think of foreclosure as “getting kicked out of your house,” and in many situations that is an appropriate understanding. In reality foreclosure addresses ownership rights rather than possession, however. It involves the termination of at least one person’s rights of ownership in favor of another person, and this can, but does not always, lead to eviction.

English Law and the History of Foreclosure and Property Rights

We don’t think of it very often, but one of the great inventions of English law was the division of property into different property “interests” or rights that could co-exist in the same property. The state “owns” physical property in one way, the landowner in another, and the tenant also has certain ownership rights, for example. If the landowner is married, both spouses will have rights in the property, and it is possible to divide the rights up in many other ways, too. Another form of coexisting rights is the way the same property could be owned by you, but subject to a mortgage and also various sorts of liens.

“Foreclosable” Interests

It is with the mortgage and liens we are primarily interested here, because these can be “foreclosed.” It is worth remembering that while most people (including the courts) only think of “purchase-money mortgages” (the mortgage you take out in order to buy your house) when they analyze foreclosure, there are other ways liens can be placed on your house (by the state for taxes or judgments, to name two), and all liens can be foreclosed. Mechanically what happens is that the foreclosing party causes the property interests to be divided and paid off – and the way that is accomplished is by selling the property and splitting the money up according to the priority of interests.

There is a definite hierarchy of interests, and the higher interests must be completely satisfied before the lower interests get anything. Eventually, if every interest is satisfied and money is left over, this would go to the property “owner.” Or to put it another way, being the property owner means that you get whatever is left after all the other interests are paid off (you are entitled to the “equity”). But usually, if there is not enough to cover all the secured interests, you will owe the secured parties money personally.

Two Examples of Foreclosure

Let’s consider two examples. In the first, Owner A each own houses worth $100,000 on the open market. That’s what it sells for.

Owner A

Owner A has the following liens against the property: a purchase money mortgage of $35,000, a home equity loan of $10,000, and a mechanic’s lien of $1,000.

$100,000 Value of House

($35,000) Purchase Money Mortgage
($10,000) Home Equity Loan
($ 1,000) Mechanic’s Lien
===================

$54,000 – Equity

Owner B

Owner B has the following liens against the property (in this order – the order of liens is beyond the scope of this article): a purchase-money mortgage of $110,000 (the house is “underwater” because the loan remaining is more than the house is worth); a home-equity loan of $10,000, and a mechanic’s lien of $1,000.

$100,000 Value of House

($110,000) Purchase Money Mortgage
($ 10,000) Home Equity
($ 1,000) Mechanics lien
=============

($21,000) equity (a negative number)

If neither one can pay off the purchase money mortgage, go into default, and are foreclosed, here’s what happens.

Results of Foreclosure

A loses possession of the house, and all security interests in the property are “extinguished.” The money is enough for the mortgage, and that is subtracted and given to the bank. Because the home equity loan and mechanic’s liens was “secured” by the house, the foreclosure breaches the contract with the lender. It intervenes (legally) in the foreclosure and demands its money and gets paid before anything goes to A. Because the lien was “subject” to the other agreements, it gets paid afterward, again before A gets anything.

In B’s situation, the bank gets all the money, and the lenders are left with claims against B. Their security interests in the property are extinguished, and chances are good they’ll lose everything they had lent.

Why Debt Collectors Often Do Not Foreclose

What if, instead of not paying the bank, A and B had failed to pay the home equity loan? In that situation, the Home Equity lender could foreclose on the loan. Lower level security interests can foreclose on the loan. It would be conceivable that any other person with an interest in the property, including the mechanic, might take some action to intervene in order to protect its interests, although in B’s case, especially, this is unlikely. The bank will get all the money, and the home equity lender will get nothing even though it is the one that foreclosed.

This explains why debt collectors rarely foreclose on a house. It will cost them money but get them nothing. But that isn’t to say they couldn’t or that it would never make sense for them to do or threaten to do.

About Your Legal Leg Up

Your Legal Leg Up is a business dedicated to helping people fight debt collectors without having to hire expensive lawyers to do it. We offer you everything you need to defend your rights – with special help through our membership services to help make the process smoother, easier, and less worrisome. YourLegalLegUp.com has been in operation since 2007. Before that, Ken Gibert practiced law representing people being sued for debt among other types of consumer law.

If you would like to get a personalized evaluation of your situation, follow this link: https://yourlegallegup.com/pages/evaluation.

For further help, consider our Manuals and Memberships. We have materials on debt negotiations and settlement, forcing debt collectors to leave you alone, credit repair, and many other issues that arise when you are facing debt trouble.

Click here to sign up for our free newsletter, Fightdebt.