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Appellate Circuit

Don’t Show Us The Note, Give Us The Note

We hold that MTGLQ as assignee and substituted plaintiff is authorized to receive the original note and mortgage from the court file.

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on

MTGLQ Inv’rs, L. P. v. Merrill,

312 So. 3d 986 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2021)

JAN 25, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: DEC 3, 2021

Kelsey, J.

The issue before us is whether Appellant MTGLQ Investors can retrieve the original note and mortgage from the court file of a foreclosure action the trial court dismissed without a merits disposition.

MTGLQ was an assignee and substituted plaintiff in that action, and moved for release of the documents, but the trial court denied the motion.

We hold that on the facts presented, MTGLQ can retrieve the original note and mortgage.

I. Foreclosure Proceedings.

Appellee, the Borrower, entered into a $417,000 purchase-money mortgage and note in June 2007, securing his acquisition of a residential condominium in Pensacola. He defaulted on his payments less than two years later, failing to make the April 2009 payment or, as far as our record shows, any other payments in the nearly twelve years since.

The original lender sued for foreclosure in 2009, but dismissed that proceeding without resolution.

JPMorgan Chase Bank filed the present foreclosure action in 2013, alleging a default date of April 1, 2009 and ongoing default thereafter.

The complaint alleged that the Federal National Mortgage Association (FNMA) owned the note, and that JPMorgan as the loan servicer and holder was authorized to bring the foreclosure action.

JPMorgan filed the original note and mortgage in 2013. The original note had an allonge with a blank indorsement.

In 2014, JPMorgan filed a verified motion to substitute FNMA as plaintiff.

This motion asserted that JPMorgan had transferred to FNMA the right to enforce the subject loan, FNMA was the real party in interest, and no party would be prejudiced.

Borrower did not object, and the trial court granted the motion.

In 2016, FNMA assigned to MTGLQ the mortgage and “the certain note(s) described therein.”

FNMA recorded the assignment. FNMA also executed a power of attorney giving MTGLQ “full power and authority” to take any action that FNMA could take with respect to “mortgage loans, deeds of trust, promissory notes and allonges.”

In 2018, MTGLQ moved to substitute itself as plaintiff in the foreclosure action, attaching a copy of the recorded assignment from FNMA.

Again, Borrower did not object to the substitution of plaintiff, and the trial court granted this motion.

The trial court initially scheduled trial for August 13, 2018; then continued it to December 3, 2018.

MTGLQ amended its witness list five days before trial, asserting that the witnesses who would testify had changed (though the testimony would not).

Although Borrower had not deposed the earlier-named witnesses, the trial court dismissed the case with prejudice after the late amendment.

Early in 2019, MTGLQ filed a motion and then an amended motion to retrieve from the court file the original mortgage and the original note with its allonge, citing Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.430(h).

This rule provides that courts have ongoing authority “to release exhibits or other parts of court records that are the property of the person or party initially placing the items in the court records.”

MTGLQ argued that it was entitled to the original note and mortgage on two grounds.

The first was its status as substituted plaintiff in the foreclosure action.

The second was the September 8, 2016 assignment from FNMA reciting that it assigned the mortgage to MTGLQ “together with the certain note(s) described therein.”

Borrower argued that no right to enforce the note survived this Court’s dismissal of MTGLQ’s appeal from the trial court’s order dismissing the foreclosure action.

Borrower also argued that MTGLQ could not obtain the note in any event because it was not the original plaintiff and could not establish a chain of ownership.

Borrower argued that a substituted plaintiff does not necessarily own the note or have standing to enforce it.

The trial court held a telephonic hearing, and orally denied MTGLQ’s motion.

No court reporter recorded the hearing.

MTGLQ moved for reconsideration, noting the court’s oral denial.

The parties argued their positions at a second, transcribed hearing.

Borrower’s attorney asserted that he had located a public record in which FNMA rescinded a June 23, 2014 assignment of the mortgage (not the note) to JPMorgan. Borrower did not give MTGLQ prior notice or a copy of this document, and did not enter it into evidence—but he has included it in his appendix here.

Borrower argued that to remove the original note and mortgage from the court file and give MTGLQ physical possession of them would make MTGLQ a holder in possession, thus giving MTGLQ more rights than it had during the foreclosure suit.

Borrower claimed this would prejudice him.

Borrower also argued that it was not necessary to remove the original note and mortgage from the court file, because “someone” who might file another foreclosure action could simply reference the filed documents.

The trial court rendered the unelaborated order on appeal, stating “Plaintiff’s Motion to Return Original Loan Documents is DENIED.”

MTGLQ timely appealed.

1 Whether that dismissal was appropriate is academic.

MTGLQ filed an appeal, but did not pursue it. That does not preclude future foreclosure actions based on other dates of default.

See PNC Bank, N.A. v. Neal, 147 So. 3d 32, 32 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013) (holding that not even a dismissal with prejudice of a foreclosure action precludes a mortgagee “from instituting a new foreclosure action based on a different act or a new date of default not alleged in the dismissed action”);

Bartram v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n , 211 So. 3d 1009, 1019 (Fla. 2016) (holding a new cause of action arises with each default, starting a new five-year limitations period within which a new foreclosure action may be filed);

see also Nationstar Mortg., LLC v. Brown, 175 So. 3d 833, 834 (Fla. 1st DCA 2015) (“[A] note securing a mortgage creates liability for a total amount of principal and interest, and … the lender’s acceptance of payments in installments does not eliminate the borrower’s ongoing liability for the entire amount of the indebtedness.”) (quoted with approval in Bartram, 211 So. 3d at 1018 ).

II. Legal Analysis.
A. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review.

We have jurisdiction over the order denying MTGLQ’s motion to remove the original note and mortgage from the court file. Fla. R. App. P. 9.130(a)(3)(C)(ii) (recognizing jurisdiction to review non-final orders determining the right to immediate possession of property). The issues raised are questions of law, for which our review is de novo. See Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Ousley , 212 So. 3d 1056, 1057 (Fla. 1st DCA 2016).

B. Rights of a Substituted Plaintiff.

On appeal, MTGLQ continues to argue it has the right to obtain the original documents, either as substituted plaintiff or as assignee of the note and mortgage. MTGLQ argues it need not prove previous physical possession of the documents.

Borrower acknowledges that the court can release the original documents to a substituted plaintiff that is a holder in possession, or a nonholder in possession that has the rights of a holder.

Borrower argues that MTGLQ is neither of those, and that MTGLQ’s status as substituted plaintiff is insufficient to authorize it to obtain the original documents from the court file.

Borrower further argues that giving MTGLQ the documents will prejudice him. We reject both arguments.

2 We reject Borrower’s three additional arguments, as explained before the conclusion of this opinion.

The core issue on appeal is whether an assignee that becomes a substituted plaintiff in a foreclosure action can retrieve an original note and mortgage from the court file after the court dismisses the case without entering a merits judgment.

Courts have general authority to “release exhibits or other parts of court records that are the property of the person or party initially placing the items in the court records.” Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.430(h).

We conclude that MTGLQ is entitled to receive the original loan documents from the court file for several reasons.

(1) Negotiability.

Significantly, notes are different from most documents in court files, because notes are negotiable instruments.

See § 673.2011, Fla. Stat. (defining negotiation of instruments).

Notes do not belong to the court, nor do they belong to the borrower.

See U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n v. Rodriguez , 256 So. 3d 882, 884–85 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018) (recognizing that original notes remain negotiable instruments after entering court file).

In Rodriguez , parties to a foreclosure action entered an agreed order to keep the note in the court file after a non-merits dismissal against the original foreclosure plaintiff. 256 So. 3d at 882.

Several years later, a substituted plaintiff sought to remove the loan documents.

The Fourth District held that because no judgment had cancelled the note or taken it out of the stream of commerce,

“it should be returned … if judgment is not entered in a foreclosure case, as it does not belong to the court and it remains negotiable and valuable to its holder.” 256 So. 3d at 884.

Here, Borrower’s argument against giving MTGLQ the documents would defeat the note’s negotiability, since there is no other party to the foreclosure action that could remove them for further negotiation.

Other courts also have held that foreclosure plaintiffs are entitled to remove original loan documents from the court file even without proving entitlement to foreclose.

See, e.g., Santiago v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n as Tr. for Banc of Am. Funding Corp. , 257 So. 3d 1145, 1147–48 (Fla. 5th DCA 2018) (“Whether a party is entitled to foreclose the note and mortgage is not relevant to its right to have the note released from the court records.”);

Kajaine Estates, LLC, v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n , 198 So. 3d 1010, 1011 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016) (requiring trial court to release original note to plaintiff that had failed to prove predecessor’s standing, and finding that proof of standing is “not relevant” to releasing the note).

