Monday, December 30, 2019

LAW Business work

     Many of you have inquired about my availability to do business work and attend corporate, credit union, and homeowner’s association meetings. I do this, and, I am available. 
     When it comes to board work, I recognize that most board members are volunteers. Having experienced counsel available to provide advice, guidance and continuity as boards change is crucial for productive and efficient boards, as well as for avoiding potential board member liability in lawsuits. 
  When it comes to larger meetings (stockholders, credit union members, or homeowner’s associations), having experienced counsel available to explain rights and options, as well as analyze courses of action and provide advice can be invaluable. 
     If you think that you may have a need, please call me so that we can discuss. I can structure a reasonable rate to fit your needs. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Creditors, Let's Talk about Post Judgment Collections

     Post Judgment Collections. Frequently this is the time that you will collect most of your money.
     While at Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock PLC we represent creditors from beginning to end in the collection process, we recognize that some creditors either still file some of their own suits, or, have done so in the past. After taking that judgment, and if collection does not come easy, all too frequently judgments are “put on the shelf” and eventually forgotten. Do not let this happen to you! At Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock PLC we can help you collect judgments that you have already taken. Your General District Court judgments are good for ten years, but can be docketed in a Circuit Court to extend the life of the judgment to twenty years. These judgments can even be renewed for an additional twenty years. We can work your old judgments. We have the most up-to-date programs, resources and methods. We do all of this on a percentage of collections fee basis – in other words, if we do not collect, you do not pay us a fee. Accordingly, our incentive is to collect! I take pride in the fact that at Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock PLC our experience, staff, responsiveness and resources have made our post judgment collections superior to other collectors. 
     I invite you to please call me so that we can discuss your questions. 

Monday, December 16, 2019

Foreclosure: Deeds of Trust

     It all starts with the deed of trust. The deed of trust is the primary method of acquiring a lien against real estate in Virginia. With a deed of trust, the owner of the real estate conveys legal title to a trustee, in trust, to secure the noteholder’s indebtedness. A deed of trust establishes a lien on the subject real estate upon execution by the grantor and recordation in the land records of the Circuit Court for the jurisdiction (County or City) in which the property is located. While recording the deed of trust is not essential to the validity of the deed of trust between the parties, an unrecorded deed of trust does not establish a lien on the subject real estate as to other creditors and purchasers of the grantor. An unrecorded deed of trust will not provide the beneficiary of the deed of trust with a priority position against other creditors with recorded liens, even if they are subsequent in time.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Real Estate: Using Real Estate as a Collection Tool

     Collecting money owed can be a job. Having more tools to do the work is good! Securing your debt with real estate is a great tool. In future blogs we will explore ways that use this tool. Blogs will include such topics as: Deeds of Trust, Foreclosure, Docketing Judgments, Lis Pendens, Recording Mechanic’s Liens, Suits to Enforce Mechanic’s Liens, Foreclosing on Mechanic’s Liens, Recording Homeowners Association Liens, Foreclosing on Homeowners Association Liens and more. 
     We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title, do real estate closings, seek judgment and docket and enforce the same, and prepare and enforce statutory liens, such as those for litigation, homeowner’s associations and mechanic lien situations. Please call me so that we can discuss how we can help you.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Bankruptcy: Dischargeability of Debt - False Financial Statement

     In the case of Chopp & Co. v. Luria, the United States Bankruptcy Court at Alexandria, Virginia, concluded that a bankrupt builder's omission from a supplier's credit application of a bank's earlier consent judgment against the builder was not made with the "intent to deceive" and the builder's debt to the supplier was not exempt from discharge pursuant to Bankruptcy Code §523 (a)(2)(B). 
     The Court found as fact that the debtor signed a credit application which he knew was being submitted to the creditor. The Court further found as fact that the credit application incorrectly represented that the debtor had no judgments entered against him within the last five years when, in fact, there had been a substantial judgment docketed against the debtor within one year of the credit application. The Court also found as fact that the consent order was entered under a workout agreement on a separate loan. The Court further found as fact that the debt had been fully paid off, the judgment did not show up on the builder's credit report, and there was no evidence that the builder knew that the consent order had ever been entered. The Court noted that the judgment at issue arose from a financial workout agreement between the bank, the debtor and other related parties on a large mortgage loan. As part of the agreement, under which the bank was to be paid in full, the debtor and his related entities executed the judgment order by consent. Under the agreement the loan was to be paid by new financing and by sales of property. The consent judgment essentially served as backup protection to the bank if its loan was not fully paid by a set date. This deadline passed without full payment because of delays in settlement under contracts for sale of realty by the debtor's business entities. The contemplated settlement eventually took place, and the bank's judgment had been paid in full six months before the debtor made the credit application at issue.
     Considering all of these facts in light of the applicable law, the Court had to determine, in order to find that the debt was nondischargeable, that the debtor's statement was materially false, that the creditor reasonably relied on the statement, and that the debtor had the intent to deceive the creditor.
     In regard to the "materially false requirement", the Court ruled that "..the omission of such a substantial judgment from debtor's credit application was plainly a materially false statement..".
     Upon considering reasonable reliance, the Court ruled that "...the evidence demonstrates that plaintiff had a very conservative policy on extending credit and that its policy has resulted in lower than average bad debts. Based upon plaintiff's unrefuted evidence, it seems likely that plaintiff would have denied open account credit to debtor's corporation if the judgment had been disclosed...". "..plaintiff's reliance on debtor's credit application was objectively reasonable and was actually relied upon by plaintiff in extending credit...".
     In regard to the "intent to deceive" requirement, however, the Court found that the evidence failed to establish that debtor actually knew that the judgment had been docketed. The Court then looked to see if the intent could be imputed through reckless indifference. Given the workout arrangements, given the fact that the judgment was paid within three months of entry, given the fact that no adverse information appeared on the debtor's credit report, and given the fact that there was no evidence that the debtor had been informed of the bank's entry of the judgment, the Court stated that it was unwilling to infer from the circumstantial evidence that the debtor recklessly failed to disclose the judgment. Accordingly the Court concluded that the debtor did not publish the financial statement with intent to deceive plaintiff.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Collections: Creditor's Bill

     The action to force the sale of real estate to satisfy a judgment is called a "Creditor's Bill." This action is governed by Virginia Code §8.01-462: 
     Jurisdiction to enforce the lien of a judgment shall be in equity. If it appears to the court that the rents and profits of all real estate subject to the lien will not satisfy the judgment in five years, the court may decree such real estate, any part thereof, to be sold, and the proceeds applied to the discharge of the judgment. 
     Although the action may be costly, given the right judgment it is an effective collection tool. Determining what judgments are "right" requires experience and good judgment. 

Monday, November 18, 2019

Collections: Note Guarantee Upheld

     In the case of NationsBank v. Mahoney, the Fairfax County Circuit Court upheld a note and guarantee agreement, as well as the sale of collateral pursuant to the terms of these documents. 
     The guarantor in Mahoney argued that the creditor acted in bad faith. The guarantor asked the Court to imply in the note and guarantee agreement additional terms from the commercial good faith provision of Virginia Code §8.1-203. The Court, however, found that the note and guarantee agreement's provisions were "within the preview of the Uniform Commercial Code as adopted in Virginia", and that each alleged act of bad faith was expressly authorized in the terms of the note and guarantee agreement. The Court ruled that it could not imply the terms requested because the result would be to negate or materially alter the explicit terms freely agreed upon by the parties. 
     The lesson from Mahoney is that properly prepared notes are the key to collection should the loan become sour. Legal review of loan documents prior to execution can be more cost effective than legal representation after default.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Foreclosure: Be Prepared to Conduct Foreclosures

     While foreclosure may not be a topic that debtors (or even creditors) want to discuss, like all other aspects of proper business planning, you should. 
     With more creditors engaging in loans secured by real estate (which I strongly advocate), be they first deeds of trust, second or subsequent deeds of trust, refinances or credit lines, a certain amount of default is to be expected. Being prepared to react to default is imperative. 
     At the law firm of Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock, PLC, we represent creditors - from start to finish. We are a full-service creditor’s rights firm. While many attorneys do “collections”, few attorneys have the trained expertise and staff to represent creditors in all four areas of Creditor’s Rights—Collections, Bankruptcy, Real Estate and Foreclosure. WE DO FORECLOSURES. We will handle foreclosure proceedings from demand to final accounting. 

