Alleged "House Thief" Indicted, Announces Brooklyn DA
For the Brooklyn DA's Press Release, click here.
Welcome to The Home Equity Theft Reporter, a blog dedicated to informing the consumer public and the legal profession about Home Equity Theft issues. This blog will consist of information describing the various forms of Home Equity Theft and links to news reports & other informational sources from throughout the country about the victims of Home Equity Theft and what government authorities and others are doing about it.
You feel terrible about what was done to Mrs. Jones, and you would really like to help her. The trouble is that you've never handled a case like this, you don't really know how to approach it, and that, if you took the case (on a pro bono basis, of course; after all, Mrs. Jones has no money to pay you), it would take you a tremendous amount of time, time that you don't have, to properly handle the case. At the end of your meeting with her, you tell Mrs. Jones that you're going to look into the situation and get back to her in a couple of days (obviously, you don't have the heart to tell her right away that you can't take her case without at least trying to do a little something to see if you can be helpful).
After she leaves your office, you get onto the Internet and you "Google" a couple of key words to see if you can "stumble into" any information that might shed some light on how to approach Mrs. Jones' circumstances. Interestingly enough, you "stumble into" the following:
Based on all of the above (including the significant amount of case law cited within the above sources of information), you believe that Mrs. Jones may have a good case to rescind or void the transaction; however, you still have the problem that you've never handled this type of case. Further, you are exclusively a state court practitioner and some of Mrs. Jones potential claims are federal claims, and you're not sure whether they need to be litigated in Federal Court, where you've never practiced, or whether they can be brought in state court. Also, you're still going to have to do a significant amount of case law research (after all, you can't simply "cite stuff that you stumbled into on the Internet" in your briefs). In addition, the state case law involved above may only apply to Michigan, Illinois or Florida (there may not necessarily be similar case law that applies to Mrs. Jones' potential state law claims in your home state).
You would like to help Mrs. Jones but you feel like you're going to have your "back against the wall" if you do take her case.
How should you proceed?
According to their website, the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), who are nationally recognized as consumer law experts, offers a variety of consulting services on consumer law issues for attorneys nationwide. You may want to consider contacting them, discussing Mrs. Jones' situation with them, and finding out what their services will cost you. They are particularly familiar with "foreclosure rescue" scams (see their exhaustive report on these types of scams - available here).
In addition, you learn that Federal & State consumer protection statutes typically provide for an award of attorney's fees if you prevail in the case. So, to the extent you can prove violations of any state unfair & deceptive trade practices laws in your state, or any violations of Federal law (like TILA & HOEPA), you may end up being entitled to an attorney fee award to be paid by the losing party (The fee, generally calculated as a function of how many hours that you spent on the case multiplied by an hourly rate, subject to court approval, may be increased by a "contingency fee multiplier" in a state court case if you're in a state like Florida that allows for the application of such a multiplier).
All of a sudden you now realize that a case that you initially thought you would have to do for free (if you indeed took the case) is no longer a pro bono case, but rather, a contingency fee case. Needless to say, there is now much more incentive to take Mrs. Jones' case.
Whether or not you ultimately decide to take Mrs. Jones' case is a decision that shouldn't be taken lightly. There may be other issues that you may have to consider that aren't discussed here. However, at least now you are aware that if you do decide to take her case, there may be a financial incentive (provided by the consumer protection statutes) for you to do so and there is technical & advisory support available (NCLC) if you choose to avail yourself of it.
I will conclude here by briefly mentioning the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA). NACA is a non-profit association of attorneys and consumer advocates that are private and public sector attorneys, legal services attorneys, law professors and law students whose primary focus is the protection and representation of consumers.
While NACA is generally considered to be a good source for a consumer to use when seeking a consumer protection attorney, state court practioners should not hesitate using the NACA membership as well in cases where he/she is seeking a co-counsel arrangement with someone experienced in both consumer law issues and Federal practice, particularly in cases that may involve Federal claims, such as the TILA & HOEPA claims that may apply in Mrs. Jones case. While this is not necessarily intended as an endorsement of NACA as a whole, I am simply saying that if you're seeking a Federal consumer practitioner to work with (or if you're an individual looking for a consumer lawyer, for that matter), the NACA website may be a pretty decent place to start your search. A list of attorneys who are members of NACA, listed by state, can be found here.
For more on attorneys taking consumer cases, see Use Of Consumer Attorneys To Unwind Predatory Loans.
For other posts on the equitable mortgage, see Equitable Mortgage Doctrine I , II , and III.
Case Law Citations:
London v. Gregory, 2001 Mich. App. LEXIS 1700 (Mi. App. Ct. 2001) (unpublished) (click here for case)
Moore v. Cycon Enterprises, Inc., (Case No. 1:04-CV-800), 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57452 (W.D. Mi. 2006) (unpublished) (click here for case) or you can access the Michigan Western District Federal Court website directly by clicking here for case (requires PACER registration, login and password)
185 North Wabash, LLC v. Lake Wabash, LLC, No. 1-03-0751 (Ill. App., 1st Dist. Dec. 24, 2003) (unpublished) (copy unavailable)
Robinson vs. Builders Supply & Lumber Co., 223 Ill. App. 3d 1007, 586 N.E.2d 316 (1st Dist. 1991) 223 Ill. App. 3rd 1007 (1991) (click here for case)
Guest v. Claycomb, 932 So. 2d 567 (Fla. App. Ct. 5th Dist. 2006) (click here for case)(revised 10-7-07)