The note is property, a valuable negotiable instrument, and MTGLQ as plaintiff is entitled to remove it from the court file.

(2) Transferability and Assignment.

Beyond the negotiability problem, Borrower’s arguments are contrary to settled principles of transferability and the rights of transferees.

The law allows assignment and transfer of both notes and mortgages. See § 701.01, Fla. Stat. (authorizing subsequent assignees and transferees of mortgages, as well as original mortgagees, to assign and transfer such mortgages, and providing that all such persons, assigns, and subsequent assignees have all lawful rights of the original mortgagee to foreclose and “for the recovery of the money secured thereby”).

MTGLQ filed the assignment and power of attorney documents from FNMA, which on their face gave MTGLQ all of FNMA’s rights in the mortgage and note.

The court properly substituted MTGLQ as plaintiff based on these documents.

See Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.260(c) (“In case of any transfer of interest, the action may be continued by or against the original party, unless the court upon motion directs the person to whom the interest is transferred to be substituted in the action or joined with the original party.”).

3 See also § 673.1091(3), Fla. Stat. (providing that a negotiable instrument is

“payable to bearer if it is indorsed in blank pursuant to section 673.2051(2)”); § 673.2051(2), Fla. Stat.

(providing that a blank-indorsed instrument “becomes payable to bearer and may be negotiated by transfer of possession alone until specially indorsed [by an indorsement to an identified person per section 673.2051(1) ]”)

Borrower as the debtor under a promissory note remains obligated to the party entitled to enforce the note. See § 673.4121(1), Fla. Stat. (obligating issuer of a note to pay according to its terms “at the time it first came into possession of a holder”).

On this record, MTGLQ is a “person entitled to enforce” the note under section 673.3011.

This section defines that status as including “[t]he holder of the instrument” and “[a] nonholder in possession of the instrument who has the rights of a holder.” § 673.3011(1), (2), Fla. Stat.

This section also states that a person may be entitled to enforce an instrument without being its owner. § 673.3011, Fla. Stat. Under section 673.2013, MTGLQ is a transferee of the note and mortgage because it received the right to enforce it, which “vests in the transferee any right of the transferor to enforce the instrument, including any right as a holder in due course,” absent fraud or illegality. § 673.2031(2), Fla. Stat.

MTGLQ as transferee would not have to prove previous physical possession of the note to have the rights of a holder. Constructive possession in the form of the authority to exercise control is sufficient.

Deutsche Bank Nat’l Tr. Co. v. Noll , 261 So. 3d 656, 658 (Fla. 2d DCA 2018).

MTGLQ therefore has the rights of a holder, and it is entitled to obtain the loan documents from the court file. See also Kajaine , 198 So. 3d at 1011 (holding court should release note to transferee under valid assignment).

(3) Standing in the shoes of original plaintiff.

In addition, once the court enters an order substituting a new party in the place of the earlier plaintiff, the substituted plaintiff stands in the shoes of the original plaintiff.

See Wilmington Tr. v. Moon , 238 So. 3d 425, 428 (Fla. 5th DCA 2018) (“In the case of a substituted plaintiff, the substituted plaintiff may rely on the standing (if any) of the original plaintiff at the time the case was filed. … Significantly, there is no requirement that a substituted plaintiff must prove its standing at the time of the substitution.”);

see also Wilmington Sav. Fund Soc’y, FSB v. Stevens , 290 So. 3d 115, 118 (Fla. 4th DCA 2020) (noting substituted plaintiff has the right to obtain the original note by moving for its release from the court file);

Spicer v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC , 238 So. 3d 275 (Fla. 4th DCA 2018) (holding substituted plaintiff had constructive possession of the original note because it was in the court file of the case when the new plaintiff came in, and was necessary for proof of standing at trial).

(4) No prejudice.

Borrower nevertheless argues that he will be prejudiced if MTGLQ gets the original note. The Fifth District rejected an argument similar to Borrower’s in PMT NPL Financing 2015-1 v. Centurion Systems, LLC , 257 So. 3d 516 (Fla. 5th DCA 2018).

Recognizing the right of a substituted plaintiff to have physical possession of original loan documents the original plaintiff had filed, the court aptly observed that a substituted plaintiff inevitably must have physical possession to authenticate the loan documents and enter them into evidence at trial. See id. at 518–19.

Otherwise, the substituted plaintiff could never meet its obligation to prove standing at enforcement. At a minimum, and in addition to the reasoning already discussed, MTGLQ as substituted plaintiff has the right to possess the note to prove standing if it goes to trial.

It receives no greater right upon removing the loan documents from the court file.

It can then elect to foreclose again, or to transfer the negotiable instrument to another entity that may foreclose.

In either case, Borrower retains his defenses and procedural rights.

In sum, a substituted plaintiff becomes a holder entitled to receive payments under the note and entitled to pursue remedies for nonpayment, including foreclosure.

A substituted plaintiff is not required to prove that it previously had physical possession of the original note, in order to have holder status.

Thus, MTGLQ’s receipt of the original documents will not add to its rights or prejudice Borrower.

If MTGLQ or any other party files a new foreclosure action, or if more than one entity attempts to foreclose on the same note, Borrower’s defenses remain intact.

C. Rejecting Borrower’s Other Arguments.
(1) The Purported Rescission.

Borrower argues FNMA’s transfer to MTGLQ was ineffective because FNMA purportedly rescinded assignment of the mortgage to JPMorgan, making it impossible for JPMorgan to have assigned the mortgage back to FNMA before FNMA assigned both note and mortgage to MTGLQ.

We reject this argument because Borrower failed to prove it.

This case had been set for trial twice, but Borrower raised this argument only orally and for the first time at the reconsideration hearing.

He did not give MTGLQ advance notice, and he did not authenticate the document or enter it into evidence. This was improper.

A court cannot rely on unsworn argument of counsel and an unauthenticated document to determine the substantive rights of an opposing party—neither is competent evidence.

See, e.g. , Shaffer v. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Tr. , 235 So. 3d 943, 946 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) (Villanti, C.J., concurring specially) (collecting cases holding that documents not authenticated or entered into evidence are “not properly before the court and cannot constitute evidence” as to a legal issue before the court);

Chase Home Loans LLC v. Sosa , 104 So. 3d 1240, 1241 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012) (“[U]nsworn representations of counsel about factual matters do not have any evidentiary weight in the absence of a stipulation.”).

(2) Lack of a Transcript.

We also reject Borrower’s argument that we must affirm without addressing the merits because MTGLQ did not get a transcript of the initial telephone hearing.

Borrower misplaces his reliance on Applegate v. Barnett Bank of Tallahassee, Inc. , 377 So. 2d 1150, 1152 (Fla. 1979).

Applegate holds that lack of a transcript can prevent meaningful appellate review. It does not mean that absence of a transcript is always fatal to an appeal.

Instead, the issue is whether the appeal turns on dispositive questions of fact that were, or could have been, established only in the proceedings not transcribed.

That is not the case here, where Borrower does not assert that any dispositive question of fact was resolved at the initial, untranscribed telephonic hearing. To the contrary, Borrower’s counsel stated at the transcribed hearing on MTGLQ’s motion for reconsideration that “there is not anything that’s been presented new from the prior hearing.”

While that comment referenced legal arguments, Borrower also did not identify then, and has not identified here, any relevant and dispositive evidence or question of fact presented solely at the earlier untranscribed hearing.

The absence of that transcript is irrelevant.

(3) Procedural Objections to Reconsideration.

We likewise reject Borrower’s argument that we must affirm because MTGLQ’s motion for reconsideration was untimely or improper.

Borrower did not raise these arguments below, and the trial court did not address them.

Without deciding that Borrower’s arguments would have had any merit, we find that his participation in the hearing without objection constituted a waiver.

See Correa v. U.S. Bank N.A ., 118 So. 3d 952, 954 (Fla. 2d DCA 2013) (finding waiver of procedural objections where party proceeds at hearing without objection).

4 Putting aside the fact that the rescinded assignment did not include the note, we also question the logic of thisargument.

FNMA owned the note, and JPMorgan sued as servicer for FNMA.

FNMA retained the right to assign the note, and assigned it to MTGLQ.

The mortgage follows the note.

See, e.g., Houk v. PennyMac Corp ., 210 So. 3d 726, 732 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017) (“The mortgage follows the assignment of the promissory note, but an assignment of the mortgage without an assignment of the debt creates no right in the assignee.” (quoting Tilus v. AS Michai LLC , 161 So. 3d 1284, 1286 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015) )).

Borrower did not object to substituting MTGLQ as plaintiff.

III. Conclusion.

We hold that MTGLQ as assignee and substituted plaintiff is authorized to receive the original note and mortgage from the court file. We therefore reverse the order on appeal, and remand with instructions that the clerk of the lower tribunal securely transmit those original documents to counsel of record for MTGLQ.

