Friday, June 25, 2010

Appraisers lose out in Wells Fargo lawsuit

Wells Fargo and its appraisal management subsidiary Rels Valuation won an important lawsuit this month when a [ U.S. ] district judge granted the company's motion to dismiss. The lawsuit was filed by two residential appraisals who claimed that Rels Valuation had pressurized them into reaching inflated values on appraisal reports and then subsequently blacklisted them when they did not comply with demands.

Granting Wells' motion to dismiss, District Judge Claudia Wilken opined that be held liable for violating the right to fair procedures, a private entity must have the power to “significantly impair” the individuals' ability to work in a particular field. “In essence,” she wrote, “the law concerns exclusion or expulsion from membership by a gatekeeper organization, like a union or an insurance company,” which she determined did not apply to Wells Fargo.

“Wells Fargo's extensive national involvement in originating and servicing mortgages does not necessarily mean that it wields significant power over the appraising profession in the geographic areas in which plaintiffs work,” wrote Wilken.

“It is especially important to note that, while loss of income after exclusion by a private entity is relevant, it is not 'conclusive proof' that the exclusion impaired the plaintiff's ability to continue in the profession,” she continued. In the judgment of the court, the percentage of business lost by Pearsall and Savage following their blacklisting was not enough to establish a duty to provide fair procedures. In addition, the blacklisting didn't affect Pearsall or Savage's ability to receive work from other mortgage companies.

“No authority requires the imposition of the fair procedure doctrine simply because removal from a single company's list of appraisers it chooses to retain substantially affects the economic interest of a removed appraiser. Defendants simply made a choice not to do business with plaintiffs; they did not exercise power as a gatekeeper of a profession nor did they prevent plaintiffs from pursuing employment by others,” said Wilken. On this reasoning, she dismissed the claim against Wells Fargo with prejudice, saying that any further amendment would be “futile.”


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