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LIT COMMENTARY

We’re reviewing the attorneys who are listed on the CFPB v. Ocwen case in Florida, who are representing Ocwen. This article focuses on the background of liar lawyer Sabrina Rose-Smith (or Sabrina Rose Smith) and her unethical practices as a partner for this big law firm in Washington, D.C.

Sabrina is a member of the Virginia State Bar and you can see the lawyer professional guidelines here and all the disciplinary cases against lawyers here.  She is also a member of the DC Bar, where the Burkes have filed their complaint.

Lawyer Complaint (D.C. Bar) : Sabrina Rose-Smith

This complaint is against an attorney registered with the District of Columbia (D.C.) State Bar. The lawyers’ name is Sabrina Rose-Smith and she works for Goodwin Procter, LLP. Her law firm  represents Ocwen in the cited case below and she is one of the named counsel of record. The Burkes claim that Ms. Rose-Smith violated (at a minimum) Rule 4.1, Truthfulness in Statements To Others; In the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly: (a) make a false statement of fact or law[.] See In re Mitchell, 822 A.2d 1106 (D.C. 2003)  and; Rule 3.3, Candor Toward the Tribunal; In re Uchendu, 812 A.2d 933 (D.C. 2002), Rule 4.4, Respect For Rights Of Third Persons; See In re Pelkey, 962 A.2d 268 (D.C. 2008); Rule 5.1 Responsibilities Of Partners And Supervisory Lawyers; See In re Cohen, 847 A.2d 1162 (D.C. 2004);  Rule 8.4, Misconduct; See In re Mitchell, 822 A.2d 1106 (D.C. 2003). Then there’s the Cobb County cases described herein, of which Ms. Rose-Smith is counsel. Then there is the violation of  Rules 1.7, Conflict of Interest; 1.9 and 1.16 and 1.10 with respect to Ms. Rose-Smith. See Lavender v. Protective Life Corp., Civil Action No. 2:15-cv-02275-AKK, at *25-26 (N.D. Ala. Jan. 31, 2017).

Other cases specific to Goodwin are discussed below. The Burkes also draw the Bar’s attention to;  Cruickshank v. Dixon (In re Blast Fitness Grp., LLC), No. 16-10236-MSH (Bankr. D. Mass. Jan. 8, 2019)

And there’s also former Goodwin lawyer, now law professor, Associate Professor Luke M. Scheuer who previously held adjunct positions at Boston College Law School, the University of Massachusetts School of Law, and Boston University School of Law and his paper; “Duty to Disclose Lawyer Misconduct” (2010), Available at: https://works.bepress.com/luke_scheuer/2/, wherein he discusses cases like In Re Himmel.

The Burkes Motion to Intervene in Consumer Fin. Prot. Bureau v. Ocwen Fin. Corp., No. 9:17-CV-80495-MARRA-MATTHEWMAN  (S.D. Fla. 2017-2020)

Background: The CFPB initiated the civil case on April 20, 2017, alleging that Ocwen, in servicing borrowers’ loans, engaged in various acts and practices in violation of federal consumer financial laws. On January 4, 2019, Joanna and John Burke sought leave to intervene under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24. (Doc. 220). The CFPB and Ocwen jointly opposed the motion to intervene (Doc. 224) and the Burkes filed a reply brief (Doc. 237). On May 30, 2019, the district court denied the Burkes’ motion to intervene (Doc. 375). The Burkes moved for reconsideration (Doc. 408). The Court denied that motion on July 3, 2019, (Doc. 411), and the Burkes noticed an appeal on August 2, 2019 to the Eleventh Cir., Case No. 19-13015. The Burkes have argued that Ocwen’s counsel, Ms. Sabrina Rose-Smith knowingly committed perjury and withheld evidence of the Greens case from the Burkes.

Denial of Intervention ‘As of Right’: Judge Marra denied the Burkes intervention as of right (Doc. 375, p. 4).

Denial of Intervention ‘Permissively’: Judge Marra also concluded the Burkes should be denied permissive intervention.

Analysis of Judge Marra’s Order [Reconsideration]; The Burkes then asked Judge Marra to reconsider. The courts fleeting order follows (Doc. 411, p. 3);

“In addition to the grounds stated in the Court’s Order Denying Intervention (ECF No. 375), the Court notes that intervention is not permitted to allow a party to seek or obtain evidence for other litigation as asserted by the proposed Intervenors. (See ECF No. 408 at 4).”

Judge   Marra’s  Implausible  Statement:  The Burkes address the proclamation that the ‘intervention is not permitted for the purposes of seeking or obtaining evidence for other litigation’ and which refers to p. 4 of the Burkes motion for reconsideration (wherein the Burkes detail reasons for their request to intervene, included obtaining documentation to assist with their ongoing and active litigation in Texas against Ocwen).

Obtaining “Evidence” as a Non-Party Without a Motion to Intervene: Recently, and most certainly after Doc. 411 was published by Judge Marra, the pro se Burkes were researching cases and citations which would help prove their arguments for their current appeal at the Eleventh Cir. (Case No. 19-13015). The results now raise a serious question as to the truth of the uncorroborated statement in law by United States District Judge Kenneth A. Marra (Doc. 411, p.3).

Disclosure; While it is a thorny issue, the Burkes have been left no alternative but to [separately] file a judicial complaint against Judge Marra. This CFPB v Ocwen case indirectly involves important matters pertaining to the Burkes litigation and homestead. When they located this titanic case, which could provide a vehicle for the Burkes to obtain either documentation and information that would assist in the Texas case(s) or could provide relief directly, they did so in a quick and legally correct basis. This is why the Burkes intervened in the S.D. Fl. Action.  The Burkes allege there had to be joint collusion between counsel for Ocwen, CFPB and Judge Marra to unlawfully deny rightful intervenors Burkes from joining the lawsuit, which is proven by the filings on the docket itself.

