Maryland Federal Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s Complaint with Prejudice on Res Judicata Grounds Due to a Previously Filed Foreclosure Action

The United States District Court for the District of Maryland recently granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice, holding that a previously filed foreclosure action precluded the present action on res judicata grounds.  See Gunter v. Agents for Int’l Monetary Fund Internal Revenue Service, 2017 WL 219374 (D. Md. Jan. 19, 2017).  In the case, plaintiff obtained a mortgage loan secured by her principal residence and a Deed of Trust on the property in favor of the lender.  After plaintiff defaulted on the loan, the loan servicer brought a foreclosure action.  While that action was pending, plaintiff filed this suit against numerous defendants, alleging, among other things, violations of the Truth in Lending Act, the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act, and the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.  Defendants moved to dismiss this action, arguing that plaintiff’s claims, to the extent they challenge the foreclosure action or the loan servicer’s standing to foreclose or status as a holder of the note, must fail under the doctrine of res judicata.  Under Maryland law, res judicata provides grounds for dismissal if a defendant establishes that (1) the present parties are the same or in privity with the parties to the earlier dispute, (2) the claim presented is identical to the one determined in the prior adjudication or that could have been brought in the prior action, and (3) there has been a final judgment on the merits.  The Court determined that defendants met all three factors, and plaintiff, in failing to oppose defendants’ motion, does not argue otherwise.  First, the court was satisfied that this action was between the same parties or their privies as the foreclosure action.  Second, Maryland courts apply the transaction test to determine whether claims are identical, and the court found that the foreclosure action and the present case relate to the same transaction or occurrence: the note and Deed of Trust on the property and the foreclosure action that resulted when plaintiff failed to make payments.  Therefore, all of plaintiff’s claims could have been raised in the foreclosure action.  Lastly, there was a final judgment on the merits in the foreclosure action.  Plaintiff field a Notice of Appeal, which the Court of Appeals dismissed.  Accordingly, all three elements of res judicata were met, and the claims pending in the present action, “which seek damages for the same allegedly illegal conduct regarding the foreclosure sale of the Property, are precluded[.]”

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.comMichael Crowley at mcrowley@riker.com or Clarissa Gomez at cgomez@riker.com.