FORECLOSURE…THE NEW “IT” THING? OWNERS STOP PAYING THE MORTGAGE…FANTASTIC!

Can you imagine if everyone just stopped paying that thing called mortgage but kept up with homeowners/condo associations (because these can foreclose faster than you can blink) Oh what a wonderful world!

This article really does not portray the majority. Some don’t have a job period! If you can… get a great attorney, a loan audit and the lender to the table!

Owners Stop Paying Mortgage … and Stop Fretting About It

Chip Litherland for The New York Times Wendy Pemberton, a barber in Florida, with a customer, Howard Cook. She stopped paying her mortgage two years ago.

By DAVID STREITFELD NYTIMES
Published: May 31, 2010

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — For Alex Pemberton and Susan Reboyras, foreclosure is becoming a way of life — something they did not want but are in no hurry to get out of.

Foreclosure has allowed them to stabilize the family business. Go to Outback occasionally for a steak. Take their gas-guzzling airboat out for the weekend. Visit the Hard Rock Casino.

Chip Litherland for The New York Times Alex Pemberton and Susan Reboyras stopped paying the mortgage on their house in St. Petersburg, Fla., last summer.

“Instead of the house dragging us down, it’s become a life raft,” said Mr. Pemberton, who stopped paying themortgage on their house here last summer. “It’s really been a blessing.”

A growing number of the people whose homes are in foreclosure are refusing to slink away in shame. They are fashioning a sort of homemade mortgage modification, one that brings their payments all the way down to zero. They use the money they save to get back on their feet or just get by.

This type of modification does not beg for a lender’s permission but is delivered as an ultimatum: Force me out if you can. Any moral qualms are overshadowed by a conviction that the banks created the crisis by snookering homeowners with loans that got them in over their heads.

“I tried to explain my situation to the lender, but they wouldn’t help,” said Mr. Pemberton’s mother, Wendy Pemberton, herself in foreclosure on a small house a few blocks away from her son’s. She stopped paying her mortgage two years ago after a bout with lung cancer. “They’re all crooks.”

Foreclosure procedures have been initiated against 1.7 million of the nation’s households. The pace of resolving these problem loans is slow and getting slower because of legal challenges, foreclosure moratoriums, government pressure to offer modifications and the inability of the lenders to cope with so many souring mortgages.

The average borrower in foreclosure has been delinquent for 438 days before actually being evicted, up from 251 days in January 2008, according to LPS Applied Analytics.

While there are no firm figures on how many households are following the Pemberton-Reboyras path of passive resistance, real estate agents and other experts say the number of overextended borrowers taking the “free rent” approach is on the rise.

There is no question, though, that for some borrowers in default, foreclosure is only a theoretical threat for a long time.

More than 650,000 households had not paid in 18 months, LPS calculated earlier this year. With 19 percent of those homes, the lender had not even begun to take action to repossess the property — double the rate of a year earlier.

In some states, including California and Texas, lenders can pursue foreclosures outside of the courts. With the lender in control, the pace can be brisk. But in Florida, New York and 19 other states, judicial foreclosure is the rule, which slows the process substantially.

In Pinellas and Pasco counties, which include St. Petersburg and the suburbs to the north, there are 34,000 open foreclosure cases, said J. Thomas McGrady, chief judge of the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit. Ten years ago, the average was about 4,000. “The volume is killing us,” Judge McGrady said.

Mr. Pemberton and Ms. Reboyras decided to stop paying because their business, which restores attics that have been invaded by pests, was on the verge of failing. Scrambling to get by, their credit already shot, they had little to lose.

“We could pay the mortgage company way more than the house is worth and starve to death,” said Mr. Pemberton, 43. “Or we could pay ourselves so our business could sustain us and people who work for us over a long period of time. It may sound very horrible, but it comes down to a self-preservation thing.”

They used the $1,837 a month that they were not paying their lender to publicize A Plus Restorations, first with print ads, then local television. Word apparently got around, because the business is recovering.

The couple owe $280,000 on the house, where they live with Ms. Reboyras’s two daughters, their two dogs and a very round pet raccoon named Roxanne. The house is worth less than half that amount — which they say would be their starting point in future negotiations with their lender.