In the Texas case of Green v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC (In re Green), Bankruptcy No. 12-38016 (13) (S.D. Tex. Aug. 26, 2019), which will be referenced as “Greens” for short, is one of a series of actual cases by the Greens, who are Texas homeowners, at the S.D. Tex. court against Ocwen. The order In Re Green was published on August 26th, 2019, e.g. After Judge Marra had disposed of the Burkes motion to intervene and reconsideration and after the Burkes Notice of Appeal (Doc. 414, Aug. 2, 2019).

A summary of the Greens own foreclosure case(s) is provided by U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas’s order affirming Bankruptcy Judge Marvin Isgur’s order, and allowing the Greens to retain access to ‘discovery’ documents as evidence for their own case against Ocwen.

The documents which the Greens actually obtained and Ocwen attempted to quash, would be from the lower court case in Florida. That is correct, these are documents (currently under seal at S.D. Tex.), from the CFPB v. Ocwen case before Judge Marra. See Green v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC (In re Green), Bankruptcy No. 12-38016 (13), at *2-4 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 26, 2019).

The Burkes hold Ms. Rose-Smith’s filings and statements to be false and untruthful. Ms. Rose-Smith’s responses went further than zealously defending her client, she viciously maligned these pro se elderly citizens from Texas and all the while knowingly committing perjury in signed statements and filings in the lower court.

“Ocwen and the CFPB jointly opposed the Burkes’ motion, which the district court denied. On appeal, the Burkes repeat many of the same conspiracy theories and unsupported attacks on Ocwen and the CFPB that they alleged below, while failing to articulate any comprehensible, legally-supported rationale for why their intervention in this case is warranted. The Court should ignore the Burkes’ baseless and irrelevant attacks on the parties and affirm the district court’s well- reasoned decision.”

Then, without a flicker of foreboding that as an attorney she had an ethical duty to tell the truth, she repeated these lies again, months later, at the appeal court level. This was prejudicial to the Burkes by premeditated cheating and trickery e.g. lying and knowingly hiding the Greens case from the Burkes. Below is the introduction from Burkes’ reply brief on appeal at Eleventh Circuit (No. 19-13015):-

PREAMBLE AND DISCLAIMER

“First, a rather lengthy reply brief, including a recap of the case is necessary due to the bad faith conduct of the parties, the appellees in this appeal. While the Burkes wished to keep the reply short and concise, this has proven impractical due to the [mis]conduct as detailed here. The Burkes summary argument truly attempts to focus on the evidence, the facts, the pleadings and the law, but it ends up being sabotaged by a litany of ethical violations which include, but are not by any means exhaustive;

(i)    Collusion and Conspiracy.

(ii)   Bad Faith Conduct.

(iii)  Dishonesty towards the Tribunal.

(iv)  New evidence showing the Court and the parties must have known about the Greens case in S.D. Tex.

Second, the pro se Burkes have been left searching for the truth, rather than focusing on the appeal, due to apparent known concealment and dishonesty by the lower court.

The Cobb County Federal Court Cases in Illinois and Georgia

Ms. Rose-Smith is counsel in the two actions the Burkes wish to reference in this matter. These are; Cobb County v. Bank of America Corporation (1:14-CV-02280), District Court, N.D. Illinois and Cobb County v. Bank of America Corporation (1:15-cv-04081-LMM), District Court, N.D. Georgia where the Burkes recently uncovered more unethical practices. Cobb Cnty. v. Bank of Am. Corp., 183 F. Supp. 3d 1332, 1333 (N.D. Ga. 2016)).

Here, Goodwin Procter approached the County’s named eleven witnesses, former loan officers who signed affidavits which explained the illegal loans the banks were issuing for financial avarice and not in the interests of consumers. Once Goodwin contacted them, these ex-employees of the Bank recanted in the majority, their claims from their first affidavit. Both the Illinois and Georgia judges stated that they were very troubled by the actions of Goodwin. In the Illinois case, there is a transcript of the hearing.  Ms. Rose-Smith and her law firm represented the Bank in the Illinois case and her fellow partner, Matthew Sheldon was grilled by Judge Bucklo. (See transcript from Dec. 5, 2019 hearing, which was submitted to Judge May in Georgia; Doc. 53.14, Cobb County v. Bank of America Corporation (1:15-cv-04081-LMM) District Court, N.D. Georgia). Here’s a snippet; “I really don’t understand how you can represent them.” – “I do find it DISTURBING.”- Judge Bucklo.

After that hearing Goodwin promptly discarded the new witnesses (Doc. 83, March 25th, 2020) to fend for themself and after signing agreements to represent them.

The courts found that this meant the witness statements were moot [at this time]. While the Burkes dispute that opinion in law, the purpose of this complaint is the Rules of Professional Conduct. The Burkes now highlight the fact that ethically, the lawyer(s) actions are certainly not ‘moot’. Actually, in the Georgia action, Judge May has kept the ‘sanctions’ against Goodwin Procter, LLP, firmly on the table (Doc. 86, April 10th, 2020). As of Monday, June 8th, 2020, the Cobb County lawyers have officially filed for sanctions. See Doc’s 493/494.

Furthermore, it was clear that the judges and all counsel recognized that these witnesses could be charged with perjury upon independent review. Goodwin dropped them faster than a hot potato but the ‘hot potato rule’ does not support that decision; Under the “hot potato” rule, a “‘law firm that knowingly undertakes adverse concurrent representation cannot avoid disqualification by withdrawing from the representation of the less favored client.’”  The “hot potato” rule reflects that the “duty of loyalty to an existing client is so important, so sacred, so inviolate that “not even by withdrawing from the relationship can an attorney evade it. See also; https://definitions.uslegal.com/h/hot-potato-rule/  and State Comp. Ins. Fund v. Drobot, 192 F. Supp. 3d 1080 (C.D. Cal. 2016)

Certainly, from afar, the Burkes performed a quick audit and now question witness Jim Morelli’s employment history. Mr. Morelli is also a licensed notary public. So from a truth-seeking viewpoint, the fact that his Linkedin profile shows he worked from 1999-2007 – 8 years+ at First Franklin. But his affidavit states;

“I worked as an account executive at First Franklin from 2002 to 2006.” (Doc. 53.11, signed 30th Sept., 2019 by Mr. Morelli) – That’s 4 years.  It begs the question – which is the truth?

