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Washington v. Ameriquest Mortgage Co.

July 11, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar


Now before this Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.


In February 2003, plaintiff Rochelle Whyte Washington received a telephone call at home from Michael Steffens, an employee of Ameriquest Mortgage Company ("Ameriquest"). Steffens solicited Whyte Washington to refinance the mortgage on the home she and her husband owned in Evanston, Illinois. Whyte Washington testified that Steffens told her that Ameriquest would lower her interest rate and monthly payment compared to her then-present mortgage, and that she informed him that she would apply for a new mortgage if it could do those things. Ameriquest disputes that Steffens or any Ameriquest representative ever told Whyte Washington that they would lower her interest rate or monthly payment. Whyte Washington admits that she did not tell Steffens how much she owed on her existing loan or what her monthly payment was during their first conversation, or discuss what the monthly payment amount on the proposed Ameriquest loan would be during her second conversation with Steffens. During one of two telephone calls with Steffens, Whyte Washington provided her name, her husband Sidney Washington's name, their social security numbers, and their address to Steffens. Whyte Washington was at the time taking the prescription drug Vicodin to manage pain from a severe case of shingles. Steffens informed Whyte Washington that Ameriquest would mail all the necessary loan paperwork to her house.

Whyte Washington has a tenth-grade education. Her husband attended two years of college. Whyte Washington suffers from glaucoma and diabetes and has lost the sight in one eye. In the 1980s, Whyte Washington served approximately six years as an elected alderman in the City of Evanston, Illinois. She never oversaw a budget or finance committee and characterizes herself as "bad with figures." Whyte Washington worked as a travel agent for fifteen-plus years. In approximately 1990, Whyte Washington opened her own travel agency, Sichelle Travel. The business existed for approximately one year but then failed. Whyte Washington handles all the bills for herself and her husband. Washington does not ask questions about finances.

As part of the loan application process, Ameriquest prepared a Good-Faith Estimate and a Preliminary Truth-In-Lending Disclosure Statement, both dated February 14, 2003. The Good Faith Estimate disclosed a thirty-year loan of $100,000 at a variable interest rate of 8.8%, and $5,636 in settlement charges. The preliminary Truth-In-Lending disclosure form disclosed an annual percentage rate of 9.32%. Ameriquest then sent a packet of loan paperwork, including the GFE and preliminary Truth in Lending Disclosures, to Whyte Washington via FedEx.

On February 27, 2003, Whyte Washington reviewed the paperwork Ameriquest had sent to her house. She had a question about a disclosure that appeared to indicate she and her husband had requested a cash pay-out of approximately $1,000 for themselves from the loan proceeds. With her husband, she went to the Ameriquest office in Skokie, Illinois, in the late afternoon of February 27, 2003. At the office, which the Washingtons described as set up like a telemarketing operation, they met with Steffens and at least two other Ameriquest employees. Although the Washingtons had no appointment or closing date for their loan application, the Ameriquest employees brought a stack of loan closing paperwork to them and indicated they should complete it. The Washingtons signed or initialed approximately 150 pages of documents, including an Ameriquest form document titled "Borrower's Final Acknowledgment of Loan Terms"; a typed loan application;*fn2 a note; a mortgage; a HUD-1 Settlement Statement disclosing an "estimated settlement date" of March 6, 2003; a final Truth In Lending Act Disclosure Statement; a "lender's copy" of a Truth In Lending Notice of Right to Cancel; and an Ameriquest form document titled "One-Week Cancellation Period."

The Washingtons did not read any of the documents before they signed them. At most, Ms. Whyte Washington may have "glanced" at them. The Washingtons testified that no one at Ameriquest prevented them from reading the documents, but also testified that the closing occurred at the end of the business day and that the Ameriquest employees indicated that the Washingtons should just sign the papers because the office was closing. In addition, the Washingtons testified that Ameriquest employees did not explain what the various documents were or describe their purpose. Whyte Washington characterized the room where the closing occurred as "small" and "dark," and stated that she had difficulty reading the documents.

