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2008-UP-196 - MidFirst Bank v. Brooks
I

THIS OPINION HAS NO PRECEDENTIAL VALUE.  IT SHOULD NOT BE CITED OR RELIED ON AS PRECEDENT IN ANY PROCEEDING EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY RULE 239(d)(2), SCACR.

THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Court of Appeals

MidFirst Bank, Respondent,

v.

Marie Brooks, Appellant.


Appeal From Sumter County
 Linwood S. Evans, Jr., Master-in-Equity


Unpublished Opinion No. 2008-UP-196
Submitted March 4, 2008 – Filed March 20, 2008


AFFIRMED


Marie Brooks, of Sumter, pro se.

Dean Anthony Hayes, of Columbia, for Respondent.

PER CURIAM:  This is a foreclosure case.  The trial court granted summary judgment to MidFirst Bank, Inc., holding the mortgagor, Marie Brooks was precluded from asserting certain defenses and counterclaims.  Brooks appeals.  We affirm.[1]

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In 1990, Brooks executed and delivered a mortgage note to First Carolina Mortgage Corporation in which she promised to pay a principal sum of $71,025.00.  In order to secure payment of the note, Brooks also executed and delivered to First Carolina a mortgage of real property located in Sumter County.

On April 14, 1998, MidFirst, the current assignee of the note and mortgage, filed a foreclosure action against Brooks, alleging Brooks failed to make the payments required by the note.  Brooks was served on May 29, 1998.  On July 17, 1998, without responding to the summons and complaint in the foreclosure action, Brooks filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy petition in the United States District Court for South Carolina, thereby staying the foreclosure action.

Brooks included the mortgage debt in her Chapter 13 payment plan, noting the payments were $280 or more per month plus 8.25% interest.  By settlement order dated January 23, 2001, the bankruptcy judge set forth the payments that Brooks was to make and further provided that, in the event she failed to comply with the order, MidFirst would automatically be entitled to relief from the bankruptcy stay by filing an affidavit with the bankruptcy court.

On September 10, 2002, the bankruptcy court issued an order finding Brooks defaulted on the terms of the settlement order.  As a result, the automatic bankruptcy stay was lifted, enabling MidFirst to proceed with the foreclosure.  In January 2003, MidFirst filed an amended summons and complaint in the foreclosure action.  On April 11, 2003, Brooks filed a responsive pleading, in  which she denied MidFirst was entitled to the relief it requested and counterclaimed for relief under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act, setoff for payments allegedly made, slander, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

On November 13, 2005, the parties entered into a consent dismissal under Rule 40(j), SCRCP.  In 2005, they agreed to have the matter restored to the active roster.  The matter was then referred to the Sumter County Master-in-Equity.

On August 8, 2005, MidFirst filed a motion for summary judgment, including with the motion an affidavit stating the total debt, excluding costs of the action, was $86,585.71.  In response, Brooks submitted an affidavit alleging (1) MidFirst failed to give her credit for numerous payments; (2) the bankruptcy trustee wrongfully returned a number of payments that would have significantly reduced her debt: (3) because of numerous assignments of her loan, she was not given timely credit for all payments made; (4) MidFirst had made fraudulent representations to her regarding its investigation of her account; and (5) MidFirst’s alleged mishandling of her account forced her to file bankruptcy, thus harming her credit rating and financial reputation.

A hearing on the motion took place on October 12, 2005.  By order dated November 16, 2005, the Master granted summary judgment to MidFirst, holding Brooks could not pursue her counterclaims because of lack of standing, judicial estoppel, and res judicata.  This appeal follows.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

“In reviewing an order of summary judgment, an appellate court applies the same standard as that which the circuit court applied in determining whether to enter the order.”  Helms Realty, Inc. v. Gibson-Wall Co., 363 S.C. 334, 340, 611 S.E.2d 485, 488 (2005).  “Summary judgment is appropriate ‘if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.’ ” Id. (citing Rule 56, SCRCP).  Nevertheless, when an appellate court affirms the grant of summary judgment on a particular basis, it need not discuss the remaining grounds.  Fuller-Ahrens P’ship v. S.C. Dep’t of Highways and Pub. Transp., 311 S.C. 177, 182, 427 S.E.2d 920, 923 (Ct. App. 1987).