Monday, November 4, 2019

Real Estate: The Virginia Property Owners' Association Act - Foreclosing on Memorandums of Lien

     In a prior blog, I discussed the provisions related to filing a memorandum of lien under the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act. 
     The Act provides: “At any time after perfecting the lien pursuant to this section, the property owners' association may sell the lot at public sale, subject to prior liens.” In order to conduct a nonjudicial foreclosure, the association must comply with the statutory requirements. 
     The association must give notice to the lot owner prior to advertising the sale. The notice must include notice of: “(i) the debt secured by the perfected lien; (ii) the action required to satisfy the debt secured by the perfected lien; (iii) the date, not less than 60 days from the date the notice is given to the lot owner, by which the debt secured by the lien must be satisfied; and (iv) that failure to satisfy the debt secured by the lien on or before the date specified in the notice may result in the sale of the lot.” The notice must also inform the lot owner of the right to bring a court action in the circuit court of the county or city where the lot is located to assert the nonexistence of a debt or any other defense of the lot owner to the sale. 
     If the lot owner (i) satisfies the debt secured by lien that is the subject of the nonjudicial foreclosure sale and (ii) pays all expenses and costs incurred in perfecting and enforcing the lien, including but not limited to advertising costs and reasonable attorneys' fees, then the sale is discontinued. However, if after 60 days and the lot owner has not made those payments, the association may appoint a trustee for the sale and advertise the sale. In addition to advertising the sale, the association must give written notice of the time, date and place of any proposed sale in execution of the lien, and including the name, address and telephone number of the trustee. That notice must be at least given to the owner, lienholders and their assigns by certified or registered mail 14 days prior to the sale. 
     The association must advertise the sale in a newspaper in the city or county where the property will be sold. The advertisement must be in a section with legal notices or where the property being sold is generally advertised for sale. The advertisement must describe the property by address and general location and have information for the representative or an attorney who can respond to inquiries about the property with their name, address, and telephone number. The advertisement must be in the newspaper for four successive weeks, but if the lot is located in a city or county immediately contiguous to a city, publication of the advertisement for five different days is sufficient. The sale then must be held on any day after the last advertisement but not earlier than 8 days after the first advertisement and not more than 30 days after the last advertisement. 
     Failure to comply with these and other requirements in the statute will render the sale of the property voidable by the court. The law firm of Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock, PLC, represents homeowner’s associations and can handle memorandums of lien and foreclosure procedures.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Bankruptcy: Prior Bankruptcy Petition - Dismissal "With Prejudice"

     In the case of Colonial Auto Ctr. Inc. v. Tomlin, the United States District Court at Charlottesville, Virginia, reviewed a Bankruptcy Court's decision denying a creditor summary judgment against the debtor in a motion to determine if the creditor's debtor was nondischargeable due to the debtor's prior bankruptcy case being dismissed "with prejudice". 
     In Tomlin the Bankruptcy Court had ruled that the words "dismissed with prejudice" meant only that the debtor could not file another bankruptcy petition for 180 days. The creditor, however, argued that the language meant that the debtor could not discharge pending debts in a later bankruptcy petition; the creditor asserted that dischargeability had a res judicata effect. 
     The District Court ascertained that the question before it was does an order stating only that a case is "dismissed with prejudice," which in the general legal context, the effect of precluding the subsequent litigation based upon the same claim, have, in the bankruptcy context, the effect of precluding the subsequent discharge of pending debts? 
     The District Court ruled that there was no reason to depart from the traditional effect of an order dismissing a case "with prejudice", and that the Bankruptcy Court erred in determining that the prior order as effecting something less than res judicata. The District Court further ruled that the debtor failed to identify any portion of the Bankruptcy Code in which Congress indicated an intention that a dismissal "with prejudice," once ordered, does not effect claim preclusion in relation to a pending debt. Accordingly, the District Court vacated the Bankruptcy Court's order denying the creditor summary judgment. 

Monday, October 21, 2019

Collections: Credit Reports

     Credit reports provide individuals or institutions that have legitimate "need to know" rights with access to important information. This information includes full name, address, social security number, employer, spouse's name, loans, charge accounts, credit cards, bankruptcies, tax liens, and judgments. 
     Credit reports are governed by state laws and federal law - the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). In addition, the Federal Trade Commission regulates the credit reporting industry. 
     The three largest credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian. There are also several local agencies. 
     Information will remain on credit reports for varying lengths of time: 
  * Chapter 7 Bankruptcies - Ten years from the date of filing, regardless of dismissal or discharge. 
     * Chapter 13 Bankruptcies - Seven years from plan completion. 
     * All remaining negative information - Seven years. 
     * Open accounts in good standing - indefinite. 
     If an individual disputes information reported to the reporting agency, the individual can send notice of the dispute to the agency. The agency will then contact the information provider to verify the information. If the information cannot be verified, it should be deleted. The Agency will then report its findings to the individual. If the individual still disputes the information, the individual may provide a written statement (up to 100 words) to accompany the report.
     If the verification results in a more favorable report for the individual, he may request that the revised copy be sent to anyone who has requested his report within the last six months for credit purposes, or in the past two years for employment purposes. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

Foreclosure: Foreclosure Basics

     Foreclosure law is a creature of state statute. Accordingly, each state’s laws are different. Because the statute controls, courts will enforce strict adherence to the exact words and requirements. Failing to fully comply with statutory mandates will likely result in defective foreclosures and costly work. 
     In an upcoming blog we will explore foreclosures from beginning to end. From the preparation of the deed of trust, to final accounting after sale. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Real Estate: Using Deeds of Trust to Secure Your First, Second, Equity Line or Refinance Home Loans

     In a previous blog we began a discussion of the benefits of using real estate to improve creditors’ positions. As I have emphasized, properly securing debts through real estate could make the difference between collecting the funds and incurring a loss. In this blog, we will review the benefits of securing your first, second, equity line or refinance home loans with a deed of trust. 
     Real estate liens provide important security for your debt. Since real estate is the largest investment and asset for most individuals, they will usually make every effort to pay debts secured by their real estate first. However, you need to know the chain of title in order to make an informed decision about your loan. Specifically, in what position will your lien be? Are there any “clouds” on the title? You will not know the answer to these questions without a proper title search and review. 
     Once you know your position you will need to examine the available equity to cover your loan. What is the value? What are the balances due on the liens ahead of your anticipated position? Beyond the business decision of determining when the equity is sufficient for your risk tolerance, in order to take advantage of the “$1.00 rule” in the bankruptcy code for chapter 13 cases (should your debtor decide to later file bankruptcy), you need to ensure that there is at least $1.00 in equity to cover the loan. You should take into consideration that property values may go down (e.g., 2008 to present). 
     If the deal is made and the real estate closing occurs, immediate and proper recording of your deed of trust is essential to preserve your position. If the debtor defaults, foreclosure on the property can occur. If the debtor seeks reorganization of his debt in Chapter 13, you can seek full payment of the debt. 
     We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title and properly represent your interests in real estate closings. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

Bankruptcy: Liquidating Secured Property

     In the case of Mann v. CCB Financial Planning Ltd., the United States Bankruptcy Court in Alexandria, Virginia, ruled that a creditor could not amend its complaint objecting to dischargeability in a case to defeat a timely filing requirement, and that the improperly filed complaint should be dismissed. 
     In Mann the debtor had filed bankruptcy, both individual and corporate petitions. The creditor filed its complaint in the corporate petition but not in the individual petition. The creditor later filed a motion to amend its complaint alleging an exception to dischargeability against the corporation to alleging an exception to dischargeability against the individual. The motion to amend was filed after a time that a complaint objecting to dischargeability against the individual would be timely filed. The creditors and their counsel conceded that they had notice of both bankruptcy filings, and that they mistakenly filed their complaint in the wrong case. They contended, however, that they were confused by the designations "AKA" and "DBA".
     The Bankruptcy Court reviewed the provisions of Bankruptcy Rule 4007(c) and determined that the Court had no discretion to allow a late-filed motion objecting to dischargeability or to grant a late-filed motion for enlargement of time to file such a complaint, even in cases of excusable neglect. Accordingly, upon reflection of the facts and the rules, the Bankruptcy Court determined that the time limits were not met, that they had no discretion to allow for the amendment, and that the debtor's motion to dismiss should be granted.
     The lesson of Mann, as it is in so many cases, is that creditors should retain the services of counsel who has extensive experience in creditor representation.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Collections: Arbitration - A Collection Alternative

