Leverage: State Enforcement Actions in the Wake of the Robo-Sign Scandal
28 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2010 Last revised: 24 May 2012
Date Written: December 17, 2010
In the fall of 2010, in one of the largest scandals to ever hit the American court system, information gathered from lawsuits across the country revealed that tens of thousands of foreclosure filings were likely fraudulent - if not outright criminal. These revelations sparked a nation-wide investigation by all 50 state attorneys general to assess not only the extent of the scandal and its potential impacts but also potential legal and policy responses to such behavior. One of the tools at the state attorneys general’s disposal that might rein in this behavior includes each state's Unfair and Deceptive Acts and Practices (UDAP) laws. Such laws typically prohibit "unfair" and "deceptive" practices and often give consumers, as well as state attorneys general, the ability to bring affirmative litigation to rein in practices that violate their terms. UDAP laws serve a critical consumer protection function by filling in gaps in the law where other, more targeted statutes might not cover practices that have a harmful impact on consumers. Since their inception, UDAP laws have been used to rein in abusive practices in such areas as used car sales, telemarketing and even the sale of tobacco products. This paper explores the availability of UDAP laws and the remedies they provide to rein in the range of practices revealed in the so-called "robo-sign scandal." It concludes that such practices - the false affidavits, reckless claims and improper notarizations - all violate the essence of most state UDAP laws; accordingly, the remedies available under such laws may be wielded by state attorneys general to halt abusive foreclosure practices throughout the nation. Such remedies include civil penalties, actual and punitive damages, attorney's fees and injunctions. What's more, UDAP actions in light of robo-sign abuses could help chart a path towards a more robust mortgage modification regime, one that would result in principal reduction, which is the clearest path out of the current crisis.
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