Wells Fargo Must Face Mortgage Modification Suits

Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) must face lawsuits by home loan borrowers over claims the bank refused to offer them permanent mortgage modifications for which they assert they qualified, a U.S. appeals court ruled.

The federal government’s 2009 Home Affordable Modification Program requires the bank to offer permanent adjustments to homeowners who met the terms of a trial-period modification, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled.

“The program seems to have created more litigation than it has happy homeowners,” the judges said in today’s decision.

Reversing a lower-court dismissal of two separate lawsuits, the panel rejected the conclusion Wells Fargo was only bound if it had actually offered the borrowers a fully-executed copy of a modification agreement.

The terms of the trial period plan “cannot convert a purported agreement setting forth clear obligations into a decision left to the unfettered discretion of the loan servicer,” the panel said.

Similar Conclusion

A Chicago-based federal appeals court reached a similar conclusion last year, the judges said.

Borrower Phillip Corvello, the plaintiff in one case, claimed he had completed the terms of a written trial period plan, while the plaintiffs in the other case, Karen and Jeffrey Lucia, alleged they’d complied with the terms of an oral plan, according to the court ruling. The Lucias later lost their home to foreclosure.

Wells Fargo claimed the borrowers hadn’t met all the temporary plan qualifications and that it was within its rights to not offer them permanent adjustments, according to the unanimous ruling.

Ancel Martinez, a spokesman for the San Francisco-based bank, declined to immediately comment on the court’s decision.

The cases are Corvello v. Wells Fargo Bank NA, 11-16234 and Lucia v. Wells Fargo Bank NA, 11-16242, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (San Francisco).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in the Chicago federal courthouse at

aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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