In Cole v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Civil Action No. 12-1932 (D.N.J. Mar. 30, 2016), the district court dismissed claims asserted by plaintiff Francine Cole (“Plaintiff”) against defendant Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (“Wells Fargo”) for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and violation of the Real Estate Settlement Practices Act (“RESPA”).
In Cole, Plaintiff, who, along with her sister Gwendolyn Cole-Hoover (“Hoover”), served as the co-administrator of her mother’s estate, alleged that she and Hoover took out a $125,000 home equity line of credit (“HELOC”) secured by a second lien on their deceased mother’s home (the “Property”) with Wells Fargo. Because they were co-signatories on the HELOC both Plaintiff and Hoover could use funds from the account.
Sometime thereafter, disputes between Plaintiff and Hoover arose, requiring the parties to litigate before the Chancery Division in Morris County regarding management of the Property. In that action, the trial court ordered that the Property be listed for sale and that Plaintiff pay various expenses for the Property out of the home equity line of credit with Wells Fargo. In 2010, Hoover granted her son, Kevin Todd Johnson (“Johnson”) a power of attorney that permitted him to, among other things, remove the remaining funds from the HELOC account and place them into another Wells Fargo account that was solely in Hoover’s name. Plaintiff subsequently challenged the power of attorney, leading Wells Fargo to return the money to the HELOC account pending investigation. The joint account was reinstated, but sometime thereafter, Hoover again instructed Johnson to remove the funds again from the HELOC account and to transfer the funds to another bank account not maintained at Wells Fargo. As a result, Plaintiff complained to Wells Fargo that she was not notified of the joint account being reinstated, or that her requests for documentation relating to the HELOC had not been provided. Plaintiff subsequently filed suit against Wells Fargo, Hoover and Johnson after receiving some of the documentation she requested from Wells Fargo relating to the HELOC.
On summary judgment, the Court dismissed all claims against Wells Fargo. With regard to the breach of contract claim, the Court dismissed the breach of contract claim because the HELOC account was a joint account and Hoover could drawdown the account without Plaintiff’s consent. The Court also dismissed the breach of fiduciary duty claim because the record was devoid of any “exceptional facts…which would heighten this creditor debtor relationship…to a fiduciary level.” The Court also dismissed Plaintiff’s RESPA claim on the grounds that Plaintiff’s requests for information, assuming they were qualified written requests, were properly responded to by Wells Fargo and, in any event, Plaintiff could not identify any actual damages arising from Wells Fargo’s purported failure to respond.