     Arbitration has become an increasingly popular way of resolving disputes. For those readers unfamiliar with the concept, arbitration is a process in which parties agree to submit the issues in controversy for determination by a party that they choose. The purpose behind the decision to arbitrate is usually to reach a resolution to the dispute in a quicker and cheaper manner than court action. Although most parties to the arbitration retain counsel to represent them, costs are normally less than court action because the rules of evidence are more relaxed, and the proceedings are less formal. 
     Virginia law recognizes the arbitration process and provides for the legal enforcement of arbitration awards. 
     The American Arbitration Association has developed standard rules, procedures, and panels of trained professionals to serve as arbitrators - the finders of fact. 
     The structure of the arbitration hearing is similar to a regular court hearing. A party has the right to representation by an attorney. Both parties also have an opportunity to make an opening statement, discuss the remedy they are seeking, introduce and cross-examine witnesses, and make a closing statement. Unlike a regular court proceeding, neither party in arbitration has the burden of proof because each party must persuade the arbitrator that its position is correct. 
     Virginia Code §8.01-577 to §8.01-581.016 establish Virginia's rule for arbitration. First, both parties must agree in a written agreement to submit a case for arbitration. The parties then select an arbitrator from a list of names. The court also may appoint an arbitrator.
     An arbitrator has several duties. The first and foremost is to preside over the arbitration hearing. An arbitrator in Virginia may issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear. Lastly, the arbitrator issues and signs the award.
     The court then confirms, modifies or vacates the award. The reasons for modification or vacation vary from a mistake in calculation to the arbitrators exceeding their powers (see Virginia Code §8.01-581.010 and §8.01-581.011). The court proceeds to enter a judgment or decree on the award. A party may appeal an award as one would in a civil action.
     The California Court of Appeals has ruled on the enforceability of arbitration clauses. In Bell v. Congress Mortgage Co., Inc., the California Court held that an arbitration clause in a contract must be highlighted in bold type or the consumer needs to initial beside the specific clause. These methods should make the consumer aware of the arbitration clause in the contract, as previously a consumer might waive his right to a jury trial without realizing it because, the California Court stated, an arbitration clause is not within the reasonable expectations of the consumer. There is no such requirement in Virginia law for the arbitration clause to be highlighted, however, but until the issue is litigated in Virginia, initials next to the clause would be a good measure of caution.
     I have litigated several arbitration cases, each to positive results, once to an amount higher than initially requested by the client.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Foreclosure: Obtaining Possession after Foreclosure

     Upon purchasing property at a foreclosure sale, it is not uncommon to have a “holdover tenant”. If this occurs, you can obtain possession of the property by filing a Summons for Unlawful Detainer in the appropriate General District Court. The applicable statute requires that the plaintiff prove “a right to the possession of the premises at the time of the commencement of the suit.” The only evidence that is usually required is (a) a copy of the recorded trustee’s deed, since the facts recited therein are prima facie evidence of their truth, and (b) a copy of the notice to vacate sent to the occupant(s).
     On the date of the initial return, if the defendant fails to appear, possession will be granted. If the matter is contested, most courts set a new date for trial. In contested cases, issues are usually related to notice and service, so the trustee should be prepared to present evidence that the foreclosure sale was properly advertised, noticed and conducted.
     The judgment for possession is not final until 10 days after it is entered, and most courts will not issue a writ of possession during that 10-day pendency. If an appeal is noted within the 10-day period, the defendant must perfect the appeal by posting an appeal bond and paying within 30 days of the date of the judgment the applicable writ and service fees for the circuit court. Most judges are sympathetic to require significant appeal bonds equating with the former mortgage payments. 
     Eviction is accomplished using a “Request for Writ of Possession.” A writ of possession may be issued on an unlawful detainer for up to one year from the date of judgment. When requesting the writ of possession, provide contact information for both the Sheriff and the person who will supervise the eviction of the new owner; the Sheriff will coordinate a date and time to serve the writ of possession and maintain the peace while the owner physically evicts the personal property of the occupant(s) and secures the property.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Real Estate: Homeowner Associations - Easements

     Cases involving HOA powers are frequently fact specific and governing document specific. Recently, the Frederick County Circuit Court decided a case in which a homeowners association was held in violation of the homeowners association’s restrictive covenants and liable for compensatory damages and attorneys’ fees because it removed a wall on a homeowner’s property. The homeowner spent a considerable amount of time and effort improving a portion of a shared roadway that was on his property. He cleared the land, widened the pathway, and built an eight foot retention wall along the pathway. The HOA notified the homeowner that the wall was encroaching on the right of way and told the homeowner that it must be removed at the homeowner’s expense. There was no board of directors hearing or meeting before the decision was made. Without further notice, the wall was removed but the homeowner refused to pay. In addition to tearing down the wall, the HOA installed drainage culverts in the right of way which resulted in silt flowing into the property’s septic system. The HOA filed suit and obtained a General District Court judgment for the expense of removing the wall. The homeowner then appealed the judgment to the Frederick County Circuit Court and filed a complaint against the HOA. The homeowner claimed that the HOA acted outside its authority under the restrictive covenants, which constituted trespass. The HOA filed a counterclaim, alleging breach of contract and violation of the Property Owners’ Association Act (Va. Code Section 55-508). The court held in favor of the homeowner and found that the HOA exceeded its authority under the restrictive covenants. The HOA did not have authority to remove the wall or to install the drainage culverts. In addition, the HOA did not have the ability to charge the homeowner for either the removal of the wall or the installment of the drainage culverts. The court awarded the homeowner compensatory damages of $28,500 (the value of the wall and cost of returning the property to its prior condition) and attorneys’ fees of $48,844.
     It is important to ensure that HOA covenants provide for the powers necessary to take self-help to effect repairs and remove violations. It is also important for HOAs to work through the proper channels and act within its authority granted by restrictive covenants. Failing to do so can be costly for an HOA. The law firm of Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock, PLC has experience in drafting, reviewing, and amending HOA documents, as well as, representing HOAs in court.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Bankruptcy: Bank's Security Interest - Stocks pledged as Security

     In the case of Winters v. George Mason Bank the United States District Court, reviewing a case from the United States Bankruptcy Court at Alexandria, Virginia, affirmed a ruling for the creditor bank which enforced the bank's security interest against stocks held jointly by a mother and daughter and pledged as collateral for the bank's loan (actually a series of loans) to the daughter and her husband (which were in default), even though the daughter and her husband had declared bankruptcy. 
     The District Court found that from over the course of three years the plaintiff signed a total of three commercial pledge agreements pledging as collateral her interest in the stocks. In the second of three years the daughter and her husband filed a bankruptcy petition. The plaintiff argued that because she and her daughter jointly owned the stocks, those stocks were part of the bankruptcy estate. The plaintiff also argued that the second pledge agreement was an act to create or perfect a lien against that property, and thus violated the automatic stay provision of the Bankruptcy Code. The District Court ruled, however, that the automatic stay did not apply to non-bankrupt codebtors, nor did the automatic stay prevent actions against guarantors of loans. The District Court further stated that even if the agreement violated the stay as to the debtors, the agreement did not violate the stay as to the plaintiff. The District Court found that the plaintiff's attempt to use the automatic stay to her own benefit contradicted the purpose behind the stay provision. The plaintiff sought to use the automatic stay to avoid an agreement that was beneficial to the bankruptcy estate, and an agreement that she and the debtors had voluntarily entered into. Accordingly, the District Court upheld the bank's lien.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Collections: Motion to Set aside Judgment - Timely Filing

     Timing can be everything. A prime example of this is the case of Trimark Partners v. HST L.L.C. In Trimark the Fairfax Circuit Court ruled that a debtor cannot move to set aside a confessed judgment because he failed to file a motion within twenty one days of learning of the judgment. 
     In Trimark the Court initially entered a judgment against three defendants based on a confession-of-judgment provision in a note. Two of the defendants had executed the note containing the confession-of-judgment terms. A third defendant later had signed an allonge, or attachment to the note, by which he consented to the note obligations. All three defendants later moved to set aside the judgment. 
     Under Virginia Code §8.01-433, a defendant must move to set aside a confessed judgment within twenty one days following notice to him that the judgment has been entered. The judgment can be set aside "on any ground which would have been an adequate defense or set off in an action at law...". 
     The Court found as a matter of fact that on a certain date the debtors were advised by the creditor of the entry of a judgment. A couple weeks later the judgment order was actually served on the debtors. More than twenty one days from the date on which the creditor advised the debtors of the entry of judgment, but not more than twenty one days form the date the judgment order was served on the defendants, the defendants filed a motion to set aside the judgment. The judgment creditor objected to the motion because it was not made within twenty one days of notice. 
     The Court ruled in favor of the creditor, ruling that notice was proven by the creditor's evidence of notice (advising by letter); the Court found that notice was not proven only by the serving of the judgment on the defendants.
     The lesson of Trimark, as is the lesson in so many cases, is to create a paper trail of all transactions, and act promptly. It will usually reap dividends.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Foreclosure: Lost Notes