REVERSED and REMANDED with instructions.

Osterhaus and Nordby, JJ., concur.

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Rachel Nordby was appointed to the First District Court of Appeal on October 16, 2019 by Governor Ron DeSantis; she took office on October 23, 2019.

Before her appointment to the bench, Judge Nordby was a partner in the Tallahassee office of Shutts & Bowen LLP and served as Vice-Chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group. Before joining Shutts & Bowen, Judge Nordby served as the Senior Deputy Solicitor General for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. In this role, she represented the State, its agencies, and public officials in cases involving constitutional challenges and issues of statewide impact.

Before joining the Office of the Attorney General, Judge Nordby clerked for Judge Bradford L. Thomas on Florida’s First District Court of Appeal. Judge Nordby is a 2008 graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of The Florida State University Law Review and interned in the chambers of Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead. She earned her undergraduate degree in Classical Studies, summa cum laude, from the University of Florida.

Degrees:

  • Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, Florida State University College of Law, 2008
  • Bachelor of Arts (Classical Studies), summa cum laude, University of Florida, 2003

Legal Offices & Positions:

  • Judge, First District Court of Appeal, October 2019 to present
  • Partner & Vice-Chair of Appellate Practice Group, Shutts & Bowen, September 2018–October 2019
  • Florida Department of Legal Affairs, Office of the Solicitor General
  • Senior Deputy Solicitor General, December 2017–September 2018
  • Deputy Solicitor General, March 2012–December 2017
  • Law Clerk, Judge Bradford Thomas, First District Court of Appeal, May 2008–October 2009

Honors & Awards

  • Recognized by Florida Super Lawyers in its Appellate category (2019)
  • Recognized by Florida Trend in Florida 500 (2019), an annual publication highlighting Florida’s 500 most influential business leaders
  • Recognized by Florida Trend in its Legal Elite Government and Non-Profit Attorneys category (2016, 2017 & 2018)
      Florida State University College of Law:
  • Order of the Coif (class rank: 3 out of 314)
  • Florida State University Law Review
    • Editor-In-Chief, Vol. 35
    • Notes & Comments Editor, Vol. 34
    • Citation of Honor (2008)
    • Best Overall Student Article (2008)
    • Meritorious Service Award (2007)
  • Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law
    • Outstanding Subciter (2007, 2008)
  • Florida Supreme Court Internship Program for Distinguished Florida Law Students
  • Book Awards:
    • (1) Florida, the Constitution & the Supreme Court
    • (2) Topics in Appellate Practice
    • (3) Legal Writing & Research II
    • (4) Worker’s Compensation
    • (5) Professional Responsibility
    • (6) Natural Resources Law
    • (7) Law & the Arts
  • Dean’s List (every semester)
  • Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award
  • Phi Delta Phi (Legal Honor Society)
      University of Florida:
  • Phi Beta Kappa
  • College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame
  • Dean’s List
  • Eta Sigma Phi (Classics Honor Society)
  • Florida Bright Futures Scholarship
  • Golden Key Honor Society
  • Anderson Scholar
  • Maria Marees Leadership Award
  • Nutter Scholar

Judicial & Bar Activities:

  • The Florida Bar, Member No. 56606
    • Appellate Court Rules Committee, 2016 to present
      • Parliamentarian 2018 to present
    • Second Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee A, 2018–2019
    • Continuing Legal Education Committee, 2013–2016
    • Appellate Practice Section
    • Government Lawyers Section
  • Judicial Management Council, Direct Appointment by Chief Justice Canady, March 2019–present
  • First District Appellate Inn of Court, 2013–present
    • Executive Committee, 2017–present
    • Treasurer, 2019–2020
    • Chair, Mentorship Committee, 2017–2019
  • William H. Stafford Inn of Court, 2019–present
  • Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, 2005 to present
  • Tallahassee Lawyers Chapter Steering Committee, 2012 to present
    • Vice President, FSU Student Chapter, 2006–2007
  • Tallahassee Women Lawyers (Chapter of Florida Association of Women Lawyers), 2013 to present
    •   Director, 2014 Judicial Reception
    •   Secretary, 2015–2016
    •   President-Elect, 2016–2017
    •   President, 2017–2018
    •   Immediate Past-President, 2018–2019
  • Statewide Nominating Commission for Judges of Compensation Claims, Direct Gubernatorial Appointee, March 2010–October 2019

Presentations:

  • Panelist, Reflections from Year One on the Bench, Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association, Lunchtime CLE Webinar, July 2020
  • Panelist, Judicial Perspective: Remote Oral Arguments, Appellate Practice Section, Lunchtime CLE Webinar, June 2020
  • Presenter, 2019 Appellate Practice Section Monthly Webinar CLE Series,
    Recurring Issues in Constitutional Litigation, April 2019
  • Panelist, 2018 Annual Education Program of Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges, Emerging Trends in the Practice of Law, September 2018
  • Panelist, Practicing Before the Florida Supreme Court, Panel on Oral Argument, June 2018
  • Panelist, Institute for Justice’s Center for Judicial Engagement, Practitioner Perspectives on the Judicial Duty, February 2018
  • Panelist, First District Appellate Inn of Court, Florida’s Office of the Solicitor General: 20 Years, January 2018
  • Moderator Introduction, The Federalist Society, 2017 Annual Florida Chapters Conference, Combatting Federal Overreach, February 2017
  • Panelist, Appellate Practice Section Monthly Telephonic CLE, Reply Briefs, March 2016
  • Panelist, Appellate Practice Section Tallahassee Outreach CLE, Reply Briefs, March 2016
  • Guest Lecturer on Florida Supreme Court Review of Citizens Initiative Petitions, FSU Law School Course on Appellate Practice: The Florida Solicitor General’s Perspective, February 2016
  • Moderator, Practicing Before the Florida Supreme Court, Panel on Discretionary Review, June 2014
  • Panelist, Practicing Before the Florida Supreme Court, Panel Discussion on Briefs in Support and in Opposition to Requests for Discretionary Review; Ethics, June 2013
  • Panelist, Practicing With Professionalism, Young Lawyer Professionalism Panel, Fall 2014 & Fall 2013

Articles & Publications:

  • Florida’s Office of the Solicitor General: The First Ten Years, 37 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 219 (2009)
  • Off of the Pedestal and Into the Fire: How Phillips Chips Away at the Rights of Site-Specific Artists, 35 Fla. St. U. L. Rev. 167 (2007) (awarded best overall student article by Florida State University Law Review)

Judge Timothy Osterhaus was appointed to the First District Court of Appeal by Governor Rick Scott on May 20, 2013.

Before his appointment Judge Osterhaus served as the Solicitor General of Florida. As Florida’s SG, and as Deputy SG before that, he handled appeals on behalf of the State and its agencies in Florida’s district courts of appeal and in the Florida Supreme Court, as well in the federal courts, including in the United States Supreme Court. He also worked as counsel at the Florida Department of Education; worked in private practice in Washington, D.C.; and served as a law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Kenneth Ryskamp in West Palm Beach (with a co-clerk who later became his wife).

Judge Osterhaus spent his childhood in South Florida, where he attended Westminster Christian School. After moving away from Florida with his family, he attended high school at Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina, before moving again and graduating from Bristol Tennessee High School in 1989.

Judge Osterhaus received his bachelor’s degree with highest honors from King College (Bristol, Tenn.) in 1993, and his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1997.

Degrees:

J.D. 1988, University of Florida College of Law, Law Review Editor-in-Chief; B.A. Communications 1980, Freed-Hardeman University, Henderson, TN, magna cum laude.

Legal Offices & Positions:

Judge, First District Court of Appeal, April 2015 – present; Kelsey Appellate Law Firm, P.A., 2007 – 2015 (solo appellate practice); Anchors Smith Grimsley, P.L. Litigation Group, 2005 – 2007; Holland & Knight LLP, 1988 – 2005.

Honors & Awards:

Best Lawyers In America, 2013-14; Florida Super Lawyers, 2006-15; Florida Legal Elite, 2004-11, 2015; Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers, 2013; Martindale-Hubbell AV rating, 2000-present; Pro Bono Award co-recipient, The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section, 2004; Award for Outstanding Contribution by an Attorney to the Guardian Ad Litem program, Second Judicial Circuit, Leon County, Florida, 1990; Leadership Tallahassee Class 8 graduate, 1991.

Judicial & Bar Activities:

First District Appellate American Inn of Court: President and Master, 2009-10, and Executive Committee Officer and Master member, 2008-16; Member, The Florida Bar Appellate Practice Section and past member, The Florida Bar General Practice, Small Firm and Solo Practice Section; Vice Chair, The Florida Bar Appellate Rules Committee, 1999-2004, Subcommittees: Administrative Practice, Transition/Term Limits (chair); University of Florida Law Review Editor in Chief, summer & fall 1987; Title Standards Editor, spring 1987; Assistant Research Editor, 1986-87; UF College of Law Legal Research & Writing Instructor, 1987-88; Florida Blue Key 1987-88.

