Citi Mortgage Suit

February 16, 2017 by Ruby Keys

The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit favored CitiMortgage in a putative class action suit. In Nicklaw v. CitiMortgage, Inc., the plaintiff accused CitiMortgage of negligence when filing a notice of satisfactory fulfillment of a mortgage agreement. Using precedent from Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, the court dismissed the case for lack of Article III standing. In Spokeo, the Supreme Court held that “Article III standing requires a concrete injury even in the context of a statutory violation.” This is the first time a court has applied the Spokeo opinion in a similar case; but most likely, it won’t be the last.

Case History

In July 2012, Roger Nicklaw sold his property in the State of New York and used the proceeds to satisfy his existing mortgage. New York Law requires a mortgage company to record a certificate of discharge within 30-days of final payment in order to put the public on notice that the borrower successfully fulfilled his financial contract with the institution. CitiMortgage, however, did not file such certificate until ninety days after Nicklaw’s final installment was paid. Nicklaw filed a class-action complaint in federal court alleging CitiMortgage had committed a statutory violation due to the delayed recordation of the certificate of discharge.

Plaintiff’s Argument

Nicklaw argued that he suffered a concrete injury as a result of CitiMortgage’s negligence. He presented his case on appeal to the federal court after his district court case was dismissed as moot. According to Nicklaw, his right to have the satisfactory fulfillment of his mortgage agreement on the public record was violated when CitiMortgage dragged its feet on the matter. He also argued that New York legislation supports the consumer’s right to have his financial records updated promptly.

Court Findings

Although his argument was well-researched and persuasive, the plaintiff’s case was rejected by the Eleventh Circuit Court on several grounds, including:

1. A plaintiff is burdened to prove that he suffered a real injury, which Nicklaw failed to present. The court noted that New York law regarding timely filing of a certificate of discharge was not in question. The plaintiff did not need to prove that the law, but rather, how did CitiMortgage’s purported negligence impact his life?

2. Nicklaw could not provide evidence of actual harm due to the recordation delay. Plaintiff waited two years to file suit and was not denied credit due to his lack of mortgage reconveyance.

3. Robert Nicklaw relied on Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins to further add to his claim. What he did not realize, however, is that his reference to this case put the burden on him to prove actual injury—something he could not do.

4. Nicklaw did not provide adequate evidence to support his claim of suffering as a result of CitiMortgage’s negligence. The court noted that the plaintiff did not allege that he lost money, nor was there any proof that Nicklaw’s credit rating suffered due to the document’s late filing. Plaintiff did not even demonstrate there was a “material risk of harm” in the absence of actual harm. Essentially, Plaintiff was not injured, and without injury, there is no recovery in federal court available even if CitiMortgage committed a violation of New York law. The Eleventh Circuit dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction because plaintiff did not have standing to sue.

Conclusion

It is important to note that the United States Constitution’s Article III only allows federal courts to have jurisdiction when a litigant has the standing to sue. By definition, standing to sue has the elements of injury in fact, causation, and redressability. In this instance, Nicklaw was unable to prove any of these elements, which is why CitiMortgage prevailed and obtained a dismissal.