     Virginia Code §55-59.1(B) addresses the situation where the noteholder has lost the original note. With the frequency of sales of notes on the secondary market, the loss of the original note documents occurs more often than might be expected. The Code provides that if the note or other evidence of indebtedness secured by a deed of trust cannot be produced, and, the beneficiary submits to the trustee an affidavit to that effect, the trustee may proceed to foreclosure. However, the beneficiary must send written notice to the person required to pay the instrument stating that the instrument is unavailable and that a request for sale will be made of the trustee upon the expiration of fourteen days from the date of the mailing of the notice. The notice must be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to the last known address of the person required to pay the instrument, as reflected in the records of the beneficiary, and shall include the same and the mailing address of the trustee. The notice must also advise the borrower if the borrower believes that he may be subject to claim by a person other than the beneficiary to enforce the instrument, the debtor may petition the circuit court of the county or city whether the property lies for an order requiring the beneficiary to provide adequate protection against any such claim. Failure to give the notice does not affect the validity of the sale.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Real Estate: Former Homeowners' Association President's Emails were Defamatory

     In the Fairfax Circuit Court case of Cornwell v. Ruggieri, the trial judge and jury found that the plaintiff homeowner was defamed by four emails written and published by a former association president and awarded $9,000.00 in damages. These emails alleged that the homeowner had stolen association funds five years earlier. The former association president tried to defend the case on the basis that the statements were simply a matter “of opinion”, not a matter of fact (as required under Virginia case law to recover damages), but the trial judge disagreed. 
     The trial judge instructed the jury that under Virginia law the defendant, in his role as association president, had a “limited privilege” to make defamatory statements without being liable for damages. However, if it was proved by “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant had “abused” the privilege, the defamatory statements were not protected. The trial judge instructed the jury that there were six possible ways (outlined below) that the homeowner could prove that the former association president abused the limited privilege. 
     The homeowner presented evidence that the defendant made statements (1) with reckless disregard; (2) that were unnecessarily insulting; (3) that the language was stronger than was necessary; (4) were made because of hatred, ill will, or a desire to hurt the homeowner rather than a fair comment on the subject; and (5) were made because of personal spite, or ill will, independent of the occasion on which the communications were made. 
     1. The jury was given a specific interrogatory with regard to each of the four defamatory statements: 
     2. Did the defendant make the following statements? 
     3. Were they about the plaintiff? 
     4. Were they heard by someone other than the plaintiff? 
     5. Are the statements false? 
     6. Did the defendant make the statements knowing them to be false, or, believing them to be true, did he lack reasonable grounds for such belief or act negligently in failing to ascertain the facts on which the statements were based? 
    7. Did the defendant abuse a limited privilege to make the statement? 
     For each question as to all four emails, the jury answered “yes”. After a three-day trial, the verdict was rendered in favor of the plaintiff -- $9,000.00 in damages. 
     This case gives a good reminder that homeowner association board members must be knowledgeable, professional and well-advised when serving their communities.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Bankruptcy: Denial of Discharge/Failure to Maintain Records

     The United States Bankruptcy Court at Richmond, in Lubman v. Hall, refused to grant a discharge because the debtors refused to keep records required by the trustee and failed to cooperate with the trustee as required by Bankruptcy Code §521(3) and Rule 4005 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. 
     The Court found that the debtors, a U.S. Postal Service computer programmer and a secretary, refused to comply with the trustee's request that they file income tax returns for the previous years, claiming that they were not required to file such returns. The Court ruled, however, that the debtors had a duty to preserve those records which others in like circumstances would ordinarily keep. The basis for the duty was the necessity for the trustee to be able to fully determine the debtors' financial condition. 
     This decision can be used by creditors in all cases - check the debtor's bankruptcy petition for important missing information and bring this to the trustee's attention. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Collections: Post Judgment Collection

     Various methods are available to collect judgment debts. Every collector is aware of the option of garnishment of wages and bank accounts. Most collectors are aware of sheriff's levies on personal property. However fewer collectors are aware of perfecting judgment liens against real estate owned by the debtor. 
     When judgment is entered in the General District Court, unless appealed, it becomes final in ten days; Circuit Court judgments become final after thirty days. Once final, judgment creditors can request abstracts of the judgment from that Court (free for some counties and cities, $.50 cents per abstract in others). These abstracts can then be recorded (for $10.00 per abstract) in the Circuit Court in any county or city in which the debtor may own real estate. District Court judgments are good for ten years; Circuit Court judgments are good for twenty years. Each, upon motion to the court, can be renewed for an identical period of time. Since docketed judgment liens are good for twenty years, this docketing can provide a long-term hope for recovery. Once such a lien attaches, creditors may be able to bring suit to enforce the lien, or simply wait until such lien is paid at the sale of the property. 
     These liens can sometimes survive bankruptcy as well. If the lien is docketed for at least ninety days prior to a filing for bankruptcy, the lien should survive, and may eventually be paid. Note, however, that the real estate must be owned by the identical parties against whom judgment was taken. Thus, judgment against one of the tenants by the entirety does not entitle the creditor to the benefits described.
     What can be done when there is no information about your debtor from which to devise a post judgment collection plan? Virginia law provides for a good start -- Debtor's Interrogatories. For the price of a summons (usually $41.00) an attorney can Summons the debtor to appear before a Commissioner in Chancery (a lawyer appointed by the court) to answer questions about income, assets and the debtor's general ability to pay. This Summons is enforceable by a Capias (arrest warrant) which is issued through the court. This statute does allow debtors to request that the interrogatories be held at a court most convenient for the debtor. Therefore, if the debtor moves far from the creditor's area, it may not be cost effective to pursue the interrogatories.
     The law firm of Lafayette, Ayers & Whitlock, PLC aggressively pursues all collection cases from initial demand through final payment. We account to our clients with monthly statements and reports, and immediate responses to client questions. We are willing to assist in client collection matters piecemeal as well. If our assistance is needed just to proceed with interrogatories, an hourly fee can be arranged. Please call me at 545-6250 for a free initial consultation.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Foreclosure: Foreclosure Sale Deficiency Actions

     Frequently there will be a deficiency balance after the sale is completed and the accounting is done. The account of sale will set forth the distribution of the sale proceeds and also establish any amounts remaining due on the indebtedness following application of the net proceeds from the foreclosure sale. This deficiency amount is usually recovered by a personal judgment against the maker of the promissory note or other obligors on the indebtedness that was secured by the deed of trust. An action to recover the deficiency balance remaining after a foreclosure sale need not be brought on the chancery side of the court, and may properly be brought as an action at law. A plaintiff’s action to recover on an assumed promissory note may be maintained as an action at law even though the plaintiff is not named in the deed of trust.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Real Estate: Statute of Limitations Enforced on Challenge to Bylaws Amendment

     The Virginia Condominium Act, specifically Virginia Code Section 55-79.71(C), provides for a statute of limitations in regard to challenging amendments to governing documents. The section provides, in part: 
     “An action to challenge the validity of an amendment adopted by the unit owners’ association pursuant to this section may not be brought more than one year after the amendment is recorded.” 
     In the case of Godwin v. Bay Point Association Board of Directors, a Norfolk Circuit Court was faced with a homeowner challenge to bylaw amendments. The homeowner, Godwin, had sued the association alleging that it breached its governing documents by taking actions four years earlier and three years earlier that increased her assessment for insurance premiums. The association filed a motion to dismiss Godwin’s complaint on the ground that it was time-barred pursuant to Virginia Code Section 55-79.71(C). 
     Four years earlier the association’s board of directors signed a resolution regarding physical damage and flood insurance. Three years earlier it drafted and signed a bylaw amendment relating to insurance premiums. The association argued that challenging either of these actions was time-barred under the statute of limitations. 
     The court ruled that the resolution was not an amendment to the condominium governing documents within the meaning of the act. The court found that, at most, the resolution represented a statement of the board’s opinion that the bylaws should be amended to revise the way insurance premiums were assessed against the unit owners. In the resolution, the board acknowledged the need to amend the bylaws and stated that the amendment process was lengthy and inconsistent with the budget preparation schedule for the upcoming fiscal year. Because the resolution was not an amendment adopted by the unit owners pursuant to the act, the court found that the act’s statute of limitations did not apply. However, the court ruled that the bylaws amendment was an amendment to the governing documents within the definition contemplated by the act. Accordingly, the one-year statute of limitations applied. 
     Godwin argued that because the association violated mandatory procedures for amending the bylaws, the amendment was null and void, and thus, the statute of limitations did not apply. The court, however, in examining the statute, noted that nothing in the statute suggested that only valid bylaw amendments are subject to the one-year statute of limitations. The court noted that any amendment, not just valid ones, may be challenged within one year. Accordingly, Godwin’s claim was barred by the statute of limitations. 
     Godwin then tried to argue that there was a breach of fiduciary duty (the legal duty of the board to act in the best interests of the residents). Godwin and the association agreed that an action for such breach must be filed within two years from the date of breach. Godwin argued that, although the association initially breached its fiduciary duty four and three years earlier “when in bad faith it knowingly and willfully” adopted the resolution and the bylaws amendment, there were renewed breaches when the annual budgets were adopted in the last two years, which reflected the change made to assessments for insurance premiums. The court disagreed, finding that any breach of fiduciary duty relating to the change in the insurance premium assessment took place when the association acted four and three years ago to adopt the resolution and bylaw amendment. The latest of these actions occurred over two years prior to Godwin’s filing suit. The claim was time-barred.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Bankruptcy: Absolute Priority Rule