As another example, when you look at Arnold “Arnie” Fishman’s before (Doc. 53.19, signed 22nd June, 2015) and after affidavit (Doc. 53.3, signed 26th July, 2019), it is extremely troubling. Mr. Fishman is a licensed mortgage broker and very active in the mortgage industry, currently employed by BMO Harris Bank for the last 8+ years as a mortgage loan originator, according to his Linkedin profile.  From the outside looking in, it appears Mr. Fishman now does not wish to jeopardize the mortgage and banking industry, where he’s spent the best part of his career as a mortgage loan originator. It is indicative that if Mr. Fishman was interviewed, his statements could form the basis  of perjury as a result of intimidation. See “Courts have noted that “a unilateral communications scheme . . . is rife with potential for coercion.”  Kleiner v. The First Nat’l Bank of Atlanta, 751 F.2d 1193, 1202  (11th Cir. 1985)”. This is also affirmed by the expert report and declaration of Professor Roy D. Simon, Jr., an expert in the field of legal ethics and professional responsibility.

“Prima facie evidence exists that Goodwin Procter suborned perjury from the confidential witnesses by obtaining false declarations under penalty of perjury and, by analogy to the “sham affidavit doctrine…”

Please review Law professor Roy Simon’s credentials, including his declaration and opinion that these lawyers violated Georgia’s professional codes of conduct.

In connection with this motion, the Counties retained Professor Roy D. Simon, Jr., a leading expert in the field of legal ethics. He is the Distinguished Professor of Legal Ethics Emeritus at Hofstra University School of Law, serves as a legal ethics advisor to law firms, and is the author of the twenty editions of Simon’s New York Rules of Professional Conduct Annotated, as well as other books in the field of professional responsibility. (See Declaration of Roy D. Simon (“Simon Decl.”), ¶¶ 1, 4, Ex. A.) and his profile; https://www.hofstra.edu/faculty/fac_profiles.cfm?id=1410

Ms. Rose-Smith’s Actions are Below the Bar

Ms. Rose-Smith’s resume identifies her seniority in the law firm (Partner, resume attached), her experience in litigation in consumer related cases and her many years of attorney experience. In the CFPB v. Ocwen case, she is listed as counsel. As a partner, she is also overseeing a team of lawyers at Goodwin Procter, assigned to this case. Ms. Rose-Smith violated the terms of Rule 5.1(b).

Ms. Rose-Smith’s attempts to defend this unethical approach to witnesses, merely reaffirms the cold and calculated deceitfulness she is and was prepared to take e.g. risking her reputation and law license to win the case. Aggregating the CFPB case and the Cobb cases, the evidence is sufficient to show by clear and convincing proof that Ms. Rose-Smith’s dishonesties and deception are on the record and cannot be contested and she personally elected to commit this fraudulence in court filings.

Elder Abuse Demands Revocation of License

The Burkes point to the conduct of the lawyer in the filing of this complaint, and rely upon the local Supreme Court in Texas when citing; for example the 1994 case before the Texas Supreme Court where they concisely summarized the difference, rejecting the Texas Bar’s argument;

“Our inquiry relates to the classification of the crime, not the tribunal’s subjective judgment of character of the particular lawyer convicted. In short, we classify the crime, not the lawyer.” Thacker, Matter of, 881 S.W.2d 307, 309 (Tex. 1994).

Due to the seriousness of her harmful acts against the Burkes who are in their 80’s, in poor health and litigating to keep their home, this is elder abuse fraud when the Burkes’ legal and civil rights have been completely violated. Ms. Rose-Smith has violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, has abused her senior position which was used to act unlawfully and substantively injured the Burkes in their ongoing case(s).

In conclusion, the Burkes contend Ms. Rose-Smith’s actions are so egregious against the elder Burkes, her license should be revoked, sending a strong message to lawyers that this type of behavior will not be tolerated and is ‘Below the Bar’.

Submitted this day, Monday, June 15, 2020

About

Sabrina represents financial services clients in high-stakes individual and class action litigation. She also advises clients on compliance issues and litigation risks in the development of new products and programs. In addition to her consumer class action litigation work, Sabrina has represented clients in matters involving the DOJ, CFPB, HUD, FTC, SEC, federal and state banking authorities, and state attorneys general.

Sabrina is recognized for being a savvy litigator and trusted advisor who combines industry knowledge and top notch advocacy with a commitment to client service to effectively manage complex litigation and to achieve business and reputational goals for banks and financial services companies. She is known for straight talk, sound advice, and for creating cohesive client/counsel teams to meet the challenges of her clients’ ever-changing business and regulatory environments.

Experience

Goodwin Procter LLP
Company Name Goodwin Procter LLP
Total Duration 12 yrs 3 mos
Title Partner
Dates Employed Oct 2010 – Present
Employment Duration 9 yrs 8 mos

Member of Goodwin’s Consumer Finance Litigation practice group, focusing on consumer lending and class action defense. Practice includes both regulatory compliance counseling and auditing for banks, credit card issuers, mortgage lenders and specialty finance companies, and defending financial institutions against consumer class actions and government enforcement actions.
Title Senior Associate
Full-time
Dates Employed Mar 2008 – Oct 2010
Employment Duration 2 yrs 8 mos

Member of Goodwin’s Consumer Finance Litigation practice group, focusing on consumer lending and class action defense. Practice includes both regulatory compliance counseling and auditing for banks, credit card issuers, mortgage lenders and specialty finance companies, and defending financial institutions against consumer class actions and government enforcement actions.

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP
Associate

Company Name

Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP Full-time
Dates Employed Jun 2006 – Feb 2008
Employment Duration 1 yr 9 mos

Member of Manatt’s Banking and Specialty Finance practice group, focusing on consumer lending and class action defense.

