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Pro Se’s Appeal Judge Kenneth Marra’s Foreclosure Dismissal to 11th Cir. Drum Roll…

The Dixons allegations are conclusory, they abandoned claims on appeal and it’s futile expecting justice. Judge Marra’s Dismissal Affirmed.



Judge Andrew L. Brasher Joins Three Committees, The Marra Judicial Defense Committee, The Bankers Club and the Anti-Non Prisoner League.

MAY 29, 2021

ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that the Dixons ‘ Motion Requesting Leave to File a Verified Second Amended Complaint Pursuant to FRCP Rule 15(a), Rule 19(a) & Rule 18(a) [DE 47] is granted in part and denied in part.

The Court is mindful that Plaintiffs are pro se, and is also cognizant of the policy favoring allowing pro se individuals liberal opportunities to amend.

That being said, Plaintiffs will be permitted one more opportunity to amend their complaint, but are instructed that should their claims fail to set forth the factual and legal basis for relief upon further amendment, this case will be dismissed with prejudice, and could result in the imposition of sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P 11.

With these precautions, Plaintiffs may, on or before July 19, 2019, file a Second Amended Complaint for the following claims only: FDCPA, civil theft, and quiet title. If no pleading is filed within that time, this case will be closed for Plaintiffs failure to prosecute it.

Judge Kenneth A. Marra, S.D. Fl.

Dixon v. Green Tree Servicing, LLC, No. 19-80022-CIV MARRA/MATTHEWMAN, at *31-32 (S.D. Fla. July 3, 2019)

Roy and Blanche Dixon v. Green Tree Servicing (Ditech Financial) and Bank of America, N.A. (BANA) et al.

Before WILSON, LAGOA, and BRASHER, Circuit Judges. PER CURIAM:

Roy J. Dixon and Blanche L. Dixon (the Dixons) appeal pro se from a district court order denying them leave to amend and dismissing their claims with prejudice.

The Dixons filed a complaint against Bank of America, N.A. (BANA), and other defendants in federal district court alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and state-law civil theft.

The claims stemmed from BANA’s involvement in a mortgage and foreclosure dispute with the Dixons.

The district court dismissed the complaint with prejudice.

163 Rivera Ct., Royal Palm Beach, Fl.

The court also denied leave to file a third amended complaint, which included a new state-law civil theft claim and an implied damages claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Previously, the district court had also dismissed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claim for failure to state a claim.

The Dixons appealed.

On appeal, the Dixons argue that they properly removed their state foreclosure action to the district court; that the doctrine of fraudulent concealment delayed the running of the statute of limitations for their claims; and that they sufficiently alleged RICO, civil theft, and implied independent damages claims.

BANA filed a motion to strike portions of the Dixons’ appendix to their reply brief, which the Dixons opposed. After briefing was complete, the Dixons filed a motion to supplement the record.

We first consider whether the district court erred by determining that the Dixons had not initiated a removal case.

Then, we consider—with respect to each remaining claim—whether the district court erred by denying the Dixons’ motions to amend their complaint as futile and dismissing their case with prejudice.

Finally, we consider the pending motions.

I. Removal

We begin with the question of removal. A defendant may remove any civil action brought in state court to a federal district court that has original jurisdiction over the action. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a).

To remove a civil action pending in state court, a defendant must file a notice of removal in the district court “within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant, through service or otherwise, of a copy of the initial pleading setting forth the claim for relief upon which such action or proceeding is based.” Id. § 1446(a), (b)(1).

If a case was not removable based on the initial pleadings, the defendant may file a notice of removal “within thirty days after receipt by the defendant, [of a document] from which it may first be ascertained that the case is . . . or has become removable.” Id. § 1446(b)(3).

The notice of removal must contain “a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal, together with a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon such defendant or defendants in such action.” Id. § 1446(a).

Once the defendant has complied with the requirements for removal, the action is removed “and the State court shall proceed no further unless and until the case is remanded.” Id. § 1446(d).

We review de novo a district court’s removal jurisdiction. McGee v. Sentinel Offender Servs., LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1241 (11th Cir. 2013) (per curiam). The removing party bears the burden of proving that removal jurisdiction exists. Id.

Here, the district court properly found that this was not a removal case because the Dixons did not remove a case from state court to federal court.

As the district court explained in its April 29, 2019, order, the Dixons filed an original action in the district court when they filed a complaint alleging two causes of action.

They did not file a notice of removal, make a short and plain statement of the grounds for removal, or file a copy of all process, pleadings, and orders served upon them in the relevant state action. See § 1446(a), (b)(3).

The Dixons attached a “Notice of Removal” to their first amended complaint in the district court. That so-called Notice of Removal does not change the result here because the notice was a nullity.

Accordingly, there was no removal to challenge or remand.

And even if that notice is considered to be a “removal,” it would have been subject to remand upon a motion by a defendant because it was blatantly untimely—it was filed more than three years after the state foreclosure action began.

Therefore, we affirm the district court’s findings on removal.

II. FDCPA and Civil Theft

The district court dismissed the Dixons’ FDCPA claim on the grounds that the Dixons did not allege sufficient facts to support their claim and that their allegations were time barred.

The court similarly dismissed the Dixons’ civil theft claim for failure to allege sufficient facts.

The district court also denied as futile the Dixons’ motion for leave to add a new claim for civil theft against additional defendants:

Fannie Mae, and a law firm and an attorney both involved in the state court action.

The Dixons argue on appeal that the dismissals of the FDCPA and civil claims and denial of the motion to amend constituted an abuse of discretion by the district court.

Specifically, they contend that they sufficiently alleged specific facts to support their claims, and, with respect to the FDCPA claim, the doctrines of fraudulent concealment and equitable tolling tolled the statute of limitations.

We review de novo a district court’s grant of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Hunt v. Aimco Props., L.P., 814 F.3d 1213, 1221 (11th Cir. 2016). We accept the allegations in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. To withstand a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead facts that are sufficient to state a claim that is “plausible on its face.” Id.

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

A plaintiff must allege “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id.

Thus, “conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual deductions or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal.” Davila v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 326 F.3d 1183, 1185 (11th Cir. 2003).

We generally review for abuse of discretion a district court’s decision to deny leave to amend, but we review de novo the denial of leave to amend on grounds of futility. Boyd v. Warden, Holman Corr. Facility, 856 F.3d 853, 864 (11th Cir. 2017).

“An amendment is considered futile when the claim, as amended, would still be subject to dismissal.” Id.

To state a viable claim for civil theft under Florida law, a plaintiff must allege an injury resulting from the defendant’s violation of Florida’s criminal theft statute, Fla. Stat. § 812.014. United Techs. Corp. v. Mazer, 556 F.3d 1260, 1270 (11th Cir. 2009).

Specifically, a plaintiff must allege facts plausibly showing that the defendants knowingly obtained or used, or endeavored to obtain or use, the plaintiff’s property with “felonious intent” either temporarily or permanently to

(1) deprive the plaintiff of its right to or a benefit from the property or

(2) appropriate the property to the defendant’s own use or to the use of any person not entitled to the property. Id.

An appellant abandons issues that are not “plainly and prominently” raised in his initial brief. Sapuppo v. Allstate Floridian Ins. Co., 739 F.3d 678, 681 (11th Cir. 2014).

Although briefs filed by pro se litigants are liberally construed, issues raised by these litigants for the first time in a reply brief are deemed abandoned. Timson v. Sampson, 518 F.3d 870, 874 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam).

