It started out as a simple loan modification for a troubled homeowner. It turned into a $16.2 million jury verdict against a nationwide loan-servicing company.
A Yuba Superior Court jury this week awarded $16.2 million in damages to a homeowner who nearly lost his home to foreclosure after the loan servicer botched his mortgage modification, the homeowner’s lawyers said Friday.
Phillip Linza, a homeowner in Plumas Lake, was awarded the damages after a three-year battle against PHH Mortgage Services, a loan servicer based in Mount Laurel, N.J.
Linza’s attorneys, Andre Chernay and Jon Oldenburg of the United Law Center in Roseville, said the award included $514,000 in compensatory damages and $15.7 million in punitive damages.
They said it ranked among the biggest jury awards they’ve encountered in years of representing homeowners in foreclosure and other mortgage-related cases.
“This is really the highest we’ve seen,” Oldenburg said. “It’s a huge figure.”
PHH said it plans to “seek further judicial review of the case and verdict,” which it said wasn’t supported by the facts. It called the jury’s award “grossly disproportionate to any alleged damages” and added, “We take our responsibilities to borrowers seriously and remain commited to meeting all of our obligations as a servicer.”
Chernay said the case began when Linza, a salesman, fell on hard times after buying a home in 2006 for approximately $280,000. Court records show Linza filed for personal bankruptcy protection in October 2009.
According to the lawsuit, PHH agreed in late 2010 to a loan modification that was supposed to reduce Linza’s monthly payments to $1,543 from $2,100. The new loan was supposed to take effect in January 2011, Chernay said.
After Linza made three monthly payments under the new terms, PHH began sending him letters demanding different amounts. First it said his new payment was $2,350 a month – slightly higher than before the modification. Later it sent him a notice saying he owed PHH $7,056. The company also told him it wasn’t applying his monthly payments to his loan balance because he wasn’t paying the proper amount, according to Chernay.
“It was their mistake as of January 1 (2011) that created this whole scenario,” Chernay said.
Despite numerous phone calls and letters, Chernay said Linza wasn’t able to resolve the problem. After learning that his payments weren’t being used to reduce his balance, he stopped sending money to PHH, the lawyer said.
In 2012, the loan-servicing company initiated foreclosure proceedings. The proceedings halted when the Roseville law firm stepped in and filed suit on Linza’s behalf, Chernay said.
Even with the foreclosure stopped, Linza’s credit rating suffered and he endured emotional stress, Chernay said.
“If the Yuba County jury hadn’t saved him, the house would have been gone and he would have had to move in with his daughter in Colorado,” Chernay said.
Call The Bee’s Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.