Vance v. Federal National Mortgage Assn.

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Vance v. Federal National Mortgage Assn.
1999 OK 73
988 P.2d 1275
70 OBJ 2674
Case Number: 90916
Decided: 09/21/1999
Mandate Issued: 10/26/1999
Supreme Court of Oklahoma

GARY W. VANCE, a/k/a Gary William Vance, Plaintiff, and SUSAN C. VANCE, Plaintiff/Appellant,

v.

FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE ASSOCIATION, Defendant/Appellee.

[988 P.2d 1277]
CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS, DIVISION III;
APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TULSA COUNTY,
Honorable David Peterson, Judge.

¶0 After Susan Vance [Susan] was personally served with process, she defaulted and summary judgment - which foreclosed a note and mortgage encumbering property owned by her and her husband - was entered in favor of Federal National Mortgage Association [FNMA]. In a separate action Susan sought to have the foreclosure judgment vacated, alleging that at the time she was served FNMA knew that she was a paranoid schizophrenic and incapable of understanding the notice of action given her. The trial court gave summary judgment in the latter case to FNMA. Susan appealed and the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. Upon certiorari previously granted,

THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS' OPINION IS VACATED; THE DISTRICT COURT'S JUDGMENT IS REVERSED; AND THE CAUSE IS REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH TODAY'S PRONOUNCEMENT.

Gregory G. Meier of Meier, Cole & O'Dell, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for plaintiff/appellant.

John B. Wimbish of Riddle & Wimbish, Tulsa, Oklahoma, for defendant/appellee.

LAVENDER, J.

¶1 The determinative issue in the present cause is whether Susan Vance [Susan or appellant] was so mentally disabled as to be incapable of recognizing that she had been sued when she was personally served with process in a foreclosure action brought by Federal National Mortgage Association [FNMA].

I.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2 Throughout this cause's entire history there has been no judicial determination that one of the parties, Susan Vance, is mentally incapacitated or otherwise in need of a legal guardian. This is not to say that she is not the paranoid schizophrenic she claims she is. It is to say that at the time FNMA instituted the second of two foreclosure actions upon the same note and mortgage the fact of her mental capacity or lack thereof had not been adjudicated.

¶3 In July 1993 FNMA instituted the first of two foreclosure actions (on the same note and mortgage) against Gary and Susan Vance (husband and wife) by serving Gary Vance at his place of business.

¶4 On August 10, 1995, using the same counsel that it had employed in the first action, FNMA again sought to foreclose its note and mortgage against Susan and her husband. Although service in the second action was issued to both Vances, it was personally served only upon her.

¶5 Upon becoming aware of the second foreclosure and the default judgment Gary and Susan Vance instituted the present action seeking vacatur. Their petition was verified by Mr. Vance and recited as the bases for vacation: (a) fraud in the obtaining of service upon both Susan and her husband and (b) failure to comply with the notice requirements of due process. FNMA moved for summary judgment against Susan only which was given.

II.
THE STANDARD OF REVIEW FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENTS

¶6 While summary process is available to litigants to identify and isolate non-triable fact issues, its purpose is not to defeat a party's right to trial.

III.
THE VACATION OF SUMMARY JUDGMENT PREDICATED UPON DUE PROCESS CHALLENGES

¶7 The Court is called upon today to balance two legal interests - the judgment [988 P.2d 1279] roll's reliability and a defendant's "due process" right to notice. Certainly, the judgment roll's integrity is vital to the orderly transfer of real property interests in Oklahoma. District court judgments should not be made to depend "for their stability and permanency" on evidence other than that reflected in the judgment roll itself.