Thus, when a party makes only passing references to an issue in the initial brief and does not devote a discrete section of the brief to the argument of that issue, the party has abandoned that issue on appeal. United States v. Jernigan, 341 F.3d 1273, 1283 n.8 (11th Cir. 2003).

We generally will not consider an issue not raised in the district court.

Access Now, Inc. v. Sw. Airlines Co., 385 F.3d 1324, 1331 (11th Cir. 2004).

When a district court’s judgment is based upon multiple, independent grounds, an appellant must convince us that each enumerated ground for the judgment against him is incorrect. Sapuppo, 739 F.3d at 680.

If an appellant does not properly challenge one of the grounds on which the district court based its judgment, the appellant is deemed to have abandoned any challenge to that ground, and we affirm the district court’s judgment. Id.

Here, the Dixons abandoned any argument that they properly stated their FDCPA claim by not raising the issue on appeal.

See Timson, 518 F.3d at 874.

Because this finding was an independent ground for the district court’s decision to dismiss this claim, we affirm the dismissal without reaching the question of whether the Dixons’ FDCPA claim was time barred. See Sapuppo, 739 F.3d at 680.

The Dixons also abandoned any argument that the district court erred in dismissing their civil theft claim against BANA by not plainly and prominently presenting it in their initial brief.1 See id. at 681.

The Dixons made only conclusory, passing references to this issue in their discussion of a separate issue; they did not devote a discrete section of the brief to their argument of this issue. Jernigan, 341 F.3d at 1283 n.8.

As for the Dixons’ motion for leave to add a new claim for civil theft against Fannie Mae, a law firm, and an attorney, the district court properly denied the motion as futile.

The Dixons did not assert sufficient facts to plausibly support this claim, even after multiple attempts and discrete instructions from the district court on how to generally plead a civil theft claim. See Hunt, 814 F.3d at 1221.

Rather, the Dixons recited the elements of a civil theft claim with only conclusory allegations to support their claim. See id.; Davila, 326 F.3d at 1185.

Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s dismissal of the Dixons’ FDCPA and civil theft claims and the court’s denial, as futile, of the Dixons’ motion for leave to amend their complaint to add a new civil theft claim.

1 In their opening brief, the Dixons argue that their “Final Verified Third Amended Complaint” sufficiently alleges a civil theft claim and that “[t]he District Court exercised an abuse of discretion in dismissing the DIXONS Civil Theft claim with prejudice.” While they provide arguments in support of allowing the third amended complaint, that complaint does not bring a civil theft claim against BANA, and they provide no other discussion or argument of their civil theft claim against BANA.


Next we turn to the district court’s denial of the Dixons’ motion for leave to amend their RICO claim as futile. The Dixons argue that they sufficiently pled a RICO claim. They argue that BANA is an enterprise that is separate from its codefendants and that the defendants committed extortion, mail fraud, and wire fraud by selling the Dixons’ home and appropriating the funds to Fannie Mae.

The Dixons also argue that they justifiably relied on the defendants’ unlawful acts of extortion and that their injury was caused by the defendants’ commission of the predicate acts of extortion, mail fraud, and wire fraud.

Finally, the Dixons argue that the district court should have allowed their RICO claim to proceed under the doctrine of fraudulent concealment.

RICO provides for civil and criminal liability against any person who conducts the affairs of an enterprise “through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.” See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c), 1964.

“A RICO enterprise exists where a group of persons associates, formally or informally, with the purpose of conducting illegal activity.”

Jackson v. BellSouth Telecomms., 372 F.3d 1250, 1264 (11th Cir. 2004) (internal quotation marks omitted).

However, this enterprise must be distinct from any person named in a RICO claim. United States v. Goldin Indus., Inc., 219 F.3d 1268, 1271 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

To establish a pattern of racketeering activity, plaintiffs must show that: “(1) the defendants committed two or more predicate acts within a ten-year time span; (2) the predicate acts were related to one another; and (3) the predicate acts demonstrated criminal conduct of a continuing nature.” Jackson, 372 F.3d at 1264 (emphasis omitted).

Thus, the plaintiffs “must show that the racketeering predicates are related, and that they amount to or pose a threat of continued criminal activity.” H.J. Inc. v. Nw. Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S. 229, 239 (1989).

“Racketeering activity” includes any act which is indictable under the exhaustive list of criminal offenses outlined in 18 U.S.C. § 1961(1). This list of predicate acts includes extortion, as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1951; wire fraud, as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1343; and mail fraud, as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 1341. Id.§ 1961(1).

Under RICO, an “unlawful debt” is defined as a debt incurred in illegal gambling activity or a debt that charges a usurious interest rate. Id. § 1961(6).

Finally, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b) provides that a party alleging fraud “must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud” but that “[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person’s mind may be alleged generally.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b).

We have explained:

Rule 9(b) is satisfied if the complaint sets forth (1) precisely what statements were made in what documents or oral representations or what omissions were made, and (2) the time and place of each such statement and the person responsible for making (or, in the case of omissions, not making) same, and (3) the content of such statements and the manner in which they misled the plaintiff, and (4) what the defendants obtained as a consequence of the fraud.

Mizzaro v. Home Depot, Inc., 544 F.3d 1230, 1237 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Here, the district court properly denied the Dixons’ motion for leave to amend their civil RICO claim as futile.

The Dixons did not allege sufficient facts to support a plausible finding that there was a RICO enterprise, a pattern of racketeering activity, or the collection of an unlawful debt.

The Dixons alleged only conclusory statements that the defendants associated with BANA in furtherance of an illegal scheme; that is not sufficient to show the existence of a RICO enterprise. See Davila, 326 F.3d at 1185.

Their general allegations of mail fraud and wire fraud also do not satisfy the heightened Rule 9(b) pleading requirements. See Mizzaro, 544 F.3d at 1237. Additionally, BANA could not be a RICO enterprise because it was a party named in the RICO claim. See Goldin Indus., Inc., 219 F.3d at 1271.

Even if they amended their complaint, the Dixons’ RICO claim would still be subject to dismissal because they alleged only the loss of their own home—they did not plausibly allege criminal conduct of a continuing nature. See Jackson, 372

F.3d at 1264. Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s denial of the Dixons’ motion for leave to amend their civil RICO claim as futile.

IV. Implied Damages

The district court also denied the Dixons’ motion for leave to add an implied independent damages claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as futile.

On appeal, the Dixons argue that they sufficiently alleged the claim against the attorneys involved in their state foreclosure action.

To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to establish that he or she was “deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law.” Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49–50 (1999).

A private party may be considered a state actor for purposes of § 1983 only in “rare circumstances.”

Rayburn ex rel. Rayburn v. Hogue, 241 F.3d 1341, 1347 (11th Cir. 2001).

“[O]ne who has obtained a state court order or judgment is not engaged in state action merely because it used the state court legal process.”

Cobb v. Ga. Power Co., 757 F.2d 1248, 1251 (11th Cir. 1985).

Here, to the extent that the Dixons sought to assert an independent claim for damages under § 1983, the district court properly denied them leave to add the claim.

The conduct of the attorneys involved in the Dixons’ state foreclosure action in obtaining a state-law judgment against the Dixons does not constitute state action, and the Dixons did not sufficiently assert that these attorneys were acting under the color of state law.

Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s denial of the Dixons’ motion for leave to add an implied independent damages claim as futile.

V. Motions

Finally, we address the pending motions in this case.