Articles & Publications:

Improving Appellate Oral Arguments Through Tentative Opinions and Focus Orders, The Florida Bar Journal (December 2014); Florida Appellate Practice, Jurisdiction and Review (The Florida Bar, 6thed. 2006); Florida Appellate Practice Guide, Jurisdiction (The Florida Bar, 2002/03 ed.) (rewritten); The New & Improved APA: Another Question Answered, The Florida Bar Admin. L. S. Newsletter (Dec. 2001); The New And Improved APA: Three Questions, Three Answers, The Florida Bar Admin. L. S. Newsletter (Mar. 2001); The Hidden Diversity, Florida Association of Women Lawyers’ Journal (Spring 2001); The Record on Appeal: The Foundation for Appellate Review, Florida Association of Women Lawyers’  Journal (Winter 2000); Revising the Role of the Florida Supreme Court in Constitutional Initiatives, The Florida Bar J. (April 1997).

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Appellate Circuit

Constance Daniels, Student of Hard Knocks, Admonished Florida Lawyer and Friend of The Eleventh Circuit

LIF cannot comprehend how the People of Florida and the United States of America are so accepting of Brazen Corruption.

Published

on

LIF COMMENTARY

The article below starts with Constance Daniels failure to pay for her law school tuition loan issued in 2003. She defaulted in 2005 per the complaint. The USA won a judgment of $164k+ in 2011.

In 2010, Wells Fargo commenced foreclosure proceedings in state court, Hillsborough County.

While all this was going on, Ms Daniels, a Republican, was attempting to become a State judge in 2014, which failed.

In late November of 2017 a settlement was reached, dismissing the Wells Fargo foreclosure complaint.

In 2017-2018, lawyer Daniels was failing to look after her client(s). Many moons later, in 2021, that would result in a slap on the wrist by the referee, Hon. Daniel D. Diskey for Fl. Bar.

Then we move onto the June 2018 complaint, filed by Daniels against the mortgage servicer. It was removed to the lower court in Middle District  of Florida Federal Court.

The court, via one of the Moody clan of judges, sided with Select Portfolio Servicing, LLC and this formed the appeal which was decided this week by the 11th Circuit.

In Nov. 2020, Wells Fargo filed a renewed foreclosure complaint against Daniels and her homestead in State court. In Sept 2021, Wells Fargo voluntarily dismissed the case and terminated the lis pendens ‘due to loan modification’.

The issue for LIF in this case is quite clear. Who the 11th Circuit has chosen to upend it’s prior stance that mortgage servicers can do no wrong under the FDCPA, despite irrefutable facts confirming otherwise.

For example, LIF refers to the case we highlighted regarding a deficiency judgment (State case, March 2022):

Florida Lawyer Stephanie Schneider Appeals a Mortgage Foreclosure Deficiency Judgment

In that case, LIF investigated beyond the court opinions to discover the wife is a Florida Lawyer and her husband, Laurence Schneider is owner of S&A Capital, Inc., a mortgage investment company, has built a national portfolio of performing mortgages that have been written off by other financial institutions.

Our angst is clear. Lawyers are being treated preferentially by the courts over regular citizens and homeowners.

In the case of Daniels, whilst she may have legitimate arguments, there have been many citizens who have failed before her by the wordsmithing by the Federal and Appellate Court(s), which has refused to apply the correct legal interpretation of the FDCPA, or clarify the question(s) with the federal consumer agency, the CFPB.

Whilst LIF is unhappy with the anti-consumer watchdog, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) which is a revolving door for staff to leave the Bureau and go work for a creditor rights law firm without any restriction or time limit (non-compete), the Daniels case should have been referred to the CFPB for interpretation about the matters of ‘first impression’.

The Second Circuit recently did so for a RESPA question in Naimoli v Ocwen and we highlighted the case on our sister website, LawsInTexas.com (Laws In Texas). Instead of doing so in Daniels, there is a dissenting opinion by Judge Lagoa, who’s father in law is a  senior judge in SD Florida (Paul C. Huck) and her hubby is a Jones Day Partner and apparently the leader of the Miami Chapter of the Federalist Society. Lagoa herself is a former Florida Supreme Court justice appointed by Gov DeSantis who ‘ensured he puts conservatives on the bench so that anyone coming to court knows how the court will rule’.

LIF anticipates the Daniels case will be subject to a rehearing petition and presented to the full en banc court for reconsideration. The opinion here is similar to the recent Newsom FDCPA opinion, which was too negative towards Wall St and the financial banking services community. As such, it was vacated by the en banc panel while they reconsider. The courts’ decision is currently pending.

In this case, there is still time for the 11th Circuit to correctly ask the CFPB to provide its opinion on the underlying facts raised on appeal and decided by the 3-panel.

However, what the judiciary won’t do is apply this retroactively to the thousands of cases which have been incorrectly tossed in the last 14 years, resulting in homeowners losing their homes to wrongful foreclosures.

United States v. Daniels (2011)

(8:11-cv-01058)

District Court, M.D. Florida

MAY 13, 2011 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAY 26, 2022

USA Motion for Summary Judgment with Exhibits, Doc. 13, Aug 17, 2011

ORDER granting  Motion for summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiff and against the defendant in the amount of $109,813.74,

together with accrued interest in the amount of $54,097.10 as of February 28, 2011,

plus interested at the rate of 8.25 percent per annum and a daily rate of $24.80, until the date of judgment;

for post-judgment interest, at the legal rate, from the entry of final judgment until the date of payment;

and for such other costs of litigation otherwise allowed by law.

The Clerk of Court is directed to close the case.

Signed by Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich on 9/22/2011.

(SN) (Entered: 09/22/2011)

U.S. District Court
Middle District of Florida (Tampa)
CIVIL DOCKET FOR CASE #: 8:11-cv-01058-EAK-AEP

USA v. Daniels
Assigned to: Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich
Referred to: Magistrate Judge Anthony E. Porcelli
Demand: $164,000
Cause: 28:1345 Default of Student Loan
Date Filed: 05/13/2011
Date Terminated: 09/22/2011
Jury Demand: None
Nature of Suit: 152 Contract: Recovery Student Loan
Jurisdiction: U.S. Government Plaintiff
Plaintiff
USA represented by I. Randall Gold
US Attorney’s Office – FLM
Suite 3200
400 N Tampa St
Tampa, FL 33602-4798
813/274-6026
Fax: 813/274-6247
Email: FLUDocket.Mailbox@usdoj.gov
LEAD ATTORNEY
ATTORNEY TO BE NOTICED
V.
Defendant
Constance Daniels represented by Constance Daniels
PO Box 6219
Brandon, FL 33608
PRO SE

 

Date Filed # Docket Text
05/13/2011 1 COMPLAINT against Constance Daniels filed by USA. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A, # 2 Exhibit B, # 3 Civil Cover Sheet)(MRH) (Entered: 05/13/2011)
05/13/2011 2 Summons issued as to Constance Daniels. (MRH) (Entered: 05/13/2011)
05/13/2011 3 ORDER regulating the processing of civil recovery actions. Service must be perfected by 09/10/2011. Signed by Deputy Clerk on 5/13/2011. (MRH) (Entered: 05/13/2011)
05/13/2011 4 STANDING ORDER: Filing of documents that exceed twenty-five pages. Signed by Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich on 7/15/08. (MRH) (Entered: 05/13/2011)
05/19/2011 5 NOTICE of designation under Local Rule 3.05 – track 1 (CLM) (Entered: 05/19/2011)
05/20/2011 6 CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE re 3 ORDER regulating the processing of civil recovery actions by USA (Gold, I.) Modified on 5/20/2011 (MRH). (Entered: 05/20/2011)
05/25/2011 7 CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE by USA (Notice of Designation Under Local Rule 3.05) (Gold, I.) (Entered: 05/25/2011)
07/06/2011 8 RETURN of service executed on 7/5/11 (Marshal 285) by USA as to Constance Daniels. (MRH) (Entered: 07/06/2011)
07/27/2011 9 MOTION for default judgment against Constance Daniels by USA. (Gold, I.) Modified on 7/27/2011 (MRH). NOTE: TERMINATED. INCORRECT MOTION RELIEF. ATTORNEY NOTIFIED. ATTORNEY TO REFILE. (Entered: 07/27/2011)
07/27/2011 10 MOTION for entry of clerk’s default against Constance Daniels by USA. (Gold, I.) Motions referred to Magistrate Judge Anthony E. Porcelli. (Entered: 07/27/2011)
07/28/2011 11 CLERK’S ENTRY OF DEFAULT as to Constance Daniels. (MRH) (Entered: 07/28/2011)
07/29/2011 12 ANSWER to 1 Complaint by Constance Daniels.(BES) (Entered: 07/29/2011)
08/17/2011 13 MOTION for summary judgment by USA. (Attachments: # 1 Exhibit A, # 2 Exhibit B)(Gold, I.) (Entered: 08/17/2011)
09/09/2011 14 ENDORSED ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE as to Constance Daniels.. The plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on 8/17/11. The defendant had up to and including 9/3/11 to respond to the motion. To date no response has been filed. Therefore, it is ORDERED that the defendant has up to and including 9/19/11 in which to show cause why the pending motion should not be granted. Signed by Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich on 9/9/2011. (SN) (Entered: 09/09/2011)
09/22/2011 15 ORDER granting 13 Motion for summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiff and against the defendant in the amount of $109,813.74, together with accrued interest in the amount of $54,097.10 as of February 28, 2011, plus interested at the rate of 8.25 percent per annum and a daily rate of $24.80, until the date of judgment; for post-judgment interest, at the legal rate, from the entry of final judgment until the date of payment; and for such other costs of litigation otherwise allowed by law. The Clerk of Court is directed to close the case.. Signed by Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich on 9/22/2011. (SN) (Entered: 09/22/2011)
10/12/2011 16 ABSTRACT of judgment as to Constance Daniels. (DMS) (Entered: 10/12/2011)

