In Buckingham v. Fisher, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed the trial court’s denial of a motion to stay or dismiss a foreclosure proceeding pursuant to Maryland Rule 14-211 without an evidentiary hearing, where the challengers failed to state with particularity the basis for their claims of forgery or that the notice of sale was deficient.
In doing so, the Court elaborated that “bare assertions of a broad defense to the validity of a lien instrument will not be sufficient,” because “the pleading standard is more exacting than the pleading standard for an initial complaint.[,]” and that “under Rule 14-211, a party must plead all elements of a valid defense with particularity.” Op. at 9.
A copy of the opinion is available at: http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2015/2416s13.pdf
In Buckingham, the personal representatives of the estate of the borrower (“Buckingham”) filed a motion to stay or dismiss the foreclosure sale on two grounds. First, Buckingham claimed that one of the signatures of a deceased co-borrower was not authentic, according to the opinion of a handwriting expert, whose affidavit opined that “there is a strong possibility that the co-borrower did not sign” the deed of trust. Second, Buckingham claimed the notice of foreclosure sale was insufficient to inform the interested parties of the details of the foreclosure sale because (i) in identifying the lien instrument, it referenced a 1997 modification to the original deed of trust, rather than the 2006 modification that was attached to the initial filings; (ii) the notice incorrectly indicated that the lien instrument was signed by the borrower with reference to his legal guardian, although such guardianship was not established until after the document had been executed; and (iii) the notice was not served on counsel of record.
On the day Buckingham filed the motion, the trial court held an initial hearing, and following argument, denied the motion without scheduling an evidentiary hearing on the merits of the defenses. However, the trial court ordered that the foreclosure sale be rescheduled, to accommodate service on Buckingham’s counsel. Thereafter, the property was sold, and Buckingham appealed, asserting an entitlement to an evidentiary hearing before the motion could be denied.
On appeal, the Court affirmed that the trial court was not required to hold an evidentiary hearing, holding that Rule 14-211 required “that the factual and legal basis of a defense must be stated ‘with particularity’ and that any available supporting documents must be provided.” Op. 7.
Maryland Rule 14-211 provides the mechanism for an interested party to challenge a foreclosure pre-sale by filing a motion to stay or dismiss the foreclosure proceeding. Under Rule 14-211(a)(3) such motion must “(A) be under oath or supported by an affidavit; (B) state with particularity the factual and legal basis of each defense that the moving party has to the validity of the lien or the lien instrument or to the right of the plaintiff to foreclose in the pending action; [and] (C) be accompanied by any supporting documents or other documents or other material in the possession or control of the moving party[.]” Op. at 6 (emphasis in opinion).
Further, Maryland Rule 14-211(b)(1) provides the trial court with the discretion to deny such motion before holding a hearing on the merits, where the motion does not substantially comply with the requirements of the Rule, or does not state on its face a valid defense to the validity of the lien, lien instrument, or the right to foreclose. See Op. at 8 (citing Rule 14-211(b)(1)). In contrast, under Rule 14-211(b)(2), “[i]f the [trial] court finds that the motion was timely, complies with the requirements of the Rule, and states a valid defense, then an evidentiary hearing on the merits is required before the [trial] court makes a final determination on whether to grant or deny the motion.” Op. at 8.
In addressing the particularity requirement of Rule 14-211(a)(3), the Court held that “particularity means that each element of a defense must be accompanied by some level of factual and legal support. General allegations will not be sufficient to raise a valid defense requiring an evidentiary hearing on the merits.” Op. at 10.
Applying that standard, Court determined that Buckingham’s forgery allegations were insufficient. Notably, the definition of forgery is “ false making or material alteration,  with intend to defraud,  of any writing which, if genuine, might be of legal efficacy or the foundation of legal liability.” Op. at 12 (quotations omitted). According to the Court, Buckingham’s allegations met the first and third elements, but failed to assert “with particularity or without” that there was an intent to defraud. Id. “In the absence of any allegation and some evidentiary support for the existence of an intent to defraud, they have failed to sufficiently allege the grounds for their motion, and as a result, it was property denied without an evidentiary hearing.” Id.
As to the notice of sale, the Court determined that, although Buckingham identified inconsistencies in the notice regarding identification of the lien instrument, Buckingham failed to allege with particularity the legal grounds pursuant to which the trial courts could determine that the notice would prohibit the foreclosure trustees from proceeding with the sale. The Court explained that Rule 14-210(a) requires a foreclosing party to publish prior notice of the time, place and terms of sale, and that “the notice must contain a description or the property that is sufficient to enable an ordinary person to identify the property and seek further information.” Op. at 13. Observing that the notice at issue was, in fact, sufficient to enable the Buckingham to protect their interest in the property by filing the Rule 14-211 motion, the Court further noted that “[t]he rule does not require that the notice perfectly identify the lien instrument upon which the sale is proceeding.” Op. at 14 n.5. Finally, as to Buckingham’s claim that counsel was not notified of the sale, the Court determined that no error was manifest, as the original sale date was delayed to enable copies of all filings to be furnished to Buckingham’s counsel.
Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s denial of Buckingham’s motion to stay and dismiss, determining that no evidentiary hearing on the merits was required prior to denial under Rule 14-211.