A. Motion to Strike

BANA moved to strike portions of the Dixons’ reply brief appendix, specifically Appendices C, D, E, and G. The Dixons object only to the striking of Appendix G, which contains the transcript of a district court hearing in which the parties argued various motions, including the Dixons’ motion for leave to file a second amended complaint.

BANA argues that we should strike Appendix G because the Dixons never presented the transcript to the district court or made it part of the record, nor did they obtain leave from this Court before filing the document.

Appellants have the duty to order any necessary transcripts or to file a certificate stating that no transcript will be ordered within 14 days after filing the notice of appeal. Fed. R. App. P. 10(b)(1); 11th Cir. R. 10-1.

“We rarely supplement the record to include material that was not before the district court, but we have the equitable power to do so if it is in the interests of justice.”

Schwartz v. Millon Air, Inc., 341 F.3d 1220, 1225 n.4 (11th Cir. 2003).
We have refused to consider supplemental material provided by a litigant who did not first request leave of court or move to supplement the record. See Ross v. Kemp, 785 F.2d 1467, 1474–75 (11th Cir. 1986).

We grant BANA’s motion to strike the appendices.

The Dixons certified that no transcripts would be ordered for their appeal and did not seek leave or move to supplement the record before filing supplemental materials with their reply brief.

See Fed. R. App. P. 10(b)(1); 11th Cir. R. 10-1; see also Ross, 785 F.2d at 1475.

Even if this transcript were properly submitted, it would not be dispositive because it does not show that the district court erred in denying the Dixons’ motion to quash the state foreclosure proceedings.

Accordingly, we grant BANA’s motion to strike Appendices C, D, E, and G to the Dixons’ reply brief.

B. Motion to Supplement

On February 22, 2021, the Dixons filed “Appellants’ Motion Seeking Leave to Supplement the Record on Appeal with Appellants’ March 27, 2019 Motion Seeking to Quash and/or an Injunction Against the State Court from Continuing with the Foreclosure Proceedings Without Jurisdiction.”
The filing attaches as an exhibit the motion to quash at issue, which appears on the district court docket at Docket Entry 36. The Dixons do not provide any basis for the request.

On February 26, 2021, BANA filed a response to the Dixons’ motion stating that it is “facially deficient” in that it articulates no ground or legal basis for supplementing the record. BANA also states that the document the Dixons seek to add to the record already is part of the record on appeal.

BANA is correct that the document the Dixons seek to add to the record already is part of the record on appeal. Thus, it is unnecessary to supplement the record with the document.

Additionally, while the motion’s title suggests that the Dixons also request “an Injunction Against the State Court from Continuing with the Foreclosure Proceedings Without Jurisdiction,” the body of the motion includes no such request and offers no support in favor of such a request.

Thus, the Dixons have not shown that an injunction is warranted. See Fed. R. App. P. 27(a)(2)(A) (“A motion must state with particularity the grounds for the motion, the relief sought, and the legal argument necessary to support it.”).

Accordingly, we deny the motion.



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Rewind 2008: The Home Snatchers Stole Millions of Homes, Lives and Citizen’s Trust By Unimaginable Fraud

Wall Street and the Government decided, if they were to make it through the Greatest Depression, they’d have to spin their biggest lie in the history of the United States of America. It worked.



Invasion of the Home Snatchers

How foreclosure courts are helping big banks screw over homeowners

NOV 10, 2010 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: DEC 4, 2021

The foreclosure lawyers down in Jacksonville had warned me, but I was skeptical. They told me the state of Florida had created a special super-high-speed housing court with a specific mandate to rubber-stamp the legally dicey foreclosures by corporate mortgage pushers like Deutsche Bank and JP Morgan Chase.

This “rocket docket,” as it is called in town, is presided over by retired judges who seem to have no clue about the insanely complex financial instruments they are ruling on — securitized mortgages and laby­rinthine derivative deals of a type that didn’t even exist when most of them were active members of the bench.

Their stated mission isn’t to decide right and wrong, but to clear cases and blast human beings out of their homes with ultimate velocity. They certainly have no incentive to penetrate the profound criminal mysteries of the great American mortgage bubble of the 2000s, perhaps the most complex Ponzi scheme in human history — an epic mountain range of corporate fraud in which Wall Street megabanks conspired first to collect huge numbers of subprime mortgages, then to unload them on unsuspecting third parties like pensions, trade unions and insurance companies (and, ultimately, you and me, as taxpayers) in the guise of AAA-rated investments.

Selling lead as gold, shit as Chanel No. 5, was the essence of the booming international fraud scheme that created most all of these now-failing home mortgages.

Looting Main Street

The rocket docket wasn’t created to investigate any of that. It exists to launder the crime and bury the evidence by speeding thousands of fraudulent and predatory loans to the ends of their life cycles, so that the houses attached to them can be sold again with clean paperwork.

The judges, in fact, openly admit that their primary mission is not justice but speed.

One Jacksonville judge, the Honorable A.C. Soud, even told a local newspaper that his goal is to resolve 25 cases per hour.

Given the way the system is rigged, that means His Honor could well be throwing one ass on the street every 2.4 minutes.

Foreclosure lawyers told me one other thing about the rocket docket. The hearings, they said, aren’t exactly public.

“The judges might give you a hard time about watching,” one lawyer warned. “They’re not exactly anxious for people to know about this stuff.”

Inwardly, I laughed at this — it sounded like typical activist paranoia. The notion that a judge would try to prevent any citizen, much less a member of the media, from watching an open civil hearing sounded ridiculous.

Fucked-up as everyone knows the state of Florida is, it couldn’t be that bad. It isn’t Indonesia. Right?

Well, not quite.

When I went to sit in on Judge Soud’s courtroom in downtown Jacksonville, I was treated to an intimate, and at times breathtaking, education in the horror of the foreclosure crisis, which is rapidly emerging as the even scarier sequel to the financial meltdown of 2008:

Invasion of the Home Snatchers II.

In Las Vegas, one in 25 homes is now in foreclosure.

In Fort Myers, Florida, one in 35.

In September, lenders nationwide took over a rec­ord 102,134 properties; that same month, more than a third of all home sales were distressed properties.

All told, some 820,000 Americans have already lost their homes this year, and another 1 million currently face foreclosure.

Throughout the mounting catastrophe, however, many Americans have been slow to comprehend the true nature of the mortgage disaster. They seemed to have grasped just two things about the crisis:

One, a lot of people are getting their houses foreclosed on.

Two, some of the banks doing the foreclosing seem to have misplaced their paperwork.

For most people, the former bit about homeowners not paying their damn bills is the important part, while the latter, about the sudden and strange inability of the world’s biggest and wealthiest banks to keep proper records, is incidental.

Just a little office sloppiness, and who cares?

Those deadbeat homeowners still owe the money, right?

“They had it coming to them,” is how a bartender at the Jacksonville airport put it to me.

But in reality, it’s the unpaid bills that are incidental and the lost paperwork that matters.

It turns out that underneath that little iceberg tip of exposed evidence lies a fraud so gigantic that it literally cannot be contemplated by our leaders, for fear of admitting that our entire financial system is corrupted to its core — with our great banks and even our government coffers backed not by real wealth but by vast landfills of deceptively generated and essentially worthless mortgage-backed assets.

You’ve heard of Too Big to Fail — the foreclosure crisis is Too Big for Fraud.

Think of the Bernie Madoff scam, only replicated tens of thousands of times over, infecting every corner of the financial universe. The underlying crime is so pervasive, we simply can’t admit to it — and so we are working feverishly to rubber-stamp the problem away, in sordid little backrooms in cities like Jacksonville, behind doors that shouldn’t be, but often are, closed.