             Two bankruptcy cases well explain the rights of parties to contribute new value upon bankruptcy reorganization. 
     In In Re Woodscape Limited Partnership the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland at Rockville held that the owners of the debtor corporation have an independent right to contribute new value to the reorganization, and in exchange may receive an interest in the reorganized debtor, which is equivalent to the new contribution. This decision was contrary to In Re Greyston III Joint Venture
     In Travelers Ins. Co. v. Bryson a Bankruptcy Court in North Carolina ruled that a provision in a debtor reorganization plan which limited the right to contribute new capital to the debtor's partners, as well as the right to the return of their new capital prior to recovery by an unsecured creditor, is not fair and equitable to the unsecured creditor. 
     Commercial creditors should carefully consider contributing new capital to debtor business. In some instances, the investment may be wise.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Collections: Garnishing Joint Accounts

     The Fairfax County Circuit Court ruled in favor of a creditor in a unique garnishment action. The case was Umbro International, Inc. v. 3263851 Canada Inc. and Network Solutions, Inc. The Court in Umbro ruled that Umbro, an international sporting goods company that won a judgment against a “cybersquatter” who had staked a claim to the Internet domain name “”, could garnish other domain names owned by the judgment debtor. 
     The issue in this case was whether the domain names registered by the judgment debtor with Network Solutions, Inc. (“NSI”) are the kind of property that is subject to garnishment. The court noted that Virginia Code §8.01-501 clearly states that a writ of fieri facias is a lien on all the intangible property of the judgment debtor. The lien, however, only attaches to the extent that the judgment debtor has a possessory interest in the intangible property subject to the writ. The Court, as a result, noted that it was required to determine if the judgment debtor had a possessory interest in the domain names it registered with NSI. 
     NSI argued that a writ of fieri facias could not extend to domain names because the contract rights set forth in the registration agreement were dependent on unperformed conditions. These conditions included NSI’s rights to indemnification and the registrant’s continuing obligation to maintain an accurate registration record. The Court found that this argument failed on several grounds. First, in the dispute policy NSI undertook to abide by any court order. Such orders have included mandatory injunctions that a registrant takes all actions necessary to transfer a disputed domain name to a third party. Thus in the dispute policy NSI had agreed to subject to other liens that affect the value of the property. There was no unperformed condition under the registration agreement that could prevent a registrant from the full use of the domain name registration.
     NSI also argued that the contract right to the performance of a service was not garnishable because, among other things, it would force NSI to perform services for those with whom it may not desire to do business. The Court found that this assertion was entitled to little weight, as in the short time of its existence, NSI had registered some 3.5 million domain names, and registration applications were made by e-mail without human intervention in 90 percent of registration transactions.
     The Court noted that until Umbro, domain names apparently had not been subjected to garnishment. Nevertheless, the court ruled that there was no reason to conclude that this new form of intellectual property was thus immune. The Court found no reason why a judgment creditor should be precluded from satisfying a valid judgment just because its creditor had a possessory interest in intangible intellectual property resulting from technology of recent vintage.
     The lesson of Umbro - sometimes you have to be inventive and think outside the box in order to collect on judgments.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Foreclosure: Deposits

     Virginia Code §55-59.4(A)(2) permits the trustee to require of any bidder at any sale a deposit of as much as ten percent of the sales price, unless the deed of trust specifies a higher or lower amount. However, because the statute is not mandatory, the trustee is given the right to waive the deposit if he deems it appropriate, unless the deed of trust requires a specific deposit. The trustee should also consider using a fixed amount as the deposit rather than a percentage of the sales price. Using a percentage of the sales price as the method of determining the required deposit often results in confusion, and the successful bidder has either too much or too little money to deposit. A fixed deposit avoids the confusion and allows all potential buyers to know exactly how much money to bring to the sale to deposit. The fixed deposit should not be excessive, but should be of a sufficient amount to ensure that the successful bidder completes the closing of the sale. 

Monday, June 17, 2019

Real Estate: Using Real Estate to Secure Your Debt

     Many fail to recognize the benefit of using real estate to improve their position as creditors. Properly securing debts through real estate could make the difference between collecting the funds and incurring a loss. 
     Securing debt with real estate can occur in several ways: deeds of trust, judgment liens, homeowner association liens, mechanic’s liens and lis pendens in litigation cases, just to name a few. In upcoming blogs we will explore these, as well as the ways that I can assist you.
     We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title, do real estate closings, seek judgment and docket and enforce the same, and prepare and enforce statutory liens, such as those for litigation, homeowner’s associations and mechanic lien situations.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Bankruptcy: Collateral Estoppel - Default Judgment in State Court

     Two cases illustrate how courts will handle default judgments being argued as collateral estoppel in bankruptcy court. 
     The United States District Court at Norfolk, Virginia, in the case of L&R Assoc. v. Curtis, reviewed the question as to whether a creditor's default judgment in state court collaterally estopped a debtor from relitigating in Bankruptcy Court whether his debt was nondischargeable because of the debtor's alleged fraud. 
     In Curtis the Bankruptcy Court found that the creditor advanced funds to the debtor for the purchase of automobiles at auction. The debtor was to be compensated in the form of half of the profits from the subsequent sale of the automobiles. The creditor apparently charged in state court that the debtor had fraudulently converted some of the purchase money to his own personal use. 
     The Bankruptcy Court found in Curtis that the issue of fraud, as alleged by the creditor, was not the subject of actual litigation in the state court action which resulted in the entry of the default judgment. The Bankruptcy Court held that because it had no evidence before it that the state court had decided this issue of fraud with "particular care", the doctrine of collateral estoppel did not apply to the judgment. Subsequently, the Bankruptcy Court dismissed the complaint upon a full trial on the merits. The United States District Court, upon appeal, agreed with the result of the Bankruptcy Court's decision, but stated that the emphasis for reaching the decision should have been on whether the state court had actually litigated the issue of fraud. The District Court recognized that counsel for the creditor represented to the Bankruptcy Court that it had presented witnesses and evidence before the state court. The judgment order indicated that the plaintiff/creditor and witnesses for the plaintiff appeared before the state trial court. Yet the creditor presented no other information to the Bankruptcy Court to indicate that the issue actually had been litigated and was necessary to the decision. 
     The Bankruptcy Court gave the creditor in Curtis more than one opportunity at the hearing on its motion for summary judgment and at trial to present evidence concerning prior litigation. The creditor presented no transcript of the proceeding before the state court or anything else to suggest that the state court entered more than a standard default judgment. 
     The District Court agreed with the Bankruptcy Court in Curtis that more had to be submitted than the state court default judgment by testimony at trial to establish that the issue was actually litigated and that the determination of the issue was necessary to the judgment of the state court. The District Court found that the Bankruptcy Court determined "with particular care" that the state court's default judgment should not collaterally estop debtor from relitigating the issue of fraud as it relates to the dischargeability of this debt.
     In Neese the creditor, a video store, had obtained a default judgment in state court against a husband and wife, who had contracted to use store material and services in a nightclub. The wife filed a bankruptcy petition. The Creditor filed a proof of claim in order to collect from the debtor's bankruptcy estate.
     The District Court in Neese found that the Bankruptcy Court evaluated the validity of the State Court judgment for reasons other than fraud. Accordingly, the District Court found that this was an error. The District Court ruled that under Bankruptcy Code §502, a creditor's proof of claim is deemed allowed unless a party in interest objects to that claim. The validity of a creditor's claim that is based on a State Court judgment may be attacked in Bankruptcy Court by an objection to a proof of claim only upon the grounds that there was a lack of jurisdiction over the parties or subject matter of the suit (which was not alleged in this case) or that the judgment was the product of fraud (which was initially raised but not pursued). The trial conducted in the Bankruptcy Court, however, focused upon whether judgment was proper against the debtor individually.
     In regard to the facts in Neese, the District Court found that the debtor had properly been served with the State Court suit, that she failed to respond to that claim, and that she failed to contest the claim on appeal even after judgment was entered. Nothing in the record indicated that the judgment was obtained fraudulently, and it was clear that the default judgment was fully enforceable in State Court.
     Accordingly, the District Court ruled that the Bankruptcy Court did not have the authority to look beyond the validity of the State Court judgment. The doctrine of res judicata applied. The creditor's claim should have been allowed.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Collections: Garnishment/Arbitration