Order GRANTING Summary Judgment for $164k Student Loan Debt, Doc. 15, Sep 22, 2011

Daniels v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc.

(2018-Present)

(8:18-cv-01652)

District Court, M.D. Florida

ORDER

THIS CAUSE comes before the Court upon Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint (Dkt. 24) and Plaintiff’s Response in Opposition (Dkt. 27).

The Court, having reviewed the motion, response, and being otherwise advised in the premises, concludes that Defendant’s motion should be granted.

Specifically, Plaintiff’s second amended complaint will be dismissed with prejudice because any further amendment is futile.

BACKGROUND

As the Court explained in its prior Order granting Defendant’s motion to dismiss, (see Dkt. 22), Plaintiff Constance Daniels initially filed suit in Florida state court against Defendant Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc. (“SPS”) alleging three Florida claims, which included a claim under Florida’s civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act.

On July 10, 2018, SPS removed the case to this Court based on diversity jurisdiction.

On August 6, 2018, SPS moved to dismiss the entire complaint.

In relevant part, SPS argued that the complaint failed to allege any of the elements of a RICO claim.

On August 27, 2018, Daniels filed an amended complaint, which mooted SPS’s motion to dismiss.

Daniels’ amended complaint alleged two claims: a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) and a claim under the Florida Consumer Collections Practices Act (“FCCPA”).

Both claims relied on the same allegations.

To summarize, Daniels alleged that SPS had “improperly servic[ed]” her mortgage loan “in reckless disregard” of her consumer rights. (Dkt. 12).

The amended complaint did not attach any mortgage statements.

SPS moved to dismiss Daniels’ amended complaint based on her failure to allege that SPS ever attempted to collect the mortgage balance.

The Court granted SPS’s motion.

The Court noted that the amended complaint did not identify or attach any communication from SPS to Daniels.

The Court also surmised that the dispute was more akin to a dispute about an improper accounting of Daniels’ mortgage.

The Court dismissed the FDCPA and FCCPA claims and provided Daniels a final opportunity to amend her complaint.

Daniels filed a second amended complaint.

The allegations are largely unchanged.

But, significantly, Daniels attaches multiple monthly mortgage statements that SPS sent to her.

She now claims that these mortgage statements constitute debt collection activity under the FDCPA and FCCPA.

SPS’s motion to dismiss argues that the monthly mortgage statements comply with Regulation Z of the Truth in Lending Act (the “TILA”)—they were not communications in connection with the collection of a debt—and therefore do not constitute debt collection activity under the FDCPA and FCCPA.

As explained further below, the Court agrees with SPS’s position based on the Court’s detailed review of the monthly mortgage statements.

Therefore, the second amended complaint will be dismissed with prejudice.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a court to dismiss a complaint when it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

When reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court must accept all factual allegations contained in the complaint as true.

Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal citation omitted).

It must also construe those factual allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.

Hunt v. Aimco Properties, L.P., 814 F.3d 1213, 1221 (11th Cir. 2016) (internal citation omitted).

To withstand a motion to dismiss, the complaint must include “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”

Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

A claim has facial plausibility “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

Pleadings that offer only “labels and conclusions,” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action,” will not do.

Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

DISCUSSION

The FDCPA and FCCPA prohibit debt collectors from using a “false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt.”

See e.g. 15 U.S.C. § 1692e (emphasis added);

Fla. Stat. § 559.72 (“In collecting debts, no person shall . . .”) (emphasis added).

It is axiomatic then that the “challenged conduct is related to debt collection” to state a claim under either statute.

Reese v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams, LLP, 678 F.3d 1211, 1216 (11th Cir. 2012);

see also Garrison v. Caliber Home Loans, Inc., 233 F. Supp. 3d 1282, 1286 (M.D. Fla. 2017) (“the FCCPA is a Florida state analogue to the federal FDCPA.”) (internal citations omitted).

“[T]he Eleventh Circuit has not established a bright-line rule” as to what qualifies as “in connection with the collection of any debt.”

Dyer v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., 108 F. Supp. 3d 1278, 1280 (M.D. Fla. 2015).

“As a general principle, the absence of a demand for payment is not dispositive,” and courts should “instead consider whether the overall communication was intended to induce the debtor to settle the debt.”

Wood v. Citibank, N.A., No. 8:14-cv-2819-T-27EAJ, 2015 WL 3561494, at *3 (M.D. Fla. June 5, 2015) (citations omitted).

The second amended complaint attaches multiple monthly mortgage statements.1

Because the communications at issue here are all monthly mortgage statements, a discussion of the TILA is necessary.

The TILA requires SPS, a servicer, to send monthly mortgage statements.

12 C.F.R. § 1026.41. Specifically, 12 C.F.R. § 1026.41(d) requires that servicers provide debtors with detailed monthly mortgage statements containing, among other things: the “amounts due;” the “payment due date;” “the amount of any late payment fee, and the date that fee will be imposed if payment has not been received;” “an explanation of amount due, including a breakdown showing how much, if any, will be applied to principal, interest, and escrow and, if a mortgage loan has multiple payment options, a breakdown of each of the payment options;” “any payment amount past due;” a breakdown of “the total of all payments received since the last statement” and “since the beginning of the current calendar year;” “a list of all transaction activity that occurred since the last statement;” “partial payment information;” “contact information;” and detailed “account information” and “delinquency information.”

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (the “CFPB”) has issued a bulletin providing that a

“servicer acting as a debt collector would not be liable under the FDCPA for complying with [monthly mortgage statement] requirements.”

Implementation Guidance for Certain Mortgage Servicing Rules, 10152013 CFPB GUIDANCE, 2013 WL 9001249 (C.F.P.B. Oct. 15, 2013).

Courts have largely followed this guidance.

See, e.g., Jones v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., No. 18-cv-20389, 2018 WL 2316636, at *3 (S.D. Fla. May 2, 2018) (citing 12 C.F.R. § 1026.41(d));

Brown v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., No. 16-62999-CIV, 2017 WL 1157253 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 24, 2017) (noting the guidance and finding that monthly mortgage statements in compliance with the TILA were not debt collection).

The monthly mortgage statements at issue here were in conformity with the TILA requirements.

Moreover, the subject statements were substantially similar to model form H-30(B) provided by Appendix X to Part 1026 of TILA Regulation Z.

See also Jones, 2018 WL 2316636, at *4 (noting the similarities between a monthly mortgage statement and the model form in concluding no debt collection).

Although the monthly mortgage statements may not be identical to model form H-30(B), the differences are not significant deviations.

Notably, the plaintiff in Brown brought a nearly identical lawsuit against SPS.

The court explained in detail why the plaintiff was unable to state a claim under the FDCPA and FCCPA because the monthly mortgage statement was required to be sent pursuant to the TILA.

The complaint in Brown was dismissed with prejudice because “amendment would be futile” given that the basis for the claims was a monthly mortgage statement that was not actionable as a matter of law.

See 2017 WL 1157253, at *2-*4.

Also, the Jones court discussed in detail the numerous prior decisions addressing this issue, including multiple cases from this district that have held that monthly mortgage statements

“are almost categorically not debt collection communications under the FDCPA.”

2018 WL 2316636, at *5 (citing cases).

The particular monthly mortgage statements before the court in Jones were also sent by SPS and were substantively identical to the statements at issue in this case and in Brown.