Ameriquest did not provide the Washingtons with copies of the documents that they could take home with them. Specifically, the Washingtons did not have any copies of the mortgage or the TILA disclosures when they left Ameriquest on February 27, 2003. Instead, Ameriquest employees told the Washingtons that someone would drop off copies at the Washingtons' home within a couple of days. After approximately two weeks, the Washingtons had not received copies of their loan paperwork from Ameriquest. They went back to the Skokie office, where they learned that Michael Steffens had "moved on." An Ameriquest employee photocopied their paperwork while they waited.

In reading the loan paperwork once they returned home, specifically the Final Acknowledgment of Loan Terms form, the Washingtons learned that Ameriquest had made them a thirty-year loan of $193,000 at a variable interest rate of not less than 9.99%*fn3 and an annual percentage rate of 10.452%. In addition, the settlement charges had increased from $5,777.10 to $9,017.32. These terms differed significantly from the Good Faith Estimate and preliminary Truth in Lending Disclosure. There was only one copy of a completed Notice of Right to Cancel included in the photocopies Ameriquest gave to the Washingtons when they went to the Ameriquest office. The Ameriquest loan file for the Washingtons' loan likewise contains only one copy of a completed Notice of Right to Cancel Form.

Also included in the photocopied documents were handwritten statements purportedly disclosing that Rochelle Whyte Washington "ma[d]e [$]4,500 p.Mo. (sic) as an office manager for Washington Charter home based business," and that Sidney Washington made "[$]6,000 per month as a driver for Washington Charter, home based business." The statements are written in the same handwriting and appear to be signed by Rochelle Whyte Washington and Sidney Washington, respectively. At their depositions, both Whyte Washington and Washington testified that they had never worked for a company called Washington Charter. Indeed, they had never heard of such a company. Neither plaintiff has ever had a home-based business. Whyte Washington testified that she had never worked as an office manager. Washington testified that his position as a PACE bus driver provided his sole income. The Washingtons' combined gross annual income in tax year 2003 was $46,549. Of this, $40,141.48 represented Washington's salary as a bus driver. Whyte Washington received Social Security retirement income, a social security benefit for her daughter and an adoption subsidy for her son. On the Uniform Residential Loan Application photocopied by Ameriquest, Whyte Washington and Washington are listed respectively as office manager and driver of Washington Charter. The form also discloses that Washington has been "employed in this line of work/profession" for two years. At his deposition, Washington testified that he had been a bus driver for PACE (and its predecessors) since 1978.

The loan documents that Ameriquest photocopied included legible copies of both Whyte Washington's and Washington's driver's licenses; a document called "I.D. Verification Form"; a document called "Statement of Identity"; and a copy of a merged credit report. All four documents disclose the plaintiffs' social security numbers. According to the dates of birth on the Washingtons' drivers licenses and the Washingtons' own deposition testimony, Whyte Washington was 68 and Washington was 64 in February 2003. By contrast, the Uniform Residential Loan Application lists them both as 61 years old. In addition, the Ameriquest loan file contained a blank "Statement of Identity" form and a blank "Cash-Out Statement" form, both signed by the plaintiffs. It also contained an "I.D. Verification Form" with the plaintiffs' names typed on it and bearing their signatures; no other identification information was provided on the form.

The TILA Disclosure Statement that Ameriquest photocopied for the Washingtons approximately two weeks after their loan closing provides that "payments shall be due beginning" on "05/01/2002." It states that 360 payments will be due and gives the due date of the final payment. The statement does not use the word "monthly" to describe the interval at which payments are due. It does not list the due date of each of the 360 loan payments.*fn4 Whyte Washington testified at her deposition that her previous mortgage payments had been due monthly and that she understood that the payments on the Ameriquest mortgage would be due monthly as well. When asked at her deposition, however, Whyte Washington could not calculate that 360 months was 30 years.

At the time the Washingtons returned to Ameriquest's office and requested copies of their loan paperwork, Ameriquest provided two documents relating to a borrower's right to rescind his or her loan. One document was the statutorily-required Notice of Right to Cancel. The Notice of Right to Cancel states:

You are entering into a transaction that will result in a mortgage/lien/security interest on your home. You have a legal right under federal law to cancel this transaction, without cost, within THREE BUSINESS ...

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