Having your home go into foreclosure can be overwhelming. To defend a foreclosure case, you must respond to court pleadings and follow procedures that you may barely understand. However, responding pro se (without an attorney) may inadvertently speed up the process. It’s a very difficult situation because failing to respond to the initial complaint will result in the clerk entering a default against the Defendant. However, filing a letter or informal response without the proper legal language will be docketed as an “Answer” by the Clerk of the Court and then the case is “ripe for trial or summary judgment.” Regardless of your intentions with the property, you should always find a way to retain an attorney.
If you don’t answer the lawsuit at all, the bank will get a judgment against you and you will probably lose your home. But the outcome may be even worse if you start to defend yourself and then “drop the ball” and ignore court orders. Here’s how a borrower lost a recent foreclosure case by disregarding court orders and warnings. The case, Ledo v. Seavie Resources LLC, was decided by the Florida Court of Appeal last fall.
The borrower in the case was sued to collect on a $165,000 promissory note and to foreclose on property that was pledged as security for that note. He hired a lawyer who filed an answer to the lender’s claims.
The lender then sent the borrower interrogatories – a set of written questions that a party to a lawsuit must answer. The borrower did not answer the interrogatories within the time allowed, and his lawyer then withdrew from representing him because of “irreconcilable differences.”
The judge told the borrower to inform the court within 30 days if he had hired a new lawyer or if he planned to represent himself. The judge warned him that if he didn’t do this, the court might “strike his pleadings.” This would mean that the case would proceed as though the borrower had never answered the lawsuit at all.
A month passed and the borrower didn’t respond to the court’s orders or answer the interrogatories.
The lender then asked the judge to impose a financial penalty on the borrower for failing to respond to the interrogatories. The judge ordered the borrower to pay $500 and gave him additional time to respond. The judge also told him that if he did not answer the interrogatories this time, the court would strike his pleadings.
Despite these rather dire warnings, the borrower did nothing. As a result, the court struck his pleadings and entered a judgment of liability against him.
The lender then asked the court for a judgment of foreclosure. The borrower hired a new lawyer who attempted to raise some defenses, but the court would not hear them because it had already made a judgment against him on liability. A foreclosure judgment was entered against the borrower.
The borrower then tried to appeal the judgment based on a technicality. But the appeals court had little sympathy for him. It found that he had been amply warned of the consequences of ignoring the court’s orders and had nonetheless willfully disregarded them.
As a result, the court upheld the foreclosure. This borrower might have had some good defenses, but because he ignored the court’s orders and never offered any explanation, he lost the ability to present them.
In addition to losing his property to foreclosure, he had to pay $500 in court sanctions.