Lawyers Sent Back to School

Entire Firm Needs Refresher on Civil Procedure, 7th Circuit Agrees


Pursuing a foreclosure and eviction without properly serving the homeowner landed a Chicago law firm in front of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed a lower court order that the firm�s attorney staff needs a refresher course on civil procedure.

Fisher & Fisher, based in Chicago, was first sanctioned by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for actions that ended in the 2003 sale of the property and the eviction of the elderly homeowner. The firm appealed to the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago, but a three-judge panel upheld the sanctions. U.S. Bank National Association, N.D. v. Sullivan-Moore, No. 04-2254.

According to the appellate opinion, the U.S. National Bank Association, N.D., a North Dakota lender, gave defendant Mattie Sullivan-Moore, then 69 years old, a $140,000 mortgage on her Chicago home in 2001. Within a year, it sought to foreclose and turned the legal work over to Fisher & Fisher.

But the complaint that was filed used the wrong address of 7742 S. Carpenter St., even though the mortgage papers attached to the complaint showed the correct address of 7744 S. Carpenter. The wrong address was also where the lawyers sent their process server. When the server didn�t find the defendant at 7742, the lawyers got permission to serve by publication, and when no one answered the complaint, won a default and obtained a judgment of foreclosure. That led to the property being sold. The buyer was U.S. National Bank.

An eviction notice went out to the tenant at 7742, which prompted calls from the owner and tenant to the Fisher & Fisher lawyer who filed the action. The firm then discovered the address error, but still sought an order approving the sale and filed a motion to correct "scrivener�s error," which were both granted.

After Sullivan-Moore's eviction, she made her first appearance in court to protest that she had received no notice of any of the proceedings. The trial court ordered the sale voided and the judgment vacated, and began an inquiry into the conduct of the bank and the law firm.

Details here from the ABA Journal.