And that’s just the economic side of the story.

The moral angle to the foreclosure crisis — and, of course, in capitalism we’re not supposed to be concerned with the moral stuff, but let’s mention it anyway — shows a culture that is slowly giving in to a futuristic nightmare ideology of computerized greed and unchecked financial violence.

The monster in the foreclosure crisis has no face and no brain.

The mortgages that are being foreclosed upon have no real owners. The lawyers bringing the cases to evict the humans have no real clients. It is complete and absolute legal and economic chaos.

No single limb of this vast man-­eating thing knows what the other is doing, which makes it nearly impossible to combat — and scary as hell to watch.

What follows is an account of a single hour of Judge A.C. Soud’s rocket docket in Jacksonville.

Like everything else related to the modern economy, these foreclosure hearings are conducted in what is essentially a foreign language, heavy on jargon and impenetrable to the casual observer.

It took days of interviews with experts before and after this hearing to make sense of this single hour of courtroom drama. And though the permutations of small-time scammery and grift in the foreclosure world are virtually endless — your average foreclosure case involves homeowners or investors being screwed at least five or six creative ways — a single hour of court and a few cases is enough to tell the main story.

Because if you see one of these scams, you see them all.

It’s early on a sunny Tuesday morning when I arrive at the chambers of Judge Soud, one of four rotating judges who preside over the local rocket docket.

These special foreclosure courts were established in July of this year, after the state of Florida budgeted $9.6 million to create a new court with a specific mandate to clear 62 percent of the foreclosure cases that were clogging up the system.

Rather than forcing active judges to hear thousands of individual cases, this strategy relies on retired judges who take turns churning through dozens of cases every morning, with little time to pay much attention to the particulars.

What passes for a foreclosure court in Jacksonville is actually a small conference room at the end of a hall on the fifth floor of the drab brick Duval County Courthouse. The space would just about fit a fridge and a pingpong table.

At the head of a modest conference table this morning sits Judge Soud, a small and fussy-looking man who reminds me vaguely of the actor Ben Gazzara.

On one side of the table sits James Kowalski, a former homicide prosecutor who is now defending homeowners.

A stern man with a shaved head and a laconic manner of speaking, Kowalski has helped pioneer a whole new approach to the housing mess, slowing down the mindless eviction machine by deposing the scores of “robo-signers” being hired by the banks to sign phony foreclosure affidavits by the thousands.

For his work on behalf of the dispossessed, Kowalski was recently profiled in a preposterous Wall Street Journal article that blamed attorneys like him for causing the foreclosure mess with their nuisance defense claims.

The headline: “Niche Lawyers Spawned Housing Fracas.”

On the other side of the table are the plaintiff’s attorneys, the guys who represent the banks.

On this level of the game, these lawyers refer to themselves as “bench warmers” — volume stand-ins subcontracted by the big, hired-killer law firms that work for the banks.

One of the bench warmers present today is Mark Kessler, who works for a number of lenders and giant “foreclosure mills,” including the one run by David J. Stern, a gazillionaire attorney and all-Universe asshole who last year tried to foreclose on 70,382 homeowners.

Which is a nice way to make a living, considering that Stern and his wife, Jeanine, have bought nearly $60 million in property for themselves in recent years, including a 9,273-square-foot manse in Fort Lauderdale that is part of a Ritz-Carlton complex.

Kessler is a harried, middle-aged man in glasses who spends the morning perpetually fighting to organize a towering stack of folders, each one representing a soon-to-be-homeless human being. It quickly becomes apparent that Kessler is barely acquainted with the names in the files, much less the details of each case.

“A lot of these guys won’t even get the folders until right before the hearing,” says Kowalski.

When I arrive, Judge Soud and the lawyers are already arguing a foreclosure case; at a break in the action, I slip into the chamber with a legal-aid attorney who’s accompanying me and sit down. The judge eyes me anxiously, then proceeds.

He clears his throat, and then it’s ready, set, fraud!

Judge Soud seems to have no clue that the files he is processing at a breakneck pace are stuffed with fraudulent claims and outright lies.

“We have not encountered any fraud yet,” he recently told a local newspaper. “If we encountered fraud, it would go to [the state attorney], I can tell you that.”

But the very first case I see in his court is riddled with fraud.

Kowalski has seen hundreds of cases like the one he’s presenting this morning.

It started back in 2006, when he went to Pennsylvania to conduct what he thought would be a routine deposition of an official at the lending giant GMAC.

What he discovered was that the official — who had sworn to having personal knowledge of the case — was, in fact, just a “robo-signer” who had signed off on the file without knowing anything about the actual homeowner or his payment history.

(Kowalski’s clients, like most of the homeowners he represents, were actually making their payments on time; in this particular case, a check had been mistakenly refused by GMAC.)

Following the evidence, Kowalski discovered what has turned out to be a systemwide collapse of the process for documenting mortgages in this country.

If you’re foreclosing on somebody’s house, you are required by law to have a collection of paperwork showing the journey of that mortgage note from the moment of issuance to the present.

You should see the originating lender (a firm like Countrywide) selling the loan to the next entity in the chain (perhaps Goldman Sachs) to the next (maybe JP Morgan), with the actual note being transferred each time.

But in fact, almost no bank currently foreclosing on homeowners has a reliable record of who owns the loan; in some cases, they have even intentionally shredded the actual mortgage notes.

That’s where the robo-signers come in.

To create the appearance of paperwork where none exists, the banks drag in these pimply entry-level types — an infamous example is GMAC’s notorious robo-signer Jeffrey Stephan, who appears online looking like an age-advanced photo of Beavis or Butt-Head — and get them to sign thousands of documents a month attesting to the banks’ proper ownership of the mortgages.

This isn’t some rare goof-up by a low-level cubicle slave: Virtually every case of foreclosure in this country involves some form of screwed-up paperwork.

“I would say it’s pretty close to 100 percent,”

says Kowalski. An attorney for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid tells me that out of the hundreds of cases she has handled, fewer than five involved no phony paperwork.

“The fraud is the norm,” she says.

Kowalski’s current case before Judge Soud is a perfect example.

The Jacksonville couple he represents are being sued for delinquent payments, but the case against them has already been dismissed once before. The first time around, the plaintiff, Bank of New York Mellon, wrote in Paragraph 8 that “plaintiff owns and holds the note” on the house belonging to the couple.

But in Paragraph 3 of the same complaint, the bank reported that the note was “lost or destroyed,” while in Paragraph 4 it attests that “plaintiff cannot reasonably obtain possession of the promissory note because its whereabouts cannot be determined.”

The bank, in other words, tried to claim on paper, in court, that it both lost the note and had it, at the same time. Moreover, it claimed that it had included a copy of the note in the file, which it did — the only problem being that the note (a) was not properly endorsed, and (b) was payable not to Bank of New York but to someone else, a company called Novastar.

Now, months after its first pass at foreclosure was dismissed, the bank has refiled the case — and what do you know, it suddenly found the note. And this time, somehow, the note has the proper stamps.

“There’s a stamp that did not appear on the note that was originally filed,” Kowalski tells the judge. (This business about the stamps is hilarious. “You can get them very cheap online,” says Chip Parker, an attorney who defends homeowners in Jacksonville.)

The bank’s new set of papers also traces ownership of the loan from the original lender, Novastar, to JP Morgan and then to Bank of New York.

