In Forez v. Goldman Sachs Mortgage, Lexis 35099 (E.D Va. 2010) plaintiffs asserted that Defendants lacked “authority” to foreclose under Virginia’s non-judicial foreclosure statutes. Second, Plaintiffs argued that loan securitization bars foreclosure because securitization “splits” the Note from the Deed of Trust or because “credit enhancements” related to securitized notes absolve borrowers of any liability under a mortgage loan as a “doub1e recovery.”
The only problem was that there was no evidence the subject loan had been securitized. The loan had been originated by CTX Mortgage who had sold it to Goldman Sachs who subsequently sold it to Freddie Mac. The list of usual suspects included MERS as nominee for the lender and Litton as the servicer. Regardless, the court held that under Virginia law negotiation of a note or bond secured by a deed of trust or mortgage carries with it the security instrument without formal assignment or delivery. The court cited to Stimpson v. Bishop, 82 Va. 190, 200-01 (1886) (“It is undoubtedly true that a transfer of a secured debt carries with it the security without formal assignment or delivery.”). And in Williams v. Gifford, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled:
[I]n Virginia, as to common law securities, the law is that both deeds of trust and mortgages are regarded in equity as mere securities for the debt and whenever the debt is assigned the deed of trust or mortgage is assigned or transferred with it.
139 Va. 779, 784, 124 S.E. 403 (1924).
“Thus, even if, as Plaintiffs assert without any factual support, there has been a so-called “split” between the Note and the Deed, the purchaser of the First Note, in this case GSMC and then Freddie Mac, received the debt in equity as a secured party.”
The court further noted “federal law explicitly allows for the creation of mortgage-related securities, such as the Securities Act of 1933 and the Secondary Mortgage Market Enhancement Act of 1984. Indeed, pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 77r-1, “[a]ny person, trust, corporation, partnership, association, business trust, or business entity . . . shall be authorized to purchase, hold, and invest in securities that are . . . mortgage related securities.” Id. § 77r-1(a)(1)(B). Foreclosures are routinely and justifiably conducted by trustees of securitized mortgages. Therefore, the court held “Plaintiffs arguments for declaratory judgment and quiet title based on the so-called “splitting” theory fail as a matter of law.”
According to Plaintiffs “any alleged obligation was satisfied, once the default was declared, because the various credit enhancement policies paid out making any injured party whole.” Plaintiffs averred that foreclosure on the Property to collect on payment owed under the First Note will result in a double recovery prohibited by Virginia statute and case law. However, the court went on to say that Plaintiffs’ double recovery argument against Defendants is based on false assumptions because neither MERS, Litton, nor Goldman own the Notes or securitized the Notes. Therefore, the court concluded, none of the named Defendants could receive a “double recovery,” assuming such claim existed.
Judge Claude Hilton reminded the Plaintiffs “no provision in the U.S. or Virginia Codes supports [their] argument that credit enhancements or credit default swaps (“CDS”) are unlawful. No decision from any court in any jurisdiction supports such a claim.”
Hilton further stated that “Plaintiffs’ double recovery theory ignores the fact that a CDS contract is a separate contract, distinct from Plaintiffs’ debt obligations under the reference credit (i.e. the Note). The CDS contract is a “bilateral financial contract” in which the protection buyer makes periodic payments to the protection seller. See Eternity Global Master Fund Ltd. v. Morgan Guar. Trust Co., 375 F.3d 168, 172 (2d Cir. 2004).”
If the credit event occurs, noted Hilton, the CDS buyer recovers according to the terms of the CDS contract, not the reference credit. “Any CDS “payout” is bargained for and paid for by the CDS buyer under a separate contract. See In re Worldcom, Inc. Sec. Litig., 346 F. Supp. 2d 628, 651 n.29 (S.D.N.Y. 2004) (explaining that a premium is paid on a swap contract to the seller for credit default protection, and if the default event does not occur, payer has only lost the premium).”
The court held that “CDS do not, as Plaintiffs suggest, indemnify the buyer of protection against loss, but merely allow parties to balance risk through separate third party contracts. Therefore, Plaintiffs’ “double recovery” argument fails as a matter of law.”
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Another example, not as publicly well known or understood as the foregoing, is the MERS system of registering and tracking transfer of interests in deeds of trust. Incorporated in 1997, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. (MERS) revolutionized mortgage banking. By acting as the designated “holder” of a loan’s security instrument – albeit, as a nominee for the holder of the loan – MERS circumvents the administrative hurdle of publicly recording documents that reflect each sale or transfer of a secured home loan. As a result, the common burdens, inefficiencies and expenses associated with selling or transferring secured home loans were greatly minimized.
Unfortunately, with convenience and efficiency, come negative side-effects. The assembly line, the microwave, the Internet, speed dating and drive-thrus arguably brought on poor quality, obesity and antisocial behavior. Similarly, with the ease of transfer of loans under MERS, some argue, came a substantial factor in the exploitation of the subprime lending market by unscrupulous lenders. In fact, many defaulted borrowers continue to allege that the MERS system permitted numerous lenders and investors to play “hot potato” with their subprime loans, which they naively believe caused the nation’s current housing crisis.
Finding MERS’ nominee relationship incomprehensible, many defaulted borrowers filing lawsuits today, in an attempt to thwart, or at least delay, foreclosure, allege that MERS’ role as nominee illegally splits the loan from its security instrument, rendering the loan unsecured. Although it is true, with exception, that the law requires a loan and its security instrument to be owned by one entity, these defaulted borrowers attempt to stretch the law beyond its intent.
Nevertheless, courts across the country are having trouble reconciling MERS’ relationship loans and its security instruments. Using a title from one of Clint Eastwood’s best movies, here is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the recent MERS debate in the courts.
The first recent noteworthy judicial decision favoring MERS is the case of Ramos v. MERS. There, the Federal District Court of Nevada rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that MERS, as nominee beneficiary, “has no rights or powers to confer upon the [foreclosure] trustee the power to sell” in a deed of trust. The Ramos court held that since Nevada law permits a deed of trust’s beneficiary to foreclose, and because the deed of trust expressly named MERS as its beneficiary, MERS was legally empowered and contractually authorized by the borrower to foreclose and appoint a substitute foreclosure trustee.
Several months after the Ramos case, came the Supreme Court of Minnesota’s decision in Jackson v. MERS. In Jackson, the plaintiffs argued that MERS could not commence foreclosure proceedings because the numerous assignments of the underlying promissory note had not been publicly recorded, in violation of Minnesota law.
Although Minnesota does require the recording of all mortgage assignments before initiating foreclosure, the court in this case distinguished an assignment of the mortgage from an assignment of only the promissory note.
The court articulated that “…an assignment of only the promissory note, which carries with it an equitable assignment of the security instrument, is not an assignment of legal title that must be recorded….” In rendering its decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that nominee mortgagees, like MERS, can “hold legal title of the security instrument without holding an interest in the promissory note” since the equitable beneficiary interest – or “real ownership” – in the security is held by the noteholder, which keeps the note and mortgage intertwined.
Bucci v. Lehman Bros. Bank FSB, from the Superior Court of Rhode Island, is another recent judicial decision in favor of MERS. Similar to the court in Ramos v. MERS, the Bucci court held that MERS had both a contractual and statutory right to commence foreclosure proceedings. First, the Bucci court recognized that the language in the mortgage expressly granted “MERS as nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns” the “Statutory Power of Sale” and right to foreclose.
Second, the Bucci court reasoned that even though MERS is acting as nominee and does not have a beneficial interest in the note, the express designation in the mortgage that MERS is the “mortgagee” permitted MERS to initiate foreclosure proceedings as a mortgagee pursuant to the Rhode Island law.
A final notable decision in favor of MERS is Cervantes v. Countrywide Home Loans Inc. In this case, the Federal District Court of Arizona dismissed MERS from the action, holding that: (1) MERS, by acting as a nominee beneficiary and never owning or acquiring a beneficial interest in the promissory note, is not a “sham” beneficiary, and (2) the MERS system of tracking assignments of promissory notes, as opposed to public recordings, is not fraudulent.
While MERS was given a legal boost in 2009, MERS also received a few interesting defeats.
