Lona v. Citibank offers hope for California foreclosure homeowners steered into potentially unconscionable predatory stated income loans

California Foreclosure Case – Lona v. Citibank (scroll to the bottom) Okay, we have been talking about predatory lending for some time now.  We have talked about California homeowners being steered into loans that virtually guaranteed their foreclosure sale.  We have talked about lenders and real estate brokers that falsely stated income on loan applications, and we have talked about non-judicial foreclosure sales and the challenges involved in trying to set aside the foreclosure sale, including the lender “tender” rule (the rule that the banks argue in almost every foreclosure case basically arguing to the judge that you cannot challenge the foreclosure sale unless you tender the full balance of your loan).  Of course very few people have the financial ability to pay the lender off on the loan, much less a borrower in default on a mortgage loan.  At any rate, the Lona cases that recently came down from the California Court of Appeals (yes, the decision what thankfully cited for publication) takes an interesting view of stated income loans, the underwriting of these loans, and the tender rule in California (and its exceptions which the court was adept in pointing out). So here goes, here are the facts of Lona v. Citibank. The borrower was Mr. Lona, who apparently was of mexican decent and had an 8th grade education.  He also apparently had two pieces of property, both in foreclosure.  As to the foreclosure case at issue, Lona originally had a loan in the amount of 1.24 million dollars.  In January of 2007 Lona claimed he was responding to an advertisement to refinance his loans.  In response to the ads, Lona contacted the loan broker (First net mortgage) and applied for a loan.  The loan application was for what we call a “stated income loan” (this is where the borrower states the amount his gross monthly income is and/or sometimes the unscrupulous loan broker will just fill this in themselves).  At any rate, the loan application stated that Lona made $20,000 per month ($240,000 per year) when this in fact, apparently was not true (he was a mechanic at a mushroom farm).  Lona claimed his annual income was only $40,000 ($3,333 per month).  The loan was ultimately approved based on these figures, and both a first and second mortgage were originated. The first mortgage was for 1.125 million and was a 5/1 adjustable rate mortgage (loan was fixed for five years then would adjust).  The CAP on the loan was 13.25% and the interest rate was 8.25%.  The monthly payment on the first mortgage alone was $12,381.36.  The second mortgage was a 15-year fixed mortgage in the amount of $350,000 and had a 12.25% interest rate and $327,000 Balloon Payment.  In a nutshell, Lona claimed he could barely read english, did not read his loan documents, and that such were not adequately explained to him.  Nevertheless, he signed the loan documents and 5 months later he was in default on the loans (keep in mind the monthly combined payment on the loans was $12,381.36 over 4x’s his monthly income).  At some point after the loan was originated, the loan was sold to Citibank (probably part of a securitized loan scheme, but this is not confirmed) and EMC became the loan servicer of the loan.   The lender thereafter initiated foreclosure proceedings (filed a notice of default and notice of sale etc.) and sold the house via non-judicial foreclosure sale in August of 2008.  The house apparently went back to Citibank who recorded a trustees deed upon sale and thereafter moved to evict Lona from the property. Lona, however, did not go quietly into the foreclosure night.  Instead, he filed a civil suit alleging a variety of causes of action, and basically sought to set aside the foreclosure sale (these were the two claims that survived demurrer and which were remaining against Citibank and EMC).  The trial court found for Defendants in their motion for summary judgment, basically arguing that Defendant’s could not tender the loan balance, and must be held liable for his own actions in signing the loan.  The court also noted that the borrower had been living in his house for free for some time.  Further, the trial court ruled there was no evidence of any procedural irregularity or prejudice to the California homeowner Plaintiff. The Plaintiff appealed the grant of summary judgment arguing essentially that there was no requirement to tender the loan balance because the loan itself (and deed of trust) was illegal and unconscionable / unenforceable given that only his income was used to qualify him for the loan and that his credit did not warrant such a loan.  He also argued that given this, he did not need to tender the loan balance to try to set aside the foreclosure sale.  The unlawful detainer proceeding was consolidated with the Civil Action. The Courts holding in Lona v. Citibank The Court reversed the trial court and sent the case back for a trial on the merits.  The court ruled there was no tender requirement because the Plaintiff was attacking the very validity of the debt (which is one of the exception to the tender rule) and that there was a question of material fact as to the unconscionable / illegal nature of the loan contract.   In addition, there was a failure of Defendant to meet its burden for summary judgment on these issues, and the tender argument of Plaintiff was not addressed. Here is some key language pulled from the case:

