A federal jury awarded more than $3.5 million to a Franklin Park woman as a result of her lawsuit against a mortgage loan servicer over the handling of the default on her home.
Monette Saccameno sued Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, of West Palm Beach, Fla., for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and violations of the unfairness and deception provisions of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act. The jury deliberated for seven hours before issuing its verdict April 11.
Ahmad Sulaiman | Atlas Consumer Law
Atlas Consumer Law, a division of Sulaiman Law Group Ltd., represented Saccameno and issued a press release touting its victory. The firm said Saccameno defaulted on her loan in late 2008 and filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy in December 2009, but encountered problems when Ocwen took over servicing of the loan. Saccemeno claimed Ocwen allegedly assessed fees and expenses even though she made all payments, then tried to collect additional inaccurate fees after the bankruptcy was discharged in June 2013.
“Holding funds in suspense and not properly applying those suspense funds allowed Ocwen to charge fees such as late fees, foreclosure sales and property valuation expenses which could not and should not have been charged,” Saccameno said in her complaint, filed in February 2015. “In addition to all the improper charges, Ocwen also returned and/or reversed several payments to create alleged defaults and to make alleged defaults higher when in fact the Plaintiff was current or had obligations as set for by her confirmed Chapter 13 Plan.”
According to the firm, Ocwen inaccurately coded Saccameno’s account, showing it as dismissed rather than discharged, and although she provided several written notices, the company didn’t correct its errors and continued to enforce the 2009 foreclosure despite the bankruptcy court’s determination she was current on the loan.
In one instance, Saccameno said, Ocwen issued a loan reinstatement quote for escrow due in the amount of $13,180, which she insists was “a factual impossibility” both because it exceeded the sum of both the property taxes and insurance payments from the relevant period and also because her escrow account had a positive balance for the same timeframe.
According to Atlas: “Saccameno suffered from emotional distress, depression, mental anguish, anxiety and incurred medical expenses and loss of employment and other damages that were incurred during the nearly three-and-a-half-year ordeal.”
The jury awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages, $70,000 in non-economic damages, $12,000 in economic damages and $3 million in punitive damages.
On April 9, Ocwen asked Judge Joan B. Gottschall and Magistrate Judge Susan E. Cox to grant judgment in its favor. In that motion, the company maintained Saccameno failed to make monthly payments, did not provide sufficient evidence of damages and failed to prove the company engaged in material deceptive acts or practices. The company also asserted it had provided written responses to Saccameno’s written requests.
“When responding to a qualified written request, it is irrelevant whether the servicer’s understanding of the account is correct, so long as it is reasonable,” Ocwen said in its motion. “A reasonable explanation of the servicer’s belief as to the account is sufficient, even if it is later determined that the belief is erroneous.”
Ocwen was represented in the matter by Duane Morris LLP, of Philadelphia.
Saccameno's litigation team included attorneys Ahmad Sulaiman, managing partner of Atlas Consumer Law; Nicholas Heath Wooten, managing partner of Nick Wooten LLC, of Alabama; Ross Michael Zambon, managing partner of Zambon Law Ltd., and an attorney with Atlas Consumer Law; and Mohammed O. Badwan, of Atlas Consumer Law.