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Homeowners Facing Mortgage Foreclosures Denied Constitutional Right to Proper Notification

Oct. 24, 2007

Homeowners Facing Mortgage Foreclosures Denied Constitutional Right to Proper Notification

Appeal Argues That Maryland’s System for Home Foreclosures Tramples Due Process

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Maryland resident Joyce Griffin lost her house in a foreclosure sale because she did not receive notice until it was too late for her to save her home. Her case is a stunning example of how predatory subprime lenders, a fast-track foreclosure process and a hands-off legal system can combine to wreak havoc on people’s lives.

Griffin’s mortgage company, the now-defunct Ameriquest, tricked her into refinancing the home she owned, when, after her fiancé died, she’d simply wanted to have his name taken off the mortgage. When the single mother could no longer make the increased mortgage payments, a law firm dedicated to foreclosures representing Ameriquest quickly began proceedings. After they made a bare-bones and unsuccessful effort to notify her of any pending action, Griffin lost her home when it was literally auctioned off on the courthouse steps. She only learned that her home had been sold when the new owner tacked a note on her door.

Griffin immediately hired a lawyer to block the sale, arguing that the notice procedures violated her constitutional right to due process, but the court upheld the lender’s actions.   Public Citizen and Baltimore-based Civil Justice Inc. are appealing that decision.  In a brief filed Oct. 23, Public Citizen attorney Deepak Gupta argued that a 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision requires that additional reasonable steps must be taken to notify a property owner if a foreclosure notice is returned as unclaimed by the post office. But the lawyers who conducted the foreclosure of Griffin’s house said they could ignore undelivered letters and did not have to make any effort to follow-up before selling someone’s house.

In the brief filed in the Court of Special Appeals in Maryland, Gupta also argued that the U.S. Constitution and the Maryland Declaration of Rights both require “at a minimum” that the “deprivation of life, liberty or property…be preceded by notice and opportunity for hearing.”   No property interest is more important than home ownership, yet Griffin’s home was put up for auction after a half-hearted notification attempt by Ameriquest’s trustees consisting of several certified letters, all of which were unclaimed and returned to them by the post

If Griffin had been a defendant in a small-claims case, a property tax foreclosure, a federal tax foreclosure or even a tenant in an eviction proceeding, the law would have required that the documents be served in person, sent via restricted certified mail (complete only upon delivery) or be posted by mail-and-nail notification in which the mailed documents are also posted directly on a dwelling’s door. Even in a routine debt collection action, Ameriquest’s mishandling of Griffin’s case would have violated her constitutional rights. 

“People are waking up to the reality of predatory subprime mortgages, but what they may not yet realize is the one-two punch of shifty loans and shiftier foreclosure firms that can knock them right out of their homes,” Gupta said. 

“We hope that Maryland’s new Home Preservation Task Force becomes the first step in fixing an unjust system in desperate need of reform,” said Phillip Robinson, executive director of Civil Justice Inc and Griffin’s attorney in the trial court.

READ the brief.