LAW/ANALYSIS

Brooks argues that, notwithstanding that her inadvertent failure to list certain claims and defenses in her Chapter 13 bankruptcy action, equitable factors and principles allow her to them against MidFirst in the foreclosure action.  She further maintains the evidence she presented to the Master regarding these claims and defenses is sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether MidFirst is entitled to judgment.  Assuming without deciding that Brooks has adequately preserved this issue for appellate review,[2] we hold the equitable factors and principles on which she relies do not allow her to proceed on her counterclaims and defenses.

Once a debtor files for bankruptcy in the federal court, an estate is created that is comprised of “all legal or equitable interests of the debtor in property as of the commencement of the case.”  11 U.S.C.A. §541(a)(1) (2004).  Upon filing, the debtor is required to file a list of all creditors and a schedule of assets and liabilities, unless the bankruptcy court orders otherwise.  Id. § 521(a)(1)(A)-(B)(i) (Supp. 2007).  “Legal or equitable interests” has been broadly defined to include causes of action.  In re Educators Group Health Trust, 25 F.3d 1281, 1283-84 (5th Cir. 1994) (citation omitted).  “If a cause of action belongs to the estate, then the trustee has exclusive standing to assert the claim.”  Id. at 1284. 

When bankruptcy proceedings close, “any assets, including claims, that were scheduled by the debtor but not disposed of are deemed abandoned and revert to the debtor.”  Tyler House Apartments, Ltd. v. U.S., 38 Fed. Cl. 1, 6 (1997).  Unscheduled claims, however, remain under the control of the bankruptcy trustee.  Id. “If a cause of action belongs to the estate, then the trustee has exclusive standing to assert the claim.”  Educators Group Health Trust, 25 F.3d at 1284.

In the present case, Brooks concedes she failed to include in her Chapter 13 Bankruptcy Schedule B the defenses and counterclaims she sought to enforce against MidFirst in the foreclosure action, but contends this failure was inadvertent.  She further argues her responsive pleadings “were a matter of record prior to the bankruptcy and the simple mistake of not listing should not result in the complete loss of [her] right to contest a foreclosure and specific defenses of tendered payment when evidence exists the allegations of nonpayment are not true.”  As we have noted in the facts and procedural background, however, Brooks did not file responsive pleadings until April 11, 2003, seven months after the bankruptcy stay was lifted.  Her assertion, then, that MidFirst had record notice of her defenses and counterclaims is incorrect and cannot support her reliance on equitable factors and principles as grounds to pursue the claims and defenses she seeks to pursue in the foreclosure proceeding. 

We therefore hold the grant of summary judgment was proper based on the determination that Brooks lacked standing to assert the defenses and counterclaims that she raised in her responsive pleadings.  Because this basis is sufficient to support the Master’s decision, we do not address the other grounds for his decision concerning judicial estoppel and res judicata.  See Weeks v. McMillan, 291 S.C. 287, 292, 353 S.E.2d 289, 292 (Ct. App. 1987) (“Where a decision is based on alternative grounds, either of which independent of the other is sufficient to support it, the decision will not be reversed even if one of the grounds is erroneous.”).

AFFIRMED.

ANDERSON, SHORT, and THOMAS, JJ., concur.


[1]  We decide this case without oral argument pursuant to Rule 215, SCACR.

[2]  MidFirst acknowledges Brooks raised the issue in her memorandum submitted in opposition to the summary judgment motion, but points out the Master did not rule on it in his order.  Although Brooks filed a motion for reconsideration, the motion itself is not included in the record on appeal.  The order denying the motion, which is included in the record does not specifically address the argument concerning equitable factors and principles that Brooks presents in this appeal.