I.               Elements of a Cause of Action to Set Aside Trustee’s Sale

After a nonjudicial foreclosure sale has been completed, the traditional method by which the sale is challenged is a suit in equity to set aside the trustee’s sale.  (Anderson v. Heart Federal Sav. & Loan Assn. (1989) 208 Cal.App.3d 202, 209-210.)  Generally, a challenge to the validity of a trustee’s sale is an attempt to have the sale set aside and to have the title restored.  (Onofrio v. Rice (1997) 55 Cal.App.4th 413, 424 (Onofrio), citing 4 Miller & Starr, Cal. Real Estate (2d ed. 1989) Deeds of Trusts & Mortgages, § 9.154, pp. 507-508.) On summary judgment, a “defendant . . . has met his or her burden of showing that a cause of action has no merit if that party has shown that one or more elements of the cause of action, even if not separately pleaded, cannot be established, or that there is a complete defense to that cause of action.”  (Code Civ. Proc., § 437c, subd. (p)(2).) Neither the parties’ briefs nor the papers they filed below on the motion for summary judgment discuss the elements of an equitable cause of action to set aside a foreclosure sale.  The parties do not cite any cases that expressly set forth the elements. “ ‘It is the general rule that courts have power to vacate a foreclosure sale where there has been fraud in the procurement of the foreclosure decree or where the sale has been improperly, unfairly or unlawfully conducted, or is tainted by fraud, or where there has been such a mistake that to allow it to stand would be inequitable to purchaser and parties.’ ”  (Lo v. Jensen (2001) 88 Cal.App.4th 1093, 1097-1098 (Lo), quoting Bank of America etc. Assn. v. Reidy (1940) 15 Cal.2d 243, 248; see also Angell v. Superior Court (1999) 73 Cal.App.4th 691, 700.) Case law instructs that the elements of an equitable cause of action to set aside a foreclosure sale are:  (1) the trustee or mortgagee caused an illegal, fraudulent, or willfully oppressive sale of real property pursuant to a power of sale in a mortgage or deed of trust; (2) the party attacking the sale (usually but not always the trustor or mortgagor) was prejudiced or harmed; and (3) in cases where the trustor or mortgagor challenges the sale, the trustor or mortgagor tendered the amount of the secured indebtedness or was excused from tendering.  (Bank of America etc. Assn. v. Reidy, supra, 15 Cal.2d at p. 248; Saterstrom v. Glick Bros. Sash, Door & Mill Co. (1931) 118 Cal.App. 379, 383 (Saterstrom) [trustee’s sale set aside where deed of trust was void because it failed to adequately describe property]; Stockton v. Newman (1957) 148 Cal.App.2d 558, 564 (Stockton) [trustor sought rescission of the contract to purchase the property and the promissory note on grounds of fraud]; Sierra-Bay Fed. Land Bank Ass’n v. Superior Court (1991) 227 Cal.App.3d (1991) 227 Cal.App.3d 318, 337 (Sierra-Bay) [to set aside sale, “debtor must allege such unfairness or irregularity that, when coupled with the inadequacy of price obtained at the sale, it is appropriate to invalidate the sale”; “debtor must offer to do equity by making a tender or otherwise offering to pay his debt”]; Abadallah v. United Savings Bank (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 1101, 1109 (Abadallah) [tender element]; Munger v. Moore (1970) 11 Cal.App.3d 1, 7 [damages action for wrongful foreclosure]; see also 1 Bernhardt, Mortgages, Deeds of Trust and Foreclosure Litigation (Cont.Ed.Bar 4th ed. 2011 supp.) § 7.67, pp. 580-581 and cases cited therein summarizing grounds for setting aside trustee sale.) Justifications for setting aside a trustee’s sale from the reported cases, which satisfy the first element, include the trustee’s or the beneficiary’s failure to comply with the statutory procedural requirements for the notice or conduct of the sale.  (Knapp, supra, 123 Cal.App.4th at pp. 96-99 [alleged irregularity in default notice and sale notice]; Sierra-Bay Fed. Land Bank Ass’n v. Superior Court, supra, 227 Cal.App.3d (1991) 227 Cal.App.3d at p. 337 [to set aside sale, “debtor must allege such unfairness or irregularity that, when coupled with the inadequacy of price obtained at the sale, it is appropriate to invalidate the sale”]; 6 Angels, Inc. v. Stuart-Wright Mortgage, Inc. (2001) 85 Cal.App.4th 1279, 1284 [“mere inadequacy of price, absent some procedural irregularity that contributed to the inadequacy of price or otherwise injured the trustor, is insufficient to set aside a nonjudicial foreclosure sale”].)  Other grounds include proof that:  (1) the trustee did not have the power to foreclose (Bank of America v. La Jolla Group II (2005) 129 Cal.App.4th 706 [trustee’s sale invalid because borrower and lender had entered into agreement to cure default; loan was therefore current and lender did not have right to foreclose]; Dimock v. Emerald Properties (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 868, 878 (Dimock) [where original trustee completed trustee’s sale after being replaced by new trustee, sale was void because original trustee no longer had power to convey property]); (2) the trustor was not in default, no breach had occurred, or the lender had waived the breach (System Inv. Corp. v. Union Bank (1971) 21 Cal.App.3d 137, 154 (System) [borrower was not in default because it was excused from performance by lender’s prior breach of contract; bank waived amount allegedly due]; Van Noy v. Goldberg (1929) 98 Cal.App.604 [debt had not matured]); or (3) the deed of trust was void (Saterstrom, supra, 118 Cal.App. at p. 383 [trustee’s sale set aside where deed of trust was void because it failed to adequately describe property]; Stockton, supra, 148 Cal.App.2d at p. 564 [trustor sought rescission of promissory note on grounds of fraud]; see also 1 Bernhardt, Mortgages, Deeds of Trust and Foreclosure Litigation, supra, § 7.67, pp. 580-581.  We shall discuss this element further in section V. B. of this opinion.

