A jury awarded a Montana man $20,000 after Wells Fargo mistakenly seized his home in 2014.
The Jefferson County jury’s verdict may have been more beneficial to the bank than Kevin Moore, whose home was foreclosed when he was in Alaska. Moore had been seeking at least $600,000 in compensatory damages and wanted to see Wells Fargo penalized.
The bank, claims Moore, hadn’t even foreclosed the right house—an error Wells Fargo admitted, initially offering $43,000 to compensate for “an honest mistake.”
Two days of testimony and two hours of deliberation led jurors to their decision. They ordered Wells Fargo to pay $20,000 for negligence but noted their belief that the bank didn’t intentionally trespass or invade the man’s privacy.
The Montana Standard reports that Moore and attorney Frederick Sherwood left the courtroom immediately after the trial adjourned. Neither the plaintiffs nor Wells Fargo opted to comment on the outcome.
During closing arguments Thursday, Sherwood told jurors that the bank had used a wrong address, broke into Moore’s house, changed the locks and taken hundreds of photographs of the family’s belongings.
Agents had meant to investigate and foreclose a property at 34 Rocky Mountain Drive in Whitehall, MT—not Moore’s home at 32 Rocky Mountain Drive.
“They weren’t using the wrong address to deliver a pizza—they were using the wrong address to break into a house,” said Sherwood.
Lawyers for Wells Fargo tread carefully, acknowledging their client made a mistake and deserved some consequence. However, they argued the sum requested by Moore was outsized—nothing in the home had been damaged, and the bank was proactive in its attempt to mitigate the fallout.
“This was an honest mistake—a mistake Wells Fargo regrets—but it was an honest mistake,” said Wells Fargo attorney Ian McIntosh.
Moore’s account differed. He says that Wells Fargo effectively commandeered his home in May 2014 while he was working as a special education teacher in Alaska. Along with changing the locks, he alleges that a bank agent ‘ransacked’ the property while creating a photo inventory of the residence’s contents.
Sherwood says nobody in the Moore family knew their home had been seized by Wells Fargo until December, when his grown daughter brought two friends to 32 Rocky Mountain Drive found a trustee sale notice taped to the front door.
“She found her home trashed and her memories violated,” said Sherwood on Thursday.
Despite Moore’s apparent surprise, McIntosh says the man had ample time to prevent the accidental foreclosure from ever going through. Legal notices warning of impending action had been taped to the front door during months when Moore had been in Montana. His grass had also been mown several times—a sign of outside maintenance that Moore could have investigated if he’d simply asked his neighbors who was responsible.
The Montana Standard writes that simply finding an unbiased jury took an entire day. Potential jurors were dismissed for having mortgages through Wells Fargo; others were turned away because of personal animosity toward the bank.