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Munoz v. Bank of America, N.A.

Supreme Court of Montana

January 15, 2019

MICHAEL MUNOZ and AMY MUNOZ, Plaintiffs and Appellants,

          Submitted on Briefs: December 12, 2018

          APPEAL FROM: District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. ADV 15-841 Honorable Mike Menahan, Presiding Judge

          For Appellants: Amy Munoz, Michael Munoz, self-represented, Dayton, Montana

          For Appellees: Kenneth K. Lay, Crowley Fleck, PLLP, Helena, Montana


          Jim Rice Justice.

         ¶1 Pursuant to Section I, Paragraph 3(c), Montana Supreme Court Internal Operating Rules, this case is decided by memorandum opinion and shall not be cited and does not serve as precedent. Its case title, cause number, and disposition shall be included in this Court's quarterly list of noncitable cases published in the Pacific Reporter and Montana Reports.

         ¶2 Appellants Michael and Amy Munoz (the Munoz) appeal the entry of summary judgment and denial of their motion to compel and motion for sanctions by the Montana First Judicial District Court, Lewis and Clark County.

         ¶3 This case arises from the Munoz' attempts to secure a modification of their home loan, serviced by Wells Fargo, through the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). In 2003, the Munoz obtained a loan from Wells Fargo for $890, 000, secured by a deed of trust on their property on Flathead Lake. In 2009, the Munoz sought a modification of this loan from Wells Fargo. The Munoz alleged that Wells Fargo advised them that, to qualify for a loan modification, they must intentionally fail to make a payment on their loan. Allegedly acting on this advice from Wells Fargo, the Munoz defaulted on the loan in 2009, leading to foreclosure in 2010. In late 2009 or early 2010, the Munoz' loan modification application was denied because the unpaid loan balance exceeded HAMP guidelines. Then, in March 2010, the Munoz' loan modification application was denied due to their failure to provide Wells Fargo with necessary documentation. The Munoz' loan modification was again denied in April 2010 for the same reason. In late 2010, the Munoz brought their loan balance current, and the loan was reinstated.

         ¶4 The Munoz sought another loan modification from Wells Fargo in 2013. The Munoz allege that Wells Fargo again told them they must intentionally fail to make a loan payment to qualify for a modification. Allegedly acting on this advice, the Munoz defaulted on their loan in December 2013. In early 2014, the Munoz again applied to modify the terms of their loan. This loan modification was rejected in late 2014 because, according to Wells Fargo, the Munoz failed to provide necessary documentation.

         ¶5 The Munoz filed a lawsuit against Bank of America, N.A., Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and Wells Fargo Home Mortgage in October 2015, alleging negligence and/or breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, negligent misrepresentation, constructive fraud, fraud, violations of Montana's Consumer Protection Act, and conspiracy, due to Wells Fargo's denial of their loan modification.[1] The Munoz also alleged, among other things, that Wells Fargo: (1) advised them to intentionally miss loan payments; (2) unfairly withheld information from them, including information about HAMP and other loan modification programs; and (3) attempted to coerce the Munoz into stealing confidential business information from their employers. The Munoz sought punitive damages and injunctive relief.

         ¶6 In November 2016, the Munoz filed a motion to compel against Wells Fargo for production of various communications and information, including other complaints against Wells Fargo where Wells Fargo told individuals to miss their loan payments, and tax returns of Wells Fargo and Bank of America, which the District Court denied. In December 2016, the Munoz sought discovery sanctions against Wells Fargo for wrongfully withholding "discoverable audio recordings," which the District Court also denied. Wells Fargo then moved for partial summary judgment on Amy Munoz' claims, which the District Court granted in April 2017, reasoning that "Amy testified she was 'not sure' whether she and her husband sought to modify their home loan and that she had never completed an application for a loan modification. Notably, [Wells Fargo's] actions related to servicing [the Munoz'] mortgage and home loan modification applications are the entire basis of this lawsuit." Wells Fargo then moved for summary judgment on all claims, which the District Court granted in May 2017, reasoning that the evidence submitted by the Munoz in support of their claims was "insufficient to establish a genuine issue of material fact" and that Wells Fargo was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The Munoz appeal, seeking reversal of the orders regarding summary judgment, their motion to compel, and their request for sanctions.

         ¶7 "We review de novo a district court's grant or denial of summary judgment, applying the same criteria as the district courts." Modroo v. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 2008 MT 275, ¶ 19, 345 Mont. 262, 191 P.3d 389 (citation omitted). "Summary judgment is appropriate 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' together with any affidavits demonstrate that no genuine issue exists as to any material fact and that the party moving for summary judgment is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Modroo, ¶ 19 (citing M. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). "We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and we draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party opposing summary judgment." Modroo, ¶ 19.

         ¶8 "We employ an abuse of discretion standard in reviewing a district court's imposition of sanctions for discovery abuse." Peterman v. Herbalife Int'l, Inc., 2010 MT 142, ¶ 14, 356 Mont. 542, 234 P.3d 898. In considering whether an abuse of discretion occurred, we defer to the district court "because it is in the best position to determine both whether the party in question has disregarded the opponent's rights, and which sanctions are most appropriate." Johnson v. Booth, 2008 MT 155, ¶ 13, 343 Mont. 268, 184 P.3d 289 (citation and quotation omitted). Finally, "we review a district court's denial of a motion to compel discovery for abuse of discretion." Citizen Advocates for a Livable Missoula, Inc. v. City Council, 2006 MT 47, ¶ 37, 331 Mont. 269, 130 P.3d 1259.

         ¶9 The Munoz argue the District Court erred by granting Wells Fargo's motion for summary judgment and denying their motions to compel and for sanctions, asserting they presented genuine issues of material fact and credible evidence of discovery abuses. Three of the Munoz' claims are rooted in negligence. To prevail in an action for negligence, a plaintiff must demonstrate "a duty, breach of that duty, causation, and damages." Morrow v. Bank of Am., N.A., 2014 MT 117, ¶ 33, 375 Mont. 38, 324 P.3d 1167 (citation omitted). "The existence of a duty is a question of law for determination by the court. . . . ...

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