United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Danville Division
JAMES T. LUTHER, Plaintiff,
WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., ATLANTIC LAW GROUP, LLC., Defendants.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
ROBERT S. BALLOU, Magistrate Judge.
This matter was referred to me on the narrow issue of whether Defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. ("Wells Fargo") breached its contract with Plaintiff James T. Luther ("Luther") by accepting full payment on his loan and failing to release a deed of trust. Having conducted an evidentiary hearing and reviewed the relevant documents, case law, and statutory authority, I conclude that Luther's claims do not present a genuine issue of material fact, and RECOMMEND that the Court GRANT Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 44), DISMISS this case in its entirety with prejudice.
This is Luther's fourth attempt in this court to state a claim against Wells Fargo in an effort to avoid foreclosure of his Fielddale, Virginia home. The facts are fully set forth in the court's November 17, 2014 opinion dismissing the majority of Luther's claims in this case. Dkt. No. 50. In brief, Luther executed a promissory note ("the note") in favor of Wachovia Bank, N.A. (a predecessor in interest to Wells Fargo) on February 23, 2007, which is secured by a deed of trust on the Fielddale property. Dkt. Nos. 8-1, 8-2. Wells Fargo instituted a foreclosure action on the secured property because of Luther's apparent default on the note. Luther filed multiple suits in this court pro se, in an attempt to avoid foreclosure. Luther's most recent complaint against Wells Fargo alleges seven claims, including breach of contract, breach of good faith and fair dealing and breach of fiduciary duties. Dkt. No. 40.
Defendants moved to dismiss Luther's complaint, and on November 17, 2014, the court granted Defendants' motion as to the majority of Luther's claims, Dkt. No. 51, but allowed two of Luther's claims to proceed based upon Luther's allegation that he paid the debt owed to Wells Fargo in full on February 10, 2010. Specifically, Luther asserts in the amended complaint:
On February 10, 2010, the Defendant received credit in the form of a check for $127, 150.20 from the Plaintiff. The credit was accepted by Defendant. The Defendant's internet banking site recorded a full satisfaction of debt and removal of account #[xxxxxxxxxxx3839], and the Defendant's phone based customer care also reported the same findings. After 4-6 weeks of waiting for a release of the lien to be delivered to his address Plaintiff went into local Bassett branch and asked for the reason as to why Plaintiff had not received the clear title from Defendant. Plaintiff was informed that there was a $30 fee that needed to be paid to release the lien. The customer care agent went to work to get the liens released but informed Plaintiff after a few minutes of waiting that there was a problem, and she needed to call someone within the bank's organization. After a few minutes on the phone, the agent came back with the news that they would not release Plaintiff's loan and were keeping Plaintiff's check. Plaintiff asked for the check and was informed that it was being held and would not be released.
Dkt. No. 40, p. 1-2. Luther relies upon a print-out provided by Wells Fargo which shows a partial transaction history on the account. Dkt. No. 32-1. The history shows a "Payment" in the amount of $127, 150.20 on February 10, 2010. The following line shows a "Pay Rev[ersal]" dated February 10, 2010 in the same amount. Id.
Wells Fargo submitted the Declaration of Denise K. Politte, Vice President of Loan Documentation with Wells Fargo, stating that Luther's loan "has never been paid in full and currently has an unpaid principal balance due of $125, 712.63." Dkt. No. 45-1. As both parties submitted documents outside of the pleadings for consideration by the court, the court converted this portion of Defendants' motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. Further noting that the issue of whether Luther paid his loan in full on February 10, 2010 required the court to make a credibility determination, the court referred this matter to me for an evidentiary hearing, and to submit proposed findings of fact and a recommended disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). Dkt. No. 50 & 51.
I held a hearing on this issue on January 16, 2015, at which Luther proceeded pro se, and Wells Fargo was represented by counsel. My findings of fact and recommended disposition are set forth below.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A court may grant a motion for summary judgment only "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits... show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that [the moving party] is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A genuine dispute of material fact exists "[w]here the record taken as a whole could... lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citing reference omitted); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When evaluating a motion under Rule 56, the Court must construe all "facts and inferences to be drawn from the facts... in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Miller v. Leathers, 913 F.2d 1085, 1087 (4th Cir. 1990) (internal quotations omitted).
Here, Luther is proceeding pro se, thus his pleadings must be "liberally construed, and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (internal citation omitted). However, the court is not required to accept a pro se plaintiff's contentions as true, Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992), and cannot ignore a clear failure to allege facts which set forth a claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990) ("The special judicial solicitude' with which a district court should view such pro se complaints does not transform the court into an advocate. Only those questions which are squarely presented to a court may properly be addressed.").
The only claims remaining in this case are Luther's breach of contract and breach of good faith and fair dealing claims as they relate to his assertion that Wells Fargo refused to release the note after he paid in the loan in full on February 10, 2010. Thus, the sole issue ...