Authors: By JESSE J. HOLLAND
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that three families cannot sue a mortgage company for allegedly charging them a loan discount fee without giving them a lower interest rate.
The high court's decision tosses out lawsuits filed in 2008 against Quicken Loans Inc. in Louisiana by three families who claimed they paid the fees without receiving anything in return. The Freeman family paid $980 and the Bennett family $1,100 in loan discount fees but allegedly did not get lower interest rates in return. The Smith family allegations focus partly on a loan origination fee of $5,100, which they claim was a mislabeled loan discount fee.
A federal judge threw the lawsuit out, saying the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act made the lawsuit improper. That decision, which was upheld by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, was appealed to the Supreme Court.
The law says no "person shall give and no person shall accept any portion, split or percentage of any charge made or received for the rendering of a real estate settlement service in connection with a transaction involving a federally related mortgage loan other than for services actually performed."
The argument is over whether that law "prohibits the collection of an unearned charge by a single settlement provider, or whether it covers only transactions in which a provider shares part of a settlement-service charge with one or more other persons who did nothing to earn it," said Justice Antonia Scalia, who wrote the opinion.
The court's decision was unanimous. "In our view, (the law) is unambiguous," Scalia said. "It covers only a settlement-service provider's splitting of a fee with one or more other persons."
Quicken Loans cheered the decision. "Although we always believed that we were on the right side of the law, it is especially gratifying to have the affirmation of the highest court in the country," the company said in a statement.
The court also ruled Thursday that a man can be retried on murder charges despite a jury forewoman's statement that they were unanimously against finding him guilty. The high court said Arkansas prosecutors can retry Alex Blueford on murder charges in the death of 20-month-old Matthew McFadden Jr. Authorities said the boy was beaten to death.
The jury forewoman told the judge before he declared a mistrial that the jury had voted unanimously against capital murder and first-degree murder. The jury had deadlocked on a lesser charge, manslaughter, which caused the judge to declare a mistrial. Blueford argued the forewoman's statement, said in open court, meant that he has been acquitted of capital murder and first-degree murder.
Prosecutors decided to retry Blueford of Jacksonville, Ark., on all three charges. He contended he could not be retried on capital murder and first-degree murder because of Fifth Amendment double jeopardy protections.
Chief Justice John Roberts said in a 6-3 ruling that since the judge declared a mistrial, there was no jury verdict and therefore no double jeopardy.
"The jury in this case did not convict Blueford of any offense, but it did not acquit him of any either," Roberts said. "When the jury was unable to return a verdict, the trial court properly declared a mistrial and discharged the jury. As a consequence, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not stand in the way of a second trial on the same offenses."
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented.
"The forewoman's announcement in open court that the jury was `unanimous against' conviction on capital and first-degree murder . . . was an acquittal for double jeopardy purposes," Sotomayor said.