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People's United Bank v. Mountain Home Developers of

March 12, 2012

PEOPLE'S UNITED BANK
v.
MOUNTAIN HOME DEVELOPERS OF SUNAPEE, LLC; DANA MICHAEL STEVENS, CHARLES TERRY FINCH, ROBERT FLANDERS, GARY WILLIAMS, GINA WILLIAMS, AND BARDON FLANDERS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Landya McCafferty United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

People's United Bank ("PU Bank"), as mortgagee, seeks to recover the difference between the amount it realized from a foreclosure sale and the amount defendants (hereinafter "Mountain Home"), as mortgagors, still owe on loans made to them by PU Bank's predecessor in interest, Butler Bank ("Butler"). Mountain Home has asserted counterclaims for breach of the fiduciary duties of good faith and due diligence (Count I), breach of contract and/or the requirements of N.H. Rev. Stat.

Ann. ("RSA") chapter 479 (Count II), and negligence (Count III). Before the court is PU Bank's motion to dismiss Mountain Home's counterclaims. Mountain Home objects. For the reasons that follow, PU Bank's motion to dismiss is granted in part and denied in part.

The Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted," Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), requires the court to conduct a limited inquiry, focusing not on "whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). That is, the complaint "must contain 'enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence' supporting the claims." Fantini v. Salem State Coll., 557 F.3d 22, 26 (1st Cir. 2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a trial court "accept[s] as true all well-pled facts in the complaint and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of plaintiffs." Plumbers' Union Local No. 12 Pension Fund v. Nomura Asset Acceptance Corp., 632 F.3d 762, 771 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting SEC v. Tambone, 597 F.3d 436, 441 (1st Cir. 2010)). But, "naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement need not be accepted." Plumbers' Union, 632 F.3d at 771 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Maldonado v. Fontanes, 568 F.3d 263, 266 (1st Cir. 2009)). Moreover, "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" United Auto., Aero., Agric. Implement Workers of Am. Int'l Union v. Fortuno, 633 F.3d 37, 41 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." United Auto. Workers, 633 F.3d at 40 (citation omitted). On the other hand, a Rule 12(b)(6) motion should be granted if "the facts, evaluated in

[a] plaintiff-friendly manner, [do not] contain enough meat to support a reasonable expectation that an actionable claim may exist." Andrew Robinson Int'l, Inc. v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 547 F.3d 48, 51 (1st Cir. 2008) (citations omitted). That is, "[i]f the factual allegations in the complaint are too meager, vague, or conclusory to remove the possibility of relief from the realm of mere conjecture, the complaint is open to dismissal." Plumbers' Union, 632 F.3d at 771 (citation omitted).

Background

Except as otherwise indicated, the following facts are drawn from Mountain Home's counterclaim. See Plumbers' Union, 632 F.3d at 771.

Mountain Home sought to develop a tract of land in Sunapee, New Hampshire, by building high-end duplexes. To finance the project, Mountain Home received two loans from Butler and gave two promissory notes in return. Later, Mountain Home entered into a forbearance agreement with Butler that may have involved a third promissory note.

On January 25, 2011, after it had succeeded to Butler's interests, PU Bank informed Mountain Home of its intent to foreclose on the property securing the notes due to Mountain Home's failure to repay the loans. At the time of the foreclosure, Mountain Home had improved the property by constructing a building that housed two 2,000-square-foot condominium units, by paving more than 1,000 feet of roadways, and by installing underground electrical lines to some lots.

In preparation for the foreclosure sale, PU Bank retained an appraiser, MRA, Inc. ("MRA"). PU Bank asked MRA to appraise the property in two ways, as a development of duplex condominiums, and as a development of single-family homes. MRA performed only the first appraisal, but noted that under the second approach, the property's appraised value would have been higher. Mountain Home does not allege the value MRA placed on the property or how much more the property would have been worth if used for single-family homes. Mountain Home does, however, allege that when it received a copy of the MRA appraisal, on a date it does not include in its factual allegations (but apparently before the foreclosure sale), it informed PU Bank that it disputed the value MRA placed on the property. With regard to the sale itself, PU Bank posted notice of the sale in The Union Leader, but, according to Mountain Home, did not post notice "in a newspaper within Sullivan County," Def.'s First Am. Answer & Countercls. (hereinafter "Answer") (doc. no. 12) ¶ 65. Mountain Home does not further define the phrase "within Sullivan county."

On May 4, 2011, PU Bank conducted a foreclosure sale, and in so doing, relied on the property value set forth in MRA's appraisal. The property was sold, to a buyer Mountain Home does not identify, for $650,000. According to PU Bank's complaint, as of the first week of August 2011, i.e., three months after the foreclosure sale, Mountain Home still owed $678,997.17 in unpaid principal, $85,001.72 in accrued interest, $4,737.09 in late fees, and $87,594.19 in fees and expenses PU Bank incurred to collect from Mountain Home. See Compl. (doc. no. 1) ¶¶ 23-26. In its Answer, Mountain Home does not dispute that some amount of unpaid principal and interest remained after the sale, but only denies the accuracy of the amounts alleged in PU Bank's complaint. See Answer ¶¶ 23-24.

Based on the foregoing, Mountain Home asserts that PU Bank is liable for: (1) breach of fiduciary duty, because it failed to conduct the foreclosure sale with good faith and due diligence; (2) breach of contract, because it failed to provide notice of the sale in accordance with RSA 479:25, I; and (3) negligence, because it "obtain[ed] an appraisal that it ...


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