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Decided: July 7, 2015

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgement to the Mercedes-Benz Credit Corporation (“MBCC”).

This case was an appeal from the district court’s grant of summary judgement to MBCC. Virginia Poindexter (“Poindexter”) originally purchased a car from a dealer in Virginia, and although she was originally in a contract with the dealer, the dealer assigned that contract to MBCC. Subsequent to that assignment, Poindexter chose to participate in MBCC’s Owner’s Choice program, whereby “Poindexter would grant MBCC a lien against her Potomac Falls residence by a deed of trust (“Deed”) as security for the outstanding automobile loan.” This program would allow her to make the interest deductible for federal tax purposes. Poindexter signed a disclosure allowing the loan to be governed by the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act “(RESPA), executed a Deed of Trust to MBCC, and that deed was properly recorded. Although under the terms of the Deed MBCC would release the lien upon full payment, when Poindexter traded in her car for another one, her obligation to pay was terminated and MBCC failed to release the Deed. When Poindexter tried to refinance her existing mortgage, this error was discovered, she was denied, and thereafter filed suit against MBCC. MBCC then filed a certificate that released the lien, and moved for summary judgment, claiming that Poindexter’s claims were time-barred and that she failed to make the necessary showing. The district court granted summary judgment, and Poindexter appealed.

The Fourth Circuit began by determining that it would review the case de novo, and that it would examine each of the claims set forth by Poindexter. First, the Court looked at the breach of contract claim. At the outset, the Court noted that Poindexter had conceded on appeal that her claim was untimely, but that she nevertheless asserts that MBCC should be equitably estopped from using the statute of limitations against her. The Court quickly disposed of this argument, saying that she did not show by “clear, precise, and unequivocal evidence” that she fulfilled the conditions for equitable estoppel. Specifically, the Court noted that there was nothing in the record that showed that Poindexter was unable to get information about the status of the MBCC lien, and that there was no evidence of a false representation or a concealment of a material fact. Turning to the slander of title claim, the Court quickly dismissed that claim because the record did not contain any evidence that MBCC acted with any form of malice when it failed to file a timely certificate of satisfaction. The Court then looked at Poindexter’s RESPA claim, which required in part that Poindexter had to have sent MBCC a “qualified written request for information relating to the servicing of such loan.” Although Poindexter contended that the multiple requests she made to MBCC satisfied this requirement, the Court agreed with the district court that those requests did not satisfy the definition. Not only were the majority of the requests not written, they also did not qualify because they did not relate to the servicing of a RESPA loan. The Court looked to a Ninth Circuit case for guidance, and applied that case to determine that these requests were not related to servicing the loan. The Court then turned to the VCPA claims, and agreed with the district court’s ruling because Poindexter entered into a modification of her loan with MBCC, so they fell under the mortgage lender exception to the statute. Finally, the Court looked at Poindexter’s claims under Virginia statute § 55-66.3. However, the Fourth Circuit also agreed with the district court that this claim fell outside the two-year statutory limitation. Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s judgment. The Court did, however, did write a cautionary note at the end of its opinion criticizing MBCC and advising it to review its business practices, as Poindexter’s claims might have been viable if she had raised them in the correct timeframe.

Full opinion

Jennie Rischbieter