This is proof positive that the outcome of your case depends entirely on the judge’s disposition and sensibilities. When there is clear and convincing evidence of predatory lending and fraud, the court can use its equitable powers to remediate the inequities.
In Re McGee v. Gregory Funding LLC, Dist. Court, D. Oregon 2010, on September 22, 2005 Plaintiff refinanced his home for $174,900 at 7.54% with a one year balloon payment of $175,999.66. Defendant received $9,800 as a loan origination fee and Plaintiff signed an option to extend the loan for an additional fee of $6980. TILA and HOEPA disclosures were not provided at settlement and the balloon rider was never signed by Plaintiff.
The following year Plaintiff tried obtaining a conventional loan but since Defendant did not report the payment history on Plaintiffs loan, he could not qualify for a refinance with any other lender. As such Plaintiff had to extend his loan with Defendant for another year and in the process ended up paying Defendant additional $9500 in fees. Again no material disclosures were provided.
On December 19, 2007 Plaintiff entered in to a third transaction with Defendant by signing an amendment for $216,216 at 7.54% that included advances for property taxes, legal fees and a modification fee totaling $14,320.68. Again Defendant failed to provide disclosures.
Plaintiff filed for bankruptcy protection in the District of Oregon on September 22, 2008, which was confirmed on April 16, 2009. The Bankruptcy Court ordered relief from the automatic stay on September 2, 2009.
Plaintiff filed a motion for temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction (“TRO/PI”). The court granted plaintiff’s motion for a TRO on November 10, 2010, prohibiting defendants from executing its proposed sale of plaintiff’s property on the Multnomah County Courthouse steps scheduled November 10, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.
Judge Ann Aiken found it troubling that Plaintiff was charged a total of $36, 418.81 in loan origination fees for three transactions over a four-year period, stating that considering the FHA recently announced a limitation of loan origination fees charged to borrowers as no more than 1% of the loan amount, Plaintiff’s loan fees of 5% and 7%, even considering the increased risk associated with a sub-prime loan, runs counter to 12 C.F.R. section 226.23(f)’s comment that fees must be bona fide and reasonable.
The court stated that HOEPA rescission does not have a statute of limitations subject to tolling, but a statute of repose that creates a substantive right not subject to tolling. Notwithstanding the foregoing the judge held that pursuant to King v. State of California, 784 F.2d 910.915 (9th Cir. 1986, cert denied, 486 U.S. 802 (1987), there was authority to allow Plaintiff to rescind the first transaction under the doctrine of equitable tolling. “Pursuant to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in King, supra, it is permissible for district courts to evaluate specific claims of fraudulent concealment and equitable tolling to determine if the general rule would be unjust or frustrate the purpose of the Act”. The court found those circumstances existed here and therefore warranted tolling.
Finally to overcome Plaintiffs inability to obtain new financing for tender purposes, the court ordered Defendant to file an amended proof of claim with the bankruptcy court using the tender amount as the secured debt payable at 7.547% interest over 30 years.
In re: James P. McGee, Plaintiff,
GREGORY FUNDING, LLC, an Oregon limited liability company, and RANDAL SUTHERLIN, Defendants.
Civil No. 09-1258-AA.
United States District Court, D. Oregon.
February 20, 2010.
Tami F. Bishop, M. Caroline Cantrell, M. Caroline Cantrell & Assoc. PC, Portland, Oregon, Attorneys for Debtor/Plaintiff.
Kathryn P. Salyer, Farleigh Wada Witt, Portland, Oregon, Attorney for Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
ANN AIKEN, District Judge.
Plaintiff filed a motion for temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction (“TRO/PI”). The court granted plaintiff’s motion for a TRO on November 10, 2010, prohibiting defendants from executing its proposed sale of plaintiff’s property on the Multnomah County Courthouse steps scheduled November 10, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. On November 23, 2010, the date scheduled to hear plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction, the parties elected to forego oral argument and submit the matter to the court on the briefs. Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction is granted.
Plaintiff brings this action for injunctive relief, actual damages, statutory damages, attorney fees and costs against defendants for violation of the Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. sections 1601 et seq. and 1640(a) (“TILA”), among others.
Plaintiff, an African-American male, alleges this is a “residential predatory lending case” arising from a “fraudulent” home mortgage refinance transaction originated by defendant Gregory Funding, LLC with defendant Randal Sutherlin as the loan interviewer. Defendants originated a series of three loan transactions with plaintiff signed on September 12, 2005, September 26, 2006, and December 19, 2007. Plaintiff alleges those loans “stripped plaintiff of his home equity and put him at risk of losing his home.” Plaintiff alleges that he failed to receive accurate, material disclosures required by TILA and the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 (“HOEPA”) at the closing of both his second and third loans. As a result, plaintiff exercised his right to rescind the 2006 and 2007 loans under TILA, and filed the action at bar to enforce those rights.
Plaintiff filed for bankruptcy protection in the District of Oregon on September 22, 2008, which was confirmed on April 16, 2008. The Bankruptcy Court ordered relief from the automatic stay on September 2, 2009.