The bank, in other words, is trying to push through a completely new set of documents in its attempts to foreclose on Kowalski’s clients.

There’s only one problem: The dates of the transfers are completely fucked.

According to the documents, JP Morgan transferred the mortgage to Bank of New York on December 9th, 2008. But according to the same documents, JP Morgan didn’t even receive the mortgage from Novastar until February 2nd, 2009 — two months after it had supposedly passed the note along to Bank of New York.

Such rank incompetence at doctoring legal paperwork is typical of foreclosure actions, where the fraud is laid out in ink in ways that make it impossible for anyone but an overburdened, half-asleep judge to miss.

“That’s my point about all of this,”

Kowalski tells me later.

“If you’re going to lie to me, at least lie well.”

The dates aren’t the only thing screwy about the new documents submitted by Bank of New York.

Having failed in its earlier attempt to claim that it actually had the mortgage note, the bank now tries an all-of-the-above tactic.

“Plaintiff owns and holds the note,” it claims, “or is a person entitled to enforce the note.”

Soud sighs. For Kessler, the plaintiff’s lawyer, to come before him with such sloppy documents and make this preposterous argument — that his client either is or is not the note-holder — well, that puts His Honor in a tough spot.

The entire concept is a legal absurdity, and he can’t sign off on it.

With an expression of something very like regret, the judge tells Kessler,

“I’m going to have to go ahead and accept [Kowalski’s] argument.”

Now, one might think that after a bank makes multiple attempts to push phony documents through a courtroom, a judge might be pissed off enough to simply rule against that plaintiff for good.

As I witness in court all morning, the defense never gets more than one chance to screw up. But the banks get to keep filing their foreclosures over and over again, no matter how atrocious and deceitful their paperwork is.

Thus, when Soud tells Kessler that he’s dismissing the case, he hastens to add:

“Of course, I’m not going to dismiss with prejudice.” With an emphasis on the words “of course.”

Instead, Soud gives Kessler 25 days to come up with better paperwork.

Kowalski fully expects the bank to come back with new documents telling a whole new story of the note’s ownership.

“What they’re going to do, I would predict, is produce a note and say Bank of New York is not the original note-holder, but merely the servicer,” he says.

This is the dirty secret of the rocket docket

The whole system is set up to enable lenders to commit fraud over and over again, until they figure out a way to reduce the stink enough so some judge like Soud can sign off on the scam.

“If the court finds for the defendant, the plaintiffs just refile,” says Parker, the local attorney.

“The only way for the caseload to get reduced is to give it to the plaintiff. The entire process is designed with that result in mind.”

Now all of this — the obviously cooked-up documents, the magically appearing stamp and the rest of it — may just seem like nothing more than sloppy paperwork. After all, what does it matter if the bank has lost a few forms or mixed up the dates?

The homeowners still owe what they owe, and the deadbeats have no right to keep living in a house they haven’t paid for.

But what’s going on at the Jacksonville rocket docket, and in foreclosure courts all across the country, has nothing to do with sloppiness.

All this phony paperwork was actually an essential part of the mortgage bubble, an integral element of what has enabled the nation’s biggest lenders to pass off all that subprime lead as AAA gold.

In the old days, when you took out a mortgage, it was probably through a local bank or a credit union, and whoever gave you your loan held on to it for life.

If you lost your job or got too sick to work and suddenly had trouble making your payments, you could call a human being and work things out.

It was in the banker’s interest, as well as yours, to make a modified payment schedule.

From his point of view, it was better that you pay something than nothing at all.

But that all changed about a decade ago, thanks to the invention of new financial instruments that magically turned all these mortgages into high-grade investments.

Now when you took out a mortgage, your original lender — which might well have been a big mortgage mill like Countrywide or New Century — immediately sold off your loan to big banks like Deutsche and Goldman and JP Morgan.

The banks then dumped hundreds or thousands of home loans at a time into tax-exempt real estate trusts, where the loans were diced up into securities, examined and graded by the ratings agencies, and sold off to big pension funds and other institutional suckers.

Even at this stage of the game, the banks generally knew that the loans they were buying and reselling to investors were shady.

A company called Clayton Holdings, which analyzed nearly 1 million loans being prepared for sale in 2006 and 2007 by 23 banks, found that nearly half of the mortgages failed to meet the underwriting standards being promised to investors.

Citi­group, for instance, had 29 percent of its loans come up short, but it still sold a third of those mortgages to investors.

Goldman Sachs had 19 percent of its mortgages flunk the test, yet it knowingly hawked 34 percent of the risky deals to investors.

D. Keith Johnson, the head of Clayton Holdings, was so alarmed by the findings that he went to officials at three of the main ratings agencies — Moody’s, Standard and Poor’s, and Fitch’s — and tried to get them to properly evaluate the loans.

“Wouldn’t this information be great for you to have as you assign risk levels?” he asked them.

(Translation: Don’t you ratings agencies want to know that half these loans are crap before you give them a thumbs-up?)

But all three agencies rejected his advice, fearing they would lose business if they adopted tougher standards. In the end, the agencies gave large chunks of these mortgage-backed securities AAA ratings — which means “credit risk almost zero.”

Since these mortgage-backed securities paid much higher returns than other AAA investments like treasury notes or corporate bonds, the banks had no trouble attracting investors, foreign and domestic, from pension funds to insurance companies to trade unions.

The demand was so great, in fact, that they often sold mortgages they didn’t even have yet, prompting big warehouse lenders like Countrywide and New Century to rush out into the world to find more warm bodies to lend to.

In their extreme haste to get thousands and thousands of mortgages they could resell to the banks, the lenders committed an astonishing variety of fraud,

from falsifying income statements to making grossly inflated appraisals to misrepresenting properties to home buyers.

Most crucially, they gave tons and tons of credit to people who probably didn’t deserve it, and why not?

These fly-by-night mortgage companies weren’t going to hold on to these loans, not even for 10 minutes.

They were issuing this credit specifically to sell the loans off to the big banks right away, in furtherance of the larger scheme to dump fraudulent AAA-rated mortgage-backed securities on investors.

If you had a pulse, they had a house to sell you.

As bad as Countrywide and all those lenders were, the banks that had sent them out to collect these crap loans were a hundred times worse.

To sell the loans, the banks often dumped them into big tax-exempt buckets called REMICs, or Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduits. Each one of these Enron-ish, offshore-like real estate trusts spelled out exactly what kinds of loans were supposed to be in the pool, when they were to be collected, and how they were to be managed.

In order to both preserve their tax-exempt status and deserve their AAA ratings, each of the loans in the pool had to have certain characteristics. The loans couldn’t already be in default or foreclosure at the time they were sold to investors.

If they were advertised as nice, safe, fixed-rate mortgages, they couldn’t turn out to be high-interest junk loans. And, on the most basic level, the loans had to actually exist.

In other words, if the trust stipulated that all the loans had to be collected by August 2005, the bank couldn’t still be sticking in mortgages months later.

Yet that’s exactly what the banks did. In one case handled by Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, a homeowner refinanced her house in 2005 but almost immediately got into trouble, going into default in December of that year.

Yet somehow, this woman’s loan was placed into a trust called Home Equity Loan Trust Series AE 2005-HE5 in January 2006 — five months after the deadline for that particular trust.

The loan was not only late, it was already in foreclosure — which means that, by definition, whoever the investors were in AE 2005-HE5 were getting shafted.

Why does stuff like this matter?

Because when the banks put these pools together, they were telling their investors that they were putting their money into tidy collections of real, performing home loans.

