A Florida homeowner facing a foreclosure lawsuit lost a bid at the state’s high court to stop his lender from dropping the case while he tried to prove the bank used fraudulent documents in suing him.
The Florida Supreme Court said today that under state court rules judges lack authority to prevent a plaintiff from withdrawing a lawsuit before a court has taken any action in the plaintiff’s favor. Roman Pino, Palm Beach County resident, asked for a hearing on Bank of New York Mellon Corp.’s allegedly flawed documents after it dropped the action, seeking a dismissal by a judge that would permanently bar foreclosure.
“This case is not about whether a trial court has the authority in an ongoing civil proceeding to impose sanctions on a party who has filed fraudulent documentation with the court,” the judges said in the unanimous ruling. “Rather, the specific and narrow question we are asked to resolve is whether an allegation of fraud on the court empowers a trial court” to refuse to let the plaintiff dismiss the complaint.
The court, upholding a lower level appeals court, asked the Florida Bar’s Civil Procedure Rules Committee to suggest changes that would allow courts to rule when possible sanctions were at stake even after a court had agreed a case could be dropped.
Francine Walker, a spokeswoman for the Florida Bar, said the committee will review the rule at its meeting in June.
“Blatant fraud is now a recognized legal strategy in civil litigation,” Matt Weidner, a St. Petersburg, Florida, foreclosure defense attorney, said in a phone interview. “And if they’re caught there is no consequence. In fact the strategy -- if it results in victory -- is rewarded.”
The Mortgage Bankers Association and the Florida Bankers Association, in a brief supporting the bank, had predicted a ruling against the lender would cause “widespread repercussions in the lending industry.”
Bruce Rogow, a lawyer for BNY Mellon, said the Supreme Court decision isn’t surprising.
“It’s consistent with Florida law,” said Rogow, a professor of law at Nova Southeastern University who has been involved in litigation for 47 years,
The case is Pino v. Bank of New York Mellon Corp., 11-697, Florida Supreme Court (Tallahassee).