Phillip Linza, a homeowner in Plumas Lake, was awarded the damages after a three-year battle against PHH Mortgage Services, a loan servicer based inÂ Mount Laurel,Â N.J. A Yuba County Superior Court jury decided on the award earlier this week.
Linzaâ€™s attorneys Andre Chernay and Jon Oldenburg of the United Law Center in Roseville, said the award included $514,000 in compensatory damages and $15.7 million in punitive damages. They said it ranked among the biggest jury awards theyâ€™ve encountered in years of representing homeowners in foreclosure and other mortgage-related cases.
â€śThis is really the highest weâ€™ve seen,â€ť Oldenburg said. â€śItâ€™s a huge figure.â€ť
Officials with PHH couldnâ€™t be reached for comment. The companyâ€™s lawyers Edward Treder and Darlene Hernandez declined comment.
Chernay said the case began when Linza, who works in sales, fell on hard financial times after buying a home in 2006 for approximately $280,000. Court records show Linza filed for personal bankruptcy in October 2009.
According to his lawsuit, PHH agreed in late 2010 to a loan modification that was supposed to reduce Linzaâ€™s monthly payments to $1,543 from $2,100. The new loan was supposed to take effect in January 2011.
After Linza made three monthly payments under the new terms, PHH began sending him letters demanding different amounts. First it said his new payment was $2,350 a month – slightly higher than before the modification. Later it sent him a notice saying he owed PHH some $7.056. The company also told him it wasnâ€™t applying his monthly payments to his loan balance because he wasnâ€™t paying the proper amount, according to Chernay.
â€śIt was their mistake as of January 1st (2011) that created this whole scenario,â€ť Chernay said.
Despite numerous phone calls and letters, Chernay said Linza wasnâ€™t able to resolve the problem. After learning that his payments werenâ€™t being used to reduce his balance, he stopped sending money to PHH, the lawyer said.
In 2012, the loan-servicing company initiated foreclosure proceedings. The proceedings halted when the Roseville law firm stepped in and filed suit on Linzaâ€™s behalf, Chernay said.
Even with the foreclosure stopped, Linzaâ€™s credit rating suffered and he endured emotional stress, Chernay said.
â€śIf the Yuba County jury hadnâ€™t saved him, the house would have been gone and he would have had to move in with his daughter in Colorado,â€ť Chernay said.