“If they took the house from us, that’s all they would end up getting for it anyway,” said Ms. Reboyras, 46.

One reason the house is worth so much less than the debt is because of the real estate crash. But the couple also refinanced at the height of the market, taking out cash to buy a truck they used as a contest prize for their hired animal trappers.

Chip Litherland for The New York Times Mark P. Stopa is a lawyer who says he has 350 clients in foreclosure, each paying him $1,500 a year in fees.

It was a stupid move by their lender, according to Mr. Pemberton. “They went outside their own guidelines on debt to income,” he said. “And when they did, they put themselves in jeopardy.”

His mother, Wendy Pemberton, who has been cutting hair at the same barber shop for 30 years, has been in default since spring 2008. Mrs. Pemberton, 68, refinanced several times during the boom but says she benefited only once, when she got enough money for a new roof. The other times, she said, unscrupulous salesmen promised her lower rates but simply charged her high fees.

Even without the burden of paying $938 a month for her decaying house, Mrs. Pemberton is having a tough time. Most of her customers are senior citizens who pay only $8 for a cut, and they are spacing out their visits.

“The longer I’m in foreclosure, the better,” she said.

In Florida, the average property spends 518 days in foreclosure, second only to New York’s 561 days. Defense attorneys stress they can keep this number high.

Both generations of Pembertons have hired a local lawyer, Mark P. Stopa. He sends out letters — 1,700 in a recent week — to Floridians who have had a foreclosure suit filed against them by a lender.

Even if you have “no defenses,” the form letter says, “you may be able to keep living in your home for weeks, months or even years without paying your mortgage.”

About 10 new clients a week sign up, according to Mr. Stopa, who says he now has 350 clients in foreclosure, each of whom pays $1,500 a year for a maximum of six hours of attorney time. “I just do as much as needs to be done to force the bank to prove its case,” Mr. Stopa said.

Many mortgages were sold by the original lender, a circumstance that homeowners’ lawyers try to exploit by asking them to prove they own the loan. In Mrs. Pemberton’s case, Mr. Stopa filed a motion to dismiss on March 17, 2009, and the case has not moved since then. He filed a similar motion in her son’s case last December.

From the lenders’ standpoint, people who stay in their homes without paying the mortgage or actively trying to work out some other solution, like selling it, are “milking the process,” said Kyle Lundstedt, managing director of Lender Processing Service’s analytics group. LPS provides technology, services and data to the mortgage industry.  DinSFLA: WHAT AN IDIOTIC THING TO SAY! Who is exactly milking what??

These “free riders” are “the unintended and unfortunate consequence” of lenders struggling to work out a solution, Mr. Lundstedt said. “These people are playing a dangerous game. There are processes in many states to go after folks who have substantial assets postforeclosure.” DinSFLA: I invite you Mr. Lundstedt to look over this blog and see your “Free Riders”. SIR!

But for borrowers like Jim Tsiogas, the benefits of not paying now outweigh any worries about the future.

“I stopped paying in August 2008,” said Mr. Tsiogas, who is in foreclosure on his house and two rental properties. “I told the lady at the bank, ‘I can’t afford $2,500. I can only afford $1,300.’ ”

Mr. Tsiogas, who lives on the coast south of St. Petersburg, blames his lenders for being unwilling to help when the crash began and his properties needed shoring up.

Their attitude seems to have changed since he went into foreclosure. Now their letters say things like “we’re willing to work with you.” But Mr. Tsiogas feels little urge to respond.

“I need another year,” he said, “and I’m going to be pretty comfortable.”

One Size Fits All Doesn’t Work! MERS/CITIMORTGAGE PreLIMINARY INJUNCTION Dalton V. CitiMortgage Reno, Nevada No. 3:09-CV-534-RCJ (VPC) 2009

“One Size DOES NOT FIT ALL”

This is a case where Plaintiff’s counsel aggressively sought to have all foreclosures stopped due to no standing. He states “Thats why the MERS system tried to be a nationwide system”.

