A three-justice panel of the New Hampshire Supreme Court (the “Court”) recently affirmed lower court decisions that upheld a declaratory judgment in favor of Wells Fargo as to ownership of a foreclosed property, which the defendant and intervenors tried to prevent from being transferred through a last-minute, no-consideration conveyance and a series of litigious acts. In Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Hagan, No. 2021-0219 (N.H. Aug. 24, 2023) (non-precedential), Peter and Janet Saunders bought a property in March 2004 and executed a mortgage on that property in February 2005. In December 2009, the mortgage was assigned to Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (“Wells Fargo”). In 2010, the Saunders resisted foreclosure proceedings, with denial of their request for an injunction having been affirmed by the Supreme Court.
Wells Fargo then initiated foreclosure and bought the property at the sale on December 4, 2015. However, four days prior, the Saunders had deeded the property to Barbara Hagan “for ‘Love and Affection and No Other Consideration.’” Hagan permitted the Saunders to continue living at the property. The Saunders sued Wells Fargo in 2016 and 2017, challenging the 2005 mortgage, but both suits were dismissed, the first voluntarily and the second for failure to state a claim.
In May 2018, Wells Fargo sued Hagan for various claims, most of which were dismissed by the trial court. However, the court found that Wells Fargo had sufficiently plead the claims for plea of title, tortious interference with contractual relations, civil conspiracy and slander of title. Further, the court permitted the Saunders to intervene.
The trial court granted summary judgment for Wells Fargo in March 2020, finding the bank owned title in the property free and clear of any interest by Hagan, and that Hagan and the Saunders were barred from relitigating issues relating to the 2005 mortgage. The court later granted the bank’s request for a voluntary nonsuit of its remaining claims with prejudice. Following final judgment and denial of motions to reconsider, Hagan and the Saunders appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
First, Hagan and the Saunders challenged Wells Fargo’s standing to sue them. The Court rejected that challenge, because Hagan and the Saunders did not challenge the merits of the orders regarding res judicata and collateral estoppel, which precluded them from relitigating certain issues on appeal.
Next, Hagan and the Saunders claimed the trial court erred by not addressing their request for recission under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), but the Court noted the trial court had addressed that issue and was not persuaded it had been validly rescinded because they did not attempt recission until 2015, well past the 2008 timeline to do so. Despite Hagan and the Saunders contending that the recission was timely sought because of a manipulated interest rate being charged until November 2015, the Court disagreed, holding that the three-year time limit was absolute.
Additionally, Hagan and the Saunders argued the trial court erred in denying Hagan’s allegations that she had won a circuit-court default against Wells Fargo in a landlord and tenant action in 2017. The court that issued the default later struck it once Wells Fargo moved to vacate for lack of jurisdiction because Wells Fargo was not a tenant, but instead the owner of the property. That court then ordered the matter transferred to the Superior Court, which led to the instant matter.
The Superior Court concluded that Hagan’s dispute in the circuit court was inconsequential because there had been no final judgment on possession and no judgment on the issue of title. Hagan and the Saunders appealed both grounds to the Supreme Court, which addressed only the latter as dispositive. Because the circuit court lacked jurisdiction to address ownership of the property, which was within the jurisdiction of the Superior Court, the Supreme Court held that the lower courts had properly denied Hagan’s claims based on the 2017 circuit-court case. Further, the Court rejected the claims of Hagan and the Saunders on constitutional grounds, finding they failed to meet their burden of showing reversible error or to otherwise sufficiently develop such claims for appellate review. Accordingly, the three-justice panel of the Court affirmed the lower court decisions.
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