United States District Court, D. Maryland
GWENDOLYN A. MARTINS
WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A
Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge
Gwendolyn A. Martins (“Martins”) brings this
lawsuit against defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.
(“Wells Fargo”) seeking statutory damages,
attorney's fees, and litigation costs. Martins asserts a
violation of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act
(“RESPA”) relating to Wells Fargo's alleged
failure to comply with RESPA's requirements for managing
borrowers' requests for information regarding their
mortgage loans. Now pending is Wells Fargo's motion to
dismiss (ECF No. 14). The motion is fully briefed and no oral
argument is necessary. See Local R. 105.6. For the
reasons set forth below, the defendant's motion will be
a resident of Baltimore, has a mortgage loan on her property
serviced by Wells Fargo. (Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No. 1). In May
of 2013, Wells Fargo allegedly sent a letter to Martins
notifying her that her mortgage loan was delinquent due to
her failure to pay her property taxes. (Id. ¶
13). According to Martins, she never received the 2013
notification. (Id. ¶ 14). The letter informed
Martins that Wells Fargo had paid the overdue property taxes
on her behalf and set up an escrow account to recover the
amount, which would be paid out of an increased mortgage
payment. (Id. ¶ 13). Martins, having never
received the letter, did not make the increased payments to
her mortgage account. (See id. ¶ 14, Ex. D, p.
mid-May of 2015, Martins realized there was an issue with her
mortgage loan and reached out to a Wells Fargo loan
representative. (Id. ¶ 15). Martins claimed she
did not owe any overdue property taxes, and the Wells Fargo
representative told her to submit financial records
demonstrating she had been paying taxes on the property as
required. (Id.). Martins submitted bank statements
she claims demonstrate timely payment of her taxes to Wells
Fargo on May 18, 2015. (Id. ¶ 16). Wells Fargo
responded to Martins on June 4, 2015, and informed her that,
after analyzing her bank statements and escrow account, it
had determined she had been making only partial property tax
payments. (Id. ¶ 17, Ex. A, p. 1). As a result,
Wells Fargo concluded, there remained a shortage on her
escrow account. (Id. ¶ 17). Wells Fargo also
informed Martins that her account had been referred to
foreclosure. (Id.). Martins subsequently retained an
attorney to assist her in managing her mortgage loan issue
with Wells Fargo. (Id. ¶ 18).
August 17, 2015, Martins and her attorney sent Wells Fargo a
letter containing a number of requests for information
regarding Martins' loan. (Id. ¶ 19, Ex. B,
p. 1-2). The letter identified itself as a “Qualified
Written Request, ” “Notice of Error, ” and
“Request for Information.” (Id. at Ex.
B, p. 1). The letter requested nine itemized pieces of
information regarding Martins' loan including a certified
true copy of the loan's promissory note, a ledger
statement of the loan history covering the life of the loan,
the name and telephone number of an individual who could
provide Martins with assistance over the phone, an
explanation of the alleged debt owed, and notes related to
the application and processing of a loan modification.
(Id. at Ex. B, p. 1-2). Wells Fargo acknowledged
receipt of Martins' letter on August 21st, and
it promised to provide Martins with a response by September
3rd. (Id. ¶ 20, Ex. C). According to
Martins, neither she nor her lawyer received any
documentation from Wells Fargo on or before September
3rd. (Id. ¶ 21). Martins'
attorney contacted Wells Fargo regarding its lack of response
on October 7th and was informed by a Wells Fargo
representative that the bank had sent information to both the
plaintiff and her attorney on September 3rd.
(Id. ¶ 23-24). Plaintiff and her attorney
eventually received a copy of the letter on October 10, 2015.
(Id. ¶ 26, Ex. D). Wells Fargo's direct
response dated September 3, 2015, contained only two brief
paragraphs of information related to a “notification of
payment increase” and “income utilized in the
recent payment assistance review.” (Id. at Ex.
D, p. 2). Additionally, Wells Fargo enclosed two letters it
claims to have sent Martins on June 4, 2015, and June 29,
2015, which provide a brief explanation of the alleged
account deficiency. (Id. at Ex. D, pp. 4-6). The
enclosed letter dated June 29, 2015, also contains a copy of
the original letter Wells Fargo claims to have sent Martins
on March 6, 2013, notifying her of the tax delinquency and
the opening of the escrow account. (Id. at Ex. D,
pp. 7-8). The June 29th letter also appears to
include a customer account activity statement for Martins
mortgage loan covering basic payment history and application
from January 2013 through June 2015. (Id. at Ex. D,
filed a claim against Wells Fargo on April 11, 2016, for
violations of RESPA, specifically 12 U.S.C. § 2605(e)
and accompanying regulation 12 C.F.R. § 1024.36,
alleging Wells Fargo failed to comply with RESPA's
procedures and requirements for handling borrowers'
information requests. (Id. ¶ 28-33). Martins
seeks actual damages for Wells Fargo's alleged violations
under 12 U.S.C. § 2605(f)(1), $2, 000.00 in additional
statutory damages for Wells Fargo's alleged pattern of
noncompliance under 12 U.S.C. § 2605(f)(1)(B), and costs
and reasonable attorney's fees under 12 U.S.C. §
2605(f)(3). (Id. ¶ 42-44). Wells Fargo filed
the now-pending motion to dismiss Martins' RESPA claim on
May 20, 2016. (ECF No. 14).
