Court: TN Court of Appeals
Douglas Vernon Mashek and Deborah A. Mashek, Powell, Tennessee, Pro Se.
W. Morris Kizer, Knoxville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Tennessee State Bank.
This case involves a home equity line of credit (“HELOC”) extended to the co-defendant, Douglas V. Mashek, by the plaintiff, Tennessee State Bank (“the Bank”), via a promissory note secured by a deed of trust encumbering real property titled to Mr. Mashek and acquired during Mr. Mashek’s marriage to the co-defendant, Deborah A. Mashek. When the Bank subsequently attempted to foreclose on the property, Mr. Mashek objected based on alterations to the deed of trust and a notice of right of rescission that had allegedly occurred after the deed’s execution and prior to recordation. The Bank filed a complaint against the Masheks in the trial court, seeking declaratory judgment that the recorded deed of trust was valid and enforceable, or in the alternative, reformation of the executed deed of trust to conform to the recorded deed. The Bank also named the title company involved in the loan transaction as a third-party defendant, alleging the title company’s liability in the event that the trial court found the deed of trust, either as executed or as recorded, to be unenforceable. The Masheks, proceeding pro se, filed various pleadings in response to the complaint, including a counterclaim against the Bank, alleging, inter alia, common law fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, equitable estoppel, slander of title, statutory estoppel, wrongful foreclosure, and unclean hands. Upon the Bank’s motion for partial summary judgment and following a hearing, the trial court granted the motion as to reformation of the executed deed of trust, declaring the deed, as reformed, to be enforceable and finding that the Bank was entitled to pursue foreclosure proceedings. The trial court found in part that the Bank or its agent(s) had employed “procedurally questionable and perhaps fraudulent” methods that were “at the very least negligent and potentially criminal in nature” to correct mistakes in the executed deed of trust and to, without authorization, affix the Masheks’ initials over a change in a date of signature on the notice of right of rescission. However, having also found that the mistakes corrected were mutual and amounted to scrivener’s errors that were not intended to and did not prejudice the Masheks, the trial court granted the Bank’s request to reform the executed deed of trust. The trial court awarded to the Bank a monetary judgment against Mr. Mashek, as the sole debtor named in the loan documents, in the amount of $294,566.39 for unpaid principal and interest. The trial court also awarded to the Bank reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses in the amount of $8,795.84, limiting such fees to those that “would be expected in an ordinary foreclosure action.” The trial court dismissed the Masheks’ various counterclaims and subsequently denied the Bank’s motion to alter or amend language in the judgment. The Masheks have appealed, and the Bank has raised issues regarding the trial court’s denial of its request to alter the court’s findings and denial of its request for additional attorney’s fees and expenses. Having determined that the Bank or its agent(s) made a unilateral mistake in materially altering the deed of trust after the document’s execution and then recording the altered deed of trust with the unilateral mistake incorporated, we reverse the trial court’s judgment as to the reformation and enforceability of the executed deed of trust. Having also determined that the action of the Bank or its agent(s) in affixing the Masheks’ initials over the altered date on the rescission notice without authorization or notice constituted gross negligence, we reverse the trial court’s finding that no gross negligence occurred but affirm the trial court’s implied finding that the Bank could not succeed in its request to reform the effective date of the rescission notice. However, concluding that no alterations were made to the promissory note, we further determine that the trial court properly found Mr. Mashek to be liable for the unpaid principal and interest due under the terms of the note. We therefore affirm the trial court’s $294,566.39 monetary judgment against Mr. Mashek. We vacate the trial court’s award of attorney’s fees and expenses to the Bank and remand for a hearing to determine the amount of attorney’s fees and expenses incurred by the Bank solely to obtain a judgment based on the promissory note. We affirm the trial court’s judgment in all other respects, including its denial of the Bank’s request for additional attorney’s fees and expenses and its denial of the Bank’s motion to alter or amend the language of the judgment. Finally, we clarify that no evidence has been presented in this case to support a finding of the intent necessary for forgery as a cause of action against the Bank or its agent(s).