Aceves v U.S. Bank, N.A.

Dispute

After falling behind on her mortgage, plaintiff Claudia Aceves filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, placing a stay on the defendant bank’s attempted foreclosure. Plaintiff intended to convert to a Chapter 13 bankruptcy and use her husband’s income to cure the default under Chapter 13 protections; however, the defendant assured her that they would “work with her on a mortgage reinstatement and loan modification” and accordingly she chose not to proceed with the bankruptcy. The bank immediately resumed foreclosure and verbally offered her terms at double her prior monthly payment, which she could not meet. She sued under quiet title, slander of title, fraud, promissory estoppel, and declaratory relief; the trial court dismissed on motion of defendant.

Rule of law

Promissory estoppel applies whenever a promise which the promissor should reasonably expect to induce action or forbearance on the part of the promisee…and which does induce such action or forbearance would result in an injustice if the promise were not enforced. A promise must be clear and unambiguous.

Arguments

The plaintiff argued that because they could have saved the home by converting to Chapter 13 but chose not to do so in reliance on defendant’s promise to work with them, but defendant had not in fact worked with them, promissory estoppel applied. The defendant argued that there was no fraud, no consideration, no clear and unambiguous promise, and that they had made an offer anyway.

Conclusion

The court held that the plaintiff had made out a case for promissory estoppel. The promise was clear and unambiguous, and they had relied on it to their detriment, as Chapter 13 definitely provided them an alternate relief that they had given up. The court held that a unilateral offer did not satisfy the promised negotiations and that the defendant had never intended to work with plaintiff. The court held that the defendant made the promise only to convince the plaintiff to forgo further proceedings and thus enable them to foreclose. Reversed with attorney’s fees.

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