But frequently, the loans in the trust were complete shit. Or sometimes, the banks didn’t even have all the loans they said they had. But the banks sold the securities based on these pools of mortgages as AAA-rated gold anyway.

In short, all of this was a scam — and that’s why so many of these mortgages lack a true paper trail.

Had these transfers been done legally, the actual mortgage note and detailed information about all of these transactions would have been passed from entity to entity each time the mortgage was sold.

But in actual practice, the banks were often committing securities fraud (because many of the mortgages did not match the information in the prospectuses given to investors) and tax fraud (because the way the mortgages were collected and serviced often violated the strict procedures governing such investments).

Having unloaded this diseased cargo onto their unsuspecting customers, the banks had no incentive to waste money keeping “proper” documentation of all these dubious transactions.

“You’ve already committed fraud once,” says April Charney, an attorney with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. “What do you have to lose?”

Sitting in the rocket docket, James Kowalski considers himself lucky to have won his first motion of the morning.

To get the usually intractable Judge Soud to forestall a foreclosure is considered a real victory, and I later hear Kowalski getting props and attaboys from other foreclosure lawyers.

In a great deal of these cases, in fact, the homeowners would have a pretty good chance of beating the rap, at least temporarily, if only they had lawyers fighting for them in court.

But most of them don’t.

In fact, more than 90 percent of the cases that go through Florida foreclosure courts are unopposed.

Either homeowners don’t know they can fight their foreclosures, or they simply can’t afford an attorney.

These unopposed cases are the ones the banks know they’ll win — which is why they don’t sweat it if they take the occasional whipping.

That’s why all these colorful descriptions of cases where foreclosure lawyers like Kowalski score in court are really just that — a little color.

The meat of the foreclosure crisis is the unopposed cases; that’s where the banks make their money. They almost always win those cases, no matter what’s in the files.

This becomes evident after Kowalski leaves the room.

“Who’s next?” Judge Soud says. He turns to Mark Kessler, the counsel for the big foreclosure mills. “Mark, you still got some?”

“I’ve got about three more, Judge,” says Kessler.

Kessler then drops three greenish-brown files in front of Judge Soud, who spends no more than a minute or two glancing through each one.

Then he closes the files and puts an end to the process by putting his official stamp on each foreclosure with an authoritative finality:


Each one of those kerchunks means another family on the street.

There are no faces involved here, just beat-the-clock legal machinery.

Watching Judge Soud plow through each foreclosure reminds me of the scene in Fargo where the villain played by Swedish character actor Peter Stormare pushes his victim’s leg through a wood chipper with that trademark bored look on his face.

Mechanized misery and brainless bureaucracy on the one hand, cash for the banks on the other.

What’s sad is that most Americans who have an opinion about the foreclosure crisis don’t give a shit about all the fraud involved. They don’t care that these mortgages wouldn’t have been available in the first place if the banks hadn’t found a way to sell oregano as weed to pension funds and insurance companies.

They don’t care that the Countrywides’ of the world pushed borrowers who qualified for safer fixed-­income loans into far more dangerous adjustable-rate loans, because their brokers got bigger commissions for doing so.

They don’t care that in the rush to produce loans, people were sold houses that turned out to have flood damage or worse, and they certainly don’t care that people were sold houses with inflated appraisals, which left them almost immediately underwater once housing prices started falling.

The way the banks tell it, it doesn’t matter if they defrauded homeowners and investors and taxpayers alike to get these loans.

All that matters is that a bunch of deadbeats aren’t paying their fucking bills.

“If you didn’t pay your mortgage, you shouldn’t be in your house — period,” is how Walter Todd, portfolio manager at Greenwood Capital Associates, puts it.

“People are getting upset about something that’s just procedural.”

Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan, is even more succinct in dismissing the struggling homeowners that he and the other megabanks scammed before tossing out into the street.

“We’re not evicting people who deserve to stay in their house,” Dimon says.

There are two things wrong with this argument. (Well, more than two, actually, but let’s just stick to the two big ones.)

The first reason is: It simply isn’t true.

Many people who are being foreclosed on have actually paid their bills and followed all the instructions laid down by their banks. In some cases, a homeowner contacts the bank to say that he’s having trouble paying his bill, and the bank offers him loan modification. But the bank tells him that in order to qualify for modification, he must first be delinquent on his mortgage.

“They actually tell people to stop paying their bills for three months,” says Parker.

The authorization gets recorded in what’s known as the bank’s “contact data­base,” which records every phone call or other communication with a home­owner. But no mention of it is entered into the bank’s “number history,” which records only the payment record.

When the number history notes that the home­owner has missed three payments in a row, it has no way of knowing that the homeowner was given permission to stop making payments. “One computer generates a default letter,” says Kowalski. “Another computer contacts the credit bureaus.”

At no time is there a human being looking at the entire picture.

Which means that homeowners can be foreclosed on for all sorts of faulty reasons: misplaced checks, address errors, you name it. This inability of one limb of the foreclosure beast to know what the other limb is doing is responsible for many of the horrific stories befalling homeowners across the country.

Patti Parker, a local attorney in Jacksonville, tells of a woman whose home was seized by Deutsche Bank two days before Christmas. Months later, Deutsche came back and admitted that they had made a mistake: They had repossessed the wrong property.

In another case that made headlines in Orlando, an agent for JP Morgan mistakenly broke into a woman’s house that wasn’t even in foreclosure and tried to change the locks.

Terrified, the woman locked herself in her bathroom and called 911. But in a profound expression of the state’s reflexive willingness to side with the bad guys, the police made no arrest in the case. Breaking and entering is not a crime, apparently, when it’s authorized by a bank.

The second reason the whole they still owe the fucking money thing is bogus has to do with the changed incentives in the mortgage game.

In many cases, banks like JP Morgan are merely the servicers of all these home loans, charged with collecting your money every month and paying every penny of it into the trust, which is the real owner of your mortgage.

If you pay less than the whole amount, JP Morgan is now obligated to pay the trust the remainder out of its own pocket. When you fall behind, your bank falls behind, too. The only way it gets off the hook is if the house is foreclosed on and sold.

That’s what this foreclosure crisis is all about: fleeing the scene of the crime.

Add into the equation the fact that some of these big banks were simultaneously betting big money against these mortgages — Goldman Sachs being the prime example — and you can see that there were heavy incentives across the board to push anyone in trouble over the cliff.

Things used to be different.

Asked what percentage of struggling homeowners she used to be able to save from foreclosure in the days before securitization,

Charney is quick to answer.

“Most of them,” she says. “I seldom came across a mortgage I couldn’t work out.”

In Judge Soud’s court, I come across a shining example of this mindless rush to foreclosure when I meet Natasha Leonard, a single mother who bought a house in 2004 for $97,500.

Right after closing on the home, Leonard lost her job. But when she tried to get a modification on the loan, the bank’s offer was not helpful.

“They wanted me to pay $1,000,” she says. Which wasn’t exactly the kind of modification she was hoping for, given that her original monthly payment was $840.

“You’re paying $840, you ask for a break, and they ask you to pay $1,000?” I ask.

“Right,” she says.

Leonard now has a job and could make some kind of reduced payment. But instead of offering loan modification, the bank’s lawyers are in their fourth year of doggedly beating her brains out over minor technicalities in the foreclosure process.

That’s fine by the lawyers, who are collecting big fees.

And there appears to be no human being at the bank who’s involved enough to issue a sane decision to end the costly battle.

“If there was a real client on the other side, maybe they could work something out,” says Charney, who is representing Leonard.

