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Johnson v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Co. Americas

Florida Court of Appeals, Second District

May 11, 2018



          Appeal from the Circuit Court for Polk County; Keith P. Spoto, Judge.

          Mark P. Stopa of Stopa Law Firm, Tampa, for Appellants.

          William L. Grimsley, Kimberly Held Israel, and N. Mark New, II, of McGlinchey Stafford, Jacksonville, for Appellee.

          LUCAS, JUDGE.

         Keli and Thomas Johnson appeal the circuit court's entry of a final summary judgment against them in a residential mortgage foreclosure case brought by Deutsche Bank National Trust Company Americas, as Trustee RALI 2007-QS1 (RALI). They raise five arguments on appeal. We find merit within the fourth-that RALI failed to conclusively establish its standing to enforce the Johnsons' promissory note-and reverse the summary judgment on that basis.

         The Johnsons borrowed $236, 000, apparently in connection with a home improvement construction loan, which was memorialized by a promissory note in that amount dated April 28, 2006. The Johnsons' note was originally payable to National City Mortgage, a division of National City Bank of Indiana, and secured by a mortgage on the Johnsons' property in Polk County, Florida. The promissory note contained three endorsements, the last of which made the note payable to "Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee, " with no further identifying information of which trust this entity was acting on behalf of.[1]

         When the Johnsons allegedly defaulted on the note in 2011, RALI filed the underlying complaint. It later amended its complaint twice, so that in its final, operative iteration, RALI alleged it had standing to enforce the Johnsons' note as a holder of the note. The Johnsons generally denied RALI's allegations in their answer and asserted several affirmative defenses, including lack of standing on the part of RALI to enforce the note. RALI eventually filed the original note, which contained endorsements appearing to match those on the copy attached to its pleading.[2]

         The case proceeded with itinerant discovery and motion practice, and on July 8, 2016, RALI filed a motion for summary judgment. In support of its motion, it also filed an affidavit signed by Sarah Greggerson, an employee of PNC Mortgage, an entity that purported to be servicing the Johnsons' loan. It appears from the record that RALI relied upon PNC's status as its servicer as a basis to establish RALI's status as a holder of the Johnsons' note (Ms. Greggerson's affidavit was the only one filed in support of RALI's motion for summary judgment). In our view, that was insufficient evidence of RALI's standing for purposes of summary judgment in this case.

         We review a summary judgment under a de novo standard of review. Herendeen v. Mandelbaum, 232 So.3d 487, 489 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) (citing Volusia County v. Aberdeen at Ormond Beach, L.P., 760 So.2d 126, 130 (Fla. 2000)).

Summary judgment is proper only where the moving party shows conclusively that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. When the nonmoving party has alleged affirmative defenses, the moving party must conclusively refute the factual bases for the defenses or establish that they are legally insufficient. "The burden of proving the existence of genuine issues of material fact does not shift to the opposing party until the moving party has met its burden of proof."

Coral Wood Page, Inc. v. GRE Coral Wood, LP, 71 So.3d 251, 253 (Fla. 2d DCA 2011) (emphasis added) (citations omitted) (quoting Deutsch v. Global Fin. Servs., LLC, 976 So.2d 680, 682 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008)). "If the record reflects the existence of any genuine issue of material fact or the possibility of any issue, or if the record raises even the slightest doubt that an issue might exist, summary judgment is improper." Atria Grp., LLC v. One Progress Plaza, II, LLC, 170 So.3d 884, 886 (Fla. 2d DCA 2015) (quoting Holland v. Verheul, 583 So.2d 788, 789 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991)).

         This court has held that in residential mortgage foreclosure cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving its standing at the time of trial and at the time it filed its complaint if the issue of standing is contested. See Corrigan v. Bank of Am., N.A., 189 So.3d 187, 189 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) (en banc); see also Winchel v. PennyMac Corp., 222 So.3d 639, 642-43 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) (noting the "legal oddity" that standing has become in residential foreclosure cases and summarizing, "[o]nce put at issue by a defendant, then, standing becomes a part of the prima facie case that a foreclosure plaintiff must prove in order to secure a judgment"). The summary judgment evidence regarding RALI's standing-challenged, as it was, by the Johnsons' affirmative defense-fell short of what was required for a summary adjudication.

         Ms. Greggerson's affidavit stated only that "Plaintiff has owned and held the Note since prior to the filing of the Complaint in this action." The problem with that assertion, however, is that Ms. Greggerson was not affiliated in any way with the plaintiff, RALI. The limited facts stated in her affidavit failed to address how she derived this knowledge about RALI's connection to the Johnsons' note or how RALI became an owner or holder of the Johnsons' note; and there was no claim within her affidavit that PNC was holding the Johnsons' note on behalf of RALI. See, e.g., Peters v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon, 227 So.3d 175, 180 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) (finding testimony of "case manager" employed by servicer-who took over servicing after the filing of the lawsuit- was insufficient to establish ownership of the lost note because "Ms. Stevens had no personal knowledge about the Bank's claim to have acquired ownership of the note in 2006. Moreover, Ms. Stevens's testimony in this regard was not supported by the limited documentary evidence about the loan that was available. Because Ms. Stevens's testimony was not based on personal knowledge and was not supported by any documentation, we conclude that the testimony was insufficient to establish the Bank's ownership of the lost note."); Rosa v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 191 So.3d 987, 988-89 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) (holding that "the record in this case does not establish that Deutsche Bank had standing to foreclose at the time it filed its complaint" because its sole witness, an employee of its servicer, Wells Fargo, "was unable to provide any testimony as to Deutsche Bank's acquisition of the note" and remarking that "[t]he only testimony as to possession of the note suggests that Wells Fargo, not Deutsche Bank, was the last entity to have possession of the note prior to the filing of the complaint"); Stoltz v. Aurora Loan Servs., LLC, 194 So.3d 1097, 1098 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016) (finding second servicer's representative's testimony was insufficient to prove first servicer's standing at time of inception of suit because "[t]hat testimony established at most that the first servicer was in fact servicing the mortgage when it filed suit, not that the first servicer held the note when it filed suit"); Jaffer v. Chase Home Fin. LLC, 92 So.3d 240, 242 (Fla. 4th DCA 2012) ("Under [Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.510(e)], affidavits must be based on personal knowledge, set forth facts which would be admissible in evidence, and show 'the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein.' " (quoting Coleman v. Grandma's Place, Inc., 63 So.3d 929, 932 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011))). And in this case, the documents attached to Ms. Greggerson's affidavit did not dispel the question of this note's ownership or who was the note's holder such that there was not "the slightest doubt that an issue might exist" concerning RALI's standing. See Atria Grp., 170 So.3d at 886. Indeed, on this record, it is not even clear that PNC had the underlying authority to act as a servicer for RALI or to hold the Johnsons' note on RALI's behalf. Cf. Rosa, 191 So.3d at 988 n.2 (noting that foreclosing plaintiff, Deutsche Bank, did not argue constructive possession of its note by its servicer, Wells Fargo, or that Wells Fargo was acting as Deutsche Bank's agent that was authorized to hold the note on Deutsche Bank's behalf (citing Phan v. Deutsche Bank ...

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