On February 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued an opinion in a foreclosure dispute ruling that a lower court wrongly dismissed a breach of contract claim against Fannie Mae but was correct in dismissing the claim against a national bank that serviced the loan (bank). According to the opinion, a group of companies and investors (plaintiffs/appellants) constructed a low-income housing program (earning low income housing tax credits) through the financing of a loan by one of the companies secured by a deed of trust later assigned to Fannie Mae and serviced by the bank. When the plaintiffs/appellants defaulted on the loan, Fannie Mae accelerated the note and instituted non-judicial foreclosure proceedings pursuant to the deed; however, the plaintiffs/appellants alleged that some of the notices of acceleration and foreclosure were not received, and when the foreclosure sale proceeded and the IRS “recaptured” the tax credits earned on the project, the plaintiffs/appellants brought suit against Fannie Mae and the bank for, among other things, breach of contract based on the deed of trust and wrongful foreclosure. After granting a motion for rehearing, the lower court granted the bank’s motion for summary judgment, stating it did not breach a contract because it was not a party to the deed of trust. The lower court also dismissed the breach of contract claims against Fannie Mae and the bank, holding that because the plaintiffs/appellants defaulted on the deed of trust, they had no standing to sue based on a breach of that agreement.
In affirming in part and reversing in part, the three-judge panel determined that although the bank was the loan servicer at the time of default, “once Fannie Mae was notified of default, Fannie Mae became the loan servicer” and therefore the “primary point of contact.” Therefore, “[b]ecause the only claim on appeal is for breach of contract based on the [d]eed of [t]rust, and [the bank] was never a party to the [d]eed of [t]rust, [the bank] has no liability.” However, concerning the breach of contract against Fannie Mae for failing to serve notice of foreclosure to appellants, the panel reversed the lower court’s decision, stating that this particular breach “exists as a stand-alone cause of action,” separate from a claim of wrongful foreclosure. Further, the “obligation to give notice of foreclosure would not even arise unless and until the [plaintiffs/appellants] were in default under the note.” The 5th Circuit remanded the case back to the lower court for review.