A.   Assertion That Loans Were Not Unconscionable

As a third ground for their motion, Citibank and EMC challenged the allegations of Lona’s second amended complaint that the trustee’s sale was “ ‘improperly held . . . due to the unconscionable and illegal nature of the loan agreement and deed of trust.’ ”  The moving parties did not specify which element of the cause of action this part of their motion addressed.  Arguably, it implicated both the first and third elements of the cause of action.  Lona contends that the trustee’s sale should be set aside on the grounds that the loan was void ab initio because it was unconscionable and that he was excused from the tender requirement because the loan was unconscionable.First, Citibank and EMC argued that a trustee’s sale could not be set aside for unconscionability because the only basis for setting aside a trustee’s sale is irregularity in the foreclosure procedure.  We have already rejected that contention. Second, Citibank and EMC argued that Lona failed to establish that the loans were unconscionable.  In essence, they asked the court to find, as a matter of law, that the loans and deeds of trust were not unconscionable. Before proceeding further, we review general principles governing the “judicially created doctrine of unconscionability.”  (Armendariz v. Foundation Health Psychcare Services, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 83, 113 (Armendariz), abrogated in part on another ground in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion (2011) 563 U.S. __, __ [131 S.CT. 1740, 1746].)  “Unconscionability analysis begins with an inquiry into whether the contract is one of adhesion.  [Citation.]  ‘The term [contract of adhesion] signifies a standardized contract, which, imposed and drafted by the party of superior bargaining strength, relegates to the subscribing party only the opportunity to adhere to the contract or reject it.’ ”  (Ibid.)  The record here suggests that the deeds of trust and the notes were contracts of adhesion.  They appear to be standard forms that were drafted by the lender or others and presented to Lona for signature.  There was no evidence in the record that Lona had any role in negotiating the terms of the contracts. “If the contract is adhesive, the court must then determine whether ‘other factors are present which, under established legal rules—legislative or judicial—operate to render it [unenforceable].’  [Citation.]  ‘Generally speaking, there are two judicially imposed limitations on the enforcement of adhesion contracts or provisions thereof.  The first is that such a contract or provision which does not fall within the reasonable expectations of the weaker or “adhering” party will not be enforced against him.  [Citations.]  The second—a principle of equity applicable to all contracts generally—is that a contract or provision, even if consistent with the reasonable expectations of the parties, will be denied enforcement if, considered in its context, it is unduly oppressive or “unconscionable.” ’  [Citation.]  Subsequent cases have referred to both the ‘reasonable expectations’ and the ‘oppressive’ limitations as being aspects of unconscionability.”  (Armendariz, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 113.) “In 1979, the Legislature enacted Civil Code section 1670.5, which codified the principle that a court can refuse to enforce an unconscionable provision in a contract.  [Citation.]  As section 1670.5, subdivision (a) states:  ‘If the court as a matter of law finds the contract or any clause of the contract to have been unconscionable at the time it was made the court may refuse to enforce the contract, or it may enforce the remainder of the contract without the unconscionable clause, or it may so limit the application of any unconscionable clause as to avoid any unconscionable result.’ ”  (Armendariz, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 114.)  Subdivision (b) of the statue provides:  “When it is claimed or appears to the court that the contract or any clause thereof may be unconscionable the parties shall be afforded a reasonable opportunity to present evidence as to its commercial setting, purpose, and effect to aid the court in making the determination.” “ ‘[U]nconscionability has both a “procedural” and a “substantive” element,’ the former focusing on ‘ “oppression” ’ or ‘ “surprise” ’ due to unequal bargaining power, the latter on ‘ “overly harsh” ’ or ‘ “one-sided” ’ results.  [Citation.]  ‘The prevailing view is that [procedural and substantive unconscionability] must both be present in order for a court to exercise its discretion to refuse to enforce a contract or clause under the doctrine of unconscionability.’  [Citation.]  But they need not be present in the same degree.  ‘Essentially a sliding scale is invoked which disregards the regularity of the procedural process of the contract formation, that creates the terms, in proportion to the greater harshness or unreasonableness of the substantive terms themselves.’  [Citations.]  In other words, the more substantively oppressive the contract term, the less evidence of procedural unconscionability is required to come to the conclusion that the term is unenforceable, and vice versa.”  (Armendariz, supra, 24 Cal.4th at p. 114.) Absent unusual circumstances, evidence that one party has overwhelming bargaining power, drafts the contract, and presents it on a take-it-or-leave-it basis is sufficient to demonstrate procedural unconscionability and require the court to reach the question of substantive unconscionability, even if the other party has market alternatives.  (Gatton v. T-Mobile USA (2007) 152 Cal.App.4th 571, 586.) In their motion, Citibank and EMC asserted that Lona voluntarily entered into the loans and received the benefits of the loan and that it was undisputed that he signed the loan documents, which set forth the terms of the loans.  The defendants focused on Lona’s allegations that the loans were unconscionable because of the potential increase in the interest rate on the first loan from 8.25 to 13.25 percent and the balloon payment on the second loan.  Citibank and EMC argued that these terms “had no impact whatsoever on [Lona’s] inability to make the monthly Loan payments,” because the interest rate on the first loan was fixed at 8.25 percent for the first five years and the balloon payment was not due for 15 years and Lona defaulted within the first year after entering into the loans.  We are not persuaded that the increase in the interest rate on the first loan or the amount of the balloon payment on the second loan are sufficient in and of themselves to support the claim that the loans were unconscionable.  However, Citibank and EMC’s assertion that these allegedly unconscionable terms of the loan did not cause the default does not necessarily dispose of Lona’s claim that the loans were void ab initio because they were unconscionable. In addition to alleging unconscionability based on the interest rates and balloon payment provision, the second amended complaint alleged that the loans were unconscionable and illegal because they “were made to [Lona] without reasonable consideration of his ability to repay the loans . . . given his income at the time” and that the interest rate “far exceeded what was reasonable given his credit rating at the time of application.”  Citibank and EMC’s motion did not address these allegations.  The moving parties presented no evidence regarding Lona’s income, credit rating, or credit worthiness.  And when Lona raised these factual issues in response to the motion for summary judgment, the moving parties did not respond; they did not discuss Lona’s evidence or provide any legal argument regarding the impact of that evidence.  They did not file anything in reply.  In our view, the defendants failed to meet their burden on summary judgment because their motion failed to address all of the allegations of the Lona’s second amended complaint regarding the alleged illegality of the loan. On summary judgment, an alternative method by which a defendant may meet its burden of showing that an essential element of the plaintiff’s claim cannot be established is to present evidence that the plaintiff “does not possess and cannot reasonably obtain, needed evidence.”  (Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 854.)  But unlike federal law, summary judgment law in California requires the defendant to present evidence, and not simply point out through argument, that the plaintiff does not possess and cannot reasonably obtain the needed evidence.  (Aguilar, at p. 854.)  Such evidence may consist of the deposition testimony of the plaintiff’s witnesses, the plaintiff’s factually devoid discovery responses, or admissions by the plaintiff in deposition or in response to requests for admission that he or she has not discovered anything that supports an essential element of the cause of action.  (See Villa v. McFerren (1995) 35 Cal.App. 4th 733, 749; Leslie G. v. Perry & Associates (1996) 43 Cal.App.4th 472, 482; Union Bank v. Superior Court (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 573, 590.) At the hearing on the summary judgment motion, Citibank and EMC argued that there was no evidence to support Lona’s allegations, that Lona had not alleged any facts that would create triable issues, and that Lona relied on conclusions and not facts, which was not enough to avoid summary judgment.  Citibank and EMC’s evidence in support of their motion for summary judgment consisted of the loan documents and documents related to the trustee’s sale, as well as the declaration of an employee of EMC describing and authenticating the documents.  They did not submit any discovery responses by Lona.  To the extent that their summary judgment motion relied on the claim that Lona had no evidence to support the allegations of his complaint, Citibank and EMC relied solely on argument and did not present the type of evidence necessary to demonstrate that Lona did not possess and could not reasonably obtain, needed evidence.  (Aguilar, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 854.)  Thus, Citibank and EMC failed to meet their burden on summary judgment to show that Lona had no evidence that supported his claims. In addition, with regard to this ground, the record reveals triable issues of material fact.  In opposition to the motion for summary judgment, Lona presented evidence that he had only an eighth grade education, his English was limited, no one explained the documents to him, and he did not understand what he was signing.  He presented evidence that, while the loan brokers told him what the initial interest rate and monthly payments were, they did not tell him how high the interest rate could increase on the first loan and that no one explained the balloon payment to him.  The loan documents appear to be on standard, pre-printed forms in English and there is no evidence Lona had any role in negotiating the terms of the loan.  In our view, this was sufficient evidence of unequal bargaining power, oppression or surprise to raise a triable issue regarding procedural unconscionability. In addition, there was uncontradicted evidence that Lona earned only $40,000 per year at the time the loans were approved, that only his income was considered in qualifying for the loan, and that the monthly payments were approximately four times his monthly income.[2]  Given the extreme disparity between the amount of the monthly loan payments and Lona’s income, this was sufficient to create a triable issue on the question of whether the loans were overly harsh and one-sided and thus substantivelyunconscionable.  And while this evidence may not ultimately be persuasive at trial, in this case, it was sufficient to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Since Citibank and EMC failed to address all of the allegations of the complaint regarding the alleged unconscionability of the loans and failed in their burden to show that Lona did not have any evidence to support his claims, we cannot say that they have met their burden of demonstrating that the loans and deeds of trust were not unconscionable as a matter of law.  In addition, Lona submitted sufficient evidence to raise a triable issue with regard to the alleged unconscionable nature of the transaction. Our holding does not mean that a borrower may defeat a motion for summary judgment in an action to set aside a trustee’s sale merely by alleging that he or she did not understand the terms of the loan documents signed or could not afford the loan.  In this case, the primary reasons for reversing the summary judgment are the moving parties’ failure to address all of the allegations of the second amended complaint and their failure to properly demonstrate that Lona had no evidence to support his claims.  In addition, after Lona’s opposition argued that the loan was void for illegality at the time of signing and submitted evidence that demonstrated an extreme disparity between Loan’s income and the amount of his monthly payments, Citibank and EMC made no effort to address this evidence, with argument or legal authority.

