Green Tree typically deals in the hardest of loans - more risky mortgages, second liens, HELCO and the largest portfolio of manufactured housing loans.
Now, no one can fault Green Tree for collecting debts. No company is in the business of giving away money or giving away homes. That much is true. The question has always been with Green Tree the inability to turn off the collection activities when things like bankruptcy intervene or to tone it down when personal tragedy is at stake. Money owed or not, it would just seem like to the decent thing to do. Remember, Green Tree manages secured money loans on homes to some of the least credit worthy people in this country. Obviously, it has more than enough problem in getting compliance with loan terms. It has undoubtedly created a machine, a mechanism really, that makes its borrowers believe it is the squeaky wheel that needs to be oil. It is efficient in this regard and, as a result, relentless. Once the machinery is turned on, so to speak, it cannot necessarily be turned off. Or, it seems that is what I have observed over the couple of decades I have seen Green Tree in action.
In Green Tree's defense I practice in an area that only sees the bad side of their operation. I have no knowledge of the percentage of customers that are happy with Green Tree or might be grateful for their intervention when someone falls behind.
And, then of course Green Tree never admits wrong when it is brought to task for some of its activities. If fact, if you every listen to their attorneys, the company is just an angel who is being picked on by the devil of the borrower that did it wrong. The company never much settles anything, it fights everything to the bitter end for fear, I guess, that they might have to come to terms with their practices. Maybe it is just to simply discourage people and attorneys in defending a debtor's rights. Who knows the thinking behind the policy.
A couple of examples come to mind. It is hard to know the truth of the matter or the actual facts of the case. I agree that every story has two sides. But, HuffPo reports on the case of Dianne McLeod, who is suing Green Tree Servicing for contributing to her husband's death at 57 years old. Stanley McLeod became ill after suffering a heart attack. This caused his family to fall behind in their payments on their manufactured home in Florida. This resulted in Green Tree numerous caustic phone calls to him each day, causing his health to deteriorate even further. Or, so says the family.
Green Tree has stated that this wrongful death claim is "outrageous and meritless". Maybe it is as the case has yet to be fully litigated. But, it is also notable to say that Green Tree makes these claims in almost every case in which it is sued for its collection activities.
According to the article, in one of the many recorded message, an angry male caller can be heard saying: "Stanley McLeod, you need to call Green Tree and get your act together and make a payment on your mortgage. Quit playing games." Then, presumably referring to the emergency aircraft that flew McLeod to the hospital after his heart attack, the caller said: "Why don't you have that helicopter pick you up and bring that payment to the office."
Other recorded calls gave him a deadline to pay a certain amount and threatened foreclosure. Some implored McLeod to call back so the company could try to work out payment arrangements with him.
The family's lawyer states that the number and harassing tone of the calls broke Florida law, and that Green Tree also illegally called a neighbor and McLeod's brother and grandson regarding the debt. The 2nd District Court of Appeal in Florida again ruled against Green Tree in the company's efforts to force the case into arbitration. And, the family's lawyer states further, "What happened to Stanley McLeod happened to a lot of people".
Green Tree for its part states, "We deny that collection calls, whether the content, number or timing, led to Mr. McLeod's death, and we look forward to defending this matter in a court proceeding instead of in the media."
Ultimately, the Jury will have to decide whether the number and intensity of phone calls can be egregious enough to contribute to someone's death.
Maybe a lender has to foreclose, and that will undoubtedly work a real hardship on a family. We see it every day in this country. That is a shame. But, having to do something like foreclosing because payment cannot be achieved, and harassing, are two different things.
The McLeod case reminds me of a case in the Tyler, Texas Bankruptcy Court entitled Mooney v. Green Tree Servicing LLC. It did not involve a death, but it demonstrated, at least for this judge, that Green Tree's collection practices were over the top. In this case, Green Tree was found to have repeatedly and egregiously violated the discharge injunction issued by the Court upon the completion of a bankruptcy.
In Mooney, Green Tree constantly contacted the debtor to collect the debt and then filed a lawsuit against the debtor in which it sought a judgment against the debtor personally. Yet, despite this objective evidence, Green Tree maintained that it had done nothing wrong, and that it was not attempting to collect a debt.
The Court found: "The evidence presented in this case is clear and convincing in its demonstration of the pervasive nature of the violations of the discharge injunction committed by Green Tree. In offering a laundry list of activities proscribed by the discharge injunction, one leading commentator explains that the discharge injunction '. . . extends to all forms of collection activity, including letters, phone calls, . . .or other adverse actions intended to bring about repayment [and that] . . . [p]ost-discharge lawsuits, of course, are clearly prohibited, ' fact that Green Tree engaged in every one of those enumerated, proscribed activities in this case cannot go unnoticed nor unremedied. In fact, Green Tree violated the discharge injunction in such a ubiquitous manner, even after being repeatedly informed of the impropriety of its conduct, the Court must conclude that Green Tree’sviolations were not only willful, but malicious". The Court went on to call Green Tree's conduct toward the Debtor "vexatious" and "egregious".
The Court in this case awarded $61,643.40 against Green Tree, of which $40,000.00 of this amount constituted punitive damages.
Each of these are individual cases. As such they stand alone. Nobody really knows how many times or what percentage of their loans in default receive this kind of treatment. But, it is pretty obvious the argument seems to rise up all too often.