A recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit offers some vindication for mortgage companies still facing “repurchase” demands made by the banks to which they sold residential mortgages in the years leading up to the financial crisis that began in 2007 and accelerated in 2008. In CitiMortgage, Inc. v. Equity Bank, N.A., No. 18-1312 (8th Cir. 2019), the Eighth Circuit (which has appellate jurisdiction over the federal district courts of Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and the Dakotas) reached the common-sense conclusion that a plaintiff cannot require a defendant loan originator/seller to “repurchase” a loan extinguished by foreclosure. In such a circumstance, the court reasoned, there simply is nothing left to repurchase. In so holding, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri — a court that, despite being CitiMortgage’s consistently chosen forum for repurchase and contractual indemnification claims against loan sellers, had granted summary judgment to the defendant, Equity Bank, on this issue.
The relevant factual background is as follows. CitiMortgage filed suit against Equity, demanding that Equity repurchase 12 residential mortgage loans. CitiMortgage had notified Equity that it needed to take action under the cure-or-purchase provision in the parties’ Agreement. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court’s holding that Equity’s duty to repurchase was limited to the six loans that had not gone through foreclosure. For the loans that had not gone through foreclosure, the court affirmed the district court’s holding that Equity breached the Agreement. The court rejected Equity’s claims that CitiMortgage’s letters lacked the necessary detail to trigger its duty to perform, and that CitiMortgage waited too long to exercise its rights. But, as to the six loans that had gone through foreclosure, the court affirmed the district court’s holding that Equity owed nothing to CitiMortgage.
As part of its analysis detailing the reasons that Equity could not be required to repurchase loans already foreclosed upon, the Eighth Circuit faulted CitiMortgage for never explaining what, exactly, Equity was supposed to repurchase. We have regularly made that argument when defending clients against repurchase claims and likewise, have never gotten a satisfactory response as to what our client could repurchase. Typically, in tacit acknowledgment of the merit of that argument, plaintiffs make sure to do something that the appellate court intimated CitiMortgage should have done in this case. That is to seek instead what is usually an alternative contractual remedy, indemnification. Perhaps because it considered the repurchase provision in its contract with Equity more likely to generate a significant damages award (this contract’s repurchase provision established a “repurchase price formula” favorable to CitiMortgage), CitiMortgage opted in this case to seek only the remedy of “repurchase.”
To be sure, a plaintiff’s decision to seek an “indemnification” remedy also creates obstacles to recovery in most cases of this type. Among those obstacles are many of the same statute of limitations problems that parties asking for repurchase face, as well as substantial questions about the circumstances under which the party seeking indemnification incurred the liability for which it is seeking payment. Relatedly, whether a particular alleged loan defect can fairly be said to have caused the plaintiff’s monetary loss is typically very much in question when a plaintiff aggregator seeks indemnification from a defendant loan seller. Many battles over such issues remain to be fought, but, in the meantime, the Eighth Circuit’s recognition that a party cannot repurchase what no longer exists is a welcome development for residential mortgage loan originators.