October 29, 2014

Yuba County judge vacates $15.7 million punitive damages award against mortgage loan servicing company

The Sacramento Bee reports that Judge Stephen Berrier of the Yuba County Superior Court has vacated nearly all of a jury's $16.2 million damages award against a New Jersey company that provides mortgage loan servicing.

The article reports that the plaintiff bought a home and was unable to afford his monthly mortgage, so he obtained a loan modification from the defendant (PHH Mortgage Services).  He thought the modification would reduce his monthly payments from $2,100 to $1,543 but, for reasons not explained in the story, things didn't work out that way and the plaintiff ended up over $7000 in arrears.

PHH initiated foreclosure proceedings and the plaintiff sued PHH to fend off foreclosure.  It worked.  PHH halted foreclosure and a jury awarded the plaintiff $16.2 million in damages, including $15.7 million in punitive damages.

Judge Berrier, however, ruled that plaintiff was entitled to only $159,000.  Presumably that ruling was in response to posttrial motions filed by PHH, but the article doesn't say.  And the article doesn't say whether the $159,000 represents compensatory damages or punitive damages.  It does mention, however, that Judge Berrier found that PHH did not act with malice or reckless disregard.  That suggests he tossed out the entirety of the punitive damages award.

Thanks to Evan Tager of Guideposts for calling the story to our attention.