Fargo moves to dismiss Martins' claim under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In reviewing a motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6), the court “must accept as true all
of the factual allegations contained in the complaint”
and “draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the
plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v.
Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011).
The complaint must allege facts sufficient to “state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ”
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007), and allow the court to “draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 566 U.S. 662, 678
(2009). The court is not required to accept the legal
conclusions derived from the facts, and “[a] complaint
that provides no more than labels and conclusions or a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action” is insufficient to meet the pleading standard.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Generally, a motion to
dismiss for failure to state a claim “does not resolve
contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the
applicability of defenses.” Edwards v. City of
Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999); see
also Tobey v. James, 706 F.3d 379, 387 (4th Cir. 2013).
Fargo's primary contention is that it was not required to
comply with RESPA's inquiry processing and response
regulations because the letter Martins sent Wells Fargo on
August 17, 2015, does not meet the statutory definition of a
“Qualified Written Request” (QWR). Wells Fargo
first argues that the letter, viewed holistically, cannot
qualify as a QWR because the overall purpose of the document
is to dispute the validity of the debt and the letter does
not contain sufficient detail regarding the reason Martins
believes the debt balance was incorrect. Wells Fargo also
asserts that none of the itemized information requests can,
on an individual basis, render the correspondence a QWR.
Specifically, Wells Fargo claims that some of the requests
are irrelevant to the “servicing” of Martins'
mortgage loan, are duplicative, or lack sufficient detail
regarding Wells Fargo's alleged error. Plaintiff
apparently concedes that a number of requests contained in
the August 17th letter do not qualify as a QWR.
Martins claims, however, that the requests in paragraphs 4,
5, 6 and 9 of the letter statutorily qualify the
correspondence as a QWR. The court will not, therefore,
address Wells Fargo's specific objections to paragraphs
1-3, 7, and 8, and instead will focus on the defendant's
challenges to the document as a whole and its individual
challenges to the requests in paragraphs 4, 5, 6, and 9. As
explained below, because Martins' letter is not primarily
aimed at disputing the validity of her mortgage loan, is
sufficiently detailed and related to the servicing of her
loan, and the requests are not clearly duplicative, the
correspondence may qualify as a QWR. Furthermore, Wells
Fargo's October 10th response did not meet the
requirements under RESPA. Accordingly, Martins has pled facts
sufficient at this stage to demonstrate that Wells Fargo
violated RESPA, and the defendant's motion to dismiss
will be denied.
order to state a claim under RESPA for failure to properly
respond to a QWR, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the
defendant was responsible for the servicing of the
plaintiff's loan; the defendant received a valid QWR from
the plaintiff that relates to the servicing of a mortgage
loan; the defendant failed to respond adequately; and the
plaintiff is entitled to actual or statutory damages. See
Ayres v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 129 F.Supp.3d 249,
264-66 (D. Md. 2015); see also Ward v. Sec. Atl. Mortg.
Elec. Registration Sys., Inc., 858 F.Supp.2d 561, 574-75
(E.D. N.C. 2012). Plaintiff alleges in her complaint that
Wells Fargo is the servicer of her mortgage loan, and Wells
Fargo does not dispute that it qualifies as a loan servicer
under the statute. (See Compl. ¶ 7, ECF No. 1).
As will be discussed in detail below, Martins' August 17,
2015, letter to Wells Fargo arguably qualifies as a QWR and
relates to the servicing of her mortgage loan. The response
Wells Fargo provided to Martins on October 10, 2015, did not
contain the information plaintiff requested, and Wells Fargo
did not explain why the information was unavailable or why
Wells Fargo was not obligated to provide it to her. (See
id. at Ex. D). Wells Fargo's response was therefore
inadequate under RESPA. Lastly, plaintiff has pled facts
sufficient to demonstrate she incurred actual damages and
attorney's fees as a result of Wells Fargo's RESPA
violation, and, having alleged a pattern of noncompliance,
she may be entitled to additional statutory damages.
Martins' August 17th correspondence may
qualify as a QWR
Martins' information request was at least in part related
to the servicing of her mortgage loan, was sufficiently
detailed, and was not clearly duplicative, her August
17th correspondence could qualify as a QWR.
Section 2605(e) of the RESPA requires loan servicers to
respond to certain requests for information from borrowers
regarding their loan. See 12 U.S.C. § 2605(e)
(2016). A servicer's duty to respond is triggered when a
borrower submits a QWR for information, and the servicer must
acknowledge receipt of a QWR within five business days.
Id. at ...