New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Affirms Six-Year Statute of Limitations Applicable to Breach of Contract Action

On August 11, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court First Department affirmed a trial court’s decision that the statute of limitations bars a breach of contract action brought more than six years after the seller (defendant) of mortgage loans made allegedly false representations and warranties to the purchaser (plaintiff) regarding the characteristics, quality, and risk profile of the loans. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. v. Flagstar Capital Mkts. Corp., 2016 NY Slip Op. 05780 (N.Y. App. Div. Aug. 11, 2016). In this case, the plaintiff purchased loans from defendant with closing dates between December 7, 2006 and May 31, 2007. Through various assignments, the loan pool was conveyed to a Trust, of which the plaintiff was a trustee, securitized, and sold to investor certificateholders on October 2, 2007. In 2013, at the request of one of the certificateholders, an underwriting firm performed a forensic review of the loans underlying some of the certificates and found that “a large number of the loans breached representations and warranties made by defendant regarding the quality and characteristics of the loans.” Although the defendant was notified of the breaches, it failed to comply with the repurchase protocol set forth in the agreement between the seller and purchaser.

The plaintiff commenced action against the defendant on August 30, 2013, subsequently filing a complaint on February 3, 2014 “seeking specific performance, damages and/or rescission, and asserting a cause of action for breach of contract  and a cause of action for breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair lending.” The defendant moved to dismiss the case on the ground that the action was time barred, since it began more than six years after the plaintiff’s accrual date of the loans. The trial court ruled in favor of the defendant, reasoning that in the Court of Appeal’s recent decision in ACE, it “held that a breach of contract claim in an RMBS put-back action accrues on the date the allegedly false representations and warranties were made.” ACE Sec. Corp. v DB Structured Products, Inc., 36 N.E.3d 623 (N.Y. June 11, 2015). The Appellate Division affirmed, holding that “New York’s statutes of limitation codify the public policies of ’finality, certainty and predictability that [our] contract law endorses’ (ACE, 25 NY3d at 593). The parties’ accrual provision runs afoul of these important policies.”

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Ninth Circuit Holds Nevada HOA Statute Unconstitutional

On August 12, the Ninth Circuit vacated  a district court’s summary judgment and held that Nevada Revised Statutes section 116.3116 et seq. (the Statute) violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Bourne Valley Court Trust v. Wells Fargo Bank, No. 15-15233, (9th Cir. Aug. 12, 2016). In a 2-1 decision, the Ninth Circuit held that the Statute’s “opt-in notice scheme” unconstitutionally degraded the mortgage lender’s interest in the property because it required an HOA to alert a mortgage lender of its intention to foreclose only if the lender had affirmatively requested notice.

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New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Reverses Trial Court Ruling in RMBS Case

On August 11, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court First Department reversed a trial court’s decision and held that the trustee plaintiff’s allegations against a financial institution were sufficient to support breach of contract and negligence claims arising from the securitization and sale of residential mortgages. Morgan Stanley Mortg. Loan Trust 2006-13ARX v. Morgan Stanley Mortg. Capital, 2016 NY Slip Op. 05781 (N.Y. App. Div. Aug. 11, 2016). According to the plaintiff, the defendant’s alleged breach of its contractual duty to notify the trustee of defective loans resulted in the sale of “virtually worthless” residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) to outside investors. The plaintiff further alleged that the defendant failed to “adhere to the barest minimum of underwriting standards,” claiming that many of loans had incorrect and/or unsatisfactory debt-to-income ratios and that the defendant represented the loans to appear less risky than they actually were. In reversing the lower court’s ruling that the “complaint did not contain facts to sufficiently support” an independent, separate claim for breach of contract, the court cited its recent decision in Nomura Asset Acceptance Corp. Alternative Loan Trust v. Nomura Credit & Capital, Inc., stating that “under similar RMBS agreements, a seller’s failure to provide a trustee with notice of material breaches it discovers in the underlying loans states an independently breached contractual obligation, allowing a plaintiff to pursue separate damages” (internal citation omitted).

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D.C. Circuit Finds District Court Lacks Jurisdiction in Case Alleging Violations of D.C. Consumer Protection Laws

On July 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit vacated the district court’s ruling, opining that the plaintiffs in a putative class action failed to establish Article III standing to file suit in federal court. Hancock v. Urban Outfitters, Inc., No. 14-7047, WL 3996710 (D.C. Cir. July 26, 2016). In 2013, the consumer plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that two D.C. retail stores violated the Identification Information Act, D.C. Code § 47-3151 et seq., and D.C. Consumer Protection Procedure Act, D.C. Code § 28-3901 et seq., by requesting the plaintiffs’ zip codes at the time of purchase. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim. As such, the district court ruled that it was unnecessary to address the stores’ jurisdictional argument that the plaintiffs failed to plead an injury sufficient for Article III standing. Citing the recent Spokeo v. Robins Supreme Court ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit disagreed: “The Supreme Court’s decision in Spokeo thus closes the door on [the plaintiffs’] claim that the Stores’ mere request for a zip code, standing alone, amounted to an Article III injury.” “Because the plaintiffs have not alleged any concrete injury in fact stemming from alleged violations of D.C. law,” the D.C. Circuit held that “the district court lacked jurisdiction to decide the merits of the case.”  The D.C. Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment on the merits and remanded with instructions to dismiss the complaint.

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Florida Judge: “Bitcoin Has a Long Way to Go Before it is the Equivalent of Money”

On July 25, a Florida judge for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit dismissed criminal charges against an individual engaged in the business of selling bitcoin. Florida v. Espinoza, No. F14-2923 (Fl. Cir. Ct. July 26, 2016). The defendant conducted various bitcoin transactions with an undercover detective. The State of Florida had charged the individual with one count of unlawfully engaging in business as a money services business in violation of § 560.125(5)(a), Fla. Stat. and two counts of money laundering, in violation of § 896.101(5)(a) and (5)(b), Fla. Stat. The State later amended its filing to include charges of unlawfully operating as a “payment instrument seller” in violation of § 560.103(29), Fla. Stat. The judge dismissed the money-transmission-related charges, reasoning that (i) under the plain meaning of § 560.125(5)(a), a “money transmitter” would operate in a similar manner as a middleman in a financial transaction; and (ii) case law “requires that a fee must be charged to meet all the elements of being a money transmitter business.” The defendant, according to the judge, was not a middleman, but rather a seller. The judge further noted that the “difference in the price he purchased the Bitcoin for and what he sold it for is the difference between cost and expenses, the widely accepted definition of profit.” The judge also found that the defendant was not a “payment instrument seller” because bitcoin is not a payment instrument. The judge stated that “[b]itcoin has a long way to go before it is the equivalent of money,” and that “attempting to fit the sale of Bitcoin into a statutory scheme regulating money services businesses is like fitting a square peg in a round hole.” The judge further dismissed the counts of money laundering, ultimately concluding that “[w]ithout legislative action geared towards a much needed updated to the particular language within [the relevant statutes], this Court finds that there is insufficient evidence as a matter of law that this Defendant committed any of the crimes as charged, and is, therefore, compelled to grant Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss as to Counts II and III.”

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