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Avakian v. Citibank N.A.

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

January 30, 2014

CITIBANK N.A., Defendant.


SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

This cause comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment [47]. Upon due consideration of the motion, responses, rules, and authorities, the Court finds that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is not well taken and shall be DENIED.


Plaintiff Burnette Avakian initially brought this suit in the Chancery Court of Lowndes County, Mississippi seeking a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunctive relief, and a declaratory judgment to prevent Defendant Citibank N.A. from foreclosing on her home. Citibank removed the action to this Court and now seeks summary judgment. At issue is whether Citibank holds a valid and enforceable deed of trust pursuant to which it may foreclose on Plaintiff's property.

Along with her husband, Plaintiff purchased property in Columbus, Mississippi on September 18, 2002. The couple borrowed the purchase money from Southstar Financing, LLC, and executed a deed of trust to secure the loan. Title to the property was vested in both their names as joint tenants. In an attempt to prevent Plaintiff from being liable for the debt on the property, Plaintiff's husband executed a deed on November 2, 2004 that conveyed title to Plaintiff alone. Then, in March 2006, Plaintiff and her husband refinanced their mortgage with Citibank. Again attempting to prevent Plaintiff from incurring any liability for the debt on the property, the Avakians sought to take out the new loan in Plaintiff's husband's name only. However, as title was vested in Plaintiff's name, Citibank required both Plaintiff and her husband to execute a deed of trust.

At the time of the closing, Plaintiff's husband was out of state. Rather than delay the closing, Citibank forwarded one set of loan documents to Plaintiff's husband for him to execute and return and had Plaintiff execute a second set the following day.[1] This resulted in two deeds of trust on the property - one executed only by Plaintiff's husband on March 7, 2006 and one executed only by Plaintiff on March 8, 2006. Each deed of trust was recorded as a separate instrument with the Chancery Clerk of Lowndes County, Mississippi.

Citibank now seeks to foreclose on the deed of trust signed only by Plaintiff and Plaintiff brought this action seeking a declaration from the Court that the deed of trust is invalid and to prevent Citibank from foreclosing. Citibank has filed a motion for summary judgment.


Summary judgment is warranted under Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the evidence reveals no genuine dispute regarding any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The rule "mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

The party moving for summary judgment "bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Id. at 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548. The nonmoving party must then "go beyond the pleadings" and "designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548 (citation omitted). In reviewing the evidence, factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmovant, "but only when... both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp. , 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994) (en banc).

However, "where... the evidentiary facts are not disputed, a court in a non-jury case may grant summary judgment if trial would not enhance its ability to draw inferences and conclusions." Am. Century Proprietary Holdings, Inc. v. Am. Century Cas. Co. , 295 F.Appx. 630, 634 (5th Cir. 2008) (quoting Nunez v. Superior Oil Co. , 572 F.2d 1119, 1124 (5th Cir. 1978)). "When the judge, as trier of fact, is in such a position, he ought to draw his inferences without resort to the expense of trial." Id . (internal quotations omitted). See also Prof'l Geophysics, Inc. v. Placid Oil Co. (In re Placid Oil Co.) , 932 F.2d 394, 398 (5th Cir. 1991) ("We follow the Nunez court in recognizing that it makes little sense to forbid the judge from drawing inferences from the evidence submitted on summary judgment when that same judge will act as the trier of fact, unless those inferences involve issues of witness credibility or disputed material facts."). Thus, "in cases like the one at hand, where the relevant facts are not in dispute and the critical questions turn purely on legal rights and relationships, summary judgment is appropriately considered." Canal Ins. Co. v. Owens, 2011 WL 4833045 at *2 (S.D.Miss. Oct. 12, 2011).


Citibank's Motion for Summary Judgment

The parties agree that no genuine dispute of material fact exists with regard to the issues raised by Defendant's motion. Therefore, the task before the Court is to determine whether the law favors those arguments set forth by Citibank or those set forth by Plaintiff. Because this is a case of diversity jurisdiction, the Court must apply state substantive law pursuant to the "Erie Doctrine." Krieser v. Hobbs , 166 F.3d 736, 739 (5th Cir.1999) (citing Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins , 304 U.S. 64, 79-80, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 188 (1938)). "[The] court is Erie-bound to apply state law as it currently exists, and may not change that law or adopt innovative theories of recovery." Solomon v. Walgreen Co. , 975 F.2d 1086, 1089 ...

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