Slowly but surely, the fallout from the meltdown in the financial and real estate sectors is showing up in the Courts of Appeal. This next sentence is a bit tricky, so watch my hands carefully. In Bank of America v. Superior Court (Ronald) (August 24, 2011), the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division Three) considered whether borrowers that obtained Countrywide-originated home loans could state fraudulent concealment claims against Countrywide because Countrywide sold investors (not the borrowers) pools of mortgages at inflated values, resulting in the destruction of the housing market and subsequent loss of home values across California. That is a spectucular theory. But the Court of Appeal didn't think so:
Due to the generalized decline in home values which affects all homeowners (borrowers of Countrywide, borrowers who dealt with other lenders, and homeowners who owned their homes free and clear), there is no nexus between Countrywide's alleged fraudulent concealment of its scheme to bilk investors and the diminution in value of the instant borrowers' properties.
Slip op., at 2. The Court examined the inentional tort of fraudulent concealment, finding that, on the facts, the theory failed for several reasons:
"Although 'inferentially, everyone has a duty to refrain from committing intentionally tortious conduct against another' [citation], it does not follow that one who intends to commit a tort owes a duty to disclose that intention to his or her intended victim. The general duty is not to warn of the intent to commit wrongful acts, but to refrain from committing them. We are aware of no authority supporting the imposition of additional liability on an intentional tortfeasor for failing to disclose his or her tortious intent before committing a tort." (Id. at p. 338; accord Deteresa v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (9 th Cir. 1997) 121 F.3d 460, 467-468 [even if audiotaping and videotaping were wrongful, defendant was not liable for failing to disclose its intention to commit those wrongful acts]; In re MRU Holdings Securities Litigation (S.D.N.Y. 2011) 769 F.Supp.2d 500, 515 [it is "'rather circular' to say that . . . Defendants 'committed fraud by concealing their intent to commit fraud'"].)
Slip op., at 11. The Court then found defects in causation, explaining that essentially all homeowers suffered a loss in equity when the overall market declined, whether borrower with Countrywide or not. Although the comment at the end about how the holding is limited in nature, focused solely on the viability of the claim as alleged, suggests that, deep down, the Justices might actually believe that Countrywide had a major hand in the real estate implosion in some meaningful way. Of course, that's my fantastical speculation and not reflective of any actual insight or knowledge on my part.