Paul Hastings
Associate

Company Name

Paul Hastings Full-time
Dates Employed Sep 2003 – May 2006
Employment Duration 2 yrs 9 mos

Specialized in complex litigation, focusing practice on antitrust and consumer class action litigation. Antitrust experience ranged from counseling clients on proposed transactions to defending clients in treble damages class action litigation, MDL proceedings and state indirect purchaser and monopolization claims. Defended consumer finance lawsuits and counsels clients on litigation strategy and practical methods to prevent class actions through the implementation of consumer arbitration agreements.

Appellate Circuit

Law Professor Challenges Eleventh Circuit’s Anomalous Rule as “Sort of Silly”

Under the anomalous rule, courts are immediately reviewing the propriety of the intervention denial. Pretending otherwise is unnecessary.

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The “Anomalous Rule” for Intervention Appeals

The Eleventh Circuit applied its “anomalous rule” for intervention appeals, which makes jurisdiction turn on the merits of intervention.

That’s sort of silly, and there’s a simpler option.

JAN 19, 2021 | REPUBLISHED BY LIT: JUN 1, 2021

In United States v. 60 Automotive Grilles, the Eleventh Circuit held that it lacked jurisdiction to immediately review a decision denying intervention as of right. That was because the district court correctly denied intervention.

Practically speaking, the court reviewed and affirmed the district court’s decision.

But under the “anomalous rule” that the Eleventh Circuit and other courts apply, appellate jurisdiction in intervention appeals turns on whether the district court correctly denied intervention.

This anomalous rule is one of a few different rules that the circuits use to govern intervention appeals.

All of these rules reach the same practical outcome: would-be intervenors can obtain immediate appellate review of decisions denying intervention.

The rules differ only in how courts describe the review. And the differences are unnecessary and potentially confusing.

It might be far simpler to say that all denials of intervention (or at least all denials of intervention as of right) are immediately appealable, regardless of whether the district court was correct.

The decision in 60 Automotive Grilles

60 Automotive Grilles was a civil forfeiture proceeding involving replacement automotive grilles. Customs officials seized the grilles because they bore counterfeit marks of automakers like Ford, Toyota, Mazda, Honda, and Chrysler. The importer of these grilles moved to dismiss the forfeiture action. Chrysler then sought to intervene as of right to defend its trademark and contractual rights. But the district court held that Chrysler’s interests were adequately represented by the government and denied intervention. Chrysler then appealed.

The Eleventh Circuit applied its “anomalous rule” for jurisdiction over intervention appeals. Under this rule, appellate courts have “provisional jurisdiction” to hear immediate appeals from the denial of intervention. Appellate jurisdiction exists to review denials of intervention as of right so long as the district court erred in denying intervention. And appellate jurisdiction exists to review denials of permissive intervention if the district court clearly abused its discretion. But if the district court was correct in denying intervention, the court of appeals lacks jurisdiction and must dismiss the appeal.

In 60 Automotive Grilles, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the district court correctly denied intervention. The court could see no difference between what Chrysler sought via intervention and what the Government sought in the forfeiture action. Chrysler was thus adequately represented by an existing party. Because the district court was correct, the Eleventh Circuit lacked jurisdiction over the appeal.

The rules for intervention appeals

But, you might be asking, what’s the point of making appellate jurisdiction turn on the merits of the district court’s intervention decision? As a practical matter, the court of appeals still reviews the propriety of the intervention decision. It ultimately makes little difference whether the court of appeals exercises jurisdiction to affirm the district court’s decision or dismisses the appeal.

Some courts of appeals have nevertheless stuck with this traditional “anomalous rule” for intervention appeals. Others have relaxed it a bit, holding that they have jurisdiction to review denials of intervention as of right (but adhering to the traditional rule for denials of permissive intervention). And still other courts have gone all the way to holding that denials of intervention are always immediately appealable.

Again, all three approaches are effectively the same. And the first two—in which jurisdiction turns on the correctness of the district court’s decision—are odd uses of appellate jurisdiction. Judge Friendly made this point in Levin v. Ruby Trading Corp.:

Since this makes appealability turn on the merits, it is not a very effective or useful limitation of appellate jurisdiction; the propriety of the denial by the district judge must be examined before the appellate court knows whether it has jurisdiction, and the only consequence of the restriction on appealability is that on finding the district judge was right, it will dismiss the appeal rather than affirm.

(Quoted in 7C Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1923, available at Westlaw.) So even under the anomalous rule, courts are immediately reviewing the propriety of the intervention denial. Pretending that anything otherwise is going on is unnecessary, awkward, and potentially confusing:

A court that in fact is doing everything it would do if it admitted to having jurisdiction should acknowledge that it is exercising jurisdiction. Not only is it more seemly to speak directly; accurate characterization may have some impact on . . . incidental questions . . . .

15B Wright, Miller & Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure § 3914.18, available at Westlaw.

A rulemaking solution for intervention appeals

As Wright, Miller & Kane note, “[t]he only obstacle to following the simple rule . . . is that there is a substantial body of authority, including cases from the Supreme Court, making the more elaborate distinctions.” That is, courts might be too far along to clean this up.

Rulemaking thus might be appropriate. Under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1292(e) and 2072(c), the Supreme Court can (via the rulemaking process) create rules governing the timing of appeals. A rule governing intervention appeals might be as simple as the following:

Denials of motions to intervene under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24 are final decisions under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

The normal requirements for time limits for appeals as of right would then apply unequivocally apply to intervention denials.

A rule governing intervention appeals might also take the step—suggested by Wright, Miller & Kane—of prohibiting immediate appeals from the denial of permissive intervention. These denials are reviewed under the deferential clear-abuse-of-discretion standard. And reversals are rare. As Wright, Miller & Kane note, “[t]he hope that the doctrine offers the would-be permissive intervenor is wholly illusory.” But so long as the possibility of reversal exists, parties will still appeal from the denial of permissive intervention. Rejecting these appeals outright thus might be the better rule. And although courts might be too deep into the existing rule to change, rulemakers are not.