The bad starts in the Midwest, with the Missouri Court of Appeals’ decision in Bellistri v. Ocwen Loan Servicing LLC. There, the court held that because “MERS never held the promissory note…its assignment of the deed of trust to [the assignee] separate from the note had no force,” and, thus, the assignee was without any legal interest in the deed of trust. The Bellistri court relied on the general legal premise that if the note and its deed of trust are separated and not held by the same person, then the note becomes unsecured.
However, the Bellistri decision may have relied more on counsel’s failure to explain MERS’ agency relationship with its principal noteholders, rather than a finding that the note and deed of trust were actually separated. In fact, the court acknowledged that when the holder of the deed of trust is the agent for the holder of the note, a separation or “splitting” does not occur, leaving the deed of trust unaffected and valid.
Relying, in part, on the holding of Bellistri, the Supreme Court of Kansas recently stunned the industry with its decision of Landmark National Bank v. Kesler. In Landmark, MERS was acting as the nominee mortgagee for a second mortgage. When the first lienholder filed a petition to foreclose, neither MERS nor its principal noteholder were named parties or given notice of the litigation.
As a result, the trial court entered a default judgment in favor of the first lienholder. MERS unsuccessfully challenged the ruling. The Supreme Court found that since MERS did not have any tangible interest in the mortgage (i.e., it was not a beneficiary, did not issue the loan and was not entitled to collect on the debt), it was not entitled to notice.
Fortunately, the Landmark Court seemed to imply that it was merely deciding whether the lower trial court acted appropriately, not whether MERS was technically entitled to notice. However, the case could be interpreted both ways, and you can be sure which way the borrowers will read it: If MERS does not have an interest in the mortgage to entitle it to notice, it does not have the right to foreclose.
Another recent negative MERS decision is In Re Hawkins. In Hawkins, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Nevada held that MERS did not produce sufficient evidence to demonstrate that it was entitled to lift a bankruptcy stay on foreclosure. The Hawkins court did acknowledge that Nevada only permits enforcement of a note by its holder (i.e., the person to whom the instrument is made payable) or a nonholder in possession with the rights of the holder, but the court found MERS did not prove it was either.
As was the case with the Bellistri court, the Hawkins court recognized that a note cannot be split from its deed of trust, but it also noted the exception of when the holder of the deed of trust is the agent for the holder of the note. As such, the Hawkins court indicated that had MERS proven it was the actual agent for the holder of the note, then MERS would have likely been able to lift the bankruptcy stay, albeit, only in the name of its principal.
While extremely limited in scope, the holdings of Bellistri, Landmark and Hawkins have opened the door for numerous class action lawsuits in Arizona, Nevada and California. These class action plaintiffs claim that MERS’ designation as beneficiary under their deeds of trust impermissibly splits the promissory note from its deed of trust, rendering the note unsecured.
On this basis, the class action plaintiffs are seeking to enjoin all foreclosures in Arizona, Nevada and California. Fortunately, there have not been any broad injunctions issued as of yet. The cases are currently awaiting a decision from the Multi-District Litigation (MDL) panel on whether to centralize the cases before one judge. Co-author Robert Finlay had the privilege of sitting in on the MDL hearing in early November at Harvard Law School. Interestingly, half of the lender defendants argued for centralization, while Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, other lenders and the plaintiffs argued to keep the cases in their respective courts.
A ruling could have been reached by the time this article lands in print. Centralization could be a great result, if the case gets the judge who decided the Cervantes case discussed above. But, centralization with the wrong judge could turn these class actions even uglier.
In addition to the troublesome class actions, numerous homeowners across the country are filing individual lawsuits also challenging MERS’ role as nominee beneficiary/mortgagee. Not only do these lawsuits greatly delay pending foreclosures and require a substantial amount of money in litigation expenses, but they also create more opportunities for the courts to make decisions like Bellistri, Landmark and Hawkins. This will only cause further trouble for MERS and its principal noteholders.
Although Bellistri, Landmark and Hawkins provide fodder for the seemingly nationwide attack on MERS, these cases appear to supply the answer for MERS’ plight: demonstrating, elaborating and explaining to the court MERS’ agency relationship with its note-holders.
Both Bellistri and Hawkins recognized the exception to the rule: When the holder of the security instrument is an agent for the holder of the promissory note, the instruments are not split. Unfortunately, the courts in Bellistri and Hawkins were provided insufficient explanations and evidence to demonstrate that MERS’ agency relationship falls within the exception. Consequently, while such litigation will continue – for the short run, anyway – the net result may be favorable for MERS, with changes in the law that finally recognize and incorporate the utility of the MERS system.
Robert Finlay is a partner with Wright, Finlay & Zak LLP specializing in mortgage- and title-related litigation throughout California. He can be contacted at (949) 477-5050 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Nicholas Hood, an attorney with the firm, can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEVADA
Dist. Ct. Case No. 2:09-CV-00661-KJD-LRL
Bankr. Ct. Case No. BK-S-07-16645-LBR
Presently before the Court is Appellant’s Appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 158(a) from the Bankruptcy Court’s Order Denying Motion to Lift Stay entered in the Adversary Proceeding No. BKS- 07-16645-LBR, docket no. 49, March 31, 2009.
Having considered the briefs and the record on appeal, including the arguments of parties at the consolidated hearing on November 10, 2009, the Court affirms the Order of the Bankruptcy Court
Procedural History and Facts
On April 14, 2009, Appellant Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) filed Notice of Appeal (#1) appealing the Bankruptcy Court’s order denying Appellant’s motion for relief from stay. This appeal is one of approximately eighteen (18) similar cases in which the Bankruptcy Court ruled that Appellant lacked standing to bring the motion.
In the underlying bankruptcy action, MERS filed its Motion for Relief from Stay (“the Motion”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Practice (“Rule”) 4001 on January 14, 2008 seeking to have the automatic stay lifted so that MERS could conduct a non-judicial foreclosure saleon debtor’s real property because the debtor lacked the ability to make payments and could not provide adequate security. Trustee Lenard E. Schwartzer (“Trustee”) filed objections to the Motion claiming that MERS did not have standing as a real party in interest under the Rules to file the motion. (Appellant’s Appendix (“Appx.”) Doc. No. 12, p. 34).
In response, Appellant filed the Declaration of Faatima Straggans, an employee of Homecomings Financial, LLC the authorized servicing agent for MERS, attempting to authenticate a copy of the original Deed of Trust (“Deed”) and Note. (Appx. 36–38). The Deed described MERS as beneficiary and identified MERS as the nominee of the original lender, FMC Capital LLC. Id. However, the Declaration identified neither the current owner of the beneficial interest in the Note, nor any of the successors or assignees of the Deed of Trust. The Declaration also failed to assert that MERS, FMC Capital LLC or Homecomings Financial, LLC held the Note.
Due to the similar issues raised regarding motions for relief from stay in approximately twenty-seven (27) cases involving MERS, the Bankruptcy Court set a joint hearing for all twenty seven cases. (Appx. 113–18). The Bankruptcy Court also ordered consolidated briefing for all cases to be filed in Case No. 07-16226-LBR, In re Mitchell, the “lead case”. Id. In a majority of the cases, including the present case, Appellant attempted to withdraw the Motion but was procedurally unable to do so, because the Trustee would not consent. (Appx. 1383, 1902-1904, 1907-1909). MERS informed the Bankruptcy Court that it had attempted to withdraw the Motion, because it had been filed contrary to its own corporate procedures. (Appx. 432). Particularly in this case, MERS was unable to show that a MERS Certifying Officer was in physical possession of the Note at the time the Motion was filed. (Appx. 624).
A final hearing was held on August 19, 2008. (Appx. 650-729). On March 31, 2009, the Bankruptcy Court issued Memorandum Opinions and Orders denying MERS’ motions for relief from stay in Mitchell and two other cases. (Appx. 740-54, 1581-95, 1959-72). In the remaining cases, including the present case, the Bankruptcy Court denied the motions for relief from stay by incorporating the reasoning from the Mitchell Memorandum Opinion. (Appx.46). The Bankruptcy Court held that MERS lacked standing because it was not a real party in interest as required by the Rules. (Appx. 740-54). Specifically, the court found that “[w]hile MERS may have standing to prosecute the motion in the name of its Member as nominee, there is no evidence that the named nominee is entitled to enforce the note or that MERS is the agent of the note’s holder.” (Appx. 753).
