Overcharging the dead

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RESPA overcharges dead in the Ninth Circuit, says the headline of the brief news item at this page on Lexology, a news site for business lawyers.

But don't worry about the fleecing of the deceased; it was just a crash blossom, sent in by Edward M. "Ted" McClure, the Faculty Services Law Librarian at the Phoenix School of Law.

At least I think it was a crash blossom. The sentence that forms the body of the article is rather dense:

On March 9, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act ("RESPA") claims alleging that section 8(b)'s prohibition against "unearned fees" reached Wells Fargo's overcharging for excessive underwriting and tax services fees.

You got that? The Ninth Circuit justices have issued an affirmation. What they have affirmed is a dismissal. What was dismissed was some claims. The claims alleged something. The allegations were about a prohibition reaching something. What was prohibited was some unearned fees. What was (allegedly) reached was an overcharging. What was overcharged was payment for something excessive. What was excessive was some underwriting and some tax services fees. So the sentence as a whole means that… Umm…

I'm actually not sure what I'm going to do differently now that this decision of the Ninth Circuit is in. I'll just keep doing what I did before and hope I'm not in violation of whatever the above says.


  1. Kelley said,

    June 18, 2010 @ 12:02 pm

    I've been a longtime lurker on this site and just had to chime in when I read this one. Classic legalese right there. I sure wish some language-loggers could have chimed in when Congress drafted the obtuse laws I comb through on a daily basis. Part of the reason I pursued the law was because I love language. Since practicing, however, reading our language has rarely been a joy.

  2. Karen said,

    June 18, 2010 @ 12:26 pm

    It's not a crash blossom so much as just incomprehensible. It really does mean to have dead as the object in the headline. It just left some words out that would have been helpful, like "RESPA allows overcharging the dead in the Ninth Circuit".

    [I really seem to have confused you, Karen. Counter to my misleading title (I'm such a trickster), dead is intended as a predicative adjective: the article is about overcharges associated with RESPA being dead, no more, over, gone away. You see? —GKP]

  3. John Cowan said,

    June 18, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

    The headline is a crash blossom, but it's also wrong. It's not that overcharges are dead; on the contrary, the court has ruled that the overcharges in question (by Wells Fargo) are not prohibited by the Act. So it's the application of RESPA to this type of overcharge that's dead in the Ninth Circuit, unless the Supreme Court says otherwise.

  4. Sniffnoy said,

    June 18, 2010 @ 1:08 pm

    So, it's not the overcharges that are dead, but the category/label of overcharges for these things, then?

  5. Michael Yuri said,

    June 18, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

    For the nonlawyers, here's a translation of the quoted sentence:

    1) Wells Fargo allegedly overcharged for excessive underwriting and tax services fees.

    2) Section 8(b) of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act ("RESPA") prohibits "unearned fees" (presumably in some real estate related context).

    3) Someone sued Wells Fargo under RESPA, arguing that the alleged overcharges qualify as unearned fees under Section 8(b).

    4) The District Court (trial court) dismissed the case, holding that the overcharges are not "unearned fees" under Section 8(b).

    5) The Ninth Circuit (appeals court) upheld the lower court's dismissal.

    It's an ugly sentence, but perfectly comprehensible to someone fluent in legalese. On the other hand, as John Cowan notes, the headline is both a crash blossom and inaccurate.

    [Thank you, Michael. Lucid and beautiful. I'd like you to be my personal attorney in the future, if that's all right. —GKP]

  6. octopod said,

    June 18, 2010 @ 1:21 pm

    What kills me is that, after trimming this headline down to near-incomprehensibility, they left the "the" in.

  7. richard howland-bolton said,

    June 18, 2010 @ 1:53 pm

    The headline left me wondering just who Respa was and who he betrayed to end up at the bottom of the Inferno.

  8. Ellen said,

    June 18, 2010 @ 4:03 pm

    I think I get it. "RESPA overcharges" means the suit under RESPA regarding overcharges. It's one of those headlines where the reader is supposed to know that "RESPA overcharges" refers to this suit, and that this suit is now dead.

  9. Rubrick said,

    June 18, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

    I can hardly fail to avoid the conclusion that the whole article is not unmeaningless.

  10. Copacetic said,

    June 19, 2010 @ 2:54 am

    As a lawyer, this made perfect sense to me, and did not register as a crash blossom. However, the sense that it made was apparently the exact opposite of what it meant to say, as suggested by John Cowan et seq.

    It's the claims that are dead, not the overcharges.

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