Deutsche Bank v. Debra Abbate Etal.

Posted on October 23, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, AS TRUSTEE FOR THE CERTIFICATE HOLDERS OF CARRINGTON MORTGAGE LOAN TRUST 2005-OPT2, ASSET-BACKED CERTIFICATES, SERIES 2005-OPT2, Plaintiff

against

Debra Abbate, CARMELA ABBATE, KIM FIORENTINO, BOCCE COURT HOMEOWNERS ASSOCIATION, INC., NEW YORK CITY ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL BOARD, NEW YORK CITY TRANSIT ADJUDICATION BUREAU, NEW YORK CITY PARKING VIOLATIONS BUREAU, and “JOHN DOE No. 1″ through “JOHN DOE #10,” the last ten names being fictitious and unknown to the plaintiff, the person or parties intended being the person or parties, if any, having or claiming an interest in or lien upon the Mortgaged premises described in the Complaint, Defendants.

100893/07

Plaintiff was represented by the law firm of Frenkel Lambert Weiss & Weisman.

Defendant was represented by Robert E. Brown, Esq.

Joseph J. Maltese, J.

The defendants Kim Fiorentino, Debra Abbate, and Carmella Abbate’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint is granted in its entirety.

This is an action to foreclose a mortgage dated February 24, 2005, upon the property located at 25 Bocce Court, Staten Island, New York. The mortgage was originated by Suntrust Mortgage Inc. (”Suntrust”) and was recorded in the Office of the Clerk of Richmond County on April 26, 2005. The plaintiff filed the Summons, Complaint, and Notice of Pendency on March [*2]1, 2007.[FN1] However, Suntrust assigned the first mortgage on this property to Option One Mortgage Corporation, which was executed on July 6, 2007. Another assignment to plaintiff Deutsche Bank National Trust Company (”Deutsche Bank”) was executed on March 7, 2007. Both assignments, which were recorded on July 23, 2007, contained a clause expressing their intention to be retroactively effective: the first one to date back to February 24, 2005, and the second one to February 28, 2007.[FN2] On November 19, 2007, this court issued an order of foreclosure and sale on the subject property. This court also granted two orders to show cause to stay the foreclosure on January 9, 2008 and April 8, 2008.[FN3]

Discussion

The Appellate Division, Second Department ruled and reiterated in Kluge v. Kugazy the well established law that “foreclosure of a mortgage may not be brought by one who has no title to it . . . .”[FN4] The Appellate Division, Third Department has similarly ruled that an assignee of a mortgage does not have a right or standing to foreclose a mortgage unless the assignment is complete at the time of commencing the action.[FN5] An assignment takes the form of a writing or occurs through the physical delivery of the mortgage.[FN6] Absent such transfer, the assignment of the mortgage is a nullity.[FN7]

Retroactive Assignments of a Mortgage are Invalid
The first issue this court must resolve is whether the clauses in the July 6, 2007 and March 7, 2007 assignments setting the effective date of the assignment to February 24, 2005 and February 28, 2007 respectively are permissible. This court rules that, absent a physical or written transfer before the filing of a complaint, retroactive assignments are invalid.

Recently, trial courts have been faced with the situation where the plaintiff commenced a [*3]foreclosure action before the assignment of the mortgage.[FN8] In those cases the trial courts have held,

. . . where there is no evidence that plaintiff, prior to commencing the foreclosure action, was the holder of the mortgage and note, took physical delivery of the mortgage and note, or was conveyed the mortgage and note by written assignment, an assignment’s language purporting to give it retroactive effect prior to the date of the commencement of the action is insufficient to establish the plaintiff’s requisite standing. . .[FN9]

In this case, the plaintiff failed to offer any admissible evidence demonstrating that they became assignees to the mortgage on or before March 1, 2007; as such, this court agrees with its sister courts and finds that the retroactive language contained in the July 26, 2007 and March 7, 2007 assignments are ineffective. This court therefore rules that it lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter when the plaintiff has no title to the mortgage at the time that it commenced the action.

The next issue this court must resolve is whether the defendants waived subject matter jurisdiction because they did not raise that issue in their prior applications to this court.

