Thursday, May 20, 2010

Three Rules For Defeating the Bank's Motion For Summary Judgment in Foreclosure Cases

One of the attorneys in our Miami office watched a sole practitioner foreclosure defense attorney ( at attorney who is NOT associated with this firm) go down in flames on a summary judgment hearing before a Miami judge. As a civil litigation firm that successfully handled well over one thousand summary judgment hearings in general civil and insurance cases, I wanted to explain for other foreclosure lawyers and for homeowners some important pointers for successfully defending a lender’s motion for summary judgment in a foreclosure case.

Rule One: Always Bring a Court Reporter: In most (but by no means all) foreclosure cases if the bank wins their summary judgment motion then the bank wins their case and the Court will set a sale date in 30 to 90 days. A foreclosure defense lawyer should consider the bank’s motion for summary judgment to be equivalent of a trial. If the motion is lost, the homeowner is unlikely to get a second chance. Since the summary judgment is a critical part of the case it is ESSENTIAL that the homeowner’s attorney bring a court reporter to the hearing. By having a court reporter there is a record of the proceedings. If the judge makes an erroneous ruling either by disregarding applicable case law (controlling legal precedent) or disregarding evidence or lack of evidence then the homeowner will need a record of what happened in order to appeal the judge’s ruling.

Some judges do not like presiding over foreclosure cases. Some judges feel that if the homeowner did not pay the mortgage then the bank should win. One judge in Southwest Florida even commented to the press that the rapid processing of foreclosure cases was necessary so that real estate prices would stabilize. If there is no court reporter at the hearing the judge can rule against the homeowner and know that the homeowner will be unable to appeal. If a court reporter is present the judge knows that if he or she does not follow the law the judge may be reversed on appeal by a higher appellate Court. Most judges hate being reversed on an appeal. For a judge, being reversed means a higher Court writes an appellate order saying the judge made a mistake. Rulings of Florida’s appellate Courts are published in the Florida Law Weekly and Florida Law Weekly Supplement which is mailed to every Court in the state and sent by subscription to most Florida law firms.

Rule Two: Prepare: A lawyer can’t wing a summary judgment hearing. Meticulous preparation is required. The attorney should review the lender’s motion for summary judgment, analyze the case law cited in the motion, prepare a counter argument, anticipate the bank’s lawyer’s counter-attacks, and bring to Court three copies of each case they cite in opposition to the lender’s motion.

Rule Three: Do not waive objections: In the hearing where a Miami sole practitioner lost the case, the lawyer asked the Court to continue the summary judgment hearing because the bank had not provided discovery responses. Florida appellate courts have consistently held that summary judgment motions should not be heard until discovery is complete. The Court refused the continue the summary judgment. The judge rejected the last minute oral request for a continuance and explained the homeowners lawyer that if the bank did not provide discovery responses then the homeowner’s lawyer should have filed a motion to compel. The judge also felt that a motion for continuance should have been in writing and served long before the summary judgment hearing. If the homeowners lawyer was counting on a continuance perhaps he did not prepare as hard for the hearing. The solo should have reviewed their file when they received the motion for summary judgment and prepared a motion to compel if discovery was still outstanding.

I often wonder whether the foreclosure lawyers who change a “one time fixed fee” are able to spend adequate time to prepare and argue motions to compel. When clients go to the cheapest foreclosure lawyer, does that lawyer plan to bring a court reporter to the summary judgment hearing or even attend the hearing themselves. When homeowners interview prospective lawyers for foreclosure defense the homeowner should inquire about how the firm defends summary judgments and whether the price they are paying will include having a court reporter at the hearing.

The foreclosure lawyers in the Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Melbourne offices of Shuster & Saben, begin preparing for summary judgment the moment we open the file. Our discovery is planned and drafted for the purpose of defeating the lender’s motion for summary judgment and winning cases for our clients. When lender’s do not provide the discovery we ask for we follow through with motion to compel. Most homeowners cannot successfully defeat summary judgment without an attorney. When hiring counsel the homeowner should act as soon as possible so that their lawyer has time to conduct discovery prior to the summary judgment hearing.

1 comment:

  1. The bank has two different case numbers foreclosing on my home.I just realized this they are jumping back and forth between case numbers.Is it possible to have both cases dismissed?

    ReplyDelete