ANOTHER FLORIDA REVERSAL 2nd DCA: DAVID B. HOWELL and DAVE B. HOWELL, LLC, Appellants, v. ED BEBB, INC., Appellee. 2nd District. Case No. 2D09-3664. Opinion filed May 28, 2010 REVERSED & REMANDED

HOWELL v. ED BEBB, INC.

DAVID B. HOWELL and DAVE B. HOWELL, LLC, Appellants,

v.

ED BEBB, INC., Appellee.

Case No. 2D09-3664.

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District.

Opinion filed May 28, 2010.

Matthew J. Conigliaro, Annette Marie Lang, and Stephanie C. Zimmerman of Carlton Fields, P.A., St. Petersburg, for Appellants.

Thomas C. Saunders of Saunders Law Group, Bartow, for Appellee.

WHATLEY, Judge.

David B. Howell and Dave B. Howell, LLC (collectively referred to as Howell) filed this direct appeal of a final summary judgment to quiet title and for ejectment entered in favor of Ed Bebb, Inc. We conclude that Bebb did not establish that it was entitled to summary judgment at this stage in the pleadings and reverse.

Bebb filed an amended complaint against Howell asserting counts to quiet title, take possession of real property, require specific performance, foreclose on a mortgage, and for ejectment. Howell filed a motion to dismiss, and while the motion was pending, Bebb filed a motion for summary judgment. After a hearing on Bebb’s motion, the circuit court entered final summary judgment in favor of Bebb.

Generally, “[a] movant is entitled to summary judgment `if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions, affidavits, and other materials as would be admissible in evidence on file show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'” Estate of Githens ex rel. Seaman v. Bon Secours-Maria Manor Nursing Care Ctr., Inc., 928 So. 2d 1272, 1274 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006) (quoting Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510(c)). But if “a plaintiff moves for summary judgment before the defendant has filed an answer, `the burden is upon the plaintiff to make it appear to a certainty that no answer which the defendant might properly serve could present a genuine issue of fact.'” BAC Funding Consortium Inc. ISAOA/ATIMA v. Jean-Jacques, 28 So. 3d 936, 937-38 (Fla. 2d DCA 2010) (quoting Settecasi v. Bd. of Pub. Instruction of Pinellas County, 156 So. 2d 652, 654 (Fla. 2d DCA 1963)). Thus, the standard to establish entitlement to summary judgment requires the plaintiff to establish that “the defendant could not raise any genuine issues of material fact if the defendant were permitted to answer the complaint.” Id. at 938.

The trial court in the present case appears to have used the wrong standard in ruling on Bebb’s motion for summary judgment, as it asked Howell if he had filed any affidavits or anything that would create a material issue of fact. At the hearing on the motion for summary judgment, Howell noted issues of material fact that could be raised in an answer to the complaint. However, Bebb based its argument for summary judgment on the failure of Howell to file affidavits establishing genuine issues of material fact. On appeal, Bebb does not contend that it established to a certainty at the hearing that no answer which Howell might properly serve could present a genuine issue of fact.

Accordingly, it was improper to enter summary judgment in favor of Bebb at this stage in the pleadings, and we reverse the judgment and remand for further proceedings.

Reversed and remanded.

NORTHCUTT and LaROSE, JJ., Concur.

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

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*REVERSED* Patricia A. Arango of the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for Appellee-Aurora Loan Services, LLC., MERS “FINAL JUDGMENT REVERSED”!!

PIERRE ELLIOTT and LISA ELLIOTT, Appellants,
v.
AURORA LOAN SERVICES, LLC, MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS, INC., as nominee and STONEBROOK ESTATES COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION, INC., Appellees.

No. 4D08-4362.

District Court of Appeal of Florida, Fourth District.

April 7, 2010.

Nathaniel E. Green of Nathaniel E. Green, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for appellants.

Patricia A. Arango of the Law Offices of Marshall C. Watson, P.A., Fort Lauderdale, for Appellee-Aurora Loan Services, LLC.

