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Bennett v. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage

United States District Court, D. Colorado

October 18, 2017

DANIEL SCOTT BENNETT, and JAMES ERIC HAGEN, Plaintiffs,
v.
WELLS FARGO HOME MORTGAGE, d/b/a America's Servicing Company, a division of Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. Corporation, Defendant.

          RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          KRISTEN L. MIX, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion to Amend Complaint [#23][1](the “Motion”). Defendant filed a Response [#30] in opposition to the Motion [#23], and Plaintiffs filed a Reply [#31]. The Court has reviewed the Motion, Response, Reply, the entire case file, and the applicable law, and is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, it is respectfully recommended that the Motion [#23] be GRANTED in part, and DENIED without prejudice in part.

         In short, this case involves alleged misconduct by Defendant “related to Plaintiff[s'] mortgage, its servicing, loan modification, and the attempted foreclosure of their home.” Compl. [#4] at 1. In the proposed Amended Complaint [#23-1], Plaintiffs seek to add a claim for forced-place insurance, and a claim for exemplary damages. Defendant opposes amendment with respect to both claims. Response [#30]. As an initial matter, the Scheduling Order [#20] governing this case provides that the deadline for joinder of parties and amendment of pleadings was April 8, 2017. Scheduling Order [#20] at 9 § 9(a). Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Motion [#23] is timely.

         I. Standards

         The Court has discretion to grant a party leave to amend its pleadings. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2) (“The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.”). “In the absence of any apparent or declared reason - such as undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, futility of the amendment, etc. - the leave sought should, as the rules require, be ‘freely given.'” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2)).

         An amendment is futile only if it would not survive a motion to dismiss. See Bradley v. Val-Mejias, 379 F.3d 892, 901 (10th Cir. 2004) (citing Jefferson Cnty. Sch. Dist. v. Moody's Investor's Servs., 175 F.3d 848, 859 (10th Cir. 1999)). “In ascertaining whether plaintiff[s'] proposed amended complaint is likely to survive a motion to dismiss, the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiff[s], and the allegations in the complaint must be accepted as true.” See Murray v. Sevier, 156 F.R.D. 235, 238 (D. Kan. 1994). Moreover, “[a]ny ambiguities must be resolved in favor of plaintiff[s], giving [them] ‘the benefit of every reasonable inference' drawn from the ‘well-pleaded' facts and allegations in [the] complaint.” Id.

         II. Analysis

         A. Forced Place Insurance

         Plaintiffs seek to add this claim on the grounds that Defendant “placed high-priced insurance on the [Plaintiffs] without a reasonable basis to believe that the Property was uninsured by either asking or noticing the Plaintiffs, ” and that Plaintiffs have paid a higher price for insurance as a result. Proposed Am. Compl. [#23-1] at 12. Defendant contends that Plaintiffs' forced place insurance claim is futile because Plaintiffs have not pled the date when Defendant placed them in “high-priced insurance, ” or what amount Plaintiffs were assessed for it. Motion [#30] at 3. Defendant further contends that Plaintiffs were required to plead these facts pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) to support a cause of action, and that Wells Fargo's accounting records reveal that Plaintiffs' claim will likely be time-barred. Id. Defendant also argues that “Plaintiffs were members of a settlement class resolving forced place[ ] insurance claims like this one.” Id.

         The Court finds that it is not clear at this juncture that Plaintiffs' new forced place insurance claim would be futile either for failure to comply with Rule 8, or because it is barred by the statute of limitations. Nothing in Rule 8 requires that Plaintiffs allege precisely when they were placed in “high-priced insurance, ” or what they were required to pay. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) (requiring “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief”). Additionally, further factual development is required to determine whether the statute of limitations applies in this case. Lastly, with respect to Defendant's argument that Plaintiffs were part of a settlement class and that their claim is therefore barred by the doctrine of res judicata, Plaintiffs deny that they have been involved in any such settlement. Response [#31] at 3-4. At this stage, it is simply not appropriate for the Court to weigh the facts and evidence to resolve any disputes between the parties. See Sutton v. Utah State Sch. for the Deaf & Blind, 173 F.3d 1226, 1236 (10th Cir. 1999); Foman, 371 U.S. at 182 (“If the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test his claim on the merits.”). The Court's sole function now is to determine whether Plaintiffs have provided a plausible basis for liability if their version of the facts is assumed to be true. After reviewing the proposed Amended Complaint [#23-1], the Court finds that Plaintiffs have provided the necessary plausible basis with respect to their forced place insurance claim.

         B. Exemplary Damages

         Plaintiffs seek to add a claim for exemplary damages on the grounds that Defendant failed to “substantively reply to Plaintiffs' written enquiries within strict timeframes, ” which amounted to willful and wanton conduct due to the “volume of non-compliance.” Proposed Am. Compl. [323-1] at 12. Defendant argues that Plaintiffs lack any basis for exemplary damages because Plaintiffs have failed to “identify even a single inquiry to which [Defendant] failed to respond, or even a single response of [Defendant's] that was late or otherwise failed to comply with the law that could possibly support the requisite elements of exemplary damages.” Response [#30] at 5.

         Colo. Rev. Stat. § 13-21-102(1.5)(a) provides, in relevant part:

A claim for exemplary damages in an action governed by this section may not be included in any initial claim for relief. A claim for exemplary damages in an action governed by this section may be allowed by amendment to the pleadings only after the exchange of initial disclosures pursuant to rule 26 of the Colorado rules of ...

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