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The Pettit Law Firm Wins Jury Verdict of over $597,000 against Mortgage Lender

January 4, 2019

The final judgment was signed on January 4, 2019, following a jury verdict on October 18, 2018. Judge Maricela Moore in the 162nd District Court in Dallas County, Texas presided over the jury trial.

Julie Pettit represents Celia Hopken, a retired Farmers Branch widow who obtained a reverse mortgage from Finance of America. The lender began foreclosure proceedings against Ms. Hopken—who has lived in her home since the 1980’s—because Finance of America asserted that Ms. Hopken owed $3,200 in property taxes.  Ms. Hopken, however, had an approved payment plan with both the taxing authority and Finance of America to pay the $3,200 in equal monthly payments over the following year.

In order to begin foreclosure proceedings, the loan documents required the Finance of America to obtain approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Finance of America had no evidence it ever obtained HUD approval. Ms. Hopken counterclaimed for declaratory judgment, breach of contract, and violations of the Texas Debt Collection Act.

Finance of America’s claim to foreclose on Ms. Hopken’s property was dismissed on directed verdict.

The jury found Finance of America liable for its conduct for over $38,000 in actual damages and $500,000 in punitive damages.  The Court also found Finance of America liable in the amount of $59,497 in attorneys’ fees.

“We are pleased with the decision,” said Julie Pettit, counsel for Hopken.  “The jury agreed that Ms. Hopken was in compliance with her agreement with the lender to pay the taxes, and the jury agreed that Finance of America was attempting to take Ms. Hopken’s home from her without the authority to do so. This important verdict underscores that mortgage lenders must follow their law and comply with their own agreements and loan documents.  No lender has a license to take someone’s home—especially an elderly widow. We need to protect our elderly citizens, not steal from them.”

David Urteago of the Pettit Law Firm served as second-chair trial counsel for Celia Hopken.

Settlement Negotiations:  Nothing meaningful

The case is Finance of America, Reverse v. Celia A. Hopken, case number DC-16-16418, in the 162nd District Court in Dallas County, Texas. Finance of America Reverse was represented by Dominique Varner, Rachel Donnelly, and Nathan J. Milliron of HUGHES, WATTERS & ASKANASE, LLP.

A copy of the jury verdict can be found here.

A copy of the final judgment can be found here

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