Fidelity Fed. S. & L. v. De la Cuesta
458 U.S. 141 (1982)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Fidelity Fed. S. & L. v. De la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141 (1982)

Fidelity Federal Savings & Loan Association v. De la Cuesta

No. 81-750

Argued April 28, 1982

Decided June 28, 1982

458 U.S. 141

APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA,

FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT

Syllabus

Section 5(a) of the Home Owners' Loan Act of 1933 (HOLA) empowers the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (Board), under such regulations as it may prescribe, to provide for the organization, operation, and regulation of federal savings and loan associations. Pursuant to this authorization, the Board issued a regulation providing that a federal savings and loan association "continues to have the power to include . . . in its loan instrument" a "due-on-sale" clause, i.e., a provision that permits the association to declare the entire balance of the loan immediately due and payable if the property securing the loan is sold or otherwise transferred without the association's prior written consent. A preamble to the regulation stated that the due-on-sale practices of federal savings and loan associations shall be governed "exclusively by Federal law," and that the association "shall not be bound by or subject to any conflicting State law which imposes different . . . due-on-sale requirements." Appellees each purchased California real property from one who had borrowed money from appellant Fidelity Federal Savings and Loan Association (Fidelity). The borrowers had given Fidelity deeds of trust on the property; each deed contained a due-on-sale clause. Fidelity, not having received prior notice of the purchases, proceeded to enforce the due-on-sale clauses to accelerate payment of the loans, and when they were not paid, instituted nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings. Each appellee then filed suit against Fidelity in California Superior Court, asserting that Fidelity's exercise of the due-on-sale clauses violated the principles announced in Wellenkamp v. Bank of America, 21 Cal.3d 943, 582 P.2d 970, which limited a lender's right to exercise such a clause to cases where the lender can demonstrate that the transfer of the property has impaired its security. The Superior Court consolidated the actions and granted Fidelity's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the Federal Government had totally occupied the regulation of federal savings and loan associations. The California Court of Appeal reversed, holding that Wellenkamp was controlling, and that federal law had not expressly or impliedly preempted state due-on-sale law.

Held: The Board's due-on-sale regulation preempts conflicting state limitations on the due-on-sale practices of federal savings and loan associations,

Page 458 U. S. 142

and thus bars application of the Wellenkamp rule to such associations. Pp. 458 U. S. 152-170.

(a) The general principles governing preemption of state law that conflicts with federal law are not inapplicable here simply because real property is a matter of special concern to the States. And federal regulations have no less preemptive effect than federal statutes. Where Congress has empowered an administrator to promulgate regulations, regulations intended to preempt state law have that effect unless the administrator exceeded his statutory authority or acted arbitrarily. Pp. 458 U. S. 152-154.

(b) The language of the Board's regulation, and especially the preamble thereto, clearly show the Board's intent to preempt the Wellenkamp doctrine. The conflict between that doctrine and the regulation does not evaporate because the regulation simply permits, but does not compel, federal savings and loan associations to include a due-on-sale clause in their contracts and to enforce that clause when the security property is transferred. While compliance with both the regulation and the Wellenkamp rule may not be a physical impossibility, that rule forbids a federal savings and loan association to enforce a due-on-sale clause at its option, and deprives the association of the flexibility given it by the Board. The rule therefore creates an obstacle to the accomplishment of the regulation's purpose. Pp. 458 U. S. 154-159.

(c) The Board acted within its statutory authority in issuing the preemptive due-on-sale regulation. Both the language and legislative history of the HOLA indicate that the Board was authorized to regulate the lending practices of federal savings and loan associations. Congress delegated power to the Board expressly for the purpose of creating and regulating these associations so as to ensure that they would remain financially sound and able to supply financing for home construction and purchase. Consistent with that purpose, the Board reasonably exercised its authority in promulgating the due-on-sale regulation. Pp. 458 U. S. 159-170.

121 Cal.App.3d 328, 175 Cal.Rptr. 467, reversed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 458 U. S. 171. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEVENS, J., joined, post, p. 458 U. S. 172. POWELL, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 458 U. S. 144

JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

At issue in this case is the preemptive effect of a regulation, issued by the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (Board), permitting federal savings and loan associations to use "due-on-sale" clauses in their mortgage contracts. Appellees dispute both the Board's intent and its statutory authority to displace restrictions imposed by the California Supreme Court on the exercise of these clauses.

