And so it begins …

For several years, I’d been involved in a weekly poker game with some really great guys.  A few months earlier, we had all learned that one of the guys was getting a divorce.  This night, we learned his divorce was now final.

What had once been a topic to be avoided, was now open conversation.  Not only that, but the newly divorced guy revealed that all of the nitty, gritty details of what he’d been going through was available online. You see, Cobb County, Georgia was one of the first counties in our state that had all of their court records online, available for anyone to see.

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To Sue, or Not to Sue?

For almost 15 months, my wife and I had been attempting to work with Bank of America on either a mortgage modification, a short-sale, or a deed in lieu of foreclosure.  We were now coming down to the wire, as our house was scheduled to be foreclosed on June 7th.

Even so, we felt confident that we were going to get a modification offer from the bank.  Not only we were told that an offer was coming, but for months we’d been told that if we had an open file in review within two weeks of a scheduled foreclosure, the bank would postpone the action.

So on May 31st, we spoke with our bank contact, who at that time said that we did indeed qualify for a postponement, and she just needed to get the paperwork signed to make it official.  As I checked in regularly to see if our postponement had been approved, to my dismay, the answer was repeatedly no.

By this time, I had reviewed many lawsuits against Bank of America in the Cobb County records.  I was amazed to learn the number of wrongful foreclosure lawsuits that the bank had against it, some of which were extremely egregious in the way that the bank had directly contradicted the assurances it had given to their clients.

On the Friday before our scheduled foreclosure, 2 business days before we were to lose our home, I called in to see if our postponement had been approved.  Again, the answer was no — it was still in review.

It was in this moment that we decided to file a lawsuit against the bank.  We would no longer wait on pins and needles, hoping that the bank would live up to their verbal assurances, and we would take control of our destiny.

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My First Lawsuit?

Having made the decision to fight, I searched through the Cobb County records, looking for all of the cases similar to mine.  Based on what I learned, my plan was to seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the scheduled foreclosure action.

While seeing the other lawsuits was very helpful, there was still a lot of information missing.  For example, how do you even file a lawsuit?  Where do you go, what does it cost, and what procedure and policies must you follow?

To get answers to some of these questions, I next bought the book “Represent Yourself in Court,” and I started drafting my pro se action. I spent the next 72 hours reading the book, searching for more information online, learning what I needed to know, and drafting my motion.  By early Monday morning, I was ready to file my first lawsuit.

That Monday morning, the day before our home was scheduled to be foreclosed, I called the bank one last time.  To my surprise, our postponement had finally been approved. Unfortunately, like every other verbal assurance given by the bank, they refused to document in writing that this had occurred.

As a last resort, before filing the lawsuit, I called the law firm handling the foreclosure and asked if they could document the postponement in writing.  At first, they told me they could not get this done until Friday. This was unacceptable, since the foreclosure was scheduled for Tuesday.

I then informed them that I needed to know asap, otherwise I’d have no choice but to file a lawsuit seeking a restraining order to prevent the sale.  While it took some effort, I finally got my written confirmation of the postponement, and I never had to file this motion.

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Bearance, or Forbearance?

On June 13, 2011, after more than 15 months of attempting to work with Bank of America, after skipping contractual obligations on the advice of the bank, after submitting no less than 4 complete applications, after submitting many more supplementary documents, after calling the bank weekly/monthly, after being subjected to misinformation, harassment, and other forms of abuse, after coming within 24 hours of foreclosure, after asking for options including deed in lieu of foreclosure, a short sale, or a modification, we finally received our first modification offer from the bank.

Unfortunately, it didn’t offer any relief.  It didn’t lower our monthly payment, it didn’t lower our balance, and it didn’t change our interest rate. It didn’t even guarantee that our home wouldn’t be foreclosed upon even if we made the new monthly payment amount.

What it did was more than double our monthly payments.

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The Idea for Pro Se Actions

The date is June 21, and I just learned that the Supreme Court had dismissed a class action lawsuit filed against Walmart.  By now, I had spent some time reviewing the civil lawsuits on the Cobb County website.  Frankly, I was surprised to see so many pro se lawsuits.

Anyway, the combination of these two events led me to say “Every woman who feels discriminated against by Walmart should walk over to their superior court, and file suit against Walmart without an attorney (pro se). Once Walmart faces thousands of these individual suits, they will beg the court to convert these claims into a class action.”

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Thanks, But No Thanks !!!

According to Bank of America, at this point, we had two options: accept the modification as is, or refuse the modification and re-apply in 30 days.  On August 4, 2011, we turned down the bank’s “Special Forbearance Agreement,” indicating we would re-apply in 30 days.

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Modification Verbally Approved

After waiting the required 30 days, we called in to Bank of America, indicating that we wanted to re-apply for a modification as instructed previously.  We were told that they would take our application over the phone, which they did.  After crunching the numbers, we were told that our modification had been approved, and that we would get a written proposal in the mail within 10 days.

At this time, we also learned that our home was scheduled for foreclosure on 11/1/11.

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My First Lawsuit Filed

Days after our phone application, we received written notice from the bank that our account had been turned over to a “dedicated customer relationship manager.”  From this day forward, our phone calls were automatically routed to this person, with no other options available.

Because of this change, we called our new contact to verify that our verbally approved modification was still in the works, and to confirm that we would indeed receive written confirmation of this within the 10 day period as promised.  This was especially important to us, as we now had an impending foreclosure date looming on the horizon.

However, every time we tried to reach our new designated contact, she was not available.  And even though her voice mail said that she would return all calls within 24 hours, we never did receive a return call from her.

Fed up with the broken promises, and concerned about the foreclosure scheduled for November 1st, I dusted off the motion for a temporary restraining order that I prepared back in June, and drove over to the Cherokee County Courthouse to file my first lawsuit.

Not knowing what to expect, I walked up to the Clerk of the Court’s window, and explained what I was trying to do.  In rapid fire, I was then asked several questions about supporting forms that I had no knowledge of.  When I asked questions, I was told that they were not able to give legal advice, and I would have to decide how to complete the forms on my own.

Completing the forms best I could, I walked back to the original window, paid my $200, and submitted my filings with the additional forms attached. My first lawsuit was now official.

One of the forms I submitted was a Sheriff’s Entry of Service form, which is used to get your lawsuit served properly.  In my case, the Sheriff’s office referenced was Cherokee County, but the defendants were located in other counties.  For this reason, the clerk refused to accept this form, and would not answer any of my questions about this.

Based on the book I had read, I believed I had 30 days to get this done, so I was not  worried about this at this time.

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Case Dismissed!

With my Emergency Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order filed, and believing that I had 30 days to serve the defendants, my plan was to take the next couple of weeks and prepare my actual complaint (the emergency motion is not technically a lawsuit, just a motion).

However, on September 26th, due to the fact that my motion had not been properly served, the judge dismissed my case.  (turns out, in Georgia, you have 5 days to initiate service, and 30 days to complete service)  My first lesson learned — the hard way.

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Appealing to a Higher Power

By October 3, 2011, I had not heard back on my “approved” modification, nor from the 3 voice mails left for our new dedicated customer service rep (who promised a return call within 24 hours).

Completely fed up with the run-around by Bank of America, I wrote a letter to the State Attorney General, and copied several members of the press.   Within hours, I received
a phone call from a new contact at the bank, apologizing for the multiple, un-returned phone calls, and indicating that our original contact had had a death in the family.

Once again, we were assured that we had an open file in review, but now they needed some additional information to continue processing our application.  When I asked about the previously approved modification, the new contact had no information about that.

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