Monette Saccameno was a bankruptcy success story. At least she did everything right. The only thing that stood between her and a successful fresh start under a Chapter 13 bankruptcy reorganization plan was Ocwen.
Monette was one of the few people able to cure the deficiencies on her mortgage loan. After successfully making 42 monthly payments under the court’s watchful eye, she was paid up. The court granted her discharge after finding her loan servicer, Ocwen Loan Servicing was paid.
Despite making all the required payments to get herself out of bankruptcy, her case wasn’t smooth. During the case, Ocwen kept changing the amount they say she owed. Anyone who has ever had a loan with Ocwen has probably experienced similar frustration.
Great ending, right? Monettee made all the payments required by her mortgage and was able to save her home.
Well, not quite. That should have been the ending but wasn’t.
Almost immediately after her bankruptcy was over Ocwen began trying to collect money that it was not owed. They threatened foreclosure if Monette didn’t pay.
Ocwen sent Monette two letters saying it had not heard from her since its (non-existent) prior letters about her “severely delinquent mortgage.” The letters warned her that failure to pay could result in the loss of her home, eviction, and ruined credit. Pretty harsh considering she didn’t owe them anything.
Monette at first thought it was a simple mistake and sent in her bankruptcy paperwork saying she was all paid up. That didn’t work. The threats continued. She sent in the paperwork again. And again. And yet again.
Monette was forced to find a lawyer for help. But even the lawyer couldn’t get a straight answer from Ocwen. That lawyer quit the case in frustration causing Monette to find another lawyer.
Only four years later during the second day of a jury trial did Ocwen finally admit the obvious. Monette had made all her required payments.
As Ocwen moved to foreclose Monette was forced to sue Ocwen to clean up her credit and protect her home from a wrongful foreclosure.
Even after she sued them, Ocwen continued to send her confusing and conflicting paperwork and demands.
Ocwen Punitive Damages Award
An Illinois jury awarded Monette Saccameno $582,000 compensatory damages for the stress and emotional torment Monette suffered for four long years. The jury also awarded her $3 million in punitive damages. Juries can award punitive damages in cases that are particularly egregious. They are designed to punish wrongdoers to deter similar behavior.
Her battle still wasn’t over, however. Ocwen appealed.
Ocwen argued that at most, the evidence at trial proved mere negligence and not the “conscious and deliberate disregard” of Monette’s rights needed for a punitive damage finding. They said the entire misunderstanding was the fault of a lone employee named “Marla” who made an innocent mistake. (Ocwen was never able to provide “Marla’s” last name or produce her as a witness.)
The eloquent response of the Court of Appeals is worth repeating in its entirety. It is bittersweet music to any homeowner having the misfortune to have Ocwen as a loan servicer:
“Ocwen cannot pin this case on Marla. Her error was one among a host of others, and each error was compounded by Ocwen’s obstinate refusal to correct them. If this case were truly Marla’s fault, then [Monette] Saccameno’s troubles would have lasted a month—most of July 2013. That was how long it took for Saccameno to point Ocwen toward Marla’s mistake, and for Ocwen to change the dismissal to a discharge. The real problems only began at that point though, as Ocwen falsely claimed that Saccameno had missed two plan payments for the first time in August and started improperly rejecting Saccameno’s payments in September. Ocwen apparently did not discover the former until the second day of trial and likely would have continued the latter until it filed for foreclosure, had this lawsuit not gotten in the way.
“Ocwen contends that the miscounting of payments was also a human error—though it does not identify a human. We are not sure how many human errors a company like Ocwen gets before a jury can reasonably infer a conscious disregard of a person’s rights, but we are certain Ocwen passed it. The record is replete with evidence that Ocwen’s servicing of Saccameno’s loan was chaos from the moment Ocwen began working on the loan in 2011 to the day of the jury’s verdict nearly seven years later…
“Ocwen, however, still has offered no real explanation for any of the errors its employees made, and never acted to correct its mistakes. This “unwilling[ness] to take steps to determine what occurred” warranted punitive damages under the ICFA. The utter lack of explanation also supports a finding of corporate complicity. Illinois law insists on managerial involvement before punitive damages may be awarded against a corporation.”
