Stipulation on recovery good enough to remand predatory lending suit

BECKLEY – A federal judge has remanded a Rupert couple’s predatory lending lawsuit because they stipulated they would not seek more than $74,999.99.

Dale and Corena Young originally filed their complaint on March 22 in Raleigh County Circuit Court before the defendants – GE Capital Retail Bank, ATM Holdings, Guardian Mortgage and Wells Fargo – removed the case to federal court.

The complaint says Dale Young, 76, became disabled at age 11 by polio and is unsophisticated in financial matters, while wife Corena, 74, has a 10th grade education and never worked outside the home.

“The court has considered the arguments asserted by the parties and finds that GE has set forth an arguable claim for the determination of the true value of this case,” says an opinion written by U.S. District Judge Irene Berger.

“However, the court need not make a determination between the parties’ differing theories about whether the value of the case should include the present value of the loan or the total value of the loan, inclusive of interest payments.

“That issue lives on for another day because the court finds that the pre-removal stipulation proffered by Plaintiffs with their complaint is sufficient to avoid this court’s jurisdiction.”

That stipulation said the plaintiffs wouldn’t seek more than $74,999.99, which is a penny less than a federal jurisdiction threshold.

The loan was not for a house. It was for improvements.

The Youngs purchased their home in 1979 for $30,000 and paid off the loan in 2003. In 2004, they obtained a loan for Summit Community Bank to complete necessary repairs.

Money Bank contacted the Youngs to refinance the loan in December 2005, the plaintiffs say, even though they were on a fixed income that consisted of only social security.

Eventually, GE Money Bank originated a 30-year loan of $50,000 that started with an interest rate of 7.85 percent but adjusts to 14.35 percent.

The Youngs alleged the loan closing was conducted in a hurried manner, and that legal documents for the closing were prepared without an attorney licensed in the State of West Virginia.

The Youngs say the defendants didn’t allow them to understand the importance of the transaction.

GE Capital Retail Bank, though, said the stipulation was insufficient to limit the Youngs’ recovery. They said the loan issue – the home loan combined with the repair loan – was more than $75,000.

“Put differently, regardless how Plaintiffs seek to characterize their recovery or its limits, by seeking to have the loan declared unenforceable, they will ipso facto deprive GECRB and its successors of property rights worth more than $75,000,” the removal notice said.

The Youngs are represented by Sarah Brown of Mountain State Justice in Charleston.

From the West Virginia Record: Reach John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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