Wells Fargo lawsuit against city of Richmond dismissed

Waiting for Wells Fargo
Photo by Brittany M. Powell
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin calls Wells Fargo CEO during a protest outside of Wells Fargo's downtown headquarters.

Richmond, 1, Wells Fargo, zip. 

In the first round of what may become a long and protracted legal battle, US Distict Judge Charles Breyer dismissed Wells Fargo's lawsuit against the city of Richmond today, and the reason for dismissal was clear: nothing has happened yet. 

Wells Fargo's suit attacked the constintutionality of Richmond's plan to use eminent domain to seize about 600 mortgage loans, a controversial program meant to save residents from losing their homes. The judge pointed out that not only had Richmond not yet enacted the plan, but it hadn't even been voted on by the Richmond City Council. 

In legalese, the case is not "yet ripe for adjudication." Translation? You can't sue someone for something that hasn't happened, or may not ever happen, Breyer wrote in his decision. He also explained why he dismissed the case, rather than putting it in abeyance (a kind of "pause button" for cases).

"The Court further concludes that it must dismiss the case rather than hold it in abeyance," he wrote. "Ripeness of these claims does not rest on contingent future events certain to occur, but rather on future events that may never occur. Because there is no point at which it will be determined that Plaintiffs’ claims are not ripe and will never become ripe, the matter could linger in abeyance for an indefinite period of time. Under these circumstances, a stay is not appropriate."

Wells Fargo declined to comment on the decision, and a spokesperson referred us to legal counsel representing investors in the mortgage market (of which Wells Fargo is a trustee). Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also was unavailable for comment as she is out of the country on a business trip.

protesters march outside of Wells Fargo

Speaking to the Guardian a few weeks ago about her eminent domain plan, McLaughlin said she would be willing to battle Wells Fargo "all the way to the Supreme Court," to defend the community of Richmond. And she may have to, as Wells Fargo does have the opportunity to appeal to a higher court. 

For clarification, Breyer did indicate in the hearing last week that he would seek abeyance or dismissal in the case, but did not issue his final decision until today.  

For our coverage of Richmond's city council meeting where the plan was almost voted down by city councilmember Nathaniel Bates, click here. Look out for our full coverage of the newest in Richmond's battle for homeowners in our September 18 issue, this Wednesday.  


Below is the full text of Breyer's decision.