B.   Tender Requirement

Because the action is in equity, a defaulted borrower who seeks to set aside a trustee’s sale is required to do equity before the court will exercise its equitable powers.  (MCA, Inc. v. Universal Diversified Enterprises Corp. (1972) 27 Cal.App.3d 170, 177 (MCA).)  Consequently, as a condition precedent to an action by the borrower to set aside the trustee’s sale on the ground that the sale is voidable because of irregularities in the sale notice or procedure, the borrower must offer to pay the full amount of the debt for which the property was security.  (Abadallah, supra, 43 Cal.App.4th at p. 1109; Onofrio, supra, at p. 424 [the borrower must pay, or offer to pay, the secured debt, or at least all of the delinquencies and costs due for redemption, before commencing the action].)  “The rationale behind the rule is that if [the borrower] could not have redeemed the property had the sale procedures been proper, any irregularities in the sale did not result in damages to the [borrower].”  (FPCI RE-HAB 01 v. E & G Investments, Ltd. (1989) 207 Cal.App.3d 1018, 1022.)

C.   Exceptions to the Tender Requirement

There are, however, exceptions to the tender requirement.  Our review of the case law discloses four exceptions. First, if the borrower’s action attacks the validity of the underlying debt, a tender is not required since it would constitute an affirmation of the debt.  (Stockton, supra, (1957) 148 Cal.App.2d at p. 564) [trustor sought rescission of the contract to purchase the property and the promissory note on grounds of fraud]; Onofrio, supra, 55 Cal.App.4th at p. 424.) Second, a tender will not be required when the person who seeks to set aside the trustee’s sale has a counter-claim or set-off against the beneficiary.  In such cases, it is deemed that the tender and the counter claim offset one another, and if the offset is equal to or greater than the amount due, a tender is not required.  (Hauger, supra, (1954) 42 Cal.2d at p. 755.) Third, a tender may not be required where it would be inequitable to impose such a condition on the party challenging the sale.  (Humboldt Savings Bank v. McCleverty (1911) 161 Cal. 285, 291 (Humboldt).  In Humboldt, the defendant’s deceased husband borrowed $55,300 from the plaintiff bank secured by two pieces of property.  The defendant had a $5,000 homestead on one of the properties.  (Id. at p. 287.)  When the defendant’s husband defaulted on the debt, the bank foreclosed on both properties.  In response to the bank’s argument that the defendant had to tender the entire debt as a condition precedent to having the sale set aside, the court held that it would be inequitable to require the defendant to “pay, or offer to pay, a debt of $57,000, for which she is in no way liable” to attack the sale of her $5,000 homestead.[3]  (Id. at p. 291.) Fourth, no tender will be required when the trustor is not required to rely on equity to attack the deed because the trustee’s deed is void on its face.  (Dimock, supra, 81 Cal.App.4th at p. 878 [beneficiary substituted trustees; trustee’s sale void where original trustee completed trustee’s sale after being replaced by new trustee because original trustee no longer had power to convey property].) In their motion for summary judgment, Citibank and EMC asserted that Holland v. Pendleton Mtge. Co. (1943) 61 Cal.App.2d 570, 577-578 (Holland) establishes another exception to the tender requirement.  Although one treatise interprets the case that way (see 4 Miller & Starr, Cal. Real Estate (3d ed. 2000) Deeds of Trust, § 10:212, p. 686), we do not agree that Holland establishes an exception to the tender rule, since the tender requirement was not at issue in Holland and the court did not discuss the tender requirement.  We discuss Holland nonetheless because Citibank and EMC relied on it in their motion. In Holland, the trustee’s sale was continued four times and the property was sold to the beneficiary/lender.  (Holland, supra, 61 Cal.App.2d at p. 573.)  The court held the sale was void because the trustee had not complied with the statutory requirements for noticing the fifth and actual sale date.  (Id. at pp. 575-577.)  After the sale, the trustor remained in possession of the property and paid the lender $35 per month.  (Id. at p. 577.)  The parties disputed whether the payments were rent or were made pursuant to a new agreement with the lender to redeem the property.  (Ibid.)  In light of the irregularities in the notice of the sale, the appellate court held that the trustor should be allowed to set aside the sale.  It also directed the trial court to determine whether the parties had entered into a new agreement and the nature of the monthly payments, and ordered that any amounts due be paid “after judgment.”  (Id. at pp. 577-578.)  Although the court did not discuss the tender requirement, the treatise authors have interpreted Holland as holding that a court “may permit the trustor to set aside the foreclosure sale on condition that payment be made after entry of judgment.”  (4 Miller & Starr, Cal. Real Estate, supra, Deeds of Trust § 10:212, p. 686.)  In our view, the appellate court in Hollandwas providing guidance to the trial court on remand regarding the monthly payments and did not establish a fifth exception to the tender requirement.