¶8 In her petition Susan asserts that the trial court denied her due process of law when it granted FNMA default judgment in the second foreclosure. She alleges that since she was mentally incapable of understanding that the process served upon her imparted notice of a pending suit, the trial court did not acquire jurisdiction over her person. She also claims that the service of process upon her by FNMA was fraudulent for it knew of her mental infirmity before it served her. The asserted bases for the judgment's invalidity and pressed for vacation are not affirmatively disclosed upon the face of the second foreclosure's judgment roll. The filed return of service in that action reflects that Susan was personally served and is facially regular. Hence, inspection of the judgment roll does not disclose the suggested defects in service. Rather the challenge pressed below by Susan presents an issue of fact which can only be resolved by consideration of proof extrinsic to the second foreclosure's judgment roll. Because the irregularity in service suggested by Susan can only be proved by evidence outside the judgment roll, the challenged judgment is not void

¶9 Lastly, Susan's impeachment effort is timely since it was brought within three years of the judgment's date.

If it be necessary to resort to extrinsic evidence to show the invalidity of a judgment, the motion to vacate must be presented within three years following the rendition of the judgment or order, otherwise every judgment valid upon the face of the judgment roll will depend for its perpetuity upon the frail memory of man.

¶10 It is not every variance in the service of process which will invalidate it. Rather to impugn the efficacy of service which is valid on the face of the pertinent [988 P.2d 1280] judgment roll a challenger must prove that the departure offends articulated standards of due process and hence deprives it of a fundamental right to notice. The impeachment of service of process can be facilitated either by motion in the litigation where the service is filed or by a separate action (asserting the service's deficiency) to invalidate the earlier-entered judgment.

¶11 The notice contemplated by the due process clauses of both the U.S. Constitution amend. XIV, § 1 and Oklahoma's Constitution, art. I, § 7 requires more than mere compliance with procedural formalities, rather they guarantee that procedure be fair.

¶12 Both FNMA and COCA reason that because the strictures of

¶13 A survey of Oklahoma's statutory scheme for the protection of the mentally infirm

¶14 A party's ability to cognitively appreciate the notice of an action imparted by service of process is presumed under the common law. It is only when a party's mental condition is put in issue by a petition - like that filed in the present case - that it becomes a "material" fact which must be assessed by the trial court. On the record [988 P.2d 1281] it is disputed whether Susan possessed the mental ability to understand the import of service of process in FNMA's second foreclosure.

¶15 There is an additional disputed fact disclosed by the record. The appellant's counsel contends that he informed FNMA of his client's lack of mental capacity and FNMA denies the same. FNMA's knowledge of Susan's mental incapacity is material under the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Covey v. Town of Somers.

¶16 Summary judgment under the present record is not sustainable.

IV.
SUMMARY

¶17 By her petition in the present case Susan Vance placed in issue her ability to understand - in light of a suggested mental infirmity - the notice imparted by FNMA's service of process in its foreclosure action. Summary adjudication is available to resolve the issue only when judgment is available as a matter of law because there are no disputed material factual questions remaining in the case. Here that cannot be said; hence, summary judgment is not legally appropriate.

¶18 Because of the appellant's due-process challenge the trial court must ascertain on remand whether Susan was so mentally disabled as to be incapable of understanding that (1) she had been sued and (2) judgment could be entered against her if she did not respond. If under the totality of the circumstances the trial court determines that Susan was so mentally challenged that she did not appreciate the notice imparted by service of process, the summary judgment entered in the second foreclosure will be invalid as to her and subject to vacation.

¶19 Upon certiorari previously granted,

THE COURT OF CIVIL APPEALS' OPINION IS VACATED; THE DISTRICT COURT'S JUDGMENT IS REVERSED; AND THE CAUSE IS REMANDED FOR FURTHER PROCEEDINGS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH TODAY'S PRONOUNCEMENT.

¶20 [988 P.2d 1282] SUMMERS, C.J., HODGES, LAVENDER, OPALA and KAUGER, JJ., concur.

¶21 HARGRAVE, V.C.J., SIMMS and WATT, JJ., dissent.

FOOTNOTES

1 It is undisputed that at all relevant times Mr. Vance's business address stood unchanged.

2 See Record, tab 8, Affidavit of Gregory G. Meier, Exhibit to Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to Defendant's Motion For Summary Judgment Against Plaintiff Susan C. Vance, filed 6/26/97 in CJ 96-2008. FNMA denies the veracity of this averment in its answer to the petition.

