July 22, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: No Authority Permits Counterclaims or Cross-Claims in Spurious Lien Action

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Fiscus v. Liberty Mortgage Corp. on Thursday, June 19, 2014.

Spurious Lien—Deed of Trust—Forgery—Statute of Limitations—Counterclaims—Cross-Claims—Ownership Interest.

Raymond L. Fiscus (owner) sued Liberty Mortgage Corporation, BB&T Corporation, and Branch Banking and Trust Company (collectively, the banks) under the spurious lien statute, seeking to have a deed of trust recorded by Branch Banking and Trust in 2009 declared spurious after owner’s wife executed the deed of trust on owner’s behalf based on a forged power of attorney. The banks counterclaimed against owner, asking to judicially foreclose on the property, alleging unjust enrichment and seeking an equitable lien against the property. The banks also filed a third-party complaint against wife, alleging theft. The trial court declared the deed of trust spurious and ordered its release, and dismissed the bank’s counterclaims and third-party claims.

On appeal, the banks contended that the trial court erred when it held that owner’s spurious lien petition was not barred by the statute of limitations. Spurious lien actions must be brought within two years of accrual. A cause of action accrues on the date “both the injury and its cause are known or should have been known by the exercise of reasonable diligence.” Here, the trial court concluded that, had owner exercised reasonable diligence, April 2010 was the earliest date he could or should have discovered the existence of the deed of trust. Therefore, owner timely filed the spurious lien petition on March 29, 2012.

The banks contend that the trial court erred when it granted owner’s motion to strike their counterclaims for judicial foreclosure, unjust enrichment, and an equitable lien, as well as their third-party claim against wife. However, there is no authority permitting counterclaims or cross-claims to be brought in a spurious lien action. Therefore, the trial court did not err when it dismissed these claims without prejudice. Because these claims were dismissed without prejudice and the banks were not prohibited from bringing a separate action regarding their claims, the banks were not deprived of any due process rights to pursue them.

The banks also argued that the trial court erred when it concluded wife did not have an ownership interest in the property sufficient to allow her to encumber the property. However, wife was not the record owner of the property. Therefore, she had an inchoate interest only and did not have the authority to encumber the property.

Summary and full case available here.

Tenth Circuit: Rule of Lenity Does not Apply in Plain Error Review

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals published its opinion in United States v. Williamson on Monday, March 17, 2014.

Defendant John S. Williamson has been protesting taxes for 30 years. In May 2008 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) levied his wife’s wages to collect his back taxes. The IRS sent a notice of the levy, which Defendant returned, writing across the document: “Refused for cause. Return to sender, unverified bill.” In June 2008, Defendant sent an invoice for $909,067,650.00 to two IRS agents who had worked on the matter. The invoice listed the value of real and personal property allegedly seized by the IRS, added damages for various alleged torts, and then trebled the total “for racketeering.”

In December 2008, Defendant and Mrs. Williamson filed with the clerk of Bernalillo County, New Mexico, a claim of lien against the agents’ real and personal property for the same amount as the invoice. A grand jury indicted Defendant and Mrs. Williamson on two counts: (1) “corruptly endeavor[ing] to impede the due administration of the Internal Revenue Code by filing a false and fraudulent Claim of Lien,” in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7212(a); and (2) “fil[ing] . . . a false lien and encumbrance against the real and personal property [of the IRS agents] on account of the performance of [their] official duties,” in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1521.

Defendant’s defense at trial was essentially that he genuinely believed his lien was proper. A forensic psychologist testified that Defendant suffered from a delusional disorder that prevented him from abandoning his beliefs even when confronted with overwhelming evidence that he was wrong. Defendant requested instructions that would support his “genuine belief” defense to both charges, but the court rejected them and the jury returned verdicts of guilty on the two charges.

Defendant argued on appeal that the jury instruction concerning § 7212 should have informed the jury that he could be guilty only if he intentionally violated a known legal duty. The Tenth Circuit reviewed for plain error because at trial, defense counsel only argued the instruction should also contain a definition of “unlawful.” The court held that there was no plain error and that the rule of lenity did not apply because the “doubt required for the rule of lenity must be doubt raised by an adequately preserved argument.”

The court also rejected Defendant’s challenge to the § 1521 jury instruction for not including his requested good-faith defense. The § 1521 statute prohibits filing a false lien “having reason to know” it was false as well as knowingly filing a false lien. “Having reason to know” includes an objective component. A reasonable person knowing what Defendant knew would know the lien Defendant filed was false. Therefore, Defendant was not entitled to a good-faith defense instruction. The court affirmed his convictions.

Colorado Court of Appeals: Lien Against Judge’s Personal Property Correctly Deemed Spurious and Thus Invalid

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Egelhoff v. Taylor on Thursday, September 26, 2013.

Spurious Liens and Documents—Administrative Remedies—Subject Matter Jurisdiction.

Defendant Lesley Joe Taylor appealed the judgment declaring invalid his putative lien against the property of plaintiff Martin Foster Egelhoff. The judgment was affirmed.

Taylor filed a document purporting to be a lien with the Denver County Clerk and Recorder, asserting that Egelhoff owed him $500 million and that this debt was secured by Egelhoff’s real and personal property. The lien was found to be invalid pursuant to CRS § 38-35-204 and CRCP 105.1.

On appeal, Taylor asserted that the court erred in concluding that his lien was spurious and, thus, invalid. Taylor did not provide a transcript of the hearing. Therefore, it is presumed that the court’s ruling declaring the lien invalid is supported by the record. Further, neither the documents Taylor sent to the district court nor his arguments on appeal provided any legal or factual support for the validity of the lien. Accordingly, the district court did not err in finding the lien spurious and thus invalid.

Taylor also contended that Egelhoff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before challenging the liens as spurious under CRS § 38-35-204 and, therefore, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Egelhoff had no available administrative remedies to exhaust. The proper procedure for removing a spurious lien is to file a petition in a court seeking an order to show cause under CRS § 38-35-204, as Egelhoff did here. In addition, both Taylor and Egelhoff proceeded in this action as private parties, not state agencies. Therefore, the doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies was inapplicable.

Summary and full case available here.