TAYLOR, J.

Pierre and Lisa Elliott appeal a final judgment of foreclosure entered for Aurora Loan Services, LLC (Aurora). Because the trial court erred in denying the Elliotts’ verified motion to vacate default and, consequently, erred in entering the final judgment of foreclosure, we reverse.

On March 7, 2008, Aurora filed a complaint against the Elliotts to foreclose on their mortgage. The Elliotts received the summons and complaint on March 11, 2008. According to their verified motion, on March 11, 2008, Lisa Elliott contacted Aurora’s attorney, as directed in a letter attached to the complaint. The attorney instructed they call Aurora directly. The Elliotts did so and they then began a workout agreement. Lisa Elliott, in the verified motion, stated that they reached a proposed “Special Forbearance Agreement” with Aurora, dated June 27, 2008.

Due to the Elliotts’ failure to file any papers, Aurora moved for an entry of default against the Elliotts, which was entered on May 21, 2008. Further, on May 21, 2008, Aurora filed a Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion for Attorneys Fee’s and Memorandum (along with supporting affidavits).

Lisa Elliott stated in the verified motion that they discovered the entry of default for the first time on August 27, 2008. They filed their Verified Motion to Vacate Default with Proposed Answer and Affirmative Defenses on September 3, 2008.

At the hearing on September 24, 2008, the trial court denied the Elliotts’ verified motion to vacate default and granted Aurora’s motion for summary judgment. The court then entered the final judgment of foreclosure.[1]

The Elliotts argue the court erred by denying their verified motion to vacate default. “`An order denying a motion to vacate a default is reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard.'” Jeyanandarajan v. Freedman, 863 So. 2d 432, 433 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003) (quoting Lloyd’s Underwriter’s at London v. Ruby, Inc., 801 So. 2d 138, 139 (Fla. 4th DCA 2001)).

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.500(a) (2008) provides that a clerk may enter a default against a party who fails to file any papers or pleadings. The court may set aside this default, however, under Rule 1.540(b). Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.500(d). “`Florida public policy favors the setting aside of defaults so that controversies may be decided on the merits.'” Jeyanandarajan, 863 So. 2d at 433 (quoting Lloyd’s Underwriter’s, 801 So. 2d at 139).

Rule 1.540(b) provides that if the terms are just, the court may relieve a party from a final order for mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect. To set aside the default pursuant to this rule, the court must determine: “(1) whether the defendant has demonstrated excusable neglect in failing to respond[;] (2) whether the defendant has demonstrated a meritorious defense; and (3) whether the defendant, subsequent to learning of the default, had demonstrated due diligence in seeking relief.” Halpern v. Houser, 949 So. 2d 1155, 1157 (Fla. 4th DCA 2007) (citing Schwartz v. Bus. Cards Tomorrow, Inc., 644 So. 2d 611, 611 (Fla. 4th DCA 1994)). Because the Elliotts demonstrated these elements, the court abused its discretion in denying their motion to vacate the default.

Excusable neglect is found “where inaction results from clerical or secretarial error, reasonable misunderstanding, a system gone awry or any other of the foibles to which human nature is heir.” Somero v. Hendry Gen. Hosp., 467 So. 2d 1103, 1106 (Fla. 4th DCA 1985). Although ignorance of the law and failure to understand consequences are not viable excuses, “a reasonable misunderstanding between attorneys regarding settlement negotiations does constitute excusable neglect sufficient to vacate a default.” Gables Club Marina, LLC v. Gables Condo. & Club Ass’n, Inc., 948 So. 2d 21, 23-24 (Fla. 3d DCA 2006). In Gables Club, the parties’ attorneys were engaged in settlement talks, and the court found it reasonable that the defendant believed it need not file an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint. Id. at 24.