I

A

The Board, an independent federal regulatory agency, was formed in 1932, and thereafter was vested with plenary authority to administer the Home Owners' Loan Act of 1933 (HOLA), 48 Stat. 128, as amended, 12 U.S.C. § 1461 et seq. (1976 ed. and Supp. IV). [Footnote 1] Section 5(a) of the HOLA, 12 U.S.C. § 1464(a) (1976 ed., Supp. IV), empowers the Board,

Page 458 U. S. 145

"under such rules and regulations as it may prescribe, to provide for the organization, incorporation, examination, operation, and regulation of associations to be known as 'Federal Savings and Loan Associations.'"

Pursuant to this authorization, the Board has promulgated regulations governing "the powers and operations of every Federal savings and loan association from its cradle to its corporate grave." People v. Coast Federal Sav. & Loan Assn., 98 F.Supp. 311, 316 (SD Cal.1951).

In 1976, the Board became concerned about the increasing controversy as to the authority of a federal savings and loan association to exercise a "due-on-sale" clause -- a contractual provision that permits the lender to declare the entire balance of a loan immediately due and payable if the property securing the loan is sold or otherwise transferred. [Footnote 2] Specifically,

Page 458 U. S. 146

the Board felt that restrictions on a savings and loan's ability to accelerate a loan upon transfer of the security would have a number of adverse effects: (1) that

"the financial security and stability of Federal associations would be endangered if . . . the security property is transferred to a person whose ability to repay the loan and properly maintain the property is inadequate;"

(2) that

"elimination of the due on sale clause will cause a substantial reduction of the cash flow and net income of Federal associations, and that to offset such losses it is likely that the associations will be forced to charge higher interest rates and loan charges on home loans generally;"

and (3) that

"elimination of the due on sale clause will restrict and impair the ability of Federal associations to sell their home loans in the secondary mortgage market, by making such loans unsalable or causing them to be sold at reduced prices, thereby reducing the flow of new funds for residential loans, which otherwise would be available."

41 Fed.Reg. 6283, 6285 (1976). The Board concluded that

"elimination of the due on sale clause will benefit only a limited number of home sellers, but generally will cause economic hardship to the majority of home buyers and potential home buyers."

Ibid.

Accordingly, the Board issued a regulation in 1976 governing due-on-sale clauses. The regulation, now 12 CFR § 545.8-3(f) (1982), [Footnote 3] provides in relevant part:

"[A federal savings and loan] association continues to have the power to include, as a matter of contract between it and the borrower, a provision in its loan instrument

Page 458 U. S. 147

whereby the association may, at its option, declare immediately due and payable sums secured by the association's security instrument if all or any part of the real property securing the loan is sold or transferred by the borrower without the association's prior written consent. Except as [otherwise] provided in . . . this section . . . exercise by the association of such option (hereafter called a due-on-sale clause) shall be exclusively governed by the terms of the loan contract, and all rights and remedies of the association and borrower shall be fixed and governed by that contract."

In the preamble accompanying final publication of the due-on-sale regulation, the Board explained its intent that the due-on-sale practices of federal savings and loans be governed "exclusively by Federal law." 41 Fed.Reg. 18286, 18287 (1976). The Board emphasized that "[f]ederal associations shall not be bound by or subject to any conflicting State law which imposes different . . . due-on-sale requirements." Ibid. [Footnote 4]

B

Appellant Fidelity Federal Savings and Loan Association (Fidelity) is a private mutual savings and loan association chartered by the Board pursuant to § 5(a) of the HOLA. Fidelity's principal place of business is in Glendale, Cal. Appellees,

Page 458 U. S. 148

de la Cuesta, Moore, and Whitcombe, each made a purchase of California real property from one who had borrowed money from Fidelity. As security for the loan, the borrower had given Fidelity a deed of trust on the property. Each deed of trust contained a due-on-sale clause. Two of the deeds also included a provision, identified as

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