In this lunatic bureaucratic jungle of securitized home loans issued by trans­national behemoths, the borrower-lender relationship can only go one of two ways: full payment, or total war.

The extreme randomness of the system is exemplified by the last case I see in the rocket docket.

While most foreclosures are unopposed, with homeowners not even bothering to show up in court to defend themselves, a few pro se defendants — people representing themselves — occasionally trickle in.

At one point during Judge Soud’s proceeding, a tallish blond woman named Shawnetta Cooper walks in with a confused look on her face.

A recent divorcee delinquent in her payments, she has come to court today fully expecting to be foreclosed on by Wells Fargo. She sits down and takes a quick look around at the lawyers who are here to kick her out of her home.

“The land has been in my family for four generations,” she tells me later. “I don’t want to be the one to lose it.”

Judge Soud pipes up and inquires if there’s a plaintiff lawyer present; someone has to lop off this woman’s head so the court can move on to the next case.

But then something unexpected happens: It turns out that Kessler is supposed to be foreclosing on her today, but he doesn’t have her folder.

The plaintiff, technically, has forgotten to show up to court.

Just minutes before, I had watched what happens when defendants don’t show up in court: kerchunk! The judge more or less automatically rules for the plaintiffs when the homeowner is a no-show.

But when the plaintiff doesn’t show, the judge is suddenly all mercy and forgiveness. Soud simply continues Cooper’s case, telling Kessler to get his shit together and come back for another whack at her in a few weeks.

Having done this, he dismisses everyone.

Stunned, Cooper wanders out of the courtroom looking like a person who has stepped up to the gallows expecting to be hanged, but has instead been handed a fruit basket and a new set of golf clubs.

I follow her out of the court, hoping to ask her about her case. But the sight of a journalist getting up to talk to a defendant in his kangaroo court clearly puts a charge into His Honor, and he immediately calls Cooper back into the conference room.

Then, to the amazement of everyone present, he issues the following speech:

“This young man,” he says, pointing at me, “is a reporter for Rolling Stone. It is your privilege to talk to him if you want.” He pauses. “It is also your privilege to not talk to him if you want.”

I stare at the judge, open-mouthed. Here’s a woman who still has to come back to this guy’s court to find out if she can keep her home, and the judge’s admonition suggests that she may run the risk of pissing him off if she talks to a reporter.

Worse, about an hour later, April Charney, the lawyer who accompanied me to court, receives an e-mail from the judge actually threatening her with contempt for bringing a stranger to his court.

Noting that “we ask that anyone other than a lawyer remain in the lobby,” Judge Soud admonishes Charney that “your unprofessional conduct and apparent authorization that the reporter could pursue a property owner immediately out of Chambers into the hallway for an interview, may very well be sited [sic] for possible contempt in the future.”

Let’s leave aside for a moment that Charney never said a word to me about speaking to Cooper.

And let’s overlook entirely the fact that the judge can’t spell the word cited.

The key here isn’t this individual judge — it’s the notion that these hearings are not and should not be entirely public. Quite clearly, foreclosure is meant to be neither seen nor heard.

After Soud’s outburst, Cooper quietly leaves the court.

Once out of sight of the judge, she shows me her file. It’s not hard to find the fraud in the case.

For starters, the assignment of mortgage is autographed by a notorious robo-signer — John Kennerty, who gave a deposition this summer admitting that he signed as many as 150 documents a day for Wells Fargo.

In Cooper’s case, the document with Kennerty’s signature on it places the date on which Wells Fargo obtained the mortgage as May 5th, 2010. The trouble is, the bank bought the loan from Wachovia — a bank that went out of business in 2008.

All of which is interesting, because in her file, it states that Wells Fargo sued Cooper for foreclosure on February 22nd, 2010.

In other words, the bank foreclosed on Cooper three months before it obtained her mortgage from a nonexistent company.

There are other types of grift and outright theft in the file.

As is typical in many foreclosure cases, Cooper is being charged by the bank for numerous attempts to serve her with papers.

But a booming industry has grown up around fraudulent process servers; companies will claim they made dozens of attempts to serve homeowners, when in fact they made just one or none at all. Who’s going to check?

The process servers cover up the crime using the same tactic as the lenders, saying they lost the original summons.

From 2000 to 2006, there was a total of 1,031 “affidavits of lost summons” here in Duval County; in the past two years, by contrast, more than 4,000 have been filed.

Cooper’s file contains a total of $371 in fees for process service, including one charge of $55 for an attempt to serve process on an “unknown tenant.”

But Cooper’s house is owner-occupied — she doesn’t even have a tenant, she tells me with a shrug.

If Mark Kessler had had his shit together in court today, Coop­er would not only be out on the street, she’d be paying for that attempt to serve papers to her nonexistent tenant.

Cooper’s case perfectly summarizes what the foreclosure crisis is all about.

Her original loan was made by Wachovia, a bank that blew itself up in 2008 speculating in the mortgage market. It was then transferred to Wells Fargo, a megabank that was handed some $50 billion in public assistance to help it acquire the corpse of Wachovia.

And who else benefited from that $50 billion in bailout money?

Billionaire Warren Buffett and his Berkshire Hathaway fund, which happens to be a major shareholder in Wells Fargo.

It was Buffett’s vice chairman, Charles Munger, who recently told America that it should “thank God” that the government bailed out banks like the one he invests in, while people who have fallen on hard times — that is, homeowners like Shawnetta Cooper — should “suck it in and cope.”

Look: It’s undeniable that many of the people facing foreclosure bear some responsibility for the crisis. Some borrowed beyond their means. Some even borrowed knowing they would never be able to pay off their debt, either hoping to flip their houses right away or taking on mortgages with low initial teaser rates without bothering to think of the future.

The culture of take-for-yourself-now, let-someone-else-pay-later wasn’t completely restricted to Wall Street. It penetrated all the way down to the individual consumer, who in some cases was a knowing accomplice in the bubble mess.

But many of these homeowners are just ordinary Joes who had no idea what they were getting into. Some were pushed into dangerous loans when they qualified for safe ones.

Others were told not to worry about future jumps in interest rates because they could just refinance down the road, or discovered that the value of their homes had been overinflated by brokers looking to pad their commissions.

And that’s not even accounting for the fact that most of this credit wouldn’t have been available in the first place without the Ponzi-like bubble scheme cooked up by Wall Street, about which the average home­owner knew nothing — hell, even the average U.S. senator didn’t know about it.

At worst, these ordinary homeowners were stupid or uninformed — while the banks that lent them the money are guilty of committing a baldfaced crime on a grand scale.

These banks robbed investors and conned homeowners, blew themselves up chasing the fraud, then begged the taxpayers to bail them out.

And bail them out we did:

We ponied up billions to help Wells Fargo buy Wachovia, paid Bank of America to buy Merrill Lynch, and watched as the Fed opened up special facilities to buy up the assets in defective mortgage trusts at inflated prices.

And after all that effort by the state to buy back these phony assets so the thieves could all stay in business and keep their bonuses, what did the banks do?

They put their foot on the foreclosure gas pedal and stepped up the effort to kick people out of their homes as fast as possible, before the world caught on to how these loans were made in the first place.

Why don’t the banks want us to see the paperwork on all these mortgages?

Because the documents represent a death sentence for them.

According to the rules of the mortgage trusts, a lender like Bank of America, which controls all the Countrywide loans, is required by law to buy back from investors every faulty loan the crooks at Countrywide ever issued.