United States v. 60 Automotive Grilles, 2020 WL 233450 (11th Cir. Jan. 15, 2020), available at the Eleventh Circuit.

About Bryan Lammon

Everything appellate jurisdiction and procedure

Final Decisions covers appellate jurisdiction and procedure: recent decisions, cert petitions, scholarship, rule changes, and more—including a weekly rundown of notable decisions and developments. It is a source for judges, litigators, and law professors looking to learn more about appellate jurisdiction and procedure, stay current in these areas, and gain insight into future developments.

I’m a law professor at the University of Toledo College of Law. I research federal appellate jurisdiction and procedure, primarily if and when parties can appeal. I have published several articles and essays in this area and have several more in the works. My article Rules, Standards, and Experimentation in Appellate Jurisdiction won the 2014 Howard B. Eisenberg Prize from the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers, which is awarded to the best article in the field of appellate practice and procedure. I have also received several teaching awards, including a University Outstanding Teacher Award, Outstanding Professor Award from the 2015 and 2019 graduating classes at the University of Toledo, the Beth Eisler First Year Teaching Award from the 2019 first-year class, and the Lee Ann Pizzimenti Educational Excellence and Distinguished Service Award.

Before becoming a law professor, I clerked for Judge Edward C. Prado on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and practiced law at Jones Day in the Issues & Appeals group. I started my teaching career at as a Visiting Associate Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, where I also graduated from law school.

Last updated January 31, 2020.

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Appellate Circuit

Judge Charles Wilson and Judge Lisa Branch Like Nothin’ Better than Reviving a Personal Vendetta

Our refrain remains the same. Check the case history to see if you’re about to be “stitched-up” by a panel which is maliciously assembled to execute personal vendettas.

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In This 2021 Foreclosure Case with Sanctions, two members of the Appellate Panel were on Prior Decisions.

In the case of Judge Wilson, he sat on the Coastal Bank v. Martin case (11th Cir.) and in the case of Judge Branch, she was a Panel member in the $2.7M judgment case referenced herein, the Greenstein v. Bank of Ozarks, while she was a Justice on the Court of Appeals in Georgia State Court. Now, the lawyer who was a named party in that case in relation to CEP–TEN Mile Resorts, is before Branch as a Federal Circuit Judge and both Wilson and Branch are conveniently and non-randomly assigned to the 3-panel in this case.

It’s another example of judicial bias from the Eleventh Circuit. “Our refrain remains the same” and we warn parties to do their homework and look to the lower court and aged history of litigants to see if you’re about to be “stitched-up” by a panel which is maliciously assembled to execute personal vendettas.

MAY 29, 2021

Coastal Bank v. Martin, No. 17-11998 (11th Cir. Nov. 20, 2017)

Greenstein v Bank of the Ozarks,  (GA COA, 2014)

(May 28, 2021)

Before WILSON, MARTIN, and BRANCH, Circuit Judges. PER CURIAM:

More than eight years after Truist Bank foreclosed on Roderick Wright’s and his mother’s homes,1 Wright sued Truist, alleging misconduct related to the underlying loans.

On Truist’s motion, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia dismissed Wright’s complaint for failure to state a claim.

Wright argues that the district court erred in dismissing his complaint because:

(1) he pleaded an actionable claim for breach of duty by a notary public,

(2) his Georgia RICO Act claim was not time-barred, and

(3) his substantive claims were adequate to support his claims for punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

Because the district court properly dismissed these claims, we affirm.

Truist requests that we deem Wright’s appeal to be frivolous and award sanctions.

Wright requests that we strike portions of Truist’s motion for sanctions for ad hominem language and for us to award sanctions in his favor.

Because we conclude that Wright’s appeal is frivolous, we grant Truist’s motion for sanctions and remand to the district court for an assessment of attorney’s fees and costs.

As to Wright’s motion to strike and for sanctions, we conclude that the arguments in Truist’s motion for sanctions were not improper and deny Wright’s motion.

1 Truist was then known as the Branch Banking and Trust Company.

I. Background

A. Facts

Wright owned a real estate development business and began banking with Truist around 2000. In March 2010, Truist approached Wright with a restructuring plan for some of his commercial loans.

The plan involved securing and cross- collateralizing the loans with Wright’s and his mother’s homes.

Wright alleges that Truist told him that the restructuring plan would be in his best interests. In reliance on that representation, he subsequently executed the plan.

According to Wright, there were no witnesses or notaries present when he signed the plan documents. Afterwards, he alleges, Truist affixed false notary public attestations and witness signatures to the documents.

Truist then allegedly refused to accept full payoffs of the loans.

In November 2010, several months after the parties executed the restructuring plan, Truist foreclosed on Wright’s and his mother’s homes.

B. Procedural History

On December 16, 2019, Wright filed a complaint against Truist in the Superior Court of Gwinnett County, Georgia. Wright alleged that Truist was liable for breach of duty by a notary public, a violation of the Georgia RICO Act, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees.2

Truist subsequently removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.

2 Wright also alleged counts of fraud, breach of fiduciary duties, economic duress, and to “set aside improper documents.” Because the district court dismissed these claims and Wright

Truist then moved to dismiss Wright’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In its motion, Truist argued that:

(1) Georgia law does not recognize a private cause of action based on violations of the notary public statutes,

(2) Wright’s Georgia RICO Act claim was barred by the applicable five-year statute of limitations, and

(3) Wright was not entitled to punitive damages or attorney’s fees because he failed to establish his underlying claims.

Wright responded and argued that Truist’s “procurement and participation in the intentional violations of” the notary public statutes was actionable under Georgia law, his Georgia RICO Act claim was timely because it “ar[ose] out of the conduct associated with the execution of [sealed documents]” and was subject to a twenty-year statute of limitations, and his claims for punitive damages and attorney’s fees survived because his underlying claims were adequately pleaded.

The district court granted Truist’s motion to dismiss.

