A federal district court has dismissed with prejudice a Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) class action filed against JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. and related entities on statute of limitations grounds a year after finding that the continuing violations doctrine applied to RESPA.
Plaintiffs claimed that defendants violated RESPA when JPMorgan created captive reinsurers to reinsure private mortgage insurance. Plaintiffs alleged that JPMorgan received kickbacks from the reinsurers, which did not assume any real risk and provided no real services. Defendants moved to dismiss the initial complaint on the basis that the claims were untimely under RESPA's one year statute of limitations. In response, plaintiffs relied (1) on the argument that the limitations period was tolled by the filing of an earlier class action called Samp v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., which asserted similar claims on behalf of the same putative class members, under the doctrine established by the Supreme Court in American Pipe American Pipe & Construction Co. v. Utah, and (2) on the doctrine of equitable tolling. While that motion was pending, the Third Circuit decided Cunningham v. M & T Bank Corp., in which it held that the equitable tolling doctrine did not save very similar RESPA claims, as plaintiffs in that suit knew or should have known of their claims at the time they were provided with certain disclosures regarding reinsurance. Plaintiffs in the JPMorgan case then moved to amend their complaint to abandon their reliance on equitable tolling, instead asserting that, under the continuing violations doctrine, their RESPA claims were triggered each time a kickback payment was made. The court found that this doctrine applied to such RESPA claims and allowed the amendment.
Defendants moved to dismiss the amended complaint, again asserting that the RESPA claims were time-barred. In its order, the court reiterated its position that the continuing violations doctrine could be applied to the RESPA claims and rejected defendants' argument that plaintiffs' knowledge of their claims more than one year before filing their complaint defeated the application of this doctrine. Such knowledge was irrelevant, the court found, as plaintiffs did "not seek to aggregate earlier wrongful acts that would otherwise be untimely," but limited their claims to conduct occurring within one year prior to the date of accrual.
Plaintiffs victory on this point did not save their RESPA claims, however, as the court then found that plaintiffs had forfeited the tolling made possible by American Pipe because they filed their complaint before the issue of class certification was resolved in the earlier Samp class action. Finding that this was a question of first impression in the Third Circuit, the court found that the purpose of the American Pipe doctrine was to avoid forcing putative class members to file individual suits to avoid the operation of the statute of limitations, and that this purpose would not be served if parties could, after taking advantage of this tolling and file duplicative lawsuits before the issue of class certification was decided in the earlier-filed class action. Thus, the court dismissed plaintiffs' RESPA claims with prejudice as time-barred and, refusing to exercise ancillary jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims, dismissed those claims without prejudice. filed by plaintiffs, reaffirming its decision that plaintiffs forfeited American Pipe tolling. The court has also denied a motion to intervene by parties seeking to become class representatives, finding that it lacked jurisdiction to continue the matter after dismissing it prior to class certification and that there was no entity with which to intervene.
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