The court further held that MERS’ asserted interest as beneficiary under the contract terms did not confer standing because MERS had no actual beneficial interest in the note and, therefore, was not a beneficiary. (Appx. 745-48). MERS now appeals that order asserting that the Bankruptcy Court erred as a matter of law when it determined that MERS may not be a beneficiary under the deeds of trust at issue in the eighteen consolidated cases where the express language of the deeds of trust provide that MERS is the beneficiary. The Trustee continues to assert that MERS lacks standing because it is not a real party in interest. II. Standard of Review
This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158(a) and reviews the Bankruptcy Court’s findings under the same standard that the court of appeals would review a district court’s findings in a civil matter. 28 U.S.C. § 158(c)(2). Therefore, the Court reviews the Bankruptcy Court’s factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard, and conclusions of law de novo. See In re Healthcentral.com, 504 F.3d 775, 783 (9th Cir. 2007); In re First Magnus Fin. Corp., 403 B.R. 659, 663 (D. Ariz. 2009). III. Analysis This appeal arises from eighteen cases in which MERS filed motions for relief from stay in the Bankruptcy Court. In each case, either a party or the Bankruptcy Court raised the issue of whether MERS had standing to bring the motion.
In holding that MERS did not have standing as the real party in interest to bring the motion for relief from stay, the Bankruptcy Court determined that MERS was not a beneficiary in spite of language that designated MERS as such in the Deed of Trust at issue. MERS seeks to overturn the Bankruptcy Court’s determination that it is not a beneficiary. However, the Court must affirm the Bankruptcy Court’s order under the facts presented because MERS failed to present sufficient evidence demonstrating that it is a real party in interest.
A motion for relief from stay is a contested matter under the Bankruptcy Code. See Fed. R. Bankr. P. 4001(a); 9014(c). Bankruptcy Rule 7017 applies in contested matters. Rule 7017 incorporates Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(a)(1) which requires that “[a]n action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.” See also, In re Jacobson, 402 B.R. 359, 365-66 (Bankr. W.D. Wash. 2009); In re Hwang, 396 B.R. 757, 766-67 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008). Thus, while MERS argues the bankruptcy court erred when it determined that MERS was not a beneficiary under the deeds of trust, MERS only has standing in the context of the motion to lift stay under the Rules if it is the real party in interest. See Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7017. Since MERS admits that it does not actually receive or forfeit money when borrowers fail to make their payments, MERS must at least provide evidence of its alleged agency relationship with the real party in interest in order to have standing to seek relief from stay. See Jacobson, 402 B.R. at 366, n.7 (quoting Hwang, 396 B.R. at 767 (“the right to enforce a note on behalf of a noteholder does not convert the noteholder’s agent into a real party in interest”)).
An agent for the purpose of bringing suit is “viewed as a nominal rather than a real party in interest and will be required to litigate in the name of his principal rather than his own name.” Hwang, 396 B.R. at 767. This is particularly important in the District of Nevada where the Local Rules of Bankruptcy Practice require parties to communicate in good faith regarding resolution of a motion for relief from stay before it is In other cases movant did not seek to withdraw the Motion, but similarly produced no evidence that it held the note or acted as the agent of the noteholder. filed. LR 4001(a)(3). The parties cannot come to a resolution if those with a beneficial interest in the note have not been identified and engaged in the communication.
In the context of a motion for relief from stay, the movant, MERS in this case, bears the burden of proving it is a real party in interest. In re Wilhelm, 407 B.R. 392, 400 (Bankr. D. Idaho 2009)(citing In re Hayes, 393 B.R. 259, 267 (Bankr. D.Mass. 2008)(“To have standing to seek relief from the automatic stay, [movant] was required to establish that it is a party in interest and that its rights are not those of another entity”)).
Initially, a movant seeking relief from stay may rely upon its motion. Id. However, if a trustee or debtor objects based upon standing, the movant must come forward with evidence of standing. Id.; Jacobson, 402 B.R. at 367 (requiring movant at least demonstrate who presently holds the note at issue or the source of movant’s authority). Instead of presenting the evidence to the Bankruptcy Court, MERS attempted to withdraw the Motion from the Bankruptcy Court’s consideration, citing the failure of a MERS Certifying Officer to demonstrate that a member was in physical possession of the promissory note at the time the motion was filed.1 The only evidence provided by MERS was a declaration that MERS had been identified as a beneficiary in the deed of trust and that it had been named nominee for the original lender.
Since MERS provided no evidence that it was the agent or nominee for the current owner of the beneficial interest in the note, it has failed to meet its burden of establishing that it is a real party in interest with standing. Accordingly, the order of the Bankruptcy Court must be affirmed. This holding is limited to the specific facts and procedural posture of the instant case. Since the Bankruptcy Court denied the Motion without prejudice nothing prevents Appellant from refilling the Motion in Bankruptcy Court providing the evidence it admits should be readily available in its system. The Court makes no finding that MERS would not be able to establish itself as a real party in interest had it identified the holder of the note or provided sufficient evidence of the source of its authority. IV.
Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Order of the Bankruptcy Court entered March 31, 2009 is AFFIRMED. DATED this 4th day of December 2009.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
In bankruptcy and government takeovers of financial institutions, missing collateral is a major obstacle for trustees and regulators to overcome. The missing assignment problem is an extension of not carelessness or sloppiness as many have claimed, but of overt acts of fraud.
Skilled attorneys and forensic accounting experts could expose this fraud and as such, the effects and implications are more far reaching than a borrower, simply having their debt extinguished. Debt extinguishment or dismissal of foreclosure actions could be obtained if it can be shown that the entity filing the foreclosure:
• Does not own the note;
• Made false representations to the court in pleadings;
• Does not have proper authority to foreclose;
• Does not have possession of the note; and/or
• All indispensable parties (the actual owners) are not before the
court or represented in the pending foreclosure action.
To circumvent these issues, mortgage servicers and the secondary market have created and maintained a number of practices and procedures. MERS was briefly discussed and will be the sole subject of a major fraud report in the future.
Another common trade practice is to create pre-dated, backdated, and fraudulent assignments of mortgages and endorsements before or after the fact to support the allegations being made by the foreclosing party. Foreclosing parties are most often the servicer or MERS acting on the servicer’s behalf, not the owners of the actual promissory note. Often, they assist in concealing known frauds and abuses by originators, prior servicers, and mortgage brokers from both the borrowers and investors by the utilization of concealing the true chain of ownership of a borrower’s loan.
FOR decades, when troubled homeowners and banks battled over delinquent mortgages, it wasn’t a contest. Homes went into foreclosure, and lenders took control of the property.
On top of that, courts rubber-stamped the array of foreclosure charges that lenders heaped onto borrowers and took banks at their word when the lenders said they owned the mortgage notes underlying troubled properties.
In other words, with lenders in the driver’s seat, borrowers were run over, more often than not. Of course, errant borrowers hardly deserve sympathy from bankers or anyone else, and banks are well within their rights to try to protect their financial interests.
But if our current financial crisis has taught us anything, it is that many borrowers entered into mortgage agreements without a clear understanding of the debt they were incurring. And banks often lacked a clear understanding of whether all those borrowers could really repay their loans.
Even so, banks and borrowers still do battle over foreclosures on an unlevel playing field that exists in far too many courtrooms. But some judges are starting to scrutinize the rules-don’t-matter methods used by lenders and their lawyers in the recent foreclosure wave. On occasion, lenders are even getting slapped around a bit.
One surprising smackdown occurred on Oct. 9 in federal bankruptcy court in the Southern District of New York. Ruling that a lender, PHH Mortgage, hadn’t proved its claim to a delinquent borrower’s home in White Plains, Judge Robert D. Drain wiped out a $461,263 mortgage debt on the property. That’s right: the mortgage debt disappeared, via a court order.
So the ruling may put a new dynamic in play in the foreclosure mess: If the lender can’t come forward with proof of ownership, and judges don’t look kindly on that, then borrowers may have a stronger hand to play in court and, apparently, may even be able to stay in their homes mortgage-free.
The reason that notes have gone missing is the huge mass of mortgage securitizations that occurred during the housing boom. Securitizations allowed for large pools of bank loans to be bundled and sold to legions of investors, but some of the nuts and bolts of the mortgage game — notes, for example — were never adequately tracked or recorded during the boom. In some cases, that means nobody truly knows who owns what.
To be sure, many legal hurdles mean that the initial outcome of the White Plains case may not be repeated elsewhere. Nevertheless, the ruling — by a federal judge, no less — is bound to bring a smile to anyone who has been subjected to rough treatment by a lender. Methinks a few of those people still exist.