It found that “[i]n Georgia, there is no private cause of action for a claim arising under the notary public statutes,” and that “employers are neither subject directly to nor held vicariously liable for violations of OCGA § 45-17-11 committed by a notary public employed by them.”

It rejected Wright’s argument that a twenty-year statute of limitations applied to his Georgia RICO Act claim because the Georgia RICO Act contains a five-year statute of limitations.

Lastly, it dismissed Wright’s claims for punitive damages and attorney’s fees because it had dismissed all of Wright’s underlying claims.

Wright timely appealed.

2 Wright also alleged counts of fraud, breach of fiduciary duties, economic duress, and to “set aside improper documents.” Because the district court dismissed these claims and Wright does not challenge that decision on appeal, we will limit our discussion to Wright’s remaining claims.

On appeal, Wright argues that the district court improperly dismissed his claim for breach of duty by a notary public because it “misinterpreted case law detailing liability of an employer that procured an employee-notary’s violation of [the notary public statute].”

He also argues that it erred in dismissing his Georgia RICO Act claim because it “failed to recognize that the racketeering activity alleged . . . related to the improper attestations of the notaries subjecting the RICO claim to twenty-year statute of limitations under O.C.G.A. § 9-3-23 because the false swearing and false statements were upon sealed instruments.”

Finally, he argues that because his claim for breach of duty by a notary public and his Georgia RICO Act claim “should be reinstated . . . [his claims] for punitive damages and attorneys’ fees should likewise be reinstated.”

After Wright filed his opening brief, Truist filed a motion for sanctions under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 and 28 U.S.C. § 1927.3

In its 28 U.S.C. § 1927 states:

“Any attorney or other person admitted to conduct cases in any court of the United States or any Territory thereof who so multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees reasonably incurred because of such conduct.”

Truist argued that Wright’s appeal was frivolous because it was clearly foreclosed by governing law. Truist also made references to the facts that:

(1) Wright’s counsel, Eric J. Nathan, had been sanctioned by this Court in Coastal Bank v. Martin, 717 F. App’x 860, 865–66 (11th Cir. 2017), for failing to disclose controlling authority,

and

(2) Truist had obtained a judgment against Nathan in a separate matter for $2,737,372.61. (LIF Comment: Greenstein v. Bank of the Ozarks, 757 S.E.2d 254 (Ga. Ct. App. 2014).

Based on these facts, Truist suggested that Wright and Nathan were waging a “vendetta” against it.

In response, Wright filed a motion to strike Truist’s motion for containing ad hominem language and requested sanctions.

He argued that Truist “inserted no fewer than eight ad hominem attacks directly, and unnecessarily, attacking the personal credibility and character of Counsel for Wright and Wright himself,” in violation of Eleventh Circuit Rule 25-6.4

According to Wright, it was inappropriate for Truist to mention that Nathan had been sanctioned by this Court or that it had obtained a judgment against Nathan.

He also requested that we impose sanctions against Truist and its counsel under our inherent authority for their purported “continued and pervasive ad hominem attacks.”

3 Rule 38 states: “If a court of appeals determines that an appeal is frivolous, it may, after a separately filed motion or notice from the court and reasonable opportunity to respond, award just damages and single or double costs to the appellee.”

28 U.S.C. § 1927 states: “Any attorney or other person admitted to conduct cases in any court of the United States or any Territory thereof who so multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees reasonably incurred because of such conduct.”

4 Eleventh Circuit Rule 25-6 states: “When any paper filed with the court, including motions and briefs, contains . . . ad hominem or defamatory language . . . the court . . . may without prior notice take appropriate action . . . includ[ing] ordering that: the document be sealed; specified language or information be stricken from the documents; the document be struck from the record; the clerk be directed to remove the document from electronic public access; the party who filed the document either explain why including the specified language or disclosing the specified information in the document is relevant, necessary, and appropriate or file a redacted or replacement document.”

II. Analysis

We review the district court’s grant of Truist’s motion to dismiss de novo, accepting the allegations in Wright’s complaint as true and construing them in the light most favorable to him. McGroarty v. Swearingen, 977 F.3d 1302, 1306 (11th Cir. 2020).

A. Breach of Duty by a Notary Public

Wright argues that the district court erroneously dismissed his claim for breach of duty by a notary public. The district court dismissed the claim because it found that, “[i]n Georgia, there is no private cause of action for a claim arising under the notary public statutes.”
Under O.C.G.A. § 45-17-8(d), “[a] notary public shall not execute a notarial certificate containing a statement known by the notary to be false nor perform any action with an intent to deceive or defraud.” In Anthony v. American General Financial Services Inc., 697 S.E.2d 166, 171–75 (Ga. 2010) (“Anthony I”), the Supreme Court of Georgia held that the notary public statutes do not create a private cause of action. We subsequently adopted that ruling and affirmed a district court’s dismissal of “a private civil claim under the notary fee statute.”5

5 In his complaint, Wright bases his claim for breach of duty by a notary public on O.C.G.A. § 45-17-8(d) in conjunction with O.C.G.A. § 51-1-6. Section 51-1-6 states:

“When the law requires a person to perform an act for the benefit of another or to refrain from doing an act which may injure another, although no cause of action is given in express terms, the injured party  may recover for the breach of such legal duty if he suffers damage thereby.”

Wright does not make any argument related to O.C.G.A. § 51-1-6 on appeal.

Regardless, in Branch Banking & Trust Co. v. Morrisroe, 746 S.E.2d 859, 861 (Ga. Ct. App. 2013), the Court of Appeals of Georgia held that O.C.G.A. § 45-17-8(d) in conjunction with O.C.G.A. § 51-1-6 does not create a viable cause of action because “[a] duty cannot rest solely on OCGA § 51-1-6 . . . because it merely sets forth general principles of tort law.”

Thus, O.C.G.A. § 51-1-6 does not affect our analysis of whether there is a private cause of action for breach of duty by a notary public under O.C.G.A. § 45-17-8(d).

Anthony v. Am. Gen. Fin. Servs., Inc., 626 F.3d 1318, 1321 (11th Cir. 2010) (“Anthony II”).