“One Size Fits All Doesn’t Work”

The Conclusion…If we could only turn back time: IN THE MATTER OF MERSCORP, INC. v. Romaine, 2005 NY Slip Op 9728 – NY: Supreme Court, Appellate Div., 2nd Dept. 2005

2005 NY Slip Op 09728

IN THE MATTER OF MERSCORP, INC., ET AL., appellants-respondents,
v.
EDWARD P. ROMAINE, ETC., ET AL., respondents-appellants.

2004-04735.

Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York, Second Department.

Decided December 192005.

Hiscock & Barclay, LLP, Buffalo, N.Y. (Charles C. Martorana of counsel), for appellants-respondents.

Cahn & Cahn, LLP, Melville, N.Y. (Richard C. Cahn and Daniel K. Cahn of counsel), for respondents-appellants.

Bainton McCarthy, LLC, New York, N.Y. (J. Joseph Bainton of counsel), for American Land Title Association, amicus curiae.

Decher, LLP, New York, N.Y. (Joseph P. Forte and Kathleen N. Massey of counsel), for Mortgage Bankers Association, amicus curiae.

Howard Lindenberg, McLean, VA., for Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, amicus curiae, and Kenneth Scott, Washington, D.C., for Federal National Mortgage Association, amicus curiae (one brief filed).

Brigitte Amiri, Brooklyn, N.Y., for South Brooklyn Legal Services, amicus curiae, April Carrie Charney, Jacksonville, FL., for Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc., amicus curiae, and Daniel P. Lindsey, Chicago, IL, for Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, amicus curiae (one brief filed).

Before: ROBERT W. SCHMIDT, J.P., BARRY A. COZIER, REINALDO E. RIVERA, STEVEN W. FISHER, JJ.

DECISION & ORDER

ORDERED that the order and judgment is modified, on the law, by (1) deleting the provision thereof denying that branch of the petitioners’ motion for summary judgment which was to compel the Suffolk County Clerk to record and index the subject assignments and discharges, and substituting therefor a provision granting that branch of the motion, and (2) adding thereto a provision declaring that the mortgages, assignments, and discharges which name Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., as the lender’s nominee or the mortgagee of record are acceptable for recording and indexing; as so modified, the order and judgment is affirmed insofar as appealed and cross-appealed from, with one bill of costs to the petitioner.

The petitioners, MerscorpInc. (hereinafter Merscorp), and its subsidiary, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (hereinafter MERS), operate a national electronic registration system (hereinafter the MERS System) for residential mortgages and related instruments (hereinafter MERS Instruments). In essence, lenders who subscribe to the MERS System (hereinafter MERS Members) designate MERS as their nominee or the mortgagee of record for the purpose of recording MERS Instruments in the county where the subject real property is located. The MERS Instruments are registered in a central database, which tracks all future transfers of the beneficial ownership interests and servicing rights among MERS Members throughout the life of the loan.

Merscorp and MERS commenced this hybrid proceeding and action in response to the announcement by the Suffolk County Clerk (hereinafter the Clerk) that, as of May 1, 2001, he would no longer accept MERS Instruments that listed MERS as the mortgagee or nominee of record unless MERS was, in fact, the actual mortgagee. In June 2002 this court granted the motion by Merscorp and MERS to preliminarily compel the Clerk to record MERS Instruments and list MERS as the mortgagee in the County’s alphabetical indexes pending the SupremeCourt’s determination of the hybrid proceeding and action on the merits (see Matter ofMerscorp, Inc. v. Romaine, 295 AD2d 431).

The Supreme Court properly compelled the Clerk to record MERS mortgages (seeKlostermann v. Cuomo, 61 NY2d 525, 539). In short, the Clerk has a statutory duty that is ministerial in nature to record a written conveyance if it is duly acknowledged and accompanied by the proper fee (see Real Property Law §§ 290[3], 291; County Law § 525[1]). Accordingly, the Clerk does not have the authority to refuse to record a conveyance which satisfies the narrowly-drawn prerequisites set forth in the recording statute (see People ex rel. Frost v. Woodbury, 213 NY 51; People ex rel. Title Guar.& Trust Co. v. Grifenhagen, 209 NY 569;Matter of Westminster Hgts. Co. v. Delany, 107 App Div 577, affd 185 NY 539; Putnam v. Stewart, 97 NY 411).