In September 2005, plaintiff contacted defendant Gregory Funding, LLC (“Gregory”) to request information regarding refinancing his home. At that time there was a pending foreclosure sale on plaintiff’s home. Plaintiff had recently started a new job. Defendant Sutherlin visited plaintiff’s home to discuss refinancing and spent about fifteen minutes with plaintiff. Later that day, Sutherlin phoned plaintiff to inform him that the loan was approved and the closing would take place within a couple of weeks. Plaintiff was not asked to provide tax returns, pay stubs, or complete a credit application at any point during the refinance. There is no record of a real estate appraisal completed at any point to determine the value of plaintiff’s home. On September 12, 2005, plaintiff signed the closing documents and refinanced his home for $174,900 at 7.54% interest with a one-year balloon payment of $175,999.66. A fixed rate balloon note was signed setting forth 12 principal and interest payments of $1,100 with the first payment due November 1, 2005, and a late payment fee of $55. Defendant Gregory received $9,800 as a loan origination fee from the transaction. Plaintiff signed an option to extend the loan for a fee of $6,980. The loan maturity date was October 1, 2006.
The material disclosures required by HOEPA for a high cost loan were not provided to plaintiff prior to or at the closing. Plaintiff did not sign and receive his two copies of his right to cancel under TILA and the balloon rider to the deed of trust was unsigned at closing.
In August 2006, plaintiff began shopping for a conventional loan; however, due to defendant Gregory not reporting the payment history on plaintiff’s loan, he was unable to qualify for a refinance with another lender. Plaintiff therefore entered into a second loan transaction with defendants on September 21, 2006. Plaintiff signed a document titled First Amendment to Promissory Note at defendants’ office on September 21, 2006. The transaction was for $184,400 at 7.54% interest with a one-year balloon payment of $185,559.72. The first amendment set forth 12 principal and interest payments of $1,159.72 and a late payment fee of $57.99 with the first payment due November 1, 2006. Defendant Gregory received $9,500 as a loan fee from the transaction. The loan maturity date was October 1, 2007. Again, the material disclosures required by HOEPA for a high cost loan were not provided to plaintiff prior to or at the closing including the HUD H-8 form (explaining a limited right to cancel for same lender refinancing).
Plaintiff made the November and December 2006 and January 2007, payments and did not make another payment until November 2007. He made a payment of $2,500 on November 15, 2007, and another payment of $3,500 on November 29, 2007. On December 1, 2007, plaintiff was an estimated $6,177.26 in arrears. In early December 2007, plaintiff discussed his refinancing options with defendant Sutherlin. On December 19, 2007, plaintiff believed he was entering into a 30-year principle and interest conventional mortgage when he entered into the third loan transaction with defendants.
Plaintiff alleges that Sutherlin failed to inform him that the loan was an interest only loan with a balloon payment due in 30 years of an amount higher than the original loan amount. Plaintiff was not asked to provide proof of his income or ability to repay the loan prior to signing the second amendment. This transaction was for $216,216 at 7.54% interest with a loan maturity date of December 31, 2007 under the second amendment to the note. According to the second amendment, Gregory advanced an additional $21,406.46 to borrower as 1) property insurance ($450); 2) property taxes (46,223.23); 3) lender attorney fees ($360); 4) one-day interest ($52.55); and 5) extension and modification fee ($14,320.68). The first amendment was $14,400 plus $21,406.46 in lender advances under the second amendment for a total of $205,806.46. The second amendment is for an explained difference of $10,409.54. Plaintiff was not provided a good faith estimate prior to closing or a HUD statement at closing detailing the loan fees and costs paid to defendant. The additional loan fee under the second amendment was $16,216. Gregory advanced all but $1,895.32 of the fee. Plaintiff paid the balance at closing of the second transaction.
Again, defendants failed to provide any material disclosures required by HOEPA for a high cost loan including the HUD H-8 form. The limited right to cancel provided on the H-8 form for same lender refinancing was not provided to plaintiff when he signed the first amendment to the promissory note. Plaintiff did not make any payments under the second amendment to the note. Defendant charged plaintiff $30,906.46 in fees for the 2006 and 2008 loans and an additional $9,840 for the original loan in 2005, for a total of $40,746.46 in fees for the three transactions. Plaintiff alleges these fees are excessive and unreasonable. Further, plaintiff alleges that defendants’ actions in refinancing plaintiff’s loan three times within a two year period without regard to the best interest of plaintiff establishes an egregious pattern or practice of making loans in violation of 12 C.F.R. section 226.32.
Gregory set a foreclosure sale date for September 23, 2008, in the interior foyer of the Multnomah County Courthouse. Plaintiff filed for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 13 on September 22, 2008.
The sale of plaintiff’s home was held on October 27, 2009, with defendant as the sole bidder. Defendant now moves to execute its proposed sale of plaintiff’s home.
The party seeking a preliminary injunction must demonstrate that he is (1) likely to succeed on the merits; (2) likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief; (3) the balance of equities tips in his favor; and (4) an injunction is in the public interest. Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 129 S. Ct. 365, 374 (2008).