D.   Analysis of Tender Requirement Element

We begin our analysis by reviewing the allegations of Lona’s second amended complaint (hereafter “complaint”).  Lona alleged that the trustee’s “sale was improperly conducted due to fraudulent conduct of the foreclosing party and the unconscionable and illegal nature of the loan agreement and deed of trust . . . .  The loan agreements were void for illegality from the inception and . . . voidable based on the unconscionable nature of the loans [and] violation of stated Public Policy.”  The complaint also alleged that Lona was “excused from tendering the cure amount prior to seeking equitable relief, due to the fraudulent conduct of the foreclosing party, its failure and refusal to comply with statutory pre-requisites to the right to foreclose and the illegal and unconscionable nature of the contract.”  Thus, the complaint alleged both irregularity in the foreclosure process and illegality of the underlying contract. In their summary judgment motion, Citibank and EMC attacked the tender requirement element of Lona’s cause of action and argued that his cause of action to set aside the trustee’s sale failed because he did not tender the amounts due on the first loan before filing suit and that none of the exceptions to the tender requirement applied.  Citibank and EMC’s arguments regarding the exceptions to the tender requirement cited and distinguished Holland and Humboldt but failed to discuss the exception relating to the legality of the loan and the validity of the debt, which Lona relied on in his complaint. In opposition to the motion, Lona argued that there were other exceptions to the tender rule, including those set forth in Stockton and Hauger.  He argued that he was not required to tender to seek equitable remedies or damages because:  (1) the deed of trust “was illegal from the time of formation and therefore, unenforceable and non-assignable”; and (2) his “claims would offset any amounts claimed to be due under the void agreements.”  Thus, Lona’s opposition relied on two exceptions to the tender requirement that Citibank and EMC had not addressed.  Lona also argued that a tender was not required because his claim was based on the illegality of the loan contract, and not any irregularity in noticing or conducting the trustee’s sale. As noted, the issues on summary judgment are framed by the pleadings.  (Varni, supra, 35 Cal.App.4th at pp. 866-867.)  To prevail on their summary judgment motion, Citibank and EMC had to show that Lona could not establish the tender requirement element of his cause of action by showing both that Lona had not tendered and that the exceptions to the tender requirement that Lona relied on in his complaint did not apply.  It was undisputed that Lona did not tender the amounts due before filing suit.  Citibank and EMC failed to meet their initial burden on summary judgment because their motion was based on the exception in Humboldt and the holding in Holland, which Lona’s complaint did not rely on, and did not address the exception from Stockton (tender not required when borrower’s action attacks validity of debt), which was the exception that Lona had pleaded in his complaint.[4]  We hold that Citibank and EMC did not meet their burden of showing that Lona could not state a cause of action to set aside the trustee’s sale on the ground that he could not establish the tender requirement because their motion did not address the exceptions to that element that Lona relied on in his complaint.  A defendant that moves for summary judgment has the burden to show that it is entitled to judgment with respect to all theories of liability asserted by the plaintiff.  (Lopez v. Superior Court(1996) 45 Cal.App.4th 705, 717.)



