August 14, 2018

Colorado Court of Appeals: Practice of Billing Foreclosure Clients for Costs Not Incurred Violates CCPA

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in State of Colorado ex rel. Coffman v. Robert J. Hopp & Associates, LLC on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Foreclosure Commitments—Colorado Consumer Protection Act—Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act—Deceptive Trade Practices—Statute of Limitations—Title Insurance Policy—Cancellation Fee—Civil Penalties—Evidence.

Hopp is an attorney whose law firms provided legal services for mortgage defaults, including residential foreclosures, in Colorado. Hopp also owned businesses that supported the law firms’ foreclosure services, including National Title, LLC and First National Title Residential, LLC, which provided foreclosure commitments for the law firms. National Title and First National Title Residential issued title commitments and policies through an underwriter, Fidelity National Title Insurance Company (Fidelity). Fidelity had a Division of Insurance (DOI)-approved manual that set forth rates and charges for foreclosure commitments.

While representing loan servicers, the law firms typically ordered foreclosure commitments from Hopp’s title companies. National Title invoiced the law firms a charge of 110% of the schedule of basic rates upon the delivery of a foreclosure commitment. As a routine practice, within 10 days of filing a foreclosure action, the law firms passed this cost on to the servicers by billing and seeking reimbursement from them for the charge of 110% of the schedule of basic rates, even though this cost may not have actually been incurred.

The State of Colorado ex rel. Cynthia H. Coffman, Attorney General for the State of Colorado, and Julie Ann Meade, Administrator, Uniform Consumer Credit Code (collectively, plaintiffs) sued Hopp, his law firms, his affiliated title companies, and his business that provided accounting and bookkeeping services for the law firms and title companies (collectively, defendants), alleging that defendants violated the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA) and the Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (CFDCPA) by engaging in the billing practices described above. The district court found in favor of plaintiffs and imposed penalties of $624,000.

On appeal, defendants contended that the trial court erred by imposing penalties under the CCPA and the CFDCPA because they were barred by the one-year limitation period in C.R.S. § 13-80-103(1)(d) and C.R.S. § 5-16-113(5) (CFDCPA claims), and C.R.S. § 6-1-115 (CCPA claims). Because the CCPA contains a statute of limitations specifically addressing cases brought under its provisions, the three-year statute of limitations controls over the more general C.R.S. § 13-80-103(1)(d). Further, because the CFDCPA did not contain a clear statute of limitations applying to government enforcement actions at the times relevant to this action, a catch-all provision applies requiring the government to file any claims within one year of discovery, which was done in this case. Therefore, the trial court did not err in concluding that the CFDCPA claims were timely filed.

Defendants next contended that the trial court erred when it concluded that they violated the CCPA and the CFDCPA by charging 110% of the schedule of basic rates for foreclosure commitment required by Fidelity’s rates on file with the DOI. This was the same amount that Fidelity’s manual listed as the charge for a completed title insurance policy, even in cases where the policy would never be issued because the foreclosure was cured or cancelled. Defendants did not charge amounts in compliance with Fidelity’s filed rates because they required payment from servicers even when a title insurance policy was never issued. The evidence supported the trial court’s finding that defendants misrepresented the premium charges as actually incurred costs. Therefore, the trial court did not err.

Defendants also contended that the trial court erred when it concluded that they knowingly engaged in a deceptive trade practice. Here, the trial court’s finding that defendants acted knowingly was supported by evidence in the record.

Defendants next argued that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted plaintiffs’ Exhibit 103 and relied on it in assessing civil penalties against defendants. Exhibit 103 is a 1,114-page spreadsheet compiling electronic invoicing data submitted by Hopp’s law firms through a billing software to the servicers from 2008 until the time of trial. The trial court did not abuse its discretion when it admitted Exhibit 103 as a business record under CRE 803(6).

Plaintiffs contended on cross-appeal that the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted defendants’ Exhibit 1093 to rebut plaintiffs’ Exhibit 104. At times, servicers directed the law firms to order foreclosure commitments from LSI Default Title and Closing (LSI), instead of from one of Hopp’s affiliated title companies. Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add claims for defendants’ violation of the CCPA and CFDCPA through conduct regarding the LSI transactions. Exhibit 104 reflected that LSI appeared to charge defendants only $350 for title commitments ordered, which was representative of a cancellation fee. Exhibit 1093 was an email from an LSI representative to Hopp’s wife, which included an attached spreadsheet showing charges for full policy premiums rather than outstanding charges of $350. There were “unusual and unexplained adjustments” to Exhibit 104, and the trial court declined to place any weight on the exhibit in its final order and concluded that plaintiffs failed to prove their claim based on the LSI transactions. Here, there was a proper foundation for admitting Exhibit 1093, and given the late addition of the LSI claim and the parameters of the claim set forth in the plaintiffs’ written notice, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in declining to exclude Exhibit 1093 as a sanction for defendants’ failure to supplement their mandatory disclosures at a late point in litigation.

Both parties requested an award of attorney fees and costs incurred in this appeal. Plaintiffs, but not defendants, are entitled to an award.

The judgment was affirmed and the case was remanded with directions.

Summary provided courtesy of Colorado Lawyer.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Speak Your Mind

*