Similarly, Real Property Law § 316-a (1), which only applies to the Suffolk County indexing system, provides that the Clerk must record and index “[e]very instrument affecting real estate or chattels real, situated in the county of Suffolk, which shall be, or which shall have been recorded in the office of the clerk of said county . . . pursuant to the provisions of this act.” Pursuant to Real Property Law § 316-a(2), the Clerk must maintain the indexes so they “contain the date of recording of each instrument, the names of the parties to each instrument and the liber and page of the record thereof” (see also Real Property Law § 316-a[4] and [5]). Thus, the Clerk’s duty to index recorded instruments is mandatory and ministerial in nature.

Contrary to the Supreme Court’s determination, there is no valid distinction between MERS mortgages and MERS assignments or discharges for the purpose of recording and indexing. Pursuant to Real Property Law § 321(1), the discharge document may be signed either by the mortgagee, the person who appears from the public record to be the last assignee, or their personal representatives.

As the proponents of a motion for summary judgment, Merscorp and MERS made a prima facie showing that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law by tendering sufficient evidence to establish that they complied with the applicable recording statutes (see Winegrad v. New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 NY2d 851, 853Artistic Landscaping v. Board of Assessors,303 AD2d 699). Once this showing was made, the burden shifted to the Clerk, who failed to raise a triable issue of fact in opposition to the motion (Alvarez v. Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324Zuckerman v. City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 562).

Since this is a declaratory judgment action, the order and judgment must be modified, inter alia, by adding a declaration that the mortgages, assignments, and discharges which name MERS as the lender’s nominee or the mortgagee of record are acceptable for recording and indexing (see Lanza v. Wagner, 11 NY2d 317, 334, appeal dismissed 371 US 74, cert denied372 US 901).

SCHMIDT, J.P., COZIER, RIVERA and FISHER, JJ., concur.

RELATED ARTICLE:

This case might have put MERS in the SPOT LIGHT: MATTER OF MERSCORP, INC. v. Romaine, 295 AD 2d 431 – NY: Supreme Court, Appellate Div., 2nd Dept. 2002

This case might have put MERS in the SPOT LIGHT: MATTER OF MERSCORP, INC. v. Romaine, 295 AD 2d 431 – NY: Supreme Court, Appellate Div., 2nd Dept. 2002

295 A.D.2d 431 (2002)

743 N.Y.S.2d 562

In the Matter of MERSCORP, INC., et al., Appellants,
v.
EDWARD P. ROMAINE et al., Respondents.

Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Second Department.

Decided June 10, 2002.

S. Miller, J.P., Krausman and Cozier, JJ., concur.

Ordered that the order is reversed, without costs or disbursements, and the motion for a preliminary injunction is granted pending the Supreme Court’s determination of the hybrid proceeding and action on the merits.

The petitioners, Merscorp, Inc. (hereinafter Merscorp), and its subsidiary, MortgageElectronic Registration SystemsInc. (hereinafter MERS), operate a national electronicregistration system (hereinafter the MERS System) for residential mortgages and related instruments (hereinafter MERS Instruments). In essence, lenders who subscribe to the MERS System (hereinafter MERS Members) designate MERS as their nominee or the “mortgagee of record” for the purpose of 432*432 recording MERS Instruments in the county where the subject real property is located. The MERS Instruments are registered in a central database, which tracks all future transfers of the beneficial ownership interests and servicing rights among MERS Members. As of May 2001, the MERS System had recorded more than four million MERS Instruments in more than 3,000 counties in all 50 states, including more than 16,000 MERS Instruments in Suffolk County.

On April 5, 2001, the Attorney General issued Informal Opinion No. 2001-2 (2001 Atty Gen [Inf Ops] 2001-2) in response to two questions posed by the Nassau County Clerk regarding the latter’s obligation to record and index MERS Instruments. Although the Attorney General concluded that the Nassau County Clerk had a statutory duty under Real Property Law § 291 to record MERS Instruments if they were duly acknowledged and accompanied by the proper fee, he advised the Nassau County Clerk to list the MERS Instruments in the County’s alphabetical indexes under the names of the actual lenders. Based in part on the Attorney General’s Informal Opinion, the Suffolk County Clerk announced that as of May 1, 2001, he would no longer accept MERS Instruments which listed MERS as the mortgagee or nominee of record unless MERS was, in fact, the actual mortgagee.