Wright ignores these holdings and points to language in Anthony I where the Supreme Court of Georgia stated: “[A]lthough a corporation cannot be directly or vicariously liable for a violation of OCGA § 45-17-11, it still may be liable if it procures or otherwise qualifies as a party to or participating in such a violation by a notary.” 697 S.E.2d at 171;

See id. at 170 (“But under well-established principles, the corporation (or other person) may still be liable if it participates in or procures the notary’s violation. In terms of criminal liability, this is simply the concept of being a party to a crime.”).

He argues that this language permits his claim against Truist to go forward.

But Wright misinterprets this language. Although the Supreme Court of Georgia stated that a “corporation . . . may still be liable if it participates in or procures the notary’s violation,” Anthony I, 697 S.E.2d at 170 (emphasis omitted), it was not creating a private cause of action for violations of the notary public statutes.

Instead, it was merely noting that a plaintiff “may be able to pursue civil liability against [a party who violates the statute] under other applicable tort or contract laws of this State.” Id. at 175.

It is for those claims—for violations of “other applicable tort or contract laws”—that a corporation may be held liable as a joint wrongdoer under the notary public statutes.

See id. at 170 (“[I]n all cases, a person who maliciously procures an injury to be done to another, whether an actionable wrong or a breach of contract, is a joint wrongdoer and may be subject to an action either alone or jointly with the person who actually committed the injury.” (quoting O.C.G.A. § 51-12-30)).

Because the Supreme Court of Georgia and this Court have both clearly held that the notary public statutes do not create a private cause of action, the district court properly dismissed Wright’s claim.6

B. Georgia RICO Act

Next, Wright argues that the district court applied the wrong statute of limitations to his Georgia RICO Act claim.

Under the Georgia RICO Act, “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law, a criminal or civil action or proceeding under this chapter may be commenced up until five years after the conduct in violation of a provision of this chapter terminates or the cause of action
accrues.” O.C.G.A. § 16-14-8 (2011)7;

See Glock, Inc. v. Harper, 796 S.E.2d 304, 306 (Ga. Ct. App. 2017).

The district court applied this five-year statute of limitations and found that Wright’s claim was “over three (3) years late” because “the most recent action taken by [Truist] relevant to this claim was on May 3, 2011, when it foreclosed on the last of the collateral properties.”8

Wright argues that his Georgia RICO Act claim is subject to the twenty-year statute of limitations of O.C.G.A. § 9-3-23 instead, because the claim arises out of conduct related to the execution of sealed instruments.9

This argument fails for two reasons.

First, the Georgia RICO Act states that the five-year statute of limitations applies “[n]otwithstanding any other provision of law.”10 O.C.G.A. § 16-14-8 (2011).

In his reply brief, Wright argues that “[t]he word ‘notwithstanding’ does not mean that no other rule could apply” and that nothing in the statute “prevent[s] a party from availing itself of a more liberal rule of law such as O.C.G.A. § 9-3-23.”11

But “notwithstanding” means: “Despite; in spite of.” Notwithstanding, Black’s Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019).

Thus, we conclude that O.C.G.A. § 16-14-8 (2011) supplies the exclusive statute of limitations for Wright’s Georgia RICO Act claim. Because Wright did not file his claim within five years of May 3, 2011, the district court properly dismissed it.

Second, Wright’s expansive interpretation of the twenty-year statute of limitations for sealed instruments has been rejected by the Supreme Court of Georgia.

In Harris v. Black, the Supreme Court of Georgia held that “if suit is brought upon an official bond under seal, for a breach thereof,” then the twenty- year statute of limitations applies. 85 S.E. 742, 747 (Ga. 1915).

But “if the action is brought against the officer individually, and not upon his bond, different periods of limitations may apply according to whether the action sounds in tort or in contract; and if the former, the limitation is dependent upon the particular character of the tort.” Id.

Because Wright’s Georgia RICO Act claim is not a claim “upon an official bond,” it is not subject to the twenty-year statute of limitations of O.C.G.A. § 9-3-23 and was properly dismissed.

6 Even if O.C.G.A. § 45-17-8(d) created a private cause of action for breach of duty by a notary public, Wright’s claim would still fail because he did not meet the four-year statutes of limitations for injuries to realty or personalty under O.C.G.A. §§ 9-3-30 and 9-3-31. See, e.g., Godwin v. Mitzpah Farms, LLLP, 766 S.E.2d 497, 507 (Ga. Ct. App. 2014).

7 O.C.G.A. § 16-14-8 was amended in 2015. Because the amendment was not retroactive, see Glock, Inc. v. Harper, 796 S.E.2d 304, 306 (Ga. Ct. App. 2017), we will apply the version of the statute that was in effect at the relevant time.

8 Wright does not dispute that the statute of limitations on his Georgia RICO Act claim began to run on May 3, 2011.

9 See O.C.G.A. § 9-3-23 (“Actions upon bonds or other instruments under seal shall be brought within 20 years after the right of action has accrued.”).

10 Even though the district court dismissed Wright’s Georgia RICO Act claim based on O.C.G.A. § 16-4-8—the applicable statute of limitations—Wright did not discuss the statute at all in his opening brief.

C. Punitive Damages and Attorney’s Fees

Wright acknowledges that his claims for punitive damages and attorney’s fees must fail if his substantive claims are dismissed.

Because we affirm the district court’s dismissal of his substantive claims, we also affirm its dismissal of his claims for punitive damages and attorney’s fees.

See generally Mann v. Taser Int’l, Inc., 588 F.3d 1291, 1304–05 (11th Cir. 2009).

III. Sanctions

A. Wright’s Motion for Sanctions

Wright argues that we should strike certain language in Truist’s motion for sanctions for being ad hominem and requests sanctions for Truist’s decision to include that language in its motion.

In particular, he contends that it was inappropriate for Truist to mention that Nathan had been sanctioned by this Court for a frivolous appeal or that Truist had obtained a multi-million-dollar judgment against Nathan.