“`Excusable neglect must be proven by sworn statements or affidavits.'” Geer v. Jacobsen, 880 So. 2d 717, 720 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004) (quoting DiSarrio v. Mills, 711 So. 2d 1355, 1356 (Fla. 2d DCA 1998)). Here, the Elliotts filed a verified motion containing properly sworn statements, as follows:

2. Defendants were served with summons and complaint on or about March 11, 2008.

3. On or about March 11, 2008 I, Lisa Elliott, contacted the attorney for AURORA at XXX-XXX-XXXX to discuss resolution of the complaint. I was instructed to contact the lender.

4. I contacted AURORA and began a workout agreement which lead to a proposed “Special Forbearance Agreement” dated June 27, 2008. See attached letter from Aurora Loan Services marked Exhibit “A”.

Aurora filed no refuting affidavits or other evidence to rebut the Elliotts’ claims that the parties were engaged in settlement negotiations.[2]

In Gibson Trust, Inc. v. Office of the Attorney General, 883 So. 2d 379, 382 (Fla. 4th DCA 2004), we vacated the default entered by the trial court, stating that “[b]ecause the defendants’ affidavits were uncontradicted and established that there was a `misunderstanding’ regarding whether an extension had been agreed upon, we conclude that excusable neglect was shown.” Similarly, here, the Elliotts’ verified motion indicates they began a workout agreement with Aurora, which led to a proposed “Special Forbearance Agreement.” Aurora failed to file any affidavits refuting this. Therefore, the Elliotts’ uncontradicted verified motion established excusable neglect.

A meritorious defense is established where a “proposed answer [is] attached to its motion to vacate, which answer sets out in detail a number of affirmative defenses.” Fortune Ins. Co. v. Sanchez, 490 So. 2d 249, 249 (Fla. 3d DCA 1986). We similarly held that where a party “immediately filed a proposed answer with affirmative defenses upon receipt of the plaintiffs’ motion to set the cause for trial on damages,” the meritorious-defense and due-diligence elements were met. Broward County v. Perdue, 432 So. 2d 742, 743 (Fla. 4th DCA 1983). The Elliotts’ verified motion to vacate default contained a proposed answer and affirmative defenses, which met the meritorious-defense element.

Finally, due diligence, which is a test of reasonableness, must be evaluated based on the facts of the particular case. Franklin v. Franklin, 573 So. 2d 401, 403 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991). Due diligence must be established with evidence, which includes a sworn affidavit. Cedar Mountain Estates, LLC v. Loan One, LLC, 4 So. 3d 15, 17 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009).

Here, although the default was entered on May 21, 2008, Lisa Elliott, in the verified motion, stated that they discovered the default for the first time on August 27, 2008. Again, this sworn allegation was not refuted by Aurora. Upon discovering the default, the Elliotts filed the verified motion to vacate the default, along with the proposed answer and affirmative defenses; it was dated August 28, 2008, but not rendered with the clerk of court until September 3, 2008. Only six days elapsed between the time the default was discovered and the time the motion to vacate was filed. It has been held that six-day, sevenday, and fifteen-day time lapses between the discovery of a default and the filing of a motion to vacate that default showed due diligence. See Allstate Floridian Ins. Co. v. Ronco Inventions, LLC, 890 So. 2d 300, 303 (Fla. 2d DCA 2004) (citing Goodwin v. Goodwin, 559 So. 2d 109 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990) (six-day delay)); Coquina Beach Club Condo. Ass’n v. Wagner, 813 So. 2d 1061 (Fla. 2d DCA 2002) (seven-day delay); Marshall Davis, Inc. v. Incapco, Inc., 558 So. 2d 206 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990) (fifteen-day delay)). Thus, the Elliotts exercised due diligence by filing the motion to vacate the default within six days of discovery of the default.

Because the Elliotts demonstrated the elements necessary to set aside the default, the trial court abused its discretion in denying their motion and subsequently entering the final judgment of foreclosure.

Accordingly, we reverse the final judgment of foreclosure and order denying the Elliotts’ motion to vacate the default.