Affirmative Defense of Standing

At the outset of any litigation, the court must ascertain that the proper party requests an adjudication of a dispute.[FN10] As the first step of justiciability, “standing to sue is critical to the proper functioning of the judicial system.”[FN11] Standing is a threshold issue; if it is denied, “the pathway to the courthouse is blocked.” [FN12]

The doctrine of standing is designed to “ensure that a party seeking relief has a sufficiently cognizable stake in the outcome so as to present a court with a dispute that is capable [*4]of judicial resolution.”[FN13] “Standing to sue requires an interest in the claim at issue in the lawsuit that the law will recognize as a sufficient predicate for determining the issue at the litigant’s request.”[FN14] Where the plaintiff has no legal or equitable interest in a mortgage, the plaintiff has no foundation in law or in fact.[FN15]

A plaintiff who has no standing in an action is subject to a jurisdictional dismissal since (1) courts have jurisdiction only over controversies that involve the plaintiff, (2) a plaintiff found to lack “standing is not involved in a controversy, and (3) the courts therefore have no jurisdiction of the case when such plaintiff purports to bring it.”[FN16]

On November 7, 2005, in the case of Wells Fargo Bank Minn. N.A. v. Mastropaolo [“Mastropaolo”], this court found that “Insofar as the plaintiff was not the legal titleholder to the mortgage at the time the action was commenced, [the Bank] had no standing to bring the action and it must be dismissed.”[FN17] Erroneously, this court “[o]rdered, that the plaintiff’s summary judgment motion is denied in its entirety and that this action is dismissed with prejudice.”[FN18]

This Court should have ordered that this matter was dismissed without prejudice, which would have given the plaintiff the right to start the action again after it had acquired title to the note and mortgage. Unfortunately, the plaintiff, did not seek a motion to reargue that error, which would have been corrected promptly. Instead, the plaintiff appealed the decision to the Appellate Division, Second Department, which rightfully reversed the decision 18 months later on May 29, 2007 based upon the dismissal with prejudice as opposed to a dismissal without prejudice to refile the action. However, in what appears to be dicta, the court went on to discuss whether lack of standing is tantamount to lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court further stated that the failure of the initial pro se defendant to make a pre-answer motion or a motion to dismiss, the defense of lack of standing would be waived. But the Appellate Division did not address the issue of subject matter jurisdiction, which may not be waived. [*5]

In the instant case, this court is again faced with similar facts, which raise the issue that the Bank must have title to the mortgage before it can sue the defendant. Clearly, having title to the subject matter (the mortgage) is a condition precedent to the right to sue on that mortgage. This has always been the case, but since the Appellate Division, Second Department’s comments in Mastropaolo, that issue has been clouded.

At the time that the plaintiff improperly commenced the action, the pathway to the Courthouse should have been blocked. Deutsche Bank had no legal foundation to foreclose a mortgage in which it had no interest at the time of filing the summons and complaint. Lack of a plaintiff’s interest at the beginning of the action strips the court’s power to adjudicate over the action.[FN19] Lack of interest and controversy is protected by the umbrella of subject matter jurisdiction. Whenever a court lacks jurisdiction, a defense can be raised at any time and is not waivable.[FN20] In other words, for there to be a cause of action, there needs to be an injury. At the time that the action was commenced, the instant plaintiff suffered no injury and had no interest in the controversy. Since the plaintiff filed this action to foreclose the mortgage before it had title to it, there was no controversy between the existing parties when the action commenced. Therefore, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the present case. The defendants are consequently entitled to a dismissal without prejudice because the court lacked jurisdiction over a non-existent controversy.

Accordingly, it is hereby:

ORDERED, that the defendants Kim Fiorentino, Debra Abbate, and Carmella Abbate’s motion to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint is granted, without prejudice to the plaintiff having the right to refile within the time provided by the Statute of Limitations; and it is further

ORDERED, that the parties and counsel shall appear before this court to further conference this matter on November 20, 2009 at 11:00AM.

ENTER,

DATED: October 6, 2009

Joseph J. Maltese

Justice of the Supreme Court

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