More important, the case is an alert to lenders that dubious proof-of-ownership tactics may no longer be accepted practice. They may even be viewed as a fraud on the court.
The United States Trustee, a division of the Justice Department charged with monitoring the nation’s bankruptcy courts, has also taken an interest in the White Plains case. Its representative has attended hearings in the matter, and it has registered with the court as an interested party.
THE case involves a borrower, who declined to be named, living in a home with her daughter and son-in-law. According to court documents, the borrower bought the house in 2001 with a mortgage from Wells Fargo; four and a half years later she refinanced with Mortgage World Bankers Inc.
She fell behind in her payments, and David B. Shaev, a consumer bankruptcy lawyer in Manhattan, filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan on her behalf in late February in an effort to save her home from foreclosure.
A proof of claim to the debt was filed in March by PHH, a company based in Mount Laurel, N.J. The $461,263 that PHH said was owed included $33,545 in arrears.
Mr. Shaev said that when he filed the case, he had simply hoped to persuade PHH to modify his client’s loan. But after months of what he described as foot-dragging by PHH and its lawyers, he asked for proof of PHH’s standing in the case.
“If you want to take someone’s house away, you’d better make sure you have the right to do it,” Mr. Shaev said in an interview last week.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 2 so far )
In this Chapter 7 case, the trustee, Ford Elsaesser (“Trustee”), objects to amotion under § 362(d) for relief from the § 362(a) automatic stay.1 Motions under § 362(d) are common in bankruptcy cases.2 Most stay relief requests proceed promptly to entry of an order, after proper notice, without any objection.
However, changes in mortgage practices over the past several years have created a number of new issues. The one highlighted in this case is the standing of the moving creditor. Serial assignments of the mortgagee’s interest(s) and the securitization of mortgages have complicated what was previously a generally straight-forward standing analysis. Though many creditors provide in their motions adequate explanation and documentation of their standing to seek relief on real estate secured debts, Trustee challenges the adequacy of the subject motion in this case.
Following hearing and consideration of the arguments of the parties, the Court determines that Trustee’s objection is well taken and the same will be sustained. The motion for stay relief will be denied.
BACKGROUND AND FACTS
On June 24, 2008, Darrell and Sherry Ann Sheridan (“Debtors”) filed their joint chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, schedules and statements. They scheduled a fee ownership interest in a residence located in Post Falls, Idaho. See Doc. No. 1 at sched. A (the “Property”). Debtors asserted the Property’s value was $225,000.00. Id. They indicated secured claims existed in favor of “Litton Loan Servicing” ($197,000.00) and “Citimortgage” ($34,000.00). Id. at sched. D.
While this left no apparent equity in the Property, Debtors nevertheless claimed the benefit of an Idaho homestead exemption. Id. at sched. C.4Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
By PAM MARTENS
The financial tsunami unleashed by Wall Street’s esurient alchemy of spinning toxic home mortgages into triple-A bonds, a process known as securitization, has set off its second round of financial tremors.
After leaving mortgage investors, bank shareholders, and pension fiduciaries awash in losses and a large chunk of Wall Street feeding at the public trough, the full threat of this vast securitization machine and its unseen masters who push the levers behind a tightly drawn curtain is playing out in courtrooms across America.
Three plain talking judges, in state courts in Massachusetts and Kansas, and a Federal Court in Ohio, have drilled down to the “straw man” aspect of securitization. The judges’ decisions have raised serious questions as to the legality of hundreds of thousands of foreclosures that have transpired as well as the legal standing of the subsequent purchasers of those homes, who are more and more frequently the Wall Street banks themselves.
Adding to the chaos, the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has made rule changes that will force hundreds of billions of dollars of these securitizations back onto the Wall Street banks balance sheets, necessitating the need to raise capital just as the unseemly courtroom dramas are playing out.
The problems grew out of the steps required to structure a mortgage securitization. In order to meet the test of an arm’s length transaction, pass muster with regulators, conform to accounting rules and to qualify as an actual sale of the securities in order to be removed from the bank’s balance sheet, the mortgages get transferred a number of times before being sold to investors. Typically, the original lender (or a sponsor who has purchased the mortgages in the secondary market) will transfer the mortgages to a limited purpose entity called a depositor. The depositor will then transfer the mortgages to a trust which sells certificates to investors based on the various risk-rated tranches of the mortgage pool. (Theoretically, the lower rated tranches were to absorb the losses of defaults first with the top triple-A tiers being safe. In reality, many of the triple-A tiers have received ratings downgrades along with all the other tranches.)
Because of the expense, time and paperwork it would take to record each of the assignments of the thousands of mortgages in each securitization, Wall Street firms decided to just issue blank mortgage assignments all along the channel of transfers, skipping the actual physical recording of the mortgage at the county registry of deeds.
Astonishingly, representatives for the trusts have been foreclosing on homes across the country, evicting the families, then auctioning the homes, without a proper paper trail on the mortgage assignments or proof that they had legal standing. In some cases, the courts have allowed the representatives to foreclose and evict despite their admission that the original mortgage note is lost. (This raises the question as to whether these mortgage notes are really lost or might have been fraudulently used in multiple securitizations, a concern raised by some Wall Street veterans.)
But, at last, some astute judges have done more than take a cursory look and render a shrug. In a decision handed down on October 14, 2009, Judge Keith Long of the Massachusetts Land Court wrote:
“The blank mortgage assignments they possessed transferred nothing…in Massachusetts, a mortgage is a conveyance of land. Nothing is conveyed unless and until it is validly conveyed. The various agreements between the securitization entities stating that each had a right to an assignment of the mortgage are not themselves an assignment and they are certainly not in recordable form…The issues in this case are not merely problems with paperwork or a matter of dotting i’s and crossing t’s. Instead, they lie at the heart of the protections given to homeowners and borrowers by the Massachusetts legislature. To accept the plaintiffs’ arguments is to allow them to take someone’s home without any demonstrable right to do so, based upon the assumption that they ultimately will be able to show that they have that right and the further assumption that potential bidders will be undeterred by the lack of a demonstrable legal foundation for the sale and will nonetheless bid full value in the expectation that that foundation will ultimately be produced, even if it takes a year or more. The law recognizes the troubling nature of these assumptions, the harm caused if those assumptions prove erroneous, and commands otherwise.” [Italic emphasis in original.] (U.S. Bank National Association v. Ibanez/Wells Fargo v. Larace)
A month and a half before, on August 28, 2009, Judge Eric S. Rosen of the Kansas Supreme Court took an intensive look at a “straw man” some Wall Street firms had set up to handle the dirty work of foreclosure and serve as the “nominee” as the mortgages flipped between the various entities. Called MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.) it’s a bankruptcy-remote subsidiary of MERSCORP, which in turn is owned by units of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, the Mortgage Bankers Association and assorted mortgage and title companies. According to the MERSCORP web site, these “shareholders played a critical role in the development of MERS. Through their capital support, MERS was able to fund expenses related to development and initial start-up.”
In recent years, MERS has become less of an electronic registration system and more of a serial defendant in courts across the land. In a May 2009 document titled “The Building Blocks of MERS,” the company concedes that “Recently there has been a wave of lawsuits filed by homeowners facing foreclosure which challenge MERS standing…” and then proceeds over the next 30 pages to describe the lawsuits state by state, putting a decidedly optimistic spin on the situation.
MERS doesn’t have a big roster of employees or lawyers running around the country foreclosing and defending itself in lawsuits. It simply deputizes employees of the banks and mortgage companies that use it as a nominee. It calls these deputies a “certifying officer.” Here’s how they explain this on their web site: “A certifying officer is an officer of the Member [mortgage company or bank] who is appointed a MERS officer by the Corporate Secretary of MERS by the issuance of a MERS Corporate Resolution. The Resolution authorizes the certifying officer to execute documents as a MERS officer.”
