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Binkley v. American Equity Mortgage, Inc.

Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc

November 12, 2014

THOMAS BINKLEY, HARLENE J. BINKLEY, ROLAND E. STURHAHN, AND SUSAN J. STURHAHN, Appellants,
v.
AMERICAN EQUITY MORTGAGE, INC., Respondent

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ST. LOUIS COUNTY. The Honorable Tom DePriest, Jr., Judge.

The property owners were represented by Robert Schultz III and Ronald J. Eisenberg of Schultz & Associates LLP in Chesterfield.

American Equity was represented by David P. Stoeberl, Tina N. Babel and Lauren M. Wacker of Carmody MacDonald PC in St. Louis.

OPINION

Page 195

Mary R. Russell, Chief Justice.

Thomas and Harlene Binkley and Roland and Susan Sturhahn (collectively " property owners" ) appeal from the trial court's judgment in favor of American Equity Mortgage, Inc. (" mortgage company" ) on their claims that, by preparing deeds of trust and promissory notes for the property owners, the mortgage company: (1) violated sections 484.010.2 and 484.020[1] by engaging in " law business" ; (2) violated the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA); and (3) was unjustly enriched. Because the property owners did not dispute that the mortgage company did not charge a separate fee or vary its fees for these actions, there were no disputed material facts, entitling the mortgage company to summary judgment as a matter of law. The trial court's judgment is affirmed.[2]

Factual Background

The property owners refinanced their residential mortgages through the mortgage company. In association with the Binkleys' loan, the mortgage company prepared a HUD-1 settlement statement,[3] which reflected an origination charge of $2,320.93. The charge included fees for Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems (MERS), loan origination, processing, underwriting, wire and administration. The HUD-1 did not reflect a charge for document preparation. In conjunction with the Sturhahns' loan, the mortgage company prepared a HUD-1 settlement statement, which included a loan origination fee of $2,238. The HUD-1 included a line labeled " Document preparation to," which

Page 196

was blank. In both transactions, the mortgage company prepared notes, deeds of trust and/or planned unit development (PUD) riders[4] that it generated from software licensed from a third-party vendor.

The property owners filed a class action petition against the mortgage company. In Count I, they alleged that the mortgage company violated sections 484.010.2 and 484.020 when it " procured or assisted in the drawing for a valuable consideration of legal documents, including deeds of trusts, notes, and/or a PUD rider. . . ." In Count II, the property owners alleged that, by engaging in law business, the mortgage company committed an unlawful practice in violation of the MMPA. In Count III, the property owners contended that the mortgage company was unjustly enriched because it charged for services it did not perform or did not perform lawfully.

The mortgage company filed a motion for summary judgment and conceded, for the purposes of the motion only, that it procured legal documents within the meaning of section 484.010.2. It argued it was entitled to summary judgment, however, because it did not charge a separate, additional fee for document preparation. It also contended that because the MMPA and unjust enrichment claims were based on the same conduct underlying the property owners' sections 484.010.2 and 484.020 claim, those claims failed as a matter of law. The trial court granted the mortgage company judgment on all three counts. The property owners appeal.[5]

Standard of Review

The review of an entry of summary judgment is de novo. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp. v. Mid-Am. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 376 (Mo. banc 1993). Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party has demonstrated, on the basis of facts as to which there is no genuine dispute, a right to judgment as a matter of law. Id.; Rule 74.04(c). A defending party may demonstrate entitlement to summary judgment by showing that the plaintiff cannot prove one or more elements of the claim. Humane Society of U.S. v. State, 405 S.W.3d 532, 535 (Mo. banc 2013). When reviewing a trial court's grant of ...


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