In First National Bank of Omaha v. Scott L. Davey and Deborah Davey, the Nebraska Supreme Court held that a creditor has five years to pursue a deficiency action in situations where a piece of real estate has been foreclosed through judicial proceedings.
Nebraska law provides that, when real estate lending is secured by a deed of trust, the deed of trust can be foreclosed either through a non-judicial trustee sale of the property or a judicial foreclosure proceeding. If the foreclosure, through either process, does not generate enough proceeds to pay off the underlying loan, the lender will be entitled to pursue the defaulted party for the remaining unpaid balance (the “deficiency”). The Nebraska Deed of Trust Act, however, states that any legal action to secure a deficiency judgment must be brought within three months after “any sale of property under a trust deed…”
In Davey, a deed of trust had been foreclosed through use of judicial foreclosure proceedings which culminated with a sheriff’s sale of the property. A deficiency resulted, but the lender did not file a deficiency lawsuit within the three month time frame. The Douglas County District Court held that the lender filed its deficiency action too late and the action was dismissed. The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed that decision, finding that the general five year statute of limitations for written contract matters applied instead. The Court found that, notwithstanding the statutory language, applying the shorter three month time frame to filing of deficiency actions after a judicial foreclosure sale could produce absurd results in some cases and that it was more appropriate, given the overall statutory intent, to apply the five year limit instead. Accordingly, lenders using the judicial foreclosure process have a considerable length of time to determine whether they wish to seek a deficiency judgment when the foreclosure did not produce enough funds to pay off the underlying loan.
Davey reflects that, in Nebraska, despite the expedient procedure for foreclosure provided in the Deed of Trust Act, many situations can exist in which judicial foreclosure is more appropriate. While the judicial process will take much longer, it is appropriate for use in situations in which competing liens need to be resolved, and can also be appropriate when the lender will need more time to evaluate its options.
Erickson|Sederstrom attorneys are available to aggressively pursue both judicial and non-judicial foreclosure actions and any resulting deficiency suits. Erickson|Sederstrom attorneys also provide a wide variety of additional real estate litigation services, including quiet title actions and landlord/tenant dispute litigation.