Kansas Supreme Court Judge Rosen wasn’t buying MERS’ story. In fact, Wall Street was probably not too happy to land before Judge Rosen. In January 2002, Judge Rosen had received the Martin Luther King “Living the Dream” Humanitarian Award; he previously served as Associate General Counsel for the Kansas Securities Commissioner, and as Assistant District Attorney in Shawnee County, Kansas. Judge Rosen wrote:
“The relationship that MERS has to Sovereign [Bank] is more akin to that of a straw man than to a party possessing all the rights given a buyer… What meaning is this court to attach to MERS’s designation as nominee for Millennia [Mortgage Corp.]? The parties appear to have defined the word in much the same way that the blind men of Indian legend described an elephant — their description depended on which part they were touching at any given time. Counsel for Sovereign stated to the trial court that MERS holds the mortgage ‘in street name, if you will, and our client the bank and other banks transfer these mortgages and rely on MERS to provide them with notice of foreclosures and what not.’ ” (Landmark National Bank v. Boyd A. Kesler)
Lawyers for homeowners see a darker agenda to MERS. Timothy McCandless, a California lawyer, wrote on his blog as follows:
“…all across the country, MERS now brings foreclosure proceedings in its own name — even though it is not the financial party in interest. This is problematic because MERS is not prepared for or equipped to provide responses to consumers’ discovery requests with respect to predatory lending claims and defenses. In effect, the securitization conduit attempts to use a faceless and seemingly innocent proxy with no knowledge of predatory origination or servicing behavior to do the dirty work of seizing the consumer’s home. While up against the wall of foreclosure, consumers that try to assert predatory lending defenses are often forced to join the party — usually an investment trust — that actually will benefit from the foreclosure. As a simple matter of logistics this can be difficult, since the investment trust is even more faceless and seemingly innocent than MERS itself. The investment trust has no customer service personnel and has probably not even retained counsel. Inquiries to the trustee — if it can be identified — are typically referred to the servicer, who will then direct counsel back to MERS. This pattern of non-response gives the securitization conduit significant leverage in forcing consumers out of their homes. The prospect of waging a protracted discovery battle with all of these well funded parties in hopes of uncovering evidence of predatory lending can be too daunting even for those victims who know such evidence exists. So imposing is this opaque corporate wall, that in a ‘vast’ number of foreclosures, MERS actually succeeds in foreclosing without producing the original note — the legal sine qua non of foreclosure — much less documentation that could support predatory lending defenses.”
One of the first judges to hand Wall Street a serious slap down was Christopher A. Boyko of U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Ohio. In an opinion dated October 31, 2007, Judge Boyko dismissed 14 foreclosures that had been brought on behalf of investors in securitizations. Judge Boyko delivered the following harsh rebuke in a footnote:
“Plaintiff’s ‘Judge, you just don’t understand how things work,’ argument reveals a condescending mindset and quasi-monopolistic system where financial institutions have traditionally controlled, and still control, the foreclosure process…There is no doubt every decision made by a financial institution in the foreclosure is driven by money. And the legal work which flows from winning the financial institution’s favor is highly lucrative. There is nothing improper or wrong with financial institutions or law firms making a profit – to the contrary, they should be rewarded for sound business and legal practices. However, unchallenged by underfinanced opponents, the institutions worry less about jurisdictional requirements and more about maximizing returns. Unlike the focus of financial institutions, the federal courts must act as gatekeepers…” (In Re Foreclosure Cases)
While the illegal foreclosure filings, investor lawsuits over securitization improprieties, and predatory lending challenges play out in courts across the country, a few sentences buried deep in Citigroup’s 10Q filing for the quarter ended June 30, 2009 signals that we’ve seen merely a few warts on the head of the securitization monster thus far and the massive torso remains well hidden in murky water.
Citigroup tells us that the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) has issued a new rule, SFAS No. 166, and this is going to have a significant impact on Citigroup’s Consolidated Financial Statements “as the Company will lose sales treatment for certain assets previously sold to QSPEs [Qualifying Special Purpose Entities], as well as for certain future sales, and for certain transfers of portions of assets that do not meet the definition of participating interests. Just when might we expect this new land mine to go off? “SFAS 166 is effective for fiscal years that begin after November 15, 2009.” There’s more bad news. The FASB has also issued SFAS 167 and, long story short, more of those off balance sheet assets are going to move back onto Citi’s books.
Bottom line says Citi:
“… the cumulative effect of adopting these new accounting standards as of January 1, 2010, based on financial information as of June 30, 2009, would result in an estimated aggregate after-tax charge to Retained earnings of approximately $8.3 billion, reflecting the net effect of an overall pretax charge to Retained earnings (primarily relating to the establishment of loan loss reserves and the reversal of residual interests held) of approximately $13.3 billion and the recognition of related deferred tax assets amounting to approximately $5.0 billion….” [Emphasis in original.]
I’m trying to imagine how the American taxpayer is going to be asked to put more money into Citigroup as it continues to bleed into infinity.
Citigroup is far from alone in financial hits that will be coming from the Qualifying Special Purpose Entities. Regulators are receiving letters from Citigroup and other Wall Street firms pressing hard to rethink when this change will take effect.
Putting aside for the moment the massive predatory lending frauds bundled into mortgage securitizations, inadequate debate has occurred on whether securitization of home mortgages (other than those of government sponsored enterprises) should be resuscitated or allowed to die a welcome death. If we understand the true function of Wall Street, to efficiently allocate capital, the answer must be a resounding no to this racket.
Trillions of dollars of bundled home mortgage loans and derivative side bets tied to those loans were being manufactured by Wall Street without any one asking the basic question: why is all this capital being invested in a dormant structure? Houses don’t think and innovate. Houses don’t spawn new technologies, patents, new industries. Houses don’t create the jobs of tomorrow.
Also, by acting as wholesale lenders to the unscrupulous mortgage firms (some in house at Wall Street firms), Wall Street was not responding to legitimate consumer demand, it was creating an artificial demand simply to create mortgage product to feed its securitization machine and generate big fees for itself. Now we see the aftermath of that inefficient allocation of capital: a massive glut of condos and homes pulling down asset prices in neighborhoods as well as in those ill-conceived securitizations whose triple-A ratings have been downgraded to junk.
There’s no doubt that one of the contributing factors to the depression of the 30s and the intractable unemployment today stem from a massive misallocation of capital to both bad ideas and fraud. Today’s Wall Street, it turns out, is just another straw man for a rigged wealth transfer system.
Pam Martens worked on Wall Street for 21 years; she has no security position, long or short, in any company mentioned in this article other than that which the U.S. Treasury has thrust upon her and fellow Americans involuntarily through TARP. She writes on public interest issues from New Hampshire. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
2.3 Memoranda in Support of Motions to Dismiss Foreclosure
2.3.1 Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss, Case #4
IN THE CIRCUIT COURT, FOURTH
JUDICIAL CIRCUIT, IN AND FOR
DUVAL COUNTY, FLORIDA.
MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION
[DEFENDANT], DECEASED, ET AL
SEPARATE DEFENDANT, [SEPARATE DEFENDANT]’S MOTION TO CANCEL SUMMARY JUDGMENT HEARING, DISMISS PLAINTIFF’S COMPLAINT, OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, MOTION FOR MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT
The Separate Defendant, [Separate Defendant],by and though her undersigned attorney, files this motion to cancel the summary judgment hearing, and dismiss the Plaintiff’s Complaint for failure to join an indispensable party, or in the alternative, for more definite statement, pursuant to Rules 1.460, 1.210(a), 1.130(a) and 1.140(b)(7) of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure and states:
1. This defendant was not able to access legal representation prior to her contact with Attorney [Attorney for Defendant] of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc., on February 23,
2. This separate defendant was served with a summons and complaint in this foreclosure action on January 1, 2005 and she was noticed for the February 24, 2005 summary judgment hearing on January 24, 2005.
3. Counsel for Defendant has made known to Plaintiff’s attorney this request for continuance of the scheduled hearing so that this defendant is able to have the benefit of legal representation to defend and protect her interests in this residential foreclosure. However, counsel for plaintiff advises that he does not have authority without further contact with the plaintiff to consent to such continuance.
5. No prejudice will result to Plaintiff because of this Motion for Continuance.
WHEREFORE, for the above stated reasons, Defendants request that the Court grant a continuance of the hearing on the Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Final Judgment.
MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF’S COMPLAINT, OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, MOTION FOR MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT
1. This separate defendant is the owner of the property which is the subject of this mortgage foreclosure Complaint. She requests the Court dismiss this action pursuant to Rule 1.210(a) and 1.140(7), because it appears on the face of the Complaint that a person other than the Plaintiff is the true owner of the claim sued upon and that the Plaintiff is not the real party in interest and is not shown to be authorized to bring this action. In re: Shelter Development Group, Inc., 50 B.R. 588 (Bankr.S.D.Fla. 1985) [It is axiomatic that a suit cannot be prosecuted to foreclose a mortgage which secures the payment of a promissory note, unless the Plaintiff actually holds the original note, citing Downing v. First National Bank of Lake City, 81 So.2d 486 (Fla. 1955)], See also 37 Fla. Jur. Mortgages and Deeds of Trust §240 (One who does not have the ownership, possession, or the right to possession of the mortgage and the obligation secured by it, may not foreclose the mortgage)
2. Fla.R.Civ.P. Rule 1.130(a) requires a Plaintiff to attach copies of all “bonds, notes, bills of exchange, contracts, accounts, or documents upon which action may be brought” to its complaint. The plaintiff has failed to attach a copy of the Promissory Note upon which its claim is based and the assignment attached to plaintiff’s complaint is only an assignment of the mortgage and not the note. The assignment attached to the plaintiff’s complaint conflicts with the allegation in paragraph 3 of the plaintiff’s complaint which alleges that the assignment is of the mortgage and the promissory note.
. 3. Fla.R.Civ.P. Rule 1.310(b) provides that all exhibits attached to a pleading shall be considered a part of the pleading for all purposes. It appears on the face of MERS’ Complaint that it is not the proper party to bring this action
4. Further, although the plaintiff names itself in the complaint as “Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc., as Nominee For Homecomings Financial Network, Inc.” the documents attached to the plaintiff’s complaint conflict and therefore cancel out said allegations.
5. In this case, MERS’ allegations of material facts claiming it is the owner of the subject note are inconsistent with the documents attached to the Complaint. Further, MERS has alleged it does not have the original promissory note. When exhibits are inconsistent with the plaintiff’s allegations of material fact as to who the real party in interest is, such allegations cancel each other out. Fladell v. Palm Beach County Canvassing Board, 772 So.2d 1240 (Fla. 2000); Greenwald v. Triple D Properties, Inc., 424 So. 2d 185, 187 (Fla. 4th DCA 1983); Costa Bella Development Corp. v. Costa Development Corp., 441 So. 2d 1114 (Fla. 3rd DCA 1983).
6. Rule 1.210(a) of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in pertinent part:
“Every action may be prosecuted in the name of
the real party in interest, but a personal representative,
administrator, guardian, trustee of an express trust, a party
with whom or in whose name a contract has been made for
the benefit of another, or a party expressly authorized by
statute may sue in that person’s own name without joining
the party for whose benefit the action is brought…”
The plaintiff in this action meets none of these criteria.
7. The plaintiff must allege that it is the owner and holder of the note and mortgage in question in order to be entitled to maintain an action on the note and mortgage which the plaintiff has not properly alleged in this case. Your Construction Center, Inc. v. Gross, 316 So. 2d 596 (Fl. 4th DCA 1975)
8. Plaintiff Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) does not have standing to pursue this action. Standing depends on whether a party has a sufficient stake in a justiciable controversy, whether a legally cognizable interest would be affected by the outcome of the litigation. Nedeau v Gallagher 851 So.2d 214, 2003 Fla. App. LEXIS 9762, 28 Fla. L. Weekly D 1537 (1st District, 2003).
9. Standing encompasses not only the “sufficient stake” definition, but at the at least equally important requirement that the claim be brought by or on behalf of one who is recognized by the law and a “real party in interest”, that is “the person in whom rests, by substantive law, the claim sought to be enforced. Kumar Corp. v Nopal Lines, Ltd, et al 462 So. 2d 1178, 1985 Fla.App. LEXIS 11940.41U.C.C. Rep. Serv. (Callaghan) 69; 10 Fla. L. Weekly 189 (3rd District1985).
10. It is axiomatic that a suit cannot be prosecuted to foreclose a mortgage which secures the payment of a promissory note, unless the Plaintiff actually holds the original note. A Plaintiff that does not hold the original notes sued has no standing and such action must be dismissed with prejudice Shelter Development Group v. MMA of Georgia, Inc 50 B.R. 588 (USBC, S.D. Florida 1985) Downing v. First National Bank of Lake City, , 81 So. 2d 486, (Fla., 1955) Tamiami Abstract and Title Company v. Berman, 324 So. 2d 137 (Fla 3rd DCA> 1975) Laing v. Gainey Builders, Inc. 184 So. 2d 897 (Fla. 1st DCA 1966). See also Davanzo v. Resolute Insurance Company, et al. 346 So.2d 1227, 1977 Fla.App. LEXIS 16014 (One who holds legal title to a mortgaged property is an indispensable party in suit to foreclose a mortgage).
WHEREFORE, this separate defendant requests the Court to dismiss the Plaintiff’s complaint with prejudice; or alternatively to order the Plaintiff to add the owner and holder of the subject note and mortgage as an indispensable party to this foreclosure action, and award this defendant attorney’s fees and all other relief to which she proves herself entitled.
CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE
The undersigned certifies that a true copy of this document has been faxed and mailed by U.S. Mail to [Attorney for Plaintiff] this _______________________________.
JACKSONVILLE AREA LEGAL AID, INC.,
[Attorney for Separate Defendant]
Attorneys for Separate DefendantRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEM, INC., APPELLANT, VS. SOUTHWEST HOMES OF ARKANSAS, APPELLEE
SUPREME COURT OF ARKANSAS
2009 Ark. LEXIS 121
March 19, 2009, Opinion Delivered
THE LEXIS PAGINATION OF THIS DOCUMENT IS SUBJECT TO CHANGE PENDING RELEASE OF THE FINAL PUBLISHED VERSION.
SUBSEQUENT HISTORY: Rehearing denied by Mortgage Elec. Registration Sys. v. Southwest Homes of Ark., Inc., 2009 Ark. LEXIS 458 (Ark., Apr. 23, 2009)
PRIOR HISTORY: [*1]
APPEAL FROM THE BENTON COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, NO. CIV07-223-2, HON. DAVID S. CLINGER, JUDGE.
COUNSEL: George Nicholas Arnold – Counsel for the Appellant.
Howard Keith Morrison – Counsel for the Appellant.
Thomas D. Stockland – Counsel for the Appellee.
JUDGES: JIM HANNAH, Chief Justice. IMBER, DANIELSON and WILLS, JJ., concur.
OPINION BY: JIM HANNAH
JIM HANNAH, Chief Justice
Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc. (”MERS”) appeals a decision of the Benton County Circuit Court denying its motion to set aside a decree of foreclosure and to dismiss the foreclosure action. 1 MERS alleges that the circuit court erred in ordering foreclosure because as the holder of legal title it was a necessary party that was never served. We affirm the circuit court and hold that under the recorded deed of trust in this case, James C. East, as trustee under the deed of trust, held legal title. Because MERS was at most the mere agent of the lender Pulaski Mortgage Company, Inc., it held no property interest and was not a necessary party. As this case presents an issue of first impression, our jurisdiction is pursuant to Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 1-2(b)(1).
1 Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc.’s (”MERS”) motion was [*2] entitled Motion to Set Aside Default Judgment; however, the circuit court found, and the parties agree, that MERS was never served. Because MERS was never served, it could not have failed to respond to that service and suffer a default judgment. The relief sought was that the decree of foreclosure be set aside and the foreclosure action be dismissed.
This case arises from foreclosure on a 2006 mortgage granted in a one-acre lot. A prior deed of trust also encumbered the property. In 2003, Jason Paul Lindsey and Julie Ann Lindsey entered into a deed of trust on a one-acre lot in Benton County to secure a promissory note. The lender on that deed of trust was Pulaski Mortgage, the trustee was James C. East, and the borrowers were the Lindseys. MERS was listed on the deed of trust as the “Beneficiary” acting “solely as nominee for Lender,” and “Lender’s successors and assigns.” The second page of the deed of trust states that “the Borrower understands and agrees that MERS holds only legal title to the interests granted by the Borrower and further that MERS as nominee of the Lender has the right to exercise all rights of the Lender including foreclosure.” The deed of trust was recorded.