“Under either formulation, the moving party must demonstrate a significant threat of irreparable injury. . . .” Id. “A plaintiff must do more than merely allege imminent harm sufficient to establish standing; a plaintiff must demonstrate immediate threatened injury as a prerequisite to preliminary injunctive relief.” Caribbean Marine Services Co. v. Baldridge, 844 F.2d 668, 674 (9th Cir. 1988) (emphasis in original). “Speculative injury does not constitute irreparable injury.” Goldie’s Book Store v. Super. Ct. of State of Cal., 739 F.2d 466, 472 (9th Cir. 1984). If the party seeking the injunction cannot demonstrate irreparable injury, then the district court need not address the merits and may deny the motion for an injunction. Oakland Tribune, Inc. v. Chronicle Pub. Co., 762 F.2d 1374, 1376 (9th Cir. 1985).
Defendants assert that plaintiff is not entitled to enjoin the foreclosure sale because (1) the issue is moot because the foreclosure sale was completed by delivery and recording of a Trustee’s Deed, prior to this court’s entry of the TRO on November 10, 2009; and (2) plaintiff’s preliminary injunction claim fails on the merits because plaintiff’s rescission claim is time barred.
Moot, Not Likely to Succeed on Merits and No Irreparable Harm
Defendants argue plaintiff’s claim for injunction is moot. The property at issue was sold at a foreclosure sale on October 27, 2009, and a Trustee’s Deed was recorded on November 6, 2009. This court entered a TRO on November 10, 2009. Justiciability requires the existence of an actual case or controversy. Plaintiff must meet the “case or controversy” requirements at all stages of the litigation and “not merely at the time” the lawsuit is instituted. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 125 (1973). A case becomes moot “if, at some time after the institution of the action, the parties no longer have a legally cognizable stake in the outcome.” Goodwin v. C.N.J., Inc., 436 F.3d 44, 49 (1st Cir. 2006).
Defendants also argue that plaintiff is not likely to succeed on the merits. Plaintiff agrees that the only claim supporting his motion for injunction is the rescission claim under TILA. Pursuant to 15 U.S.C. section 1635(f), “an obligor’s right of rescission . . . expires three years after the date of consummation of the transaction, . . . notwithstanding the fact that the information and forms required under this section or any other disclosures required under this chapter have not been delivered to the obligor.” Section 1635(f) represents an absolute limitation on rescission actions which bars any claim filed more than three years after consummation of the transaction. Miguel v. Country Funding Corp., 309 F.3d 1161 (9th Cir. 2002). This remains true regardless of a foreclosure. 15 U.S.C. section 1635(I); Beach v. Ocwen Federal Bank, 523 U.S. 410, 417-18 (1998).
The loan to plaintiff occurred on September 12, 2005. Defendants argue that any right to rescind that loan, including the trust deed given to secure it, timed out as of September 11, 2008.
Finally, defendants argue that there is no irreparable harm to plaintiff. Defendants assert that plaintiff will not suffer irreparable harm and instead will suffer only monetary injury. Monetary injury is not normally considered irreparable. LA Mem’l Coliseum Comm’n v. NFL, 634 F.2d 1197, 1202 (9th Cir. 1980). Defendants assert that the foreclosure is complete, therefore, the only possible remedy remaining is monetary damages.
I disagree and grant plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction. There is no dispute that the right of rescission on subsequent transactions applies only to the extent that the lender advances new funds to the obligor. 12 C.F.R. 226.23(f)(2). That section provides as follows:
(f) Exempt Transactions. The right to rescind does not apply to the following:
(2) A refinancing or consolidation by the same creditor of an extension of credit already secured by the consumer’s principal dwelling. The right of rescission shall apply, however, to the extent the new amount financed exceeds the unpaid principal balance, any earned unpaid finance charge on the existing debt, and amounts attributed solely to the costs of the refinancing or consolidation.
Therefore, for purposes of rescission, a new advance does not include amounts solely attributed to the cost of refinancing, including finance charges on the new transaction such as an extension fee.
Defendants argue that the only additional “credit” advanced in the first extension was for the extension fee, which is a finance charge and not part of the “amount financed” for purposes of Regulation Z.
Similarly, defendants argue that the Second Amendment also did not include any advances which gave rise to the right of rescission. In the second extension, $6,673.23 was advanced to pay insurance premiums and property taxes both due. Defendants assert that these amounts are considered advances to protect the collateral, and could have been made by defendants under the existing trust deed without further action by plaintiff. Therefore, defendants assert, these amounts would also be considered part of the “costs” of refinancing. Further, the second extension included advances for $360 in attorney’s fees, $52.55 in prepaid interest, and $14,320.68 toward the extension fee. Defendants assert that all of these amounts are finance charges for the purposes of Regulation Z, and therefore, excluded from the amount financed in determining whether “new funds” have been advanced for rescission purposes.
Section 1635(e)(2), however, provides an express exemption for a “refinancing or consolidation (with no new advances) of the principal balance then due and any accrued and unpaid