Most recently, in Mills v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., No. 18-cv-61012- BLOOM/Valle, 2018 WL 5113001 (S.D. Fla. Oct. 19, 2018), the court “agree[d] with the reasoning in Jones and [concluded] that the Mortgage Statements at issue [were] not communications in connection with a collection of a debt.” Id. at *2.

In conclusion, the substance of the monthly mortgage statements at issue in this case is substantially similar to model form H-30(B).

Any minor discrepancies in the language—when taken in the context of the document as an otherwise carbon copy of form H-30(B)—do not take the statements out of the realm of a monthly mortgage statement and into the realm of debt collection communications.

It is therefore ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that:

1. Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint (Dkt.

24) is granted.

2. Plaintiff’s Second Amended Complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

3. The Clerk of Court is directed to close this case and terminate any pending motions as moot.

DONE and ORDERED in Tampa, Florida on December 18, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Copies furnished to: Counsel/Parties of Record

Judge Bert Jordan’s “Reputation” Warning to New Florida Lawyers

Constance Daniels Admonished by the Florida Bar (2021)

Constance Daniels, P.O. Box 6219, Brandon, admonishment in writing and directed to attend Ethics School effective immediately following a November 24 court order.

(Admitted to practice: 1995)

Daniels failed to act with reasonable diligence and failed to communicate with her client in connection with a dissolution of marriage action.

Daniels also failed to timely respond to the Bar’s formal complaint.

(Case No: SC21-683)

Constance Daniels v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc. (2022)

11th Cir., Published Opinion

(19-10204, May 24, 2022)

“A matter of first impression” 14 Years after the great recession and greatest theft of citizens homes in the history of the United States.

It’s quite incredulous how the 11th Circuit selects a Sanctioned Fl. Republican Lawyer, a failed judicial candidate and one who is facing foreclosure, for this ‘landmark’ published opinion in 2022.

Panel Author, Judge Bert Jordan, joined by Judge Brasher with a dissenting opinion by Judge Babs Lagoa

11th Circuit revives FDCPA lawsuit over mortgage statement language

How Westlaw is Summarizing the Latest Eleventh Circuit Opinion

(May 26, 2022)

Resolving an issue of first impression, a divided federal appeals panel has held that mortgage servicers can be liable under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for inaccuracies in monthly mortgage statements that contain additional debt-collection language.

Daniels v. Select Portfolio Servicing Inc., No. 19-10204, (11th Cir. May 24, 2022).

In a 2-1 decision, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on May 24 reinstated Constance Daniels’ lawsuit against Select Portfolio Servicing Inc., in which she alleges the company used faulty mortgage statements to try to collect payments she did not owe.

Writing for the panel majority, U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto J. Jordan acknowledged that Select Portfolio was required to issue the mortgage statements under the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1638.

However, the mortgage statements fell within the scope of the FDCPA’s prohibition on false or misleading representations, 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692e, because they included additional debt-collection language — “this is an attempt to collect a debt” — the opinion said.

Judge Jordan reasoned that “in determining whether a communication is in connection with the collection of a debt, what could be more relevant than a statement in the communication than ‘this is an attempt to collect a debt’?”

U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Lagao dissented, saying the majority treated the language like “magic words” that could convert an otherwise routine mortgage statement into a communication covered by the FDCPA.

Judge Lagoa also argued that the decision created a circuit split, although the panel majority insisted that the facts of Daniels’ case distinguished it from others in which federal circuit courts seemed to reach a contrary result.

District Court tosses FDCPA claims

Daniels sued Select Portfolio in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in July 2018.

According to the suit, Daniels had prevailed in a state court foreclosure action brought by lender Wells Fargo in 2015, with the judge sanctioning Wells Fargo and enforcing an earlier loan modification agreement between the parties.

But Daniels’ mortgage servicer, Select Portfolio, later issued several monthly mortgage statements misstating the principal balance and amount due, and falsely claiming that her loan was in arrears, the suit says.

At least three of the mortgage statements included the sentence, “This is an attempt to collect a debt,” according to the suit.
Daniels accuses Select Portfolio of using false or misleading representations in connection with the collection of a debt, in violation of the FDCA and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act, Fla. Stat. Ann. § 559.72.

Select Portfolio moved to dismiss, saying Daniels was attempting hold it liable for issuing mortgage statements that are required under the Truth in Lending Act.

U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. agreed and dismissed the suit in December 2018. Daniels v. Select Portfolio Servs. Inc., No. 18-cv-1652, (M.D. Fla. Dec. 18, 2018).

Judge Moody said that any discrepancies in language between Select Portfolio’s monthly statements and what is required under TILA “do not take the statements out of the realm of a monthly mortgage statement and into the realm of debt collection communications.”

On appeal, Daniels argued that compliance with TILA does not make a mortgage servicer immune from suit under the FDCPA and, even if it did, the monthly statements at issue included language beyond what is necessary under TILA.

Kaelyn S. Diamond and Michael A. Ziegler of the Law Office of Michael A. Ziegler represented Daniels.

Benjamin B. Brown and Joseph T. Kohn of Quarles & Brady LLP represented Select Portfolio.

By Dave Embree

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Appellate Circuit

Deutsche Bank and Nationstar Watch as 11th Circuit Discharge the Shotgun Despite Hunt’s Pleadings

There can be no doubt that this is a frivolous appeal and we would not hesitate to order sanctions if appellant had been represented by counsel.

Published

on

Hunt v. Nationstar Mortg., No. 21-10398

(11th Cir. May 27, 2022)

MAY 27, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: MAY 30, 2022

Before ROSENBAUM, GRANT, and MARCUS, Circuit Judges. PER CURIAM:

Christopher M. Hunt, Sr., proceeding pro se, appeals following the district court’s dismissal of his civil complaint arising out of his 2006 purchase of residential property located in Atlanta, Georgia (the “Property”).

Hunt purchased the Property using proceeds from a loan that he eventually defaulted on, which prompted Nationstar Mortgage, LLC (“Nationstar”), then servicer of the loan, to seek a non-judicial foreclosure on the Property.

After filing or being named in a variety of related lawsuits,1 Hunt filed the instant pro se complaint in Georgia state court in June 2020 and named as defendants Nationstar, the Deutsche Bank National Trust

1 See, g., Hunt v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC, 684 F. App’x 938 (11th Cir. 2017) (unpublished) (“Hunt I”);

[MARCUS, ROSENBAUM AND ANDERSON]

Hunt v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC, 779 F. App’x 669 (11th Cir. 2019) (unpublished);

[PRYOR,W., GRANT AND ANDERSON]

Hunt v. Nationstar Mortg., LLC, 782 F. App’x 762 (11th Cir. 2019) (unpublished);

[PRYOR,W., GRANT AND ANDERSON]

Deutsche Bank Tr. Co. Am., as Tr. for Fifteen Piedmont Ctr. v. Hunt, 783 F. App’x 998 (11th Cir. 2019) (unpublished).

[TJOFLAT, JORDAN AND NEWSOM]

Companies (“Deutsche Bank”), and Jay Bray, the CEO of Nationstar.

He alleged that they had committed, inter alia, mortgage fraud and wrongful foreclosure in violation of federal laws, including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the Dodd-Frank Act.2

The district court denied a variety of preliminary motions filed by Hunt;

dismissed, without prejudice, the complaint as to defendant Bray for failure to effect proper service;

and

dismissed, with prejudice, the complaint as to Deutsche Bank and Nationstar, because it was a “shotgun” pleading, was barred by res judicata, and failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.3

After thorough review, we affirm.

I.

Whether a court has subject-matter jurisdiction, including removal jurisdiction, is a question of law that we review de novo.

See McGee v. Sentinel Offender Servs., LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1241 (11th Cir. 2013).

We also review de novo a denial of a motion to

2 Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Pub. L. No. 107-204, 116 Stat. 745 (hereinafter “Sarbanes-Oxley Act”), and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Con- sumer Protection Act, Pub. L. No. 111-203, 124 Stat. 1376 (2010) (hereinafter “Dodd-Frank Act”).

3 Hunt also named Christian Sewing, the Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) of Deutsche Bank, as a defendant, but he later voluntarily dismissed him.

And after filing the complaint, Hunt sought to add yet another defendant, the Albertelli Law Firm (“Albertelli Law”).

Bray, Sewing and Albertelli Law have not filed any briefs on appeal.

remand to state court. Conn.

State Dental Ass’n v. Anthem Health Plans, 591 F.3d 1337, 1343 (11th Cir. 2009).

A district court’s decision regarding the indispensability of a party is reviewed for abuse of discretion.

United States v. Rigel Ships Agencies, Inc., 432 F.3d 1282, 1291 (11th Cir. 2005).