Simultaneously with commencing this hybrid proceeding and action, Merscorp and MERS moved, inter alia, for a preliminary injunction to compel the Suffolk County Clerk to record MERS Instruments and list MERS as the mortgagee in the County’s alphabetical mortgagee-mortgagor indexes for recorded conveyances. Although the Supreme Court, Suffolk County (Bivona, J.), granted the request of Merscorp and MERS for a temporary restraining order on May 2, 2001, the same court (Catterson, J.), subsequently denied their request for a preliminary injunction on May 22, 2001.

It is well established that the decision to grant or deny a preliminary injunction lies within the sound discretion of the Supreme Court (see Doe v Axelrod, 73 NY2d 748, 750). In exercising that discretion, however, the Supreme Court must consider several factors, including whether the moving party has established (1) a likelihood of success on the merits, (2) irreparable harm if the injunction is denied, and (3) a balance of the equities in favor of the injunction (see CPLR 6301, 6312 [a]; Grant Co. v Srogi, 52 NY2d 496, 517Clarion Assoc. v Colby Co., 276 AD2d 461). Upon our review of the record, we find that the Supreme Court failed to set forth specific findings with respect to the tripartite test for injunctive relief and 433*433 improvidently exercised its discretion in denying the motion for preliminary injunctive relief.

Merscorp and MERS demonstrated a reasonable probability of success on the merits of its claim for a writ of mandamus to compel the Suffolk County Clerk to record MERS Instruments (see Klostermann v Cuomo, 61 NY2d 525, 539). Contrary to the contention of the Suffolk County Clerk, he has a statutory duty that is ministerial in nature to record a written conveyance if it is duly acknowledged and accompanied by the proper fee (see Real Property Law § 290 [3]; § 291; County Law § 525 [1]). Accordingly, the Clerk does not have the authority to refuse to record a conveyance which satisfies the narrowly drawn prerequisites set forth in the recording statute (see People ex rel. Frost v Woodbury, 213 NY 51; People ex rel. Title Guar. & Trust Co. v Grifenhagen, 209 NY 569; Matter of Westminster Hgts. Co. v Delany, 107 App Div 577, affd 185 NY 539; Putnam v Stewart, 97 NY 411).

This Court notes that the Suffolk County index is governed exclusively by Real Property Law § 316-a. Real Property Law § 316-a (1) provides that the Suffolk County Clerk shall record and index “[e]very instrument affecting real estate or chattels real, situated in the county of Suffolk * * * which shall have been recorded in the office of the [C]lerk of said county * * * pursuant to the provisions of this act” (emphasis supplied). Pursuant to Real Property Law § 316-a (2), the Suffolk County Clerk must maintain the indexes so they “contain the date of recording of each instrument, the names of the parties to each instrument and the liber and page of the record thereof and shall be substantially the forms of the schedules hereto annexed” (emphasis supplied; see also Real Property Law § 316-a [5]).

Therefore, in light of Real Property Law § 316-a, Merscorp and MERS also demonstrated a reasonable probability of success on the merits of their claim to compel the Suffolk County Clerk to perform his ministerial duty to index MERS Instruments as the language of Real Property Law § 316-a is mandatory and not permissive (see Klostermann v Cuomo, supra at 539).

Moreover, to the extent that the Suffolk County Clerk has recorded approximately 16,000 MERS Instruments before May 1, 2001, MERS established irreparable harm to its business operation, the mortgage lending industry, and the general public, in the absence of a preliminary injunction compelling the Suffolk County Clerk to record and index MERS Instruments (see Clarion Assoc. v Colby Co., supraMcLaughlin, Piven, 434*434 Vogel v Nolan & Co., 114 AD2d 165, 174), particularly since Real Property Law § 316-a (8), (9) and (10) sets forth a mechanism for correcting any mistakes in the indexes.

