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Palm Beach Home Foreclosure Case Turns on Technicality

It seemed like a fairly straightforward foreclosure case. A homeowner in Palm Beach County failed to keep up with the monthly payments on his mortgage, so the bank took legal action in order to seize the property. But a ruling by a Florida appellate court has now put the brakes on the bank’s foreclosure action.

The case is William C. Sample v. Wells Fargo Bank. In its lawsuit against Sample, the homeowner, the bank filed all the usual paperwork, but the supporting documentation contained what most people would consider to be a technical error. The documents failed to provide an accurate description of the property in question. That turned out to be a critical mistake.

What is Summary Judgment?

In a civil lawsuit, it is fairly typical for one or both sides to ask the trial court for what’s known as a summary judgment. Basically, it’s a way the judge can decide the case without having to go through an actual trial. But summary judgment may only be granted when both parties in the dispute agree on certain key facts and the law governing the matter is pretty clear-cut. In other words, it’s a legal maneuver that’s meant for the slam-dunk case.

In the Sample case, the bank filed a motion for summary judgment in order to move forward with the foreclosure action. Sample responded to the lawsuit listing 14 reasons, or “affirmative defenses,” why the bank should lose. One of those reasons was the bank’s inaccurate legal description of the property. The trial judge ruled in favor of the bank, awarding summary judgment.

The Florida District Court of Appeal, however, reversed the lower court, citing the inaccurate description. It was the only defense out of the 14 that Sample raised on which he prevailed. “While we disagree with him about thirteen of them, we do agree that one of the affirmative defenses precluded the entry of summary judgment,” the appellate court wrote.

Homeowner’s Victory Likely Temporary

Sounds like a great victory for the homeowner, right? Well, not necessarily. The victory is likely to be only temporary, though it may buy the homeowner more time.

The appellate court’s decision doesn’t mean that Sample will ultimately be able to keep his house. It just means that the lower court acted too hastily in ruling for the bank. The case now goes back for a more thorough review of all the facts. And as the appellate court noted in its opinion, “We find no merit in the other issues (Sample) raised.”

Wells Fargo, it turns out, had inherited the mortgage from the failed Countrywide Bank, according to the Palm Beach Post. The newspaper reports local property records show Sample bought the home in early 2007 for about $227,000, and the first foreclosure action was filed in October 2008.

Experienced Legal Help Essential

The fact that the suit has gone on this long underscores a critical point: the importance of having an experienced attorney on your side to defend against any foreclosure action against you. There may be ways of saving your home, negotiating with your lender, and protecting you from financial ruin.

At the Law Offices of Larry E. Bray, we handle foreclosure matters throughout the state of Florida. To discuss your options in any foreclosure action, contact us at our Lake Worth, Boca Raton, or West Palm Beach office today.

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