We will disturb a district court’s refusal to change venue only for a clear abuse of discretion.

Robinson v. Giarmarco & Bill, P.C., 74 F.3d 253, 255 (11th Cir. 1996).

We also review the district court’s denial of a motion for recusal for abuse of discretion.

Jenkins v. Anton, 922 F.3d 1257, 1271 (11th Cir. 2019).

We review a district court’s grant of a motion to dismiss for insufficient service of process, under Rule 12(b)(5), by applying a de novo standard to questions of law, and a clear error standard to the court’s findings of fact.

Albra v. Advan, Inc., 490 F.3d 826, 829 (11th Cir. 2007).

But when a party fails to object to a magistrate judge’s findings or recommendations in a report and recommendation, he “waives the right to challenge on appeal the district court’s order based on unobjected-to factual and legal conclusions.” 11th Cir. R. 3-1.

Under the circumstances, we review a claim on appeal only “for plain error,” if “necessary in the interests of justice.” Id.

We review the dismissal of a “shotgun” pleading under Rule 8 for abuse of discretion.

Vibe Micro, Inc. v. Shabanets, 878 F.3d 1291, 1294 (11th Cir. 2018).

When appropriate, we will review a district court’s dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) de novo.

Am. United Life Ins. Co. v. Martinez, 480 F.3d 1043, 1056–57 (11th Cir. 2007).

We will also review a dismissal

based on res judicata de novo.

Jang v. United Techs. Corp., 206 F.3d 1147, 1149 (11th Cir. 2000).

We review de novo a district court’s conclusions on collateral estoppel, but review its legal conclusion that an issue was actually litigated in a prior action for clear error.

Richardson v. Miller, 101 F.3d 665, 667–68 (11th Cir. 1996).

While pro se pleadings are liberally construed, issues not briefed on appeal are normally forfeited and we will generally not consider them.

Timson v. Sampson, 518 F.3d 870, 874 (11th Cir. 2008).

An appellant can abandon a claim by:

(1) making only passing reference to it;

(2) raising it in a perfunctory manner without supporting arguments and authority;

(3) referring to it only in the “statement of the case” or “summary of the argument”;

or

(4) referring to the issue as mere background to the appellant’s main arguments.

Sapuppo v. Allstate Floridian Ins. Co., 739 F.3d 678, 681– 82 (11th Cir. 2014).

In addition, if a district court’s order rested on two or more independent, alternative grounds, the appellant must challenge all of the grounds to succeed on appeal.

See id. at 680.

When an appellant fails to challenge on appeal one of the grounds on which the district court based its judgment, he is deemed to have abandoned any challenge of that ground, and it follows that the judgment is due to be affirmed.

See id.

II.

Liberally construed, Hunt’s brief on appeal seeks to challenge the district court’s decisions:

(1) denying remand of his case to state court

and

denying his request to file an amended complaint adding another defendant, Albertelli Law;

(2) denying his request

to transfer the case;

(3) denying his request to disqualify the judge;

(4) dismissing, without prejudice, his complaint as to defendant Bray for failure to effect proper service;

and

(5) dismissing his complaint, with prejudice, as to Deutsche Bank and Nationstar.

To be sure, Hunt’s arguments about these decisions by the district court are not clearly stated.

But even if we were to assume that he has preserved his arguments on appeal, they fail on the merits.

First, we are unpersuaded by Hunt’s arguments that the district court should have allowed him to file an amended complaint to add another party to the suit, which would have deprived the federal court of jurisdiction, and should have remanded the case to state court.

Federal courts have diversity-of-citizenship jurisdiction when the parties are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.

28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1).

A corporation is a citizen of every state where it was incorporated and the one state in which it has its principal place of business.

Daimler AG v. Bauman, 571 U.S. 117, 133, 137 (2014); 28 U.S.C. § 1332(c)(1).

A defendant may remove any civil action brought in a state court to a federal district court that has original jurisdiction over the action.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

The removing party bears the burden of proving that removal jurisdiction exists.

McGee, 719 F.3d at 1241.

Here, the district court did not err in denying Hunt’s motion to remand. As we’ve held in a previous appeal, his motion was based on his belated and fraudulent attempts to join Albertelli Law, in an effort to defeat the district court’s diversity jurisdiction.

See Hunt I, 684 F. App’x. at 942-44.

However, Hunt asserted federal

claims in his complaint, so the district court had jurisdiction in any event.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

Accordingly, the district court correctly denied Hunt’s requests to remand the case and acted within its discretion to deny joinder.

Rigel Ships Agencies, Inc., 432 F.3d at 1291.

We also find no merit to Hunt’s claims that the district court should have transferred venue of his lawsuit.

A district court may transfer a civil action to any other district or division where it may have been brought “for the convenience of the parties and witnesses, and in the interest of justice.”

Robinson, 74 F.3d at 260 (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)).

But in this case, the district court did not err because Hunt did not provide any cognizable reason for a transfer.

It appears that Hunt’s transfer request was based on his belief that case law in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia would be more favorable to him – which is not a legitimate reason for transfer.

See 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).

Similarly, we reject Hunt’s argument that the district court judge should have recused himself.

A judge must sua sponte recuse himself “in any proceeding in which his impartiality might reasonably be questioned” or “

[w]here he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party.”

28 U.S.C. § 455(a), (b)(1).

“The test is whether an objective, disinterested, lay observer fully informed of the facts underlying the grounds on which recusal was sought would entertain a significant doubt about the judge’s impartiality.”

Parker v. Connors Steel Co., 855 F.2d 1510, 1524 (11th Cir. 1988).

“Ordinarily, a judge’s rulings in the same or a related case may not serve as

the basis for a recusal motion.”

McWhorter v. City of Birmingham, 906 F.2d 674, 678 (11th Cir. 1990).

“The judge’s bias must be personal and extrajudicial; it must derive from something other than that which the judge learned by participating in the case.”

Id.

“The exception to this rule is when a judge’s remarks in a judicial context demonstrate such pervasive bias and prejudice that it constitutes bias against a party. Mere friction . . . however, is not enough to demonstrate pervasive bias.”

Thomas v. Tenneco Packaging Co., 293 F.3d 1306, 1329 (11th Cir. 2002) (quotation marks omitted).

As the record before us makes clear, no “objective, disinterested, lay observer fully informed of the facts underlying” these circumstances “would entertain a significant doubt about the judge’s impartiality.”

Parker, 855 F.2d at 1524.

Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Hunt’s request for recusal or disqualification.

Nor do we find any merit to Hunt’s argument that the district court erred in dismissing the complaint against defendant Bray for lack of proper service.

When a federal court is considering the sufficiency of process after removal, it does so by looking to the state law governing process.

See Usatorres v. Marina Mercante Nicaraguenses, S.A., 768 F.2d 1285, 1286 n.1 (11th Cir. 1985).

Georgia law provides that service made “outside the state” of Georgia is to be done “in the same manner as service is made within the state.”

O.C.G.A. § 9-10-94.

Under Georgia law, service on natural persons is to be made “personally, or by leaving copies thereof at the defendant’s dwelling house or usual place of abode with some

person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to an agent authorized . . . to receive service of process.”

O.C.G.A. § 9-11-4(e)(7).

Notably, Hunt does not dispute these proposed findings set forth by the magistrate judge’s Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), that Hunt:

(1) mailed service to Bray;

and

(2) completed “corporate service” on Deutsche Bank, which Hunt asserted was also effective to serve Bray.

11th Cir. R. 3-1.

But, as the district court determined, Georgia law applied here and required personal service in these circumstances.

Albra, 490 F.3d at 829; O.C.G.A. § 9-11-4(e)(7).

Bray therefore was not properly served under Georgia law, and, for that reason, the district court did not err in dis- missing Hunt’s suit without prejudice as to Bray.

Finally, we find no error in the district court’s denial of injunctive relief and its dismissal of Hunt’s complaint against the two remaining defendants, Nationstar and Deutsche Bank.

A district court has the inherent authority to control its docket and ensure the prompt resolution of lawsuits, which includes the ability to dismiss a complaint on “shotgun” pleading grounds.

Shabanets, 878 F.3d at 1295.

We have described four types of “shotgun” com- plaints:

(1) those containing multiple counts where each count adopts all allegations of all preceding counts;

(2) those replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action;

(3) those that do not separate each cause of action or claim for relief into different counts;

and

(4) those asserting multiple claims against multiple defendants without

specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is brought against.

Weiland v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff’s Off., 792 F.3d 1313, 1321–23 (11th Cir. 2015).

“Shotgun” pleadings violate Rule 8, which requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), by failing to, in one degree or another, give the defendants adequate notice of the claims against them and the grounds upon which each claim rests.