Under these circumstances, a preliminary injunction should be granted to maintain the status quo while the legal issues are determined in a deliberate and judicious manner (see Moody v Filipowski, 146 AD2d 675, 678Incorporated Vil. of Babylon v Anthony’s Water Cafe, 137 AD2d 791, 792Tucker v Toia, 54 AD2d 322, 326).

Goldstein, J., concurs in the result, with the following memorandum:

Although I do not necessarily agree with my colleagues that there is a likelihood of success on the merits, I nevertheless concur in granting a preliminary injunction, as the Supreme Court failed to take into consideration and address the other factors which must be taken into account, namely, irreparable harm to the movant absent the granting of a preliminary injunction, and a balancing of the equities (see Melvin v Union Coll., 195 AD2d 447, 448). Where, as here, the case involves issues of first impression in the courts, it is appropriate to grant a preliminary injunction, “`to hold the parties in status quo while the legal issues are determined in a deliberate and judicious manner'” (Time Sq. Books v City of Rochester, 223 AD2d 270, 278,quoting Tucker v Toia, 54 AD2d 322, 326State of New York v City of New York, 275 AD2d 740Sau Thi Ma v Xuan T. Lien, 198 AD2d 186).

RELATED ARTICLE:

The Conclusion…If we could only turn back time: IN THE MATTER OF MERSCORP, INC. v. Romaine, 2005 NY Slip Op 9728 – NY: Supreme Court, Appellate Div., 2nd Dept. 2005

SmarTrend’s Trend Spotter Sees Continued Downward Momentum on Shares of Lender Processing Services (LPS)

May 27, 2010 (SmarTrend(R) Spotlight via COMTEX) —-SmarTrend identified a Downtrend for Lender Processing Services (NYSE:LPS) on May 07, 2010 at $35.31. In approximately 3 weeks, Lender Processing Services has returned 5.8% as of today’s recent price of $33.27.

Lender Processing Services is currently below its 50-day moving average of $37.60 and below its 200-day moving average of $38.92. Look for these moving averages to decline to confirm the company’s downward momentum.

SmarTrend will continue to scan these moving averages and a number of other proprietary indicators for any changes in momentum for shares of Lender Processing Services.

Write to Chip Brian at cbrian@tradethetrend.com

Shares of DJSP Enterprises Get SLAMMED….FALL 25%. Are we seeing a DownTrend?

Huge profits result from foreclosure procedure

By RICHARD WILNER NYPost
Last Updated: 1:03 AM, May 30, 2010
Posted: 1:03 AM, May 30, 2010

A new gold rush is sweeping the country — only this time the speculators are looking to get fat off the $4 billion home foreclosure industry by promising banks a streamlined and low-cost method to kick folks out of their homes. DinSFLA: Last time I heard the word “speculators” was in the CONDO BOOM!

In the last two years, as the mortgage meltdown intensified, four companies have gone public or filed papers to go public — each looking to get their hands on cash to help grow into a national powerhouse quickly to take advantage of the soft housing market.

Buying shares of these companies is like shorting the housing market — sort of giving the average investor a chance to be a mini-John Paulson, the hedge fund mogul who made billions betting against the housing market in 2007. There were roughly 2.9 million foreclosures in 2009 and there are currently 6 million homeowners 60 days or more delinquent on their mortgage.

The companiesDJSP Enterprises, which saw revenues grow 31 percent last year, Altisource Portfolio Solutions, which reported a 182 percent jump in profits last year, and Lender Processing Services, whose $2.4 billion in revenue was up 29 percent last year — each offer a technology platform that links mortgage lender clients on one end and law firms clients on the other.

A fourth company, Prommis Solutions, which swung to a $7.9 million profit in 2009 from a loss in 2008, recently filed papers to go public.

The four companies profit, in large part, from the high volume of mortgage defaults — collecting fees from banks for each referral and from law firms, which file the foreclosure actions. In fact, the companies warn that a turnaround in the housing market or additional mortgage-modification plans from Washington could chill their profits.

Last week, shares of DJSP Enterprises got slammed, falling 25 percent on Friday, to $6.46, a 52-week low, after the company lowered its guidance for 2010 in the wake of a drop in the number of foreclosures.

