Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Melissa M. Donaldson, 3rd DCA May 6, 2015.

Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals reversed the involuntary dismissal of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.’s (“Wells Fargo”) foreclosure action against borrower, Melissa Donaldson (“Donaldson”), ruling that it was an abuse of discretion to dismiss the action at trial because the record contradicted Wells Fargo’s technical admissions.

In September 2012, Wells Fargo filed a verified complaint for foreclosure, alleging that it was the holder of the note and mortgage, referencing an assignment of the note and mortgage, and attaching a copy of the note endorsed in blank and a copy of the mortgage. Donaldson filed and served her first set of requests for admissions on May 22, 2013, requesting that Wells Fargo admit: (1) it was not holder of the note; (2) it was not the owner of the note; (3) the original lender did not transfer possession of the original note or any rights to Wells Fargo; (4) no assignment of mortgage in favor of Wells Fargo occurred prior to the foreclosure action; and (5) Wells Fargo was not in possession of the original note.

Donaldson also filed an answer and asserted affirmative defenses, including that Wells Fargo lacked standing to sue; was not the “lawful” assignee of the note and mortgage; and that Wells Fargo was not the owner, holder, or possessor of the original note and could not produce the original note. Wells Fargo filed a reply to Donaldson’s affirmative defenses, alleging that he was in possession of the original note endorsed in blank and attaching a copy of the assignment of mortgage. At trial, the case was involuntarily dismissed.

The 3rd DCA reversed the trial court’s dismissal, holding that, while there was no dispute that Wells Fargo failed to timely respond to Donaldson’s requests for admissions, that failure did not preclude Wells Fargo from obtaining relief from the technical admissions because the “record support[ed] the denial” of the admissions. Wells Fargo had alleged that it owned the note and had the right to foreclose. Furthermore, Wells Fargo attached documentation supporting its right to foreclose and directly contradicting the admissions. Consequently, the involuntary dismissal was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

The Court’s ruling is consistent with Florida Law and the purpose of Rule 1.370. See e.g., Thomas v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 875 So. 2d 758, 760 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004) (the sanction of dismissal was too harsh and legally inappropriate for the failure to timely comply with the request for admissions); Sher v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 557 So. 2d 638, 639 (Fla. 3d DCA 1990) (“the withdrawal of the technical admissions and acceptance of the belated response would serve to facilitate the presentation of the case on its evidentiary merits.”); Melody Tours, Inc. v. Granville Mkt. Letter, Inc., 413 So. 2d 450, 451 (Fla. 5th DCA 1982) (courts may “permit withdrawal or amendment of answers to requests for admissions when that action will serve the presentation of the merits”); Trawick, Fla. Prac. & Proc. § 18:1 (2014-2015 ed.) (the “purpose is to eliminate unnecessary proof at trial by obtaining admissions of matters that are not in dispute”). While it is important to timely respond to requests for admissions, a failure to do so cannot be used to overcome allegations and facts already in the record.