Think about what that would do to Bank of America’s bottom line the next time you wonder why they’re trying so hard to rush these loans into someone else’s hands.

When you meet people who are losing their homes in this foreclosure crisis, they almost all have the same look of deep shame and anguish.

Nowhere else on the planet is it such a crime to be down on your luck, even if you were put there by some of the world’s richest banks, which continue to rake in record profits purely because they got a big fat handout from the government.

That’s why one banker CEO after another keeps going on TV to explain that despite their own deceptive loans and fraudulent paperwork, the real problem is these deadbeat homeowners who won’t pay their fucking bills.

And that’s why most people in this country are so ready to buy that explanation.

Because in America, it’s far more shameful to owe money than it is to steal it.


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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.



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.


  • 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


  • 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.


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).

Continue Reading

Appellate Circuit

Judge Jill Pryor on a Panel about Judicial Recusals? That’s a Contradiction, Right There.

Judge Cooke has a conflict of interest based on her financial statements, which revealed interests in companies doing business with one of the defendants.



In the
United States Court of Appeals
For the Eleventh Circuit

No. 20-13674
Non-Argument Calendar




as Trustee under the pooling and servicing agreement series rast 2006-A8,




ONE WEST BANK, et al.,


OCT 7, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: OCT 7, 2021

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida
D.C. Docket No. 1:19-cv-24184-MGC

Before JILL PRYOR, BRANCH, and LUCK, Circuit Judges. PER CURIAM:

James Buckman and Maurice Symonette (“Buckman and Symonette”) appeal from the district court’s dismissal with prejudice of their second amended complaint as an impermissible shotgun pleading.

They argue that the district court erred and demonstrated bias by dismissing their case because they had filed a motion for an additional three-day extension of time and the district court provided a window for responses to the motion by the defendants, but then dismissed the case before the responses were due.1

After review, we affirm.

1 Over four months after filing their notice of appeal from the dismissal of their complaint, Buckman and Symonette filed two motions for recusal of the district court judge, arguing that she had a conflict of interest based on her financial statements, which revealed interests in companies doing business with one of the defendants. (LIF: THAT DEFENDANT WOULD BE DEUTSCHE BANK)

The district court denied the motions.

Buckman and Symonette did not file an amended or new notice of appeal following entry of that order.

Therefore, we lack jurisdiction to review the district court’s denial of the motion for recusal.

See McDougald v. Jenson, 786 F.2d 1465, 1474 (11th Cir. 1986) (holding that, although we liberally construe notices of appeal under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 3 to include orders not expressly designated, that allowance does not extend to an order that was not entered when the notice of appeal was filed);

see also LaChance v. Duffy’s Draft House, Inc., 146 F.3d 832, 837–38 (11th Cir. 1998) (holding that we lacked jurisdiction over a post-judgment order awarding attorney’s fees where the motion for attorney’s fees was not filed until after the notice of appeal and the plaintiff failed to file an amended notice of appeal from the order awarding fees).

I. Background

In October 2019, Buckman and Symonette filed a pro se 45-page complaint against eight defendants including numerous banks, a mortgage company, the Security and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Treasury, and other entities, raising numerous claims including:

(1) quiet title;
(2) slander of title;
(3) unjust enrichment;
(4) violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act;
(5) fraud and concealment;
(6) violation of timely assignment and lack of consideration;
(7) various violations of several Florida statutes.

Thereafter, in December 2019, Buckman and Symonette filed a 51-page amended complaint asserting a total of 11 causes of action.

On July 24, 2020, the district court, sua sponte, struck the amended complaint as an impermissible shotgun pleading.

The district court set forth the pleading rules in its order, and provided that the plaintiffs had until July 31, 2020 to file a second amended complaint.

The district court emphasized that, in the second amended complaint, Plaintiffs are required to make a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . .”

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).

Plaintiffs must also state each theory of liability separately “in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.”

Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b).

The newly amended complaint should clearly delineate which factual allegations and cited laws are relevant to the asserted cause of action.

This includes specifying which Defendant is liable under each cause of action and which Defendant is implicated in each factual allegation.

Failure to comply with this Order may result in the dismissal of this case with prejudice or other appropriate sanctions.

On July 31, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a motion for an extension of time to file their second amended complaint. The district court granted the motion and ordered that the second amended com- plaint be filed on or before August 6, 2020.

On August 6, 2020, the plaintiffs filed a motion seeking three more days to file their second amended complaint. On the same date, after filing their extension motion, they filed their second amended complaint.

The 92-page second amended complaint added 4 new causes of action and suffered from many of the same issues as the first amended complaint.

On August 17, 2020, the district court dismissed with prejudice the second amended complaint explaining that the second amended complaint “does not cure the defects that required striking of the initial Complaint.”

This appeal followed.2

2 Following the dismissal of their complaint, Buckman and Symonette filed a motion for reconsideration in the district court, which was denied. However, they do not raise any arguments related to the denial of their motion for re- consideration in their brief. Accordingly, the district court’s resolution of the motion for reconsideration is not before us.

II. Discussion

Buckman and Symonette argue that the district court erred and demonstrated bias when it dismissed their case with prejudice while their motion for extension of time was pending.

Specifically, they argue that the district court docketed their motion for a three- day extension of time to file the second amended complaint and set “responses due by 8/20/2020,” but then dismissed the case before that date.

They also raise arguments related to the merits of their underlying claims.

The district court did not err in dismissing the case. On the day the second amended complaint was due, Buckman and Symonette filed the request for a three-day extension of time, but they then filed a second amended complaint the same day.

The filing of the second amended complaint on the day it was due mooted the motion for an extension of time and the related re- sponse period.

Once the second amended complaint was filed, there was nothing left for the district court to do except review the complaint to determine whether the plaintiffs corrected the previously identified pleading issues.

To the extent that Buckman and Symonette’s brief could be liberally construed as challenging the district court’s dismissal of the second-amended complaint as an impermissible shotgun pleading, we review the district court’s decision for abuse of discretion.

Barmapov v. Amuial, 986 F.3d 1321, 1324 (11th Cir. 2021); see also Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998)

(“Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed.”).

“A shotgun pleading is a complaint that violates either Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) or Rule 10(b), or both.”

Barmapov, 986 F.3d at 1324.

Rule 8 requires that the complaint set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim” demonstrating an entitlement to relief, and Rule 10 requires that a plaintiff “state [his] claims in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.”

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) and 10(b).

Rule 10 further provides that each claim be stated in separate counts “[i]f doing so would promote clarity.” Id. R. 10(b).

We have repeatedly condemned the use of shotgun pleadings.

See Barmapov, 986 F.3d at 1324; Magluta v. Samples, 256 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2001).

When a plaintiff files a shotgun pleading, a district court must give him one chance to replead before dismissing his case with prejudice on shotgun pleading grounds.
Vibe Micro, Inc. v. Shabanets, 878 F.3d 1291, 1295–96 (11th Cir. 2018).

The district court should explain how the pleading violated the shotgun rule so that the plaintiff can remedy his next pleading.


Where, as here, the plaintiff is provided fair notice of the specific defects in his complaint and a meaningful chance to fix it but fails to correct the defects, the district court does not abuse its discretion by dismissing with prejudice on shotgun pleading grounds.

Jackson v. Bank of Am., N.A., 898 F.3d 1348, 1358–59 (11th Cir. 2018).

Accordingly, the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the second amended complaint with prejudice because Buckman and Symonette failed to correct the pleading defects.


Consequently, we affirm.



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