     The Richmond Circuit Court case of Va. Builder's Supply, Inc. v. Brooks & Co. Gen Contractors Inc. serves as a good example of judicial recognition of the rights of judgment creditors in arbitration proceedings. 
     In Va. Builders, the creditor, a building supply company, issued a garnishment summons upon a general contractor for sums due from the general contractor to the judgment debtor, a subcontractor. The contracts between the contractor and the subcontractor, under which the judgment creditor sought to garnish the sums due the subcontractor, included clauses for mandatory arbitration. The garnishee sought arbitration after being served with the garnishment. The garnishee refused to allow the judgment creditor to participate. The garnishee received a garnishment award indicating that it owed the subcontractor no sums. The garnishee answered the garnishment that no sums were due. The Richmond General District Court agreed. The Richmond Circuit Court disagreed, and sent the case back for further review. The Richmond Circuit Court reasoned that the garnishee should not be able to affect the potential funds due the judgment creditor while prohibiting the judgment creditor from participating in the proceedings. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

Foreclosure: Advertisements of Sale

     The Code of Virginia provides specific guidance as to advertisements for foreclosure sales. The sale must be properly advertised or it will be void upon order of the court. 
     Virginia Code §55-59.2 states that if the deed of trust provides for the number of publications of the advertisements, no other or different advertisement shall be necessary, provided that: if the advertisement is inserted on a weekly basis, it shall be published not less than once a week for two weeks, and, if such advertisement is inserted on a daily basis, it shall be published not less than once a day for three days, which may be consecutive days. If the deed of trust provides for advertising on other than a weekly or daily basis, either of these statutory provisions must be complied with in addition to the provisions of the deed of trust. If the deed of trust does not provide for the number of publications for the advertisement, the trustee shall advertise once a week for four consecutive weeks; however, if the property, or a portion of the property, lies in a city or county immediately contiguous to a city, publication of the advertisement may appear five different days, which may be consecutive. In either case, the sale cannot be held on any day which is earlier than eight days following the first advertisement or more than thirty days following the last advertisement. 
     Advertisements must be placed in the section of the newspaper where legal notices appear, or, where the type of property being sold is generally advertised for sale. The trustee must comply with any additional advertisements required by the deed of trust. 
     Virginia Code §55-59.3 requires advertisements to describe the property to be sold at foreclosure;however, the description does not have to be as extensive as in the deed of trust – substantial compliance is sufficient so long as the rights of the parties are not affected in any material way. The statute does require the property to be described by street address, and, if none, the general location of the property with reference to streets, routes, or known landmarks. A tax map number may be used, but is not required
     Virginia Code §55-59.2 requires the advertisement to state the time, place and terms of the sale. If the deed of trust provides for the sale to be conducted at a specific place, the trustee must comply with this term. If there is no mention in the deed of trust, §55-59(7) provides that the auction may take place at the premises, or, in front of the circuit court building, or, such other place in the city or county in which the property or the greater part of the property lies. In addition, the sale could be held within the city limits of a city surrounded by, or contiguous to, such county. If the land is annexed land, the sale could be held in the county of which the land was formerly a part.
     The statute provides that the advertisement shall give the name or names of the trustee or trustees. In addition to naming the trustee, the advertisement must give the name, address and telephone number of the person who may be contacted with inquiries about the sale. The contact person can be the trustee, the secured party, or his agent or attorney.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Real Estate: Suit to Enforce Mechanic's Liens

       In prior blogs, we have been discussing the benefits of using real estate to improve creditors’ positions. We have discussed perfection of liens. In this blog we will discuss suit to enforce mechanic’s liens. 
     Virginia Code §43-17 provides that no suit to enforce a mechanic’s lien can be brought: 
     “…after six months from the time when the memorandum of lien was recorded or after sixty days from the time the building, structure or railroad was completed or the work thereon otherwise terminated, whichever time shall last occur; provided, however, that the filing of a petition to enforce any such lien in any suit wherein such petition may be properly filed shall be regarded as the institution of a suit under this section; and, provided further, that nothing herein shall extend the time within which such lien may be perfected.” 
     Virginia Code §43-17.1 provides that: 
     “Any party, having an interest in real property against which a lien has been filed, may, upon a showing of good cause, petition the court of equity having jurisdiction wherein the building, structure, other property, or railroad is located to hold a hearing to determine the validity of any perfected lien on the property. After reasonable notice to the lien claimant and any party to whom the benefit of the lien would inure and who has given notice as provided in § 43-18 of the Code of Virginia, the court shall hold a hearing and determine the validity of the lien. If the court finds that the lien is invalid, it shall forthwith order that the memorandum or notice of lien be released from record.” 
     Virginia Code §43-18 provides: 
     “The perfected lien of a general contractor on any building or structure shall inure to the benefit of any subcontractor, and of any person performing labor or furnishing materials to a subcontractor who has not perfected a lien on such building or structure, provided such subcontractor, or person performing labor or furnishing materials shall give written notice of his claim against the general contractor, or subcontractor, as the case may be, to the owner or his agent before the amount of such lien is actually paid off or discharged.” 
     We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title, file mechanic’s liens, and litigate to enforce the same.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Bankruptcy: Residency Required for Virginia Poor Debtor's Exemption

     The Virginia Court of Appeals, in Davis v. Maloney, ruled that in order for a debtor to rely upon the Poor Debtor's exemption under Virginia Code §34-26, the debtor must be a Virginia resident. 
     Virginia Code §34-26 states that the exemption is available to "every householder." Virginia Code §34-1 defines "householder" as "any resident of Virginia." In Davis the evidence was clear that the debtor was a Pennsylvania resident at the time he sought the exemption. The Court reasoned that since Virginia Code §34-26 specifically states that its coverage extends to "every householder" and it does not include any other category of persons entitled to protection, residency in Virginia is a requirement for qualification for the exemption.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Collections: Bank Denied Lawyer Fees Due to Problem in the Guaranty

     In the case of Jefferson National Bank v. Estate of Frogale, a Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge denied the award of attorney's fees to a bank because the guaranty agreement did not have a provision for attorney's fees even though the promissory note clearly provided for 25% attorney's fees. The Loudoun Court found that the guaranty referred only to collection of "charges or costs" upon default. The Court ruled that this language was ambiguous, and as such, construed the ambiguity against the bank because they drafted the documents. 
     In Frogale a corporation defaulted in the payment of a note and the bank sued the note's guarantor. The guarantor filed a motion for summary judgment regarding the question of the guarantor's liability for attorney's fees. The Loudoun Court reviewed the Virginia Supreme Court case of Mahoney v. Nationsbank. In Mahoney the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a note and guaranty are two separate agreements, but each must be construed in the light of the other. In doing so, the Loudoun Court stated that it was "crucial that the bank chose to distinguish in the Note between 'all other applicable fees, costs and charges' and attorney's fees; and that it chose not to place a specific attorney fee obligation in the guaranty." The Loudoun Court pointed out that the bank could have placed an attorney's fee provision in the guaranty just as it had done in the note. 
     The lesson of Frogale is that you should be careful that when you have guaranties you ensure that the language in the guaranty "mirrors" the language in the promissory note - without mirror language, there can be a problem, with mirror language, ambiguity should not be an issue. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Foreclosure: Deed in lieu of Foreclosure

     In certain cases it may be more practical for the lender to seek or accept from the borrower a deed in lieu of foreclosure rather than incur the expense of foreclosure – this is at the lender’s discretion. If the lender agrees, in return for voluntarily surrendering the property, the borrower will seek either partial or complete satisfaction of the debt. 
     Considerations. Before accepting the deed in lieu of foreclosure, the lender must consider many matters: 
     · Value of the property vs. the amount of the debt. 
     · Other debts on the property. A deed in lieu of foreclosure does not extinguish prior or junior liens or encumbrances. Thus the lender, in accepting the deed, accepts the property with the liens. It is possible for the lender to structure the deed in lieu of foreclosure so that it does not release the deed of trust so as to preserve a future foreclosure to extinguish subordinate liens. 