In [*3] 2006, the Lindseys granted the subject mortgage on the same property to Southwest Homes of Arkansas, Inc. to secure a second promissory note. This mortgage was recorded. On February 9, 2007, Southwest Homes filed a Petition for Foreclosure in Rem against the Lindseys under the 2006 mortgage. The Lindseys, the Benton County Tax Collector, and “Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc. (Pulaski Mortgage Company)” were listed as respondents. Pulaski Mortgage was served; however, MERS was never served. Pulaski Mortgage did not file an answer. 2 A Decree of Foreclosure in Rem was entered on April 4, 2007, and the property was auctioned to Southwest. An Order Approving and Confirming Commissioner’s Sale was entered on May 8, 2007. In February 2008, MERS learned of the foreclosure and moved for relief, arguing it was a necessary party to the foreclosure action. The circuit court denied the motion, and this appeal followed.
2 Pulaski Mortgage was the lender of record. No assignment of the deed of trust was recorded nor had Pulaski Mortgage’s security interest been satisfied of record.
MERS asserts that it held legal title to the property and, therefore, it was a necessary party to any action [*4] regarding title to the property. The deed of trust indicates that MERS holds legal title and is the beneficiary, as well as the nominee of the lender. It further purports by contractual agreement with the borrower to grant MERS the power to “exercise any and all rights” of the lender, including the right of foreclosure. However the deed of trust provides that all payments are to be made to the lender, that the lender makes decisions on late payments, and that all rights to foreclosure are held by the lender.
No payments on the underlying debt were ever made to MERS. MERS did not service the loan in any way. It did not oversee payments, delinquency of payments, or administration of the loan in any way. Instead, MERS asserts to be a corporation providing electronic tracking of ownership interests in residential real property security instruments. See In re MERSCORP, Inc. v. Romaine, 8 N.Y.3d 90, 861 N.E.2d 81, 828 N.Y.S.2d 266 (2006). According to MERS, it was developed by the “real estate finance industry” and was designed to facilitate the sale and resale of instruments in “the secondary mortgage market, which include one of the government sponsored entities.”
MERS contracts with lenders to track security [*5] instruments in return for an annual fee. MERSCORP, supra. Those who contract with MERS are referred to by MERS as “MERS members.” According to MERS, MERS members contractually agree to appoint MERS as their common agent for all security instruments registered with MERS. 3 MERS asserts that it holds the authority to exercise the rights of the lender, and for that purpose, it holds bare legal title. Thus, it is alleged that a principal-agent relationship existed between MERS and Pulaski Mortgage under the contract terms of the deed of trust. 4
3 The Kansas Court of Appeals, in Lankmark National Bank v. Kesler, 40 Kan. App. 2d 325, 192 P.3d 177 (2008), likewise found that Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc. acts as an agent. We note the analysis in this case is consistent with our own but also note that the Kansas Supreme Court granted review of the Landmark case.
4 MERS is listed as a nominee on the deed of trust. A nominee is “a person designated to act on behalf of another, usu. in a very limited way.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1076 (8th ed. 2004). A nominee is also a “person who holds bare legal title for the benefit of others or who receives and distributes funds for the benefit [*6] of others.” Id. As discussed above, MERS was not designated to act on behalf of another under the facts of this case. Further, it held no title in this case where title vested in the trustee, and finally, it received and distributed no funds for the benefit of others.
“An agent is a person who, by agreement with another called the principal, acts for the principal and is subject to his control.” Taylor v. Gill, 326 Ark. 1040, 1044, 934 S.W.2d 919, 922 (1996) (quoting AMI 3d 701 (1989)). Thus, MERS, by the terms of the deed of trust, and its own stated purposes, was the lender’s agent, including not only Pulaski Mortgage but also any successors and assigns.
MERS asserts authority to act, arguing that once it becomes the agent on a security instrument, it remains so for every MERS member lender who acquires ownership. This authority is alleged to arise from the contractual relationship between MERS and MERS members. Thus, MERS argues it may act to preserve the rights of the lender regardless of who the lender may be under the MERS electronic registration. We specifically reject the notion that MERS may act on its own, independent of the direction of the specific lender who holds the repayment [*7] interest in the security instrument at the time MERS purports to act. “[A]n agent is authorized to do, and to do only, what it is reasonable for him to infer that the principal desires him to do in the light of the principal’s manifestation and the facts as he knows or should know them at the time he acts.” Hot Stuff, Inc. v. Kinko’s Graphic Corp., 50 Ark. App. 56, 59, 901 S.W.2d 854, 856 (1995) (citing Restatement (Second) of Agency
§ 33 (1958)). Nothing in the record shows that MERS had authority to act. Here, Pulaski Mortgage was the lender and MERS’s principal. Pulaski Mortgage was a named party in the foreclosure action. Thus, MERS was not acting as the lender’s agent at the time it moved to set aside the decree of foreclosure.
However, MERS also argues that it holds a property interest through holding legal title. Specifically, it purports to hold legal title with respect to the rights conveyed by the borrower to the lender. We disagree.
“A deed of trust is ‘a deed conveying title to real property to a trustee as security until the grantor repays a loan.’” First United Bank v. Phase II, Edgewater Addition, 347 Ark. 879, 894, 69 S.W.3d 33, 44 (2001)(quoting Black’s Law Dictionary [*8] 773 (7th ed. 1999)); see also House v. Long, 244 Ark. 718, 426 S.W.2d 814 (1968). The encumbrance created by the deed of trust may be described as a lien. See, e.g., First Amer. Nat’l Bank of Nashville v. Booth, 270 Ark. 702, 606 S.W. 2d 70 (1980).
Under a deed of trust, the borrower conveys legal title in the property by a deed of trust to the trustee. Phase II, supra. “In this state, the naked legal title to real property included in a mortgage passes to the mortgagee, or to the trustee in a deed of trust, to make the security available for the payment of the debt.” Harris v. Collins, 202 Ark. 445, 447, 150 S.W.2d 749, 750 (1941). The trustee is limited in use of the title to passing title back to the grantor/borrower in the case of payment, or to the lender in the event of foreclosure. See Forman v. Holloway, 122 Ark. 341,183 S.W. 763 (1916). The lender holds the indebtedness and is the beneficiary of the deed of trust. House, supra. A trustee under a deed of trust is not a true trustee. Heritage Oaks Partners v. First Amer. Title, Ins. Co., 155 Cal. App. 4th 339, 66 Cal. Rptr.3d 510 (Cal. Ct. App. 2007). Under a deed of trust, the trustee’s duties are limited to (1) upon default undertaking foreclosure [*9] and (2)
upon satisfaction of the debt to reconvey the deed of trust. Id.
In the present case, all the required parties to a deed of trust under Arkansas law are present, the borrower in the Lindseys, the Lender in Pulaski Mortgage, and the trustee in James C. East. Under a deed of trust in Arkansas, title is conveyed to the trustee. Harris, supra. MERS is not the trustee. Here, the deed of trust renamed James C. East as the trustee. The deed of trust did not convey title to MERS. Further, MERS is not the beneficiary, even though it is so designated in the deed of trust. Pulaski Mortgage, as the lender on the deed of trust, was the beneficiary. It receives the payments on the debt.
The cases cited by MERS only confirm that MERS could not obtain legal title under the deed of trust. MERS relies on Hannah v. Carrington, 18 Ark. 85 (1856); however, that case stands for the proposition that a deed of trust vests legal tide in the trustee. We are also cited to Shinn v. Kitchens, 208 Ark. 321, 326, 186 S.W.2d 168, 171 (1945), where this court stated that “[t]he trustee named in the deeds of trust was a necessary party at the institution of the foreclosure suit, as also, of course, was Kitchens, [*10] the holder of the indebtedness.” East, as trustee, was a necessary party. MERS was not. Finally, we are cited to Beloate v. New England Securities Co., 165 Ark. 571, 575,265 S.W. 83 (1924), where this court stated that the real owner of the debt, as well as the trustee in the mortgage, are necessary parties in the action to recover the debt and foreclose the mortgage. Again, this case supports the conclusion that East was a necessary party and MERS was not.
Further, under Arkansas foreclosure law, a deed of trust is defined as “a deed conveying real property in trust to secure the performance of an obligation of the grantor or any other person named in the deed to a beneficiary and conferring upon the trustee a power of sale for breach of an obligation of the grantor contained in the deed of trust.” Ark. Code Ann. § 18-50-101(2) (Repl. 2003). Thus, under the statutes, and under the common law noted above, a deed of trust grants to the trustee the powers MERS purports to hold. Those powers were held by East as trustee. Those powers were not conveyed to MERS.
