Supreme Court hears oral arguments in seminal Palm Beach County foreclosure caseby Dara Kam | May 10th, 2012
Florida Supreme Court justices hammered a lawyer representing a Royal Palm Beach homeowner this morning in a seminal foreclosure case that could have far-reaching effects on other civil litigation.
The justices heard oral arguments in the unusual case involving Roman Pino, a drywall hanger whose lawsuit has already been settled. It’s the first foreclosure case to come before the state’s high court since the housing collapse.
Pino’s case against the Bank of New York Mellon focuses on whether lenders or other plaintiffs can escape penalties after filing bogus documents with the court simply by voluntarily dismissing the lawsuits. A voluntary dismissal allows the bank to refile at a later date.
The Palm Beach County homeowner accused the bank of using false documents in its foreclosure proceedings against him. Pino and the bank have since settled the case, but his lawyers want the high court to decide whether trial court judges have the ability to overturn voluntary dismissals.
The justices peppered Amanda Lundergan, a lawyer with the Tom Ice law firm that represented Pino, with questions during oral arguments this morning. They seemed to have trouble understanding what harm Pino had suffered.
“What it seems like to me, you’re just looking for a ‘gotcha’ to get out of the mortgage. Am I wrong?” Chief Justice Charles Canady said.
“Absolutely wrong,” Lundergan said. “This is not about Mr. Pino. This is about the bank and the fraud that was committed.”
But Bruce Rogow, who represents the bank, said Pino’s lawyers are essentially asking the judges to change court rules about voluntary dismissals and that the foreclosure case could have far-reaching effects.
“We have not had problems. This is, because it’s a mortgage foreclosure case, because there are a lot of those cases, it has attracted a lot of attention. But I think we have to look at this in the universe of general civil litigation. And this has not been a problem in general civil litigation,” Rogow said.
In Pino’s foreclosure case, his lawyers challenged a document created by the Law Offices of David J. Stern and sought to question employees about its veracity. On the eve of those depositions, the bank moved to dismiss the case, blocking the court’s ability to address any sanctions.
Ice made headlines with the Pino case in 2010 when he was featured in a national magazine article about Florida’s so-called “foreclosure mills” and the discovery of allegedly fraudulent documents.
The robo-signing scandal was just breaking at the time, Florida’s foreclosure “rocket dockets” were full speed ahead, and David J. Stern’s Plantation-based firm was a foreclosure empire handling more than 100,000 cases statewide. It has since closed after losing most of its clients in the wake of the scandal.