It’s a strange, new sector of the housing finance sector, where bad news for America fattens the bottom lines for these companies, and good news for beleaguered homeowners knocks the stuffing — and dollars — from their bottom lines.

“Cat Out Of the Bag” (Trade Secrets) in CAPITAL ONE, NA v. Forbes, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeal, 2nd Dist. 2010

CAPITAL ONE, N.A., as successor by merger to Chevy Chase Bank, F.S.B., Petitioner,
v.
DOUGLAS R. FORBES, Respondent.

Case No. 2D09-4735.

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District.

Opinion filed May 12, 2010.

Carrie Ann Wozniak of Akerman Senterfitt, Orlando, for Petitioner.

Nicole E. Durkin of Deeb & Durkin, P.A., St. Petersburg, for Respondent.

LaROSE, Judge.

Capital One, N.A. (the Bank), seeks a writ of certiorari to quash a protective order that allows the disclosure of trade secrets to Mr. Forbes’s consultants and experts. The Bank also asks us to quash the trial court’s order because it did not sufficiently limit the scope of discovery.

Factual Background

The Bank filed a mortgage foreclosure action against Mr. Forbes. Allegedly, Mr. Forbes breached a construction loan agreement. Mr. Forbes filed a counterclaim alleging breach of contract, anticipatory breach of contract, and fraud in the inducement.

Mr. Forbes requested documents from the Bank. It produced responsive documents except, as relevant here, for requests ten and thirteen:

10. All technical and administrative manuals used in the internal communications system of Lender, or through which Lender policies, practices and procedures were communicated to its bank officers, employees, agents, partners, managers and/or “staff,” effective during the period from January 1, 2006 through the present, including, but not limited to, those manuals relating to construction or developer financing.

. . . .

13. All complaints, claims or protests brought in any judicial forum, arbitration proceeding, or industry dispute resolution forum by Lender clients or third parties against Lender alleging any breach of obligations, terms, conditions, or responsibilities by Lender in the conduct or exercise of its responsibilities and obligations with respect to or arising from engaging in the business of banking within the preceding five (5) years.

The Bank sought a protective order. The Bank argued that its construction-lending manual is a trade secret requiring adequate measures to protect against improper dissemination. There appears to be no dispute that the manual is a trade secret. The Bank also argued that other complaints, claims, or protests made against the Bank in any forum in the past five years were irrelevant, not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of any admissible evidence, and intended solely to harass the Bank. See generally, Allstate Ins. Co. v. Boecher, 733 So. 2d 993, 995 (Fla. 1999) (holding that there is an exception to the rule of complete discovery where it may be harassing or embarrassing).

After a hearing, the trial court denied the Bank’s motion as to request 13, except it narrowed the time frame to three years. The trial court concluded that the requested documents “may potentially lead to admissible evidence just based upon the counter plaintiff’s theory of policy written or potentially otherwise as to the lender’s motive to pull out of the project.”

As for the manual, the Bank’s counsel brought the document to the hearing for an in-camera inspection. The trial court did not inspect the materials but accepted counsel’s explanation that the materials contained the Bank’s lending guidelines and practices. The Bank’s counsel argued that the Bank would produce the materials if the trial court entered an adequate confidentiality order. The trial court denied the motion for a protective order, but agreed to grant a “confidentiality agreement between the parties for the protection of [the Bank].”

The trial court asked Mr. Forbes’s counsel to take the Bank’s proposed confidentiality order from the hearing and draft an order satisfactory to both sides. The Bank and Mr. Forbes could not agree. Each submitted a proposed order to the trial court. To center the dispute, we note that Mr. Forbes’s proposed order had no provision requiring consultants, experts, or their employees retained for the litigation to consent to the confidentiality provisions before viewing the manual.

The trial court adopted Mr. Forbes’s proposed order. The order provided that documents marked “Confidential” shall not be disclosed to any persons, except for counsel actively engaged in the litigation along with their employees and staff, parties and employees of the parties, persons with prior knowledge of the documents or the confidential information contained therein, and court officials involved in the litigation. Other relevant portions of the order provide as follows:

3. Plaintiff shall produce the documents requested, however the time period shall be limited to three (3) years prior to the date of this Order.

