Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of RESPA When Only Alleged Actual Damages Were Attorneys’ Fees and Emotional Distress

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently held that a borrower’s claims under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”) were properly dismissed because he did not suffer any actual damages.  See Moore v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 908 F.3d 1050 (7th Cir. 2018).  In the case, the borrower purchased a home in 2006.  He defaulted on his mortgage and, after multiple modifications and foreclosure actions, the defendant loan servicer obtained a final judgment of foreclosure in 2012.  The sheriff’s sale was rescheduled multiple times due to the parties’ attempts to modify and plaintiff’s bankruptcy filing, but eventually was scheduled for October 11, 2016.  On August 15, 2016, plaintiff sent a qualified written request (“QWR”) to defendant asking 22 questions about his loan.  Defendant responded to the QWR but did not answer all of plaintiff’s questions.  Plaintiff brought this action, alleging that defendant violated RESPA through its failure to properly respond to the QWR and caused him to suffer actual damages including attorneys’ fees and emotional distress.  The trial court granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, the Court affirmed, holding that “RESPA does not provide relief for mere procedural violations. Plaintiffs bringing claims under RESPA must show actual injury.”  First, the Court found that the $900 in attorneys’ fees plaintiff incurred when he paid an attorney to review defendant’s QWR response could not constitute actual damages under the statute because they were not incurred “as a result of” the alleged violation.  To hold otherwise “would allow a borrower to create a RESPA claim that pulls itself up by its own bootstraps, creating the required damages by pursuing the inquiry itself, at least with the help of a lawyer.”  Second, the Court found that plaintiff’s alleged emotional damages also were insufficient.  “The problem here is that [plaintiff’s] stress had essentially nothing to do with any arguable RESPA violations. The obvious sources of his stress were the facts that he was not able to make timely payments toward his mortgage, that the lender had won a judgment of foreclosure, and that sale and eviction were imminent” and not the QWR response.  Accordingly, the Court affirmed the dismissal of the action.

For a copy of the decision, please contact Michael O’Donnell at modonnell@riker.com, Michael Crowley at mcrowley@riker.com, or Dylan Goetsch at dgoetsch@riker.com.