Reversed and Remanded.

FARMER and MAY, JJ., concur.

Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

[1] The foreclosure sale was set for November 26, 2008, but the parties agreed to stay the case and cancel the sale pending this appeal.

[2] Although the Gables Club court states that there must have been a “reasonable misunderstanding between attorneys,” this is met because the Elliotts were proceeding pro se.

First American sues 8 rivals over AVMs: LENDER PROCESSING SERVICES (LPS)

Things that make you go Hmmm…

Patent infringement lawsuit seeks damages from Zillow, LPS, others

BY MATT CARTER, TUESDAY, MAY 4, 2010.

Inman News

First American CoreLogic Inc. has filed a lawsuit against eight companies, including Zillow Inc. and Lender Processing Services Inc., claiming the companies’ automated property valuation services infringe on a 1994 patent.

In its complaint, CoreLogic seeks an injunction against the companies to prohibit them from using or selling any products that fall within the scope of the patent, and for triple damages to “compensate CoreLogic for its profits lost.”

None of the companies named in the April 16 lawsuit have filed formal a response to the complaint, and none would comment to Inman News.

The companies named in the lawsuit provide automated valuation model (AVM) services to businesses or consumers — computer-generated property value estimates that typically rely on a property’s unique characteristics, public property records and other market statistics.

A spokeswoman for Zillow — a site that became one of the Internet’s most popular real estate portals by offering instant, free property “Zestimates” to consumers — said the company was aware of the lawsuit, and “has no plans to change any aspect of our business as a result of this complaint.”

LPS — a technology and data provider for the National Association of Realtors’ Realtor Property Resource database — said the company does not comment on pending litigation, but “does intend to continue providing AVM services.”

NAR’s RPR LLC subsidiary intends to generate revenue by incorporating active and sold listings data into automated property valuations that the company hopes will become a standard for the lending industry, government agencies and others (see story).

Other companies named in the lawsuit include: Fiserv Inc., Intellireal LLC, Interthinx Inc., Precision Appraisal Services Inc., Real Data Inc. and RealEC Technologies Inc.

Patent lawsuits can sometimes take years to resolve, as defendants may be able to demonstrate that a patent was issued for an idea that was not new, or that a patent claim was overly broad or vauge.

In its lawsuit, CoreLogic claims the rights to U.S. Patent 5,361,201, issued Nov. 1, 1994, for an “automated real estate appraisal system” and assigned by its inventors to HNC Inc

Summarizing the system in their patent application, inventors Allen Jost, Jennifer Nelson, Krishna Gopinathan and Craig Smith described how predictive models could generate estimated property values based on individual property characteristics and neighborhood or area characteristics.

Through a trial and error process, they said, the models could be fed “training data” in order to “learn” the relationships between individual property characteristics and area characteristics.

In the learning stage, the model’s predicted property values are compared to actual sales, and the weights assigned to different variables repeatedly adjusted to achieve the greatest degree of accuracy.

Although the process was similar in concept to established regression analysis techniques, the inventors said the application would also employ “neural networks” to automatically detect relationships between variables that would otherwise need to be detected and inputted manually by programmers.

Neural networks, they said, would allow rapid development of models and automated data analysis — a vital capability if the goal is to value properties in thousands of neighborhoods or areas, each requiring its own model.

Once the models had been developed, the inventors said, they could also be programmed to monitor their own performance and adjust their assumptions when performance dropped below a predetermined level.

In addition to an estimated property value, the models would be able to compute the predicted margin of error, allowing for a value range to be generated for each property — a common feature of AVMs offered to consumers.

The patent application described the algorithms and dozens of variables that could be used to generate valuations, and included source code written in ANSI C and Microsoft Excel macro.

The patent was assigned to Transamerica Intellitech Inc. in August 2000, and then to First American Real Estate Solutions, now part of CoreLogic.

First American is spinning off its information solutions group into a separate, publicly traded company, to be known as “CoreLogic.”

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