3 FNMA attempted to effect service upon Gary Vance through service upon his wife. In her petition filed in the instant case Susan represents that FNMA was informed by the Vances' counsel during the first foreclosure that she and Mr. Vance had separated and had not shared a common residence for over a decade. FNMA denies the veracity of this statement in its answer to the petition.

4 In support of its motion for summary judgment FNMA represented to the trial court in its motion for summary judgment that Susan lives in a house, does her own shopping and drives a car.

5 Shamblin v. Beasley, 1998 OK 88, 967 P.2d 1200.1. 1207.

6 Hulett v. First Nat'l Bank and Trust Co., 1998 OK 21, 956 P.2d 879, 881.

7 Shamblin, supra note 5 at 1207.

8 Carmichael v. Beller, 1996 OK 48, 914 P.2d 1051.

9 Hoyt v. Paul R. Miller, M.D., Inc., 1996 OK 80, 921 P.2d 350, 352.

10 Pettis v. Johnston, 78 Okla. 277, 190 P. 681, 687 (Okla. 1920).

11 See U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1, which provides in pertinent part::

"[N]or shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . . ."

12 See Okla. Const., art. II, § 7, which provides:

"No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

13 Mennonite Board of Missions v. Adams, 462 U.S. 791, 795, 103 S. Ct. 2706, 2709, 77 L.Ed. 2d 180 (1983); Bomford v. Socony Mobil Oil Co., 1968 OK 43, 440 P.2d 713, 718.

14 For when a judgment is void as determined by a facial inspection of the judgment roll, see Sooner Fed. Savings & Loan Ass'n v. Smoot, 1995 OK 31, 894 P.2d 1082, 1086.

15 Pettis, supra note 10 at 682 syl.

16 See 12 O.S.Supp.1993 § 1038, whose pertinent terms provide:

"Proceedings to vacate or modify a judgment, decree or order, . . . for the causes mentioned in paragraphs 3 and 7 of Section 1031 of this title, shall be within three (3) years. . . ."

The pertinent terms of 12 O.S.1991 § 1031 provide:

"The district court shall have the power to vacate or modify its own judgments or orders within the times prescribed hereafter:

* * *

Third. For mistake, neglect or omission of the clerk or irregularity in obtaining a judgment or order. . . ."

See also Pettis, supra

17 Zipperle v. Smith, 1956 OK 303, 304 P.2d 310, 313; Grayson V. Stith, 181 Okla. 131, 72 P.2d 820, 822 (1937).

18 Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125-26, 110 S. Ct. 975, 983, 108 L. Ed. 2d 100 (1990).

19 Bomford, supra note 13 at 718.

20 Shamblin, supra note 5 at 1211.

21 The pertinent terms of 12 O.S.1991§ 2004(C)(1)(c) are:

"Service shall be made as follows:

* * *

(2) Upon . . . an incompetent person by serving the summons and petition personally and upon the incompetent person's guardian;"

22 See O.S.1998 Title 43A [mental health] and Title 30 [Oklahoma Guardianship and Conservatorship Act].

23 See Covey v. Town of Somers, 351 U.S. 141, 146, 76 S. Ct. 724, 727, 100 L. Ed. 1021 (1956), where the Court held: "Notice to a person known to be an incompetent who is without the protection of a guardian does not measure up to this [due process] requirement."

24 While the record reflects that Susan was able to drive a car and purchase her own groceries, it also demonstrates that she experienced hallucinatory episodes over an extended period of time and was periodically hospitalized for the same.

25 See Covey, supra note 7.

26 See section II supra.

27 The Court today does not require assessment of a defendant's mental competency as a predicate to an action's initiation. Unless a person has been judicially declared to be incompetent, he/she can prosecute or defend a civil action in person or by attorney.

This does not mean that a mentally disabled person will not receive the court's protection as 12 O.S.1991 § 2017 C allows for the appointment where appropriate of a guardian ad litem for the protection of a litigant's rights and interests. A guardian ad litem's appointment does not amount to an adjudication of incompetency but would merely be a determination of the fact that the state of the record indicates the need for court intervention for a party's protection. It is an assertion of the court's inherent common-law equitable powers.