Shabanets, 878 F.3d at 1294–96.

We generally require district courts to allow a litigant at least one chance to remedy any deficiencies before dismissing the complaint with prejudice, where a more carefully drafted complaint might state a claim.

See id.; Silberman v. Miami Dade Transit, 927 F.3d 1123, 1132 (11th Cir. 2019).

But it need not grant leave to amend the complaint when further amendment would be futile.

Silberman, 927 F.3d at 1133.

Under federal law, res judicata, or claim preclusion, bars a subsequent action if

“(1) the prior decision was rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction;

(2) there was a final judgment on the merits;

(3) the parties were identical in both suits;

and

(4) the prior and present causes of action are the same.”

Jang, 206 F.3d at 1148– 49 & n.1 (quotation marks omitted).

We have held that “if a case arises out of the same nucleus of operative facts, or is based upon the same factual predicate, as a former action, the two cases are really the same ‘claim’ or ‘cause of action’ for purposes of res judicata.”

Baloco v. Drummond Co., Inc., 767 F.3d 1229, 1247 (11th

Cir. 2014) (quotation marks omitted and alterations adopted).

“In addition, res judicata applies not only to the precise legal theory presented in the prior case, but to all legal theories and claims arising out of the nucleus of operative fact” that could have been raised in the prior case.

Id. (quotation marks omitted and alterations adopted).

Collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, “refers to the effect of a judgment in foreclosing relitigation of a matter that has been litigated and decided.”

Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 77 n.1 (1984).

Thus, “collateral estoppel is appropriate only when the identical issue has been fully litigated in a prior case.”

In re McWhorter, 887 F.2d 1564, 1567 (11th Cir. 1989) (quotation marks omitted).

“The party seeking to invoke collateral estoppel bears the burden of proving that the necessary elements have been satisfied.”

Id. at 1566.

“[C]hanges in the law after a final judgment [generally] do not prevent the application of res judicata and collateral estoppel, even though the grounds on which the decision was based [may be] subsequently overruled.”

Precision Air Parts, Inc. v. Avco Corp., 736 F.2d 1499, 1503 (11th Cir. 1984).

To safeguard investors in public companies and restore trust in the financial markets, Congress enacted the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, 116 Stat. 745.

See S. Rep. No. 107-146, pp. 2–11 (2002).

The Act contains several provisions, including a whistleblower protection provision which prohibits a publicly traded company or its officers from discharging an “employee” for providing information to a supervisory authority about conduct that the employee

“reasonably believes” constitutes a violation of federal laws against mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, securities fraud, any SEC rule or regulation, or any provision of federal law relating to fraud against shareholders.

See 18 U.S.C. § 1514A(a)(1).

The Dodd-Frank Act whistleblower provision provides protection to individuals who provide “information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the” Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”).

15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(a)(6).

Thus, “[t]o sue under Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision, a person must first provide information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the [SEC].”

Dig. Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, 138 S. Ct. 767, 772–73 (2018) (quotation marks omitted and alterations adopted).

In his brief on appeal, Hunt does not expressly address the lower court’s “shotgun” pleading determination, and, as a result, the district court’s dismissal of the complaint is due to be affirmed.

Sapuppo, 739 F.3d at 681–82.

But in any event, the district court did not err in finding that his complaint was a “shotgun” pleading.

As the record reflects, the complaint consisted of three numbered paragraphs that spanned paragraphs and pages; failed to isolate claims by defendants;

and largely failed to discuss any facts — thereby falling into several of our identified categories of prohibited “shotgun” pleadings.

Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1321-23.

The district court also was correct that amendment would have been futile.

For one, res judicata and collateral estoppel barred Hunt’s claims for breach of contract and fraud, since Hunt sued the same parties for the same alleged breach of contract and fraud in several prior cases.

See, e.g., Hunt I, 684 F. App’x at 944.4

These decisions were final judgments and were “rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction,” “on the merits,” against the same parties, and “the prior and present causes of action [were] the same.”

Jang, 206 F.3d at 1149.

Moreover, even if some of Hunt’s claims had not been explicitly presented in any of his prior cases, they would still be barred by res judicata because every claim arose from the same facts as each of his prior cases, and he could have raised them in any of the prior proceedings.

Baloco, 767 F.3d at 1247.

Also, despite Hunt’s arguments, there have been no “changes in the law” that would “prevent the application of res judicata and collateral estoppel” in this case.

Precision Air Parts, 736 F.2d at 1503.

In addition, Hunt’s claims under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and Dodd-Frank Act were futile because they fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

As the record reflects, Hunt did not allege that he was an “employee” under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, nor that he “provide[d] information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the [SEC]” as required under the Dodd-Frank Act.

4 To the extent that Hunt challenges the district court’s decisions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b), we conclude that he has not identified any “extraordinary circumstances” entitling him to relief, and the district court did not abuse its discretion in this respect.

Toole v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 235 F.3d 1307, 1316 (11th Cir. 2000) (quotation marks omitted).

Somers, 138 S. Ct. at 772–74.

Accordingly, Hunt did not state a cause of action under these statutes, and we affirm.

AFFIRMED.5

5 All of Hunt’s pending motions, which he filed after we imposed a filing restriction on him, are DENIED to the extent they request any relief.

For their part, Nationstar and Deutsche Bank have filed renewed motions for sanctions, requesting monetary sanctions against Hunt for his numerous motions before this Court under 11th Cir. R. 27-4.

Hunt is pro se and we DENY the motions for sanctions at this time.

See Woods v. I.R.S., 3 F.3d 403, 404 (11th Cir. 1993)

(“There can be no doubt that this is a frivolous appeal and we would not hesitate to order sanctions if appellant had been represented by counsel. However, since this suit was filed pro se, we conclude that sanctions would be inappropriate.”).

Although we are reluctant to impose sanctions on pro se appellants, we warn Hunt that our Court has imposed sanctions in circumstances like these, even for pro se litigants, and he is strongly cautioned against bringing any further frivolous motions or claims.

See Ricket v. United States, 773 F.2d 1214, 1216 (11th Cir. 1985)

(imposing sanctions on a pro se appellant who had been warned by the district court that the issues on appeal were frivolous).

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Appellate Circuit

God Goes in Front of Me and Makes the Crooked Straight and I Get to Keep My Pension

Ex-Inmate and Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown is Confident of Her Plea Deal Keepin’ Her out of Jail and Ending Her Criminal Case.

Published

on

Former congresswoman Corrine Brown to take plea deal
Brown faced retrial this fall on federal fraud charges

May 17, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: May 17, 2022

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former congresswoman Corrine Brown is set to change her plea Wednesday in a federal case that involves charges of fraud and conspiracy, avoiding a retrial that was scheduled to take place this fall.

Tuesday morning, News4JAX reporter Jim Piggott spoke with Corrine Brown by phone. She said everything will come out in court tomorrow.

“I want you to know, God has been good to me,”

Brown said.

“I just talked to my pastor and I know that He goes in front of me and make the crooked straight. That’s all I can tell you, He’s good.”

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown is set to change her plea Wednesday in a federal case that involves charges of fraud and conspiracy, avoiding a retrial that was scheduled to take place this fall.

Brown was indicted in 2016 on charges that included conspiracy, wire fraud, and tax fraud, on accusations that she used contributions to the One Door for Education charity for personal expenses.

Brown was convicted on some of the charges in May 2017, and began a five-year prison sentence in January 2018. Brown was released in April 2020, due to coronavirus concerns.

Following her conviction, Brown appealed the guilty verdict, arguing the trial judge wasn’t justified in replacing a juror who said the Holy Spirit told him Brown was not guilty.

A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals initially upheld Brown’s conviction.

Brown’s attorneys then asked for a rehearing before the full 11th Circuit, known as an “en banc” hearing. In May 2021, the appellate court reversed the conviction with a 7-4 decision, sending the case back to the district court for a potential retrial.

In October 2021, we learned that prosecutors planned to re-try Brown on the felony counts she faced in her 2017 trial.

At the time, we learned prosecutors had already extended her a plea deal to avoid being retried and the possibility of a return to prison, an offer she rejected at the time.

Following the appointment of a new defense team, Brown’s retrial was set to take place in September of 2022.

News4JAX Jim Piggott spoke with attorney Curtis Fallgatter,

“(Jim) Are you surprised at all?

(Curtis) A little bit, but not terribly because of the age of the case, the complexity of the case, the number of issues, reversal on appeal issues about a retrial, can I get a conviction, the age of Brown.”

The court document indicating that Brown will be changing her plea does not indicate what charges she may be pleading guilty to, or what sentence could potentially be imposed.

Fallgatter doesn’t believe Brown will serve any additional time.

He said she would not agree to that, and the agreement should be an end to the case.

Brown is getting her pension, and that likely will not change.

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