Monday, April 22, 2019

Real Estate: Making Owners and General Contractors Personally Liable to Subcontractor, Laborer or Materialman

     Virginia Code §43-11 provides a way for owners or general contractors to be made personally liable to subcontractor, laborer or materialman if notice is appropriately given, and if the payer makes payment to the owing party without paying the notifying creditor. Specifically, §43-11 (2) states that: 
     “…if such subcontractor, or person furnishing labor or material shall at any time after the work is done or material furnished by him and before the expiration of thirty days from the time such building or structure is completed or the work thereon otherwise terminated furnish the owner thereof or his agent and also the general contractor, or the general contractor alone in case he is the only one notified, with a second notice stating a correct account, verified by affidavit, of his actual claim against the general contractor or subcontractor, for work done or materials furnished and of the amount due, then the owner, or the general contractor, if he alone was notified, shall be personally liable to the claimant for the actual amount due to the subcontractor or persons furnishing labor or material by the general contractor or subcontractor, provided the same does not exceed the sum in which the owner is indebted to the general contractor at the time the second notice is given or may thereafter become indebted by virtue of his contract with the general contractor, or in case the general contractor alone is notified the sum in which he is indebted to the subcontractor at the time the second notice is given or may thereafter become indebted by virtue of his contract with the general contractor. But the amount which a person supplying labor or material to a subcontractor can claim shall not exceed the amount for which such subcontractor could file his claim.” 
     The notices referred to in this code section are commonly referred to in the industry as “42-11 letters”. We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title, file mechanic’s liens, and litigate to enforce the same. If you have a need, please call us. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Bankruptcy: Motion to Annul Automatic Stay upon Debtor's Third Petition

     In the case of Blue Ridge Bank v. Boswell the United States Bankruptcy Court at Roanoke, Virginia, denied the creditor bank's motion to annul the automatic stay. 
     In Boswell the debtor had twice previously, just prior to the bank's scheduled foreclosure sales, filed a bankruptcy petition on the eve of foreclosure. With each of the two bankruptcy filings, the debtor failed to provide schedules, a statement of financial affairs or a plan. When the Bankruptcy Court dismissed the debtor's second petition, the Court ordered the debtor not to file another petition for 180 days from the entry of the original order of dismissal. The debtor complied with this order. 
     The bank scheduled a third foreclosure sale, and at the same time, the debtor presented a letter from her attorney indicating that a third bankruptcy petition had been filed. The bank proceeded with the sale, announcing that the sale would be subject to bankruptcy court confirmation. After the sale, the bank moved to annul the automatic stay, arguing that the Court had discretion to validate actions taken in violation of the stay. 
     The Bankruptcy Court found as fact that the foreclosure trustee was advised by the bank and its counsel to proceed with the foreclosure sale of the debtor's residence, and that each was fully aware of the debtor's Chapter 13 petition. At the same time, the foreclosure trustee chose not to consult with the debtor, who was in attendance at the sale, or the debtor's attorney, whose identity was known to the trustee. In fact, the foreclosure trustee received only the bank's point of view and then obtained indemnification from the bank for any personal liability resulting from the sale. The Bankruptcy Court noted that under Virginia law, a trustee under a deed of trust is a fiduciary for both the debtor and the creditor and must treat them with perfect fairness and impartiality. 
     The Bankruptcy Court ruled that its dismissal of the debtor's second petition prohibited the debtor from filing any petition for a period of 180 days from entry of the original order of dismissal. The debtor filed her Chapter 13 petition nine days after the prohibitory period had expired. The debtor acted in accordance with the Court's directive and with her rights under the Bankruptcy Court. Further, the bankruptcy trustee reported that the debtor was current in her plan payments and that he was prepared to recommend confirmation. The Bankruptcy Court noted that such evidence did not support a finding that the debtor was abusing the bankruptcy process. 
     Accordingly, the Bankruptcy Court declined to annul the automatic stay of Bankruptcy Code §362, and the bank's motion to annul the stay was denied. 

Monday, April 8, 2019

Collections: Bank Deposits -- for Deposit Only

     The United States District Court at Alexandria reviewed a liability question regarding a bank's treatment of a check marked "for deposit only". In the case of Qatar v. First Am. Bank of Va., the Court ruled that a depositary bank violated a restrictive endorsement stating "for deposit only" when it deposited a check into an account other than the account belonging to the named payee of the check. In Qatar, a foreign embassy employee defrauded the embassy over a six-year period by various methods, including depositing checks written to other parties into his own personal accounts with defendant banks. After the embassy discovered this fraudulent scheme, it sued the depositary bank for conversion. The bank succeeded on summary judgment in establishing that it was not liable as a matter of law with respect to two categories of checks in dispute, and it prevailed on a factual issue at trial that relieved it from liability for yet another category of checks. 
     Only one category of checks remained in dispute. These checks all bore the forged endorsement of the payee named on the face of the check, followed by a stamped "for deposit only" restriction. At trial, the depositary bank raised no defenses, but instead challenged for the first time the Court's assumption that the phrase "for deposit only," without further specification, directs a depositary bank to deposit the funds only into the account of the named payee. The Court reasoned that the question then presented was whether the bank complied with the restrictive endorsement "for deposit only" when it deposited the check bearing that restriction into any person's account, or whether that restriction requires the bank to deposit the check's proceeds only into the account of the named payee. The Court held that the unqualified language "for deposit only" following an endorsement on the back of a check required the bank to place the check's proceeds into the payee's account, and the bank violated that restrictive endorsement when it credited the check to another account. In this cases, specifically, the bank violated the restrictive endorsement in depositing into the employees account checks made payable to others and restrictively endorsed "for deposit only", and thus was liable to the plaintiff for the money converted.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Foreclosure: Sale Price and Delays in Sale

     The trustee is under a duty to “use all reasonable diligence to obtain the best price.” 
     If the trustee determines that in order to fulfill his fiduciary duty to realize the highest price for the property, a recess is necessary, he or she should recess the sale. Arguably, the recess is within the scope of the discretion afforded trustees in the conduct of the foreclosure sale. For example, if a bidder who previously advised the trustee of his interest in bidding on the property is delayed, the trustee, in his discretion, may recess the sale to a later hour on the same day to allow the bidder to attend the sale. If the trustee fails to accommodate the bidder and the property is sold for a price less than the bidder was willing to pay, the trustee may have breached his duty to “use all reasonable diligence to obtain the best price.” A decision by the trustee to recess the sale, however, should not impair the sale by making it impossible or impracticable for the bidders to appear and bid at the recessed sale.
     The postponement of a foreclosure sale to a different day is not a recess and is governed by statute. Virginia Code §55-59.1(D) provides that the trustee, in his discretion, may postpone the sale to a different day, and no new or additional “notice” must be given. Presumably, the “notice” referred to in this section is notice of the postponement. The trustee needs only to announce at the sale that it has been postponed. §55-59.2(D) provides that if the sale is postponed, the trustee must advertise the “new” sale in the same manner as the original advertisement. Read in conjunction, these sections require the trustee who postpones the foreclosure to re-advertise the sale in the same manner as the original sale was advertised. Although the secured obligation will not need to be accelerated again, all other aspects of the foreclosure must be completed. Effectively, a postponed sale is a new sale in which the trustee must complete all acts that he or she completed in the first sale.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Real Estate: Criminal Liability for Misuse of Construction Funds

     Virginia Code §43-13 provides that funds paid to a general contractor or subcontractor must be used to pay persons performing labor or furnishing material. Any contractor or subcontractor or any officer, director or employee of such contractor or subcontractor who, with intent to defraud, retain or use the funds, or any part thereof, paid by the owner or his agent, shall be guilty of larceny in appropriating such funds for any other use while any amount for which the contractor or subcontractor may be liable or become liable under his contract for such labor or materials remains unpaid, and may be prosecuted upon complaint of any person or persons who have not been fully paid any amount due them. 
     The use by any such contractor or subcontractor or any officer, director or employee of such contractor or subcontractor of any moneys paid under the contract, before paying all amounts due or to become due for labor performed or material furnished for such building or structure, for any other purpose than paying such amounts, shall be prima facie evidence of intent to defraud. 