4. That the documents being produced pursuant to Paragraph 10 of Defendant’s First Request for Production of Documents which are marked “Confidential” by Plaintiff’s counsel shall not be disclosed to any persons, except that such documents may be disclosed or otherwise utilized as follows:

. . . .

(B) Such documents may also be disclosed to persons noticed for depositions during the course of such depositions, including retained outside consultants or experts and their employees retained for the purpose of assisting counsel in the litigation;

. . . .

5. Within 30 days after final conclusion of all aspects of this litigation, stamped confidential documents and all copies of same . . . shall be returned to the party or person which produced such documents or, at the option of the producer, destroyed.

(Emphasis added.)

Certiorari Jurisdiction

We may grant a petition for certiorari “only when the petitioner establishes (1) a departure from the essential requirements of the law, (2) resulting in material injury for the remainder of the trial (3) that cannot be corrected on postjudgment appeal. We examine prongs two and three first to determine our certiorari jurisdiction.” DeLoach v. Aird, 989 So. 2d 652, 654 (Fla. 2d DCA 2007)(citing Parkway Bank v. Ft. Myers Armature Works, Inc., 658 So. 2d 646, 648-49 (Fla. 2d DCA 1995)). If jurisdictional prongs two and three are not fulfilled, then we dismiss the petition rather than deny it. Id.

Analysis

Other Claims Specified in Request 13

The trial court denied, in part, and granted, in part, the Bank’s motion for a protective order as to these materials. The trial court narrowed Mr. Forbes’s request from five years to three years but did not otherwise narrow its breadth.

Discovery allows the parties to find potentially relevant evidence. The conduct of discovery is left to the trial court’s sound discretion. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.280(b)(1); Friedman v. Heart Inst. of Port St. Lucie, Inc., 863 So. 2d 189, 193 (Fla. 2003). The order on review does not necessarily cause irreparable harm by allowing discovery of what the Bank claims to be irrelevant materials. See Am. Home Assurance Co. v. Vreeland, 973 So. 2d 668, 671 (Fla. 2d DCA 2008) (citingFirst Paradee, Ltd. v. Jones, 828 So. 2d 483, 485 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002)). Thus, certiorari jurisdiction is improper. We dismiss this portion of the Bank’s petition.

Manuals Specified in Request 10

The Bank argues that the trial court departed from the essential requirements of law by requiring the disclosure of trade secrets without providing adequate protective measures. An order requiring disclosure of trade secrets may cause irreparable injury that cannot be corrected on appeal; the disclosure lets the “cat out of the bag.” Id. Here, the trial court did not err. Its order sufficiently protects the Bank. See Allstate Ins. Co. v. Langston, 655 So. 2d 91, 94 (Fla. 1995). The Bank is concerned that experts or consultants retained by Mr. Forbes will misuse the materials. The order does not ignore that concern; only specified individuals may have access to the materials for the stated and limited purposes of assisting counsel in the litigation. No other use is contemplated. Further, the order requires that designated confidential materials, and any copies, be returned or destroyed at the end of the litigation.

Perhaps the order could have been clearer. However, we understand it to limit experts’ and consultants’ access to confidential information. Paragraph 4 of the order provides a blanket protection that documents may not be disclosed to “any person,” with enumerated exceptions. Importantly, the identification of people to whom access is granted is drawn narrowly to include only the parties and their employees, court employees, and outside consultants and experts. As for the consultants and experts, the order allows access only for a limited time and for the limited purposes of assisting counsel in this litigation.[1] The trial court did not depart from the essential requirements of law by entering the order proposed by Mr. Forbes’s counsel. As to this issue, the petition for certiorari is denied.

Dismissed in part; denied in part.

SILBERMAN and CRENSHAW, JJ., Concur.

NOT FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF FILED, DETERMINED.

[1] We do not decide who would be liable should a consultant or expert violate the protective order. See, e.g.,Quinter v. Volkswagen of Am., 676 F.2d 969, 973 (3d Cir. 1982) (holding a nonparty liable for civil contempt where the nonparty had knowledge of the protective order.)