As noted by the court, even if the entire fault for this foreclosure fiasco could be blamed on Marla, Ocwen was still at fault. At trial, “Ocwen’s corporate representative knew nothing about Marla (besides her first name). The representative testified that she did not speak with Marla, did not know where Marla’s office was, did not know how long Marla had been an Ocwen employee, and did not know if she remained one to this day. The jury heard evidence that no one at Ocwen took any steps, whatsoever, to investigate how Marla’s mistake—which according to Ocwen was all but the sole cause of Saccameno’s woes—was made or how Ocwen would prevent it from happening again.”
In November the three judge federal appeals court panel upheld jury’s verdict but reduced the award of punitive damages from $3 million to $582,000. The same amount she received in actual damages. That means she will receive $1,164,000.00
Lesson Learned from the Ocwen Decision
Sadly, few people take a case as far as Monette Saccameno. If every disillusioned Ocwen homeowner filed suit and got a jury trial, we think Ocwen would be forced out of business within a few months. Juries don’t like big banks and loan servicers.
Unfortunately, since the lending crisis of 2008, many banks now add jury trial waivers to loan agreements. Thankfully they are not always binding in home mortgage cases.
Another sad reality is that most homeowners can’t afford to fight back. Ocwen has deep pockets and can spend millions on a case. Homeowners can’t.
Finding someone to take a residential mortgage case on a contingency is difficult. We have no idea how Monette financed her case. Considering how she just emerged from bankruptcy, we assume that she found someone to take the case on contingency. That is no easy task.
Most residential mortgage cases begin as foreclosure case. There is no contingency fee to be had. And that brings us to our first tip.
The best defense is a good offense. That tactic has been highly successful in our commercial lender liability cases. To the extent that we have assisted local lawyers in residential cases, this tactic works equally well.
The problem, of course, is finding a lawyer who is both well versed in lender liability law (suing banks) and takes cases on a contingency fee. Many of the lawyers who advertise “lender liability lawyer” or “foreclosure defense lawyer” are primarily bankruptcy lawyers. While there is sometimes a need for bankruptcy, that doesn’t help you go after the bank.
Monette Saccameno was in a unique situation because she paid Ocwen and didn’t owe them at the time Ocwen decided to pursue her. It is a bit easier to find a lawyer in those situations. Despite the threat of a foreclosure, Monette and her lawyers knew she didn’t actually owe. This was a true lawsuit against Ocwen and not a counterclaim made to provide leverage against the foreclosure.
Monette succeed in part because she kept excellent documentation. The law on punitive damages varies from state to state. If you are hoping for an Ocwen punitive damages award you need to prove that you contacted them numerous times. That means dates and names of people and certified mail receipts. We also suggest you escalate the problem to management – in some states you need to show that management knew of the problem but failed to fix it.
Our most important takeaway is never give up. Keep fighting and keep looking for the right lawyer. We know many homeowners who simply get worn down by the constant phone calls, foreclosure threats and legal battles.
How Do I Sue Ocwen?
We get asked that question at least one a week. As noted on all of our Ocwen posts, we are unable to help individual homeowners who are in the midst of a foreclosure or modification or payment dispute with Ocwen. Our posts on this website are really offered as a public service.
Next, we probably can’t refer another lawyer who handles residential cases to you either (we do know good lawyers handling these cases in Ft. Lauderdale, New York City and New Orleans). If an Internet search for a qualified lawyer willing to sue Ocwen fails, seek help from your local bar association. Most have a lawyer referral service that will help you find someone.
The lender liability lawyers at Mahany Law handle commercial cases with a minimum out of pocket loss of $5 million or more. We also consider whistleblower cases brought by Ocwen employees and class actions for improper fee charges and telephone harassment.
If you feel your loan was fully paid off and Ocwen foreclosed anyway, contact us. We can’t promise we will take that case but if not, we can see if we can find someone for you.
Want more information? We have over 20 Ocwen specific posts on our website. Use the search feature on our blog. Our main Ocwen post is titled Ocwen Fraud Investigation.
All Ocwen inquiries should be sent by email or through our website (online) only. We regret that we do not take Ocwen phone inquiries.
Are you an employee of Ocwen? We are always interested in speaking with you.