            [1]  It is important at this juncture to note that Lona did not allege any separate tort claims for fraud or contract claims based on the alleged unconscionability of the loans against Citibank or EMC.  The only remaining cause of action against those defendants was Lona’s equitable claim to set aside the trustee’s sale.
            [2]  At the hearing on the motion, the attorneys seemed to agree that the loan application indicated that Lona made $20,000 per month.  However, neither party placed the loan application into evidence and the only evidence in the record relating to Lona’s income was his deposition testimony.  Lona’s counsel told the court that there was a factual dispute whether Lona knew what the loan application stated and whether Lona was responsible for the alleged misrepresentation regarding his income in the loan application.  Unfortunately, Lona neglected to provide the court with evidence that supported these assertions.  Since there is no evidence in the record regarding the entries in the loan application, we do not consider them in evaluating the propriety of granting summary judgment.  Even were the application in the record, it appears there would be a factual dispute regarding the amount of Lona’s monthly income–whether it was $240,000 per year ($20,000 per month) as purportedly stated in the loan application or $40,000 per year as Lona testified in deposition.
            [3]  The Humboldt court stated that the “defendant would be subjected to very evident injustice and hardship if her right to attack the sale were made dependent upon an offer by her to pay the whole debt.  The debt was not hers, and she was not liable for any part of it.  Her only interest was in the homestead property, which [was worth] $5,000, while the property in which she had no interest was worth over $57,000.  The debt amounted to $57,618.30.”  (Humboldt, supra, 161 Cal. at p. 291.)
            [4]  Although Lona’s complaint did not expressly plead the exception in Hauger (tender not required where trustor’s counter claim is greater than the amount due on the loan), he did pray for both compensatory and punitive damages.  Arguably, that exception is also encompassed by the pleadings.

Steve Vondran is a real estate lawyer who can represent you in distressed real estate issues, short sale, predatory lending, adversary proceedings, state and federal litigation, real estate arbitration, broker compliance and accusations, real estate zoning and land use, eminent domain, and general foreclosure defense.

https://plus.google.com/u/0/10070596809310853739. Don’t forget to circle me on Google+

Real Estate Law Firm – who has written posts on Foreclosure Defense Resource Center.


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About Real Estate Law Firm
Steve Vondran is a real estate lawyer who can represent you in distressed real estate issues, short sale, predatory lending, adversary proceedings, state and federal litigation, real estate arbitration, broker compliance and accusations, real estate zoning and land use, eminent domain, and general foreclosure defense. https://plus.google.com/u/0/10070596809310853739. Don't forget to circle me on Google+

Comments

2 Responses to “Lona v. Citibank offers hope for California foreclosure homeowners steered into potentially unconscionable predatory stated income loans”
  1. katherine says:

    Thank you so much. I have several cases brought to me by homeowners that are violations as cited in Dimook vs Emerald. I need an attorney to write a letter for me to the banks; I dont think a suit is needed because the violations are exceedingly clear.

    Love your site and articles. Thank you

  2. Foreclosure Defense Attorney Steve Vondran says:

    Thank you for the nice words. Please contact us if you need us to write a letter detailing your wrongful foreclosure issues. Phone (877) 276-5084. Steve

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