8th Circuit reverses district court’s decision, rules plaintiff failed to demonstrate actual damages under RESPA
On April 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reversed a district court’s decision, which granted summary judgement in favor of a consumer (plaintiff) who claimed a mortgage loan servicer violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedure Act (RESPA) and the Minnesota Mortgage Originator and Servicer Licensing Act when it failed to adequately respond to his qualified written requests concerning erroneous delinquency allegations. The district court ruled that the plaintiff suffered actual damages of $80 under his RESPA claims when the loan servicer “made minimal effort to investigate the error” and failed to provide the plaintiff with requested information about his loan history since origination. The “pattern or practice” of non-compliance also, in the district court’s view, justified $2000 in statutory damages. The plaintiff also received a separate damage award, attorney’s fees and costs under the Minnesota statute. However, under RESPA, a plaintiff must demonstrate proof of actual damages resulting from a loan servicer’s failure, and the three-judge panel argued that the plaintiff “failed to prove actual damages” because the loan servicer’s “failure to comply with RESPA did not cause [the plaintiff’s] alleged harm.” The panel opined that while the loan servicer failed to (i) conduct an adequate investigation following the plaintiff’s request as to why there was a delinquency for his account, and (ii) failed to provide a complete loan payment history when requested, its failure to comply with RESPA involved pre-2011 payment history for which the plaintiff eventually requested and received the relevant loan payment records at no cost. In fact, the panel stated, the only evidence of actual damages was the $80 the plaintiff spent for bank account records, but that expense concerned a separate dispute about whether the plaintiff missed two payments in 2012 and 2013, which the plaintiff eventually acknowledged that he did, in fact, fail to make. Since the loan servicer did not commit an error with respect to the missed payments, the court concluded that the $80 spent by plaintiff were not the result of the loan servicer’s failure to investigate and provide information related to the pre-2011 payment history. To the contrary, with respect to responding to the plaintiff’s inquiries regarding the missing payments, the loan servicer had “complied with its duties under RESPA.”
Furthermore, the panel stated that the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that the loan servicer engaged in a “pattern or practice of noncompliance.” The 8th Circuit remanded the case back to the district court with directions to enter judgment in favor of the loan servicer on the RESPA claims and for further proceedings on claims under the Minnesota statute.