MERS holds no authority to act as an agent and holds no property interest in the mortgaged land. It is not a necessary party. In [*11] this dispute over foreclosure on the subject real property under the mortgage and the deed of trust, complete relief may be granted whether or not MERS is a party. MERS has no interest to protect. It simply was not a necessary party. See Ark. R. Civ. P. 19(a). MERS’s role in this transaction casts no light on the contractual issues on appeal in this case. See, e.g., Wilmans v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 355 Ark. 668, 144 S.W.3d 245 (2004).
Finally, we note that Arkansas is a recording state. Notice of transactions in real property is provided by recording. See Ark. Code Ann. § 14-15-404 (Supp. 2007). Southwest is entitled to rely upon what is filed of record. In the present case, MERS was at best the agent of the lender. The only recorded document provides notice that Pulaski Mortgage is the lender and, therefore, MERS’s principal. MERS asserts Pulaski Mortgage is not its principal. Yet no other lender recorded its interest as an assignee of Pulaski Mortgage. Permitting an agent such as MERS purports to be to step in and act without a recorded lender directing its action would wreak havoc on notice in this state.
IMBER, DANIELSON and WILLS, JJ., concur.
CONCUR BY: PAUL E. DANIELSON
CONCURRING [*12] OPINION.
PAUL E. DANIELSON, Associate Justice
I concur that the circuit court’s order should be affirmed, but write solely because I view the decisive issue to be whether MERS was, pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Civil Procedure 19(a) (2008), a necessary party to the foreclosure action. It can generally be said that “[n]ecessary parties to a foreclosure action are parties whose interest are inseparable such that a court would be unable to determine the rights of one party without affecting the rights of another.” 59A C.J.S. Mortgages § 708 (2008). See also 55 Am. Jur. 2d Mortgages § 647 (2008) (”[A]ll persons who are beneficially interested, either in the estate mortgaged or the demand secured, are proper or necessary parties to a suit to foreclose.”). Moreover, “[p]ersons having no interest are neither necessary nor proper parties, and the mere fact that they were parties to transactions out of which the mortgage arose does not give them such an interest as to make them necessary parties to an action to foreclose
the mortgage.” Id. Indeed, our rules of civil procedure contemplate the same.
Rule 19(a) of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure speaks to necessary parties:
(a) Persons to Be [*13] Joined if Feasible. A person who is subject to service of process shall be joined as a party in the action if (1) in his absence complete relief cannot be accorded among those already parties, or, (2) he claims an interest relating to the subject of the action and is so situated that the disposition of the action in his absence may (i) as a practical matter, impair or impede his ability to protect that interest, or, (ii) leave any of the persons already parties subject to a substantial risk of incurring double, multiple or otherwise inconsistent obligations by reason of his claimed interest. If he has not been joined, the court shall order that he be made a party. If he should join as a plaintiff, but refuses to do so, he may be made a defendant; or, in a proper case, an involuntary plaintiff.
Ark. R. Civ. P. 19(a) (2008).
Here, a review of the deed of trust for the subject property reveals four parties to the deed: (1) Jason Paul Lindsey and Julie Ann Lindsey, “Borrower”; (2) James C. East, “Trustee”; (3) MERS, “(solely as nominee for Lender, as hereinafter defined, and Lender’s successors and assigns)”; and (4) Pulaski Mortgage Company, “Lender.” The question, then, is whether MERS, [*14] as nominee, was a necessary party that had an interest “so situated that the disposition of the action in [its] absence may” have impaired its ability to protect its interest or left a subsequent purchaser or other subject to a substantial risk by reason of its interest. The answer is no; MERS, as nominee, was not a necessary party to the foreclosure action, because it held no such interest.
Initially, I must note that my review of the deed’s notice provision reveals that the deed clearly contemplated the Lender as the party with interest, in that it provided:
13. Notices. . . . Any notice to Lender shall be given by first class mail to Lender’s address stated herein or any address Lender designates by notice to Borrower. Any notice provided for in this Security’ Instrument shall be deemed to have been given to Borrower or Lender when given as in this paragraph.
Here, as stated in the circuit court’s order of foreclosure. Pulaski Mortgage, as Lender, was served with notice of the foreclosure action, in accord with paragraph thirteen.
But, in addition, MERS claims that because it holds legal title, it has an interest so as to render it a necessary party pursuant to Rule 19(a). Indeed, pursuant [*15] to the deed of trust, MERS held “only legal title to the interests granted” by the Lindseys,
but, if necessary to comply with law or custom, MERS, (as nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns) has the right to exercise any and all of those interests, including, but not limited to, the right to foreclose and sell the Property; and to take any action required of Lender including, but not limited to, releasing and canceling this Security Instrument.
“Legal title” is defined as “[a] title that evidences apparent ownership but does not necessarily signify full and complete title or a beneficial interest.” Black’s Law Dictionary 1523 (8th ed. 2004) (emphasis added). Thus, as evidenced by the definition, holding legal title alone in no way demonstrates the interest required by Rule 19(a).
MERS further claims that its status as nominee is evidence of its interest in the property, making it a necessary party. However, merely serving as nominee was recently held by one court to be insufficient to demonstrate an interest rising to the level to be a necessary party. In Landmark National Bank v. Kesler, 40 Kan. App. 2d 325, 192 P.3d 177 (2008), review granted, (Feb. 11, 2009). MERS also [*16] asserted that it was a necessary party to the foreclosure suit at issue. There, the district court found that MERS was not a necessary party, and the appellate court affirmed. Just as here, MERS was a party to the mortgage “solely as nominee for Lender.” 40 Kan. App. 2d at 327, 192 P.3d at 179. Based on that status, the Kansas court found that MERS was in essence, an agent for the lender, as its right to act to enforce the mortgage was strictly limited. See id.
Agreeing with MERS that a foreclosure judgment could be set aside for failure to join a “contingently necessary party,” the Kansas court observed that a party was “contingently necessary” under K.S.A. 60-219 if “the party claims an interest in the property at issue and the party is so situated that resolution of the lawsuit without that party may ‘as a practical matter substantially impair or impede [its] ability to protect that interest.’” Id. at 328, 192 P.3d at 180 (quoting K.S.A. 60-219). Notably, the language of K.S.A. 60-219 quoted by the Kansas court is practically identical to the language of Ark. R. Civ. P. 19(a).
The Kansas appellate court noted that MERS received no funds and that the mortgage required the borrower [*17] to pay his monthly payments to the lender. See id. It also observed, just as in the case at hand, that the notice provisions of the mortgage “did not list MERS as an entity to contact upon default or foreclosure.” Id. at 330, 192 P.3d at 181. After declaring that MERS did not have a “sort of substantial rights and interests” that had been found in a prior decision and noting that “a party with no beneficial interest is outside the realm of necessary parties,” the Kansas court concluded that “the failure to name and serve MERS as a defendant in a foreclosure action in which the lender of record has been served” was not such a fatal defect that the foreclosure judgment should be set aside. Id. at 331, 192 P.3d at 181-82.
It is my opinion that the same holds true in the instant case. Here, Pulaski Mortgage, the lender for whom MERS served as nominee, was served in the foreclosure action. But, further, neither MERS’s holding of legal title, nor its status as nominee, demonstrates any interest that would have rendered it a necessary party pursuant to Ark. R. Civ. P. 19(a). For these reasons, I concur that the circuit court’s order should be affirmed.
IMBER and WILLS, JJ., join.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
A bankruptcy judge here, joining judges across the country, is throwing a bit of sand in the gears of the mortgage machine and its ruthless foreclosure blade.
She has raised this issue: In many home foreclosures springing out of bankruptcy proceedings, the foreclosure is being triggered by a representative of the lender — a surrogate that may not have a legal, equity stake in the proceedings.
As a result, it is conceivable — though still something of a legal long shot — that the homeowner who is filing for bankruptcy protection could end up saving his house.
The argument that a lender’s surrogate can’t trigger foreclosure has drawn notice of Nevada homeowners, who are preparing a class action lawsuit. They are seeking a preliminary injunction this month to stop their foreclosures.
First, some background:
Law and custom have long required that property transactions be recorded with a county clerk or “recorder of deeds,” along with information about the person who holds the mortgage, and, if there are multiple mortgages, the place in line of each creditor.
For big lenders, tracking that information in hundreds of jurisdictions across the country was an onerous process, so the biggest, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, set up a company that would do it all electronically. It is called Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems and is recognized by its acronym.
The MERS name wound up on millions of mortgages, including more than 987,000 in Nevada alone, according to the company.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )
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