United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
ANNEMARIE CARNEY AXON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court is Defendant Ditech Financial LLC's
(“Ditech”) unopposed motion for summary judgment
on all claims brought by Plaintiff Nickels Bowen Peeples.
(Doc. 42). Mr. Peeples alleges that Ditech wrongfully claimed
an adverse interest in Mr. Peeples' property and
wrongfully initiated and advertised foreclosure proceedings
against the same property. (Doc. 18 at 3 ¶¶ 8, 13). Mr.
Peeples brings various state law tort claims against Ditech
for monetary, injunctive, and declaratory relief.
court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN
PART Ditech's motion for summary judgment.
First, the court STAYS the proceedings with
respect to Counts Two, Three, and Four because Ditech has
notified the court of its voluntary petition for bankruptcy
relief under Chapter 11, which operates as an automatic stay
of those counts under 11 U.S.C. § 362. As a result, the
court DENIES the motion for summary judgment
on Counts Two, Three and Four WITHOUT
PREJUDICE to refiling the motion if and when the
automatic stay is lifted. But because the bankruptcy court
granted Ditech limited relief from the automatic stay to
assert a defense in title disputes, the stay does not
preclude the court's consideration of Counts One and
Five. The court GRANTS summary judgment on
Counts One and Five because the undisputed evidence
establishes that the mortgage was valid.
motion for summary judgment, the court “draw[s] all
inferences and review[s] all evidence in the light most
favorable to the non-moving party.” Hamilton v.
Southland Christian Sch., Inc., 680 F.3d 1316, 1318
(11th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks omitted). Although Mr.
Peeples did not respond to the motion for summary judgment,
the court has reviewed “all of the evidentiary
materials submitted in support of the motion for summary
judgment.” United States v. One Piece of Real Prop.
Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d
1099, 1101-02 (11th Cir. 2004). The court draws its
description of the facts from those evidentiary materials.
27, 2007, Deidra Y. Sanders, then Deidra Y. Peeples,
purchased property located at 1281 Sanie Road, Branchville,
Alabama 35210. (Doc. 42-1 at 3 ¶ 3). To finance the
purchase of the property, Ms. Sanders entered into and
executed a promissory note and mortgage. (Id. at 3
¶ 4). On June 26, 2009, Ms. Sanders and Mr. Peeples
divorced and Ms. Sanders transferred her interest in the
property to Mr. Peeples. (Id. at 4 ¶ 11). The
divorce required Mr. Peeples to obtain a mortgage to purchase
the property in his name and required Ms. Sanders to convey
the property to Mr. Peeples by quit claim. (Id. at 4
¶¶ 11-12). Ms. Sanders conveyed the property to Mr.
Peeples by quit claim deed on September 3, 2009 (doc. 42-1 at
4 ¶ 12), but it appears he never obtained a mortgage in
his own name (see doc. 18 at 3 ¶¶ 9, 11).
In October 2012, Ms. Sanders filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
(Doc. 42-1 at 4¶ 17). The bankruptcy court discharged
Ms. Sanders' case in 2013. (Id.).
2017, the note fell into default and Ditech initiated
foreclosure proceedings. (See Doc. 3-5). Ditech
published a foreclosure sale notice and advertised a
foreclosure sale of the property for July 6, 2017.
(See Doc. 18 at 3 ¶ 7).
the foreclosure sale, Mr. Peeples filed suit in the Circuit
Court of St. Clair County, Alabama, Ashville Division. (Doc.
1-2). He seeks injunctive and declaratory relief based on a
claim for quiet title (“Counts One and Five”).
(Doc. 18 at 5-7, 12-13). He also seeks monetary damages for
(1) slander of title (“Count Two”); (2) being
placed in a false light (“Count Three”); and (3)
defamation, libel, or slander (“Count Four”).
(Doc. 18 at 7-12). Ditech removed the case to this court.
moves for summary judgment on all counts of the complaint.
(Doc. 42). After briefing was complete on the motion for
summary judgment, however, Ditech filed in this court a
notice of its voluntary petition for chapter 11 bankruptcy.
(See Docs. 51, 51-1). Under 11 U.S.C. § 362(a),
filing a bankruptcy petition typically operates as an
automatic stay of any judicial action or proceeding against
the debtor. The bankruptcy court has granted Ditech limited
relief from the automatic stay, allowing it to assert a
defense in title disputes. (Doc. 51-2 at 8, 11). Accordingly,
the court finds that the automatic stay does not preclude
this court's consideration of the motion for summary
judgment on Counts One and Five. The automatic stay does,
however, apply to Counts Two, Three, and Four, so the court
DENIES the motion for summary judgment on
those counts WITHOUT PREJUDICE to refiling
if and when the automatic stay is lifted.
Counts One and Five, summary judgment is appropriate
“if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a).
Although Mr. Peeples has not responded to Ditech's motion
for summary judgment, this court “cannot base the entry
of summary judgment on the mere fact that the motion was
unopposed, but, rather, must consider the merits of the
motion.” United States v. One Piece of Real Prop.
Located at 5800 SW 74th Ave., Miami, Fla., 363 F.3d
1099, 1101 (11th Cir. 2004). The court therefore will proceed
to consider the merits of the motion as to Counts One and
Count One, Mr. Peeples requests an order compelling Ditech to
transfer legal title and possession of the property to him
and a declaration that Ditech has no claim to the property,
all on the basis that the mortgage is invalid. (Doc. 18 at 7
¶ 34). Mr. Peeples also requests that the court enjoin
Ditech from claiming any interest in the property and
requests that the court grant him costs incurred while filing
suit. (Id.). In Count Five, Mr. Peeples alleges that
Ditech “obtained a mortgage lien on Plaintiff's
property without consent of the Plaintiff and without
Plaintiff's authorization or knowledge, ” and
requests that the court declare the mortgage lien invalid and
void. (Doc. 18 at 12 ¶ 71).
support of his challenge to the validity of the mortgage, Mr.
Peeples contends that a homestead exemption invalidates the
mortgage and that Ms. Sanders' bankruptcy proceeding
discharged the debt under the mortgage. (Doc. 18 at 6
¶¶ 31-32). The court rejects both arguments.