Monday, March 18, 2019

Bankruptcy: Voluntary Payments & Claimed Exemptions in Chapter 7 Cases

     The United States Bankruptcy Court in Roanoke, Virginia, sustained a bankruptcy trustee’s objections to two claimed exemptions for funds paid to creditors within ninety days prior to the bankruptcy filing. The case was In Re: Conley. In Conley the court found that two separate debtors, in two separate but consolidated cases, voluntarily paid certain of their creditors from either an income tax refund or a 401k distribution. The debtors disclosed these payments in their petitions and schedules and sought to exempt them in Schedule C of their respective schedules.The court found that the basis for the Trustee’s objection in the first case, involving the tax refund, was that the debtors had not exempted the entire value of the property, and that the debtors could not exempt voidable preference payments under Virginia Code Section 34-4. The court found that the Trustee’s objection in the second case, involving the 401k distribution, described the property in question as a “$3,000.00 voidable preference payment to Coalfield Services”, but failed to note any specific legal or factual basis for the objection. The court found that there was no factual dispute between the parties.
     The debtors claimed in Conley that they were entitled under Bankruptcy Code Section 522(b) to claim exemptions in these payments because the Virginia homestead exemption should be interpreted literally for the benefit of hard-pressed debtors. The Court noted that the assertion raised the question whether the Virginia homestead exemption permitted one to claim an exemption in property which he owned, but which he had since used to pay a valid debt. The court further noted that there was certainly nothing improper under Virginia law for a debtor to choose among his creditors which of them would be paid and to prefer payment of certain creditors over others, assuming that he did not do so with any intent to hinder, delay or defraud his non-preferred creditors. However, the court also noted that it would be strange to uphold an exemption claim in property which the distressed debtor no longer owned to the potential prejudice of other property, either then owned or which might be acquired later, which might be of some actual current or future benefit to him. The court found that there was no Virginia case authority precisely on point, probably because, outside of bankruptcy, there is no apparent reason for a debtor to claim an exemption for property which he has used previously to pay a legally enforceable debt, assuming the lack of any intent on his part to hinder, delay or defraud other creditors.
     The court in Conley cited its agreement with the ruling in the case analysis in In Re: Duty, and concluded that there was no right under Virginia law to claim an exemption in property no longer owned by the exemption’s claimant.
     The court ruled that the debtors’ claims of exemptions for their voluntary pre-petition payments to creditors failed for two additional reasons flowing from the Bankruptcy Code. First, for a debtor to properly claim an exemption in the original schedules, the property claimed as exempt must be part of the bankruptcy estate on the date of the filing. Second, if the preferential payments made by the debtors were to be recovered by the trustee, as to the debtors they would still be preserved under Bankruptcy Code Section 551 for the benefit of the bankruptcy estate and their creditor’s generally. Even if the transfers were avoided as far as the recipients of the preferential payments were concerned, they were preserved to the extent that such preservation confers a benefit upon the bankruptcy estate and the creditors generally. If the payments in question had been obtained by the creditors involuntarily from the debtors, the debtors might successfully claim exemptions in them to the extent allowable under Virginia law. Because they were made voluntarily, however, the court found that Bankruptcy Code Section (g)(1)(A) precluded the claimed exemptions. 
     The court also found that the use of 401k plan assets to pay the second debtor’s debt to his employer did not authorize a claim of exemption in bankruptcy for the payment so made. When the debtor used these proceeds to pay his employer and certain other obligations, including his legal fees in this bankruptcy case, he received value in connection with their disposition and waived any possible right to continue to claim them as exempt. 
     The lesson of Conley: check all claims for exemptions and do not assume that they are valid.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Collections: The Importance of Docketing Judgments

     If the creditor has obtained a judgment in the General District Court, the creditor should ensure that an abstract is recorded in the Circuit Court where the debtor's real property is located. Docketing perfects a lien against the debtor's real estate in that jurisdiction. Docketing also provides creditors with the right to force the sale of the real property to satisfy the debt. Judgments obtained in the Circuit Court, however, are automatically docketed, but only in that locality, pursuant to Virginia Code §8.01-446. If the debtor owns realty in another jurisdiction, the creditor should have the abstract of the judgment docketed in the Circuit Court of that jurisdiction in order to perfect a lien. 

Monday, March 4, 2019

Foreclosure: Right to Cure a Default

     Question: Once a borrower is in default, can he “reinstate the loan”, or, “cure the default” and stop the foreclosure sale? 
     Answer: yes. In general, most deeds of trust contain language that allows a borrower the opportunity to reinstate, or cure, the loan after the due date set out in the note. If the deed of trust contains this language, the note cannot be placed into default and accelerated until the cure period has expired. Government loans such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have very specific requirements. In fact, a borrower can always cure a monetary default and stop a foreclosure up to the time of sale by paying in full, in good funds, the deficient amount, including all costs of the sale.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Real Estate: Perfecting Mechanic's Liens

     In a prior blog we were discussing the benefits of using real estate to improve creditors’ positions. We began a discussion of the benefits of using mechanic’s liens to aid in the collection of your debt. 
     Virginia Code §§43-4, 43-7 and 43-9 provide for the perfection of the lien by general contractors, subcontractors, and laborers and suppliers. In each section the creditor must file a memorandum of lien at any time after the work is commenced or material furnished, but not later than 90 days from the last day of the month in which he last performs labor or furnishes material, and in no event later than 90 days from the time such building, structure, etc., is completed, or the work thereon otherwise terminated. The memorandum must contain specific information as set forth in the code (and there are forms in the code), and must be filed in the clerk's office in the county or city in which the building, structure etc., or any part thereof is located. The memorandum shall show the names of the owner of the property sought to be charged, and of the claimant of the lien, the amount and consideration of his claim, and the time or times when the same is or will be due and payable, verified by the oath of the claimant, or his agent, including a statement declaring his intention to claim the benefit of the lien, and giving a brief description of the property on which he claims a lien. 
     In another blog we will explore suits to enforce the lien. 
     We have experienced attorneys and staff who can examine title, file mechanic’s liens, and litigate to enforce the same.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Bankruptcy: Debtor's Exemption Request for Personal Property Disallowed in Chapter 7 Case

     The United States Bankruptcy Court at Alexandria, in the case of In re Potter, disallowed a Chapter 7 debtor’s exemption request under Bankruptcy Code §522(b)(2)(B) for stock. The debtor claimed that the stock was exempt because it was held as tenants by the entireties with his wife. The Court, however, ruled that the stock was not held as tenants by the entireties, but merely as joint tenants. Accordingly, the debtor was not entitled to the exemption. 
     The Court found that the debtor was estranged from his wife, and that the shares of stock listed the parties’ two names as joint tenants with right of survivorship, but without any indication of a marital relationship. In determining whether the stock was held as tenancy by the entireties or joint tenants the Court was required to review Virginia law. In doing so, the Court stated that under Virginia law, property held as tenants by the entirety could be reached by joint creditors of both spouses, but such property could not be reached for the debts of either spouse alone. The Court noted that while there was at one time a question as to whether personal property could be held as tenants by the entirety, Virginia Code §55-20.1, enacted in 1999, expressly provides that personal property can be held as tenants by the entirety. In order to create a tenancy by the entireties, it is necessary that the interest so created satisfy the five common-law “unities” of interest, time, title, possess and marriage. Further, under Virginia Code §55-21, a tenancy by the entireties cannot result unless the parties involved have manifested an intent that the part of the one dying should belong to the other. In Virginia, it is not necessary that the deed or other evidence of title actually use the magic words “tenants by the entirety” in order to create such an estate, so long as the owners are described as husband and wife jointly taking with the right of survivorship. On the other hand, the use of the words “tenants by the entireties” (or some reasonable abbreviation thereof) is sufficient to create a tenancy by the entirety even without words expressly describing the joint owners as husband and wife.
     In summary, the Court ruled that in order to create a tenancy by the entireties, the document by which the debtor and the debtor’s spouse acquire or hold joint title must either 1) designate them as tenants by the entireties, or 2) designate them as husband and wife, joint tenants with the right of survivorship.
     In Potter the Court ruled that since the stock shares were titled simply in two names as joint tenants with right of survivorship, but without any indication of marital relationship, the stock was not held as tenants by the entireties but merely as joint tenants. Accordingly, the debtor’s interest in the stock could not be claimed as exempt under Bankruptcy Code §522(b)(2)(B).
     The lesson of Potter is that creditors should not assume that an exemption is proper simply because it is claimed. Check the record of title.