Revisiting foreclosure case, COA reaffirms money judgment

A $112,000 money judgment originally upheld in 2019 has been reaffirmed in a second appellate decision issued Tuesday.

In Edward Gaeta v. Huntington National Bank, 20A-MF-47, Edward Gaeta in 2008 executed a $78,859 promissory note payable to Huntington National Bank and secured by a mortgage on a Lafayette residence. The terms of the note required Gaeta to pay $498.45 per month, but Gaeta immediately began making payments late and inconsistently.

Eventually, Huntington filed a foreclosure action in April 2016. The Tippecanoe Superior Court found Gaeta was in default and thus issued an order foreclosing the mortgage and entering a $112,310.80 judgment in favor of the bank.

Gaeta filed the first of two appeals, and the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the foreclosure in a memorandum decision in 2019. The money judgment, however, was upheld “on the unpaid balance of the Loan.”

The case was remanded to the trial court, where Gaeta argued the money judgment “should not include an additional $18,000 or $20,000 worth of all things that were based on foreclosure.” The trial court, however, stated that “the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment without a specific carve out or reduction[]” and thus restated the original money judgment.

“According to Gaeta because Gaeta I held that Huntington was prohibited from seeking foreclosure, the trial court misinterpreted Gaeta I by not revising the amount of the money judgment award and removing foreclosure-related fees and expenses,” Judge Rudolph Pyle wrote in a Tuesday opinion. “As Gaeta reads this Court’s prior decision, Huntington is only entitled to recover the amount of the unpaid balance of the loan, language used in the final paragraph of Gaeta I.

However, the COA panel affirmed the trial court’s judgment on remand, agreeing with Huntington’s argument under the law of the case doctrine.

In Gaeta I, “We explained that ‘even if [Huntington] is prohibited from seeking foreclosure due to its failure to abide by the applicable (Department of Housing and Urban Development) regulations, this does not mean that the money judgment in favor of Huntington is improper,’” Pyle wrote. “… Gaeta then petitioned for rehearing, seeking clarification of the amount of the money judgment, and this Court denied his petition. He did not seek transfer for consideration of the matter by our supreme court.

“… Here, our resolution of Gaeta’s argument is informed by the Gaeta I Court’s holding that affirmed the money judgment contained in the Original Judgment in favor of Huntington based on Gaeta’s failure to pay,” Pyle concluded. “Thus, there can only be only one possible construction of Gaeta I; Huntington is entitled to the entirety of the money judgment. Therefore, we apply the law of the case doctrine and affirm the trial court.”

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