Truist’s motion for sanctions was based, in part, on 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

To prevail on its claim for sanctions under § 1927, Truist was required to “show subjective bad-faith.” Hyde v. Irish, 962 F.3d 1306, 1310 (11th Cir. 2020).

“This standard can be met either (1) with direct evidence of the attorney’s subjective bad faith or (2) with evidence of conduct so egregious that it could only be committed in bad faith.” Id. (quotation omitted);

See Amlong & Amlong, P.A. v. Denny’s, Inc., 500 F.3d 1230, 1242 (11th Cir. 2007) (“A determination of bad faith is warranted where an attorney knowingly or recklessly pursues a frivolous claim or engages in litigation tactics that needlessly obstruct the litigation of non-frivolous claims.” (quotation omitted)).

The facts that Nathan had been sanctioned by this Court for a frivolous appeal and that Truist had obtained a multi-million-dollar judgment against him are clearly relevant to whether Nathan “knowingly or recklessly pursue[d] a frivolous claim.” Amlong, 500 F.3d at 1242.

And because these facts were relevant to Truist’s claims, we decline to strike or seal Truist’s motion or the related filings.

See 11th Cir. R. 25-6 (suggesting that a paper filed with the court may contain arguably ad hominem language where it is “relevant, necessary, and appropriate”).

Because we conclude that it was not inappropriate for Truist to mention these facts, we deny Wright’s request for us to award sanctions.

To award sanctions under our inherent powers, we “must find that the lawyer’s conduct ‘constituted or was tantamount to bad faith.’” Thomas v. Tenneco Packaging Co., Inc., 293 F.3d 1306, 1320 (11th Cir. 2002) (quotation omitted).

In Thomas, we awarded sanctions where the lawyer made:

“(1) insulting remarks about opposing counsel’s physical traits and demeanor,

(2) comments that called into question opposing counsel’s fitness as a member of the bar,

(3) thinly veiled threats aimed at opposing counsel,

(4) a racial slur, and

(5) unsubstantiated claims that opposing counsel was a racist.”

Id. at 1323.

Unlike the lawyer in Thomas, Truist did not engage in conduct “tantamount to bad faith.”

As already discussed, Truist’s mention of the facts that Nathan had been sanctioned by this Court and that Truist had obtained a multi-million-dollar judgment against him was not inappropriate because it was relevant to Truist’s claims under § 1927.

11 Ordinarily, we do not consider an argument raised for the first time on reply.

Mamone V.United States, 559 F.3d 1209, 1210 n.1 (11th Cir. 2009).

But we will address Wright’s argument here to demonstrate that it is frivolous.

B. Truist’s Motion for Sanctions

Truist argues that Wright’s appeal is frivolous and requests that we award attorney’s fees and double costs under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38.

Wright argues that his appeal is not frivolous—specifically, that “[t]he two enumerations of error in this case are essentially issues of first impression in this Court . . . and have not been fully addressed or settled by any Georgia Appellate Court.”

We may impose sanctions under Rule 38 against a party who “raises clearly frivolous claims in the face of established law and clear facts.”

Parker v. Am.Traffic Sols., Inc., 835 F.3d 1363, 1371 (11th Cir. 2016) (quotation omitted);

See Jackson v. Bank of Am., N.A., 898 F.3d 1348, 1359 (11th Cir. 2018).

“[A] claim is clearly frivolous if it is utterly devoid of merit.”

Parker, 835 F.3d at 1371 (quotation omitted).

When determining whether to award sanctions, we may review the “continuous series of events . . . which gave rise to this appeal.”

Bonfiglio v. Nugent, 986 F.2d 1391, 1393 (11th Cir. 1993).

Wright filed a complaint containing at least four counts that were barred by the applicable statutes of limitations, a conclusion that he does not challenge on appeal.

Then, on appeal, he raised two arguments that were directly foreclosed by precedent from the Eleventh Circuit and the Supreme Court of Georgia, and by the plain language of O.C.G.A. § 16-14-8 (2011).

See Bonfiglio, 986 F.2d at 1394 (awarding sanctions where the appellant “stubbornly filed [an] appeal in which he repeate[d] to this Court the utterly frivolous contentions he made in the district court”).

Finally, when Truist filed a motion for sanctions based on this conduct, Wright filed a meritless motion to strike and for sanctions.

Wright’s arguments on appeal were devoid of merit because Anthony I and Anthony II clearly establish that the notary public statutes do not create a private cause of action and because O.C.G.A. § 16-14-8 (2011) clearly establishes a five- year statute of limitations for Georgia RICO Act claims.

More egregiously, Wright did not even mention O.C.G.A. § 16-14-8 (2011)—the applicable statute of limitations, which the district court relied on to dismiss his Georgia RICO Act claim—in his opening brief.

Instead, he waited until his reply brief to argue that O.C.G.A. § 16-14-8 (2011) does not apply here because “[t]he word ‘notwithstanding’ does not mean that no other rule could apply.”

This argument is utterly devoid of merit and Wright has provided no non-frivolous argument why the Georgia RICO Act’s five-year statute of limitations does not bar his Georgia RICO Act claim.

Thus, as a sanction, we order Wright and his counsel to pay double the costs of this appeal, as well as reasonable attorney’s fees to Truist.

See Bonfiglio, 986 F.2d at 1394;

See Taiyo Corp. v. Sheraton Savannah Corp., 49 F.3d 1514, 1515 (11th Cir. 1995) (imposing joint and several liability for Rule 38 sanctions).

“We remand this case to the district court with instructions for it to calculate and assess the attorneys’ fees and costs that [Wright and his counsel are] to pay in connection with this appeal and to order that amount paid.” Bonfiglio, 986 F.2d at 1395.

IV. Conclusion

For these reasons, we affirm the district court’s decision and remand the case to the district court to assess attorney’s fees and costs.

AFFIRMED and REMANDED.

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Appellate Circuit

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.

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on

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.

III. RICO

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.

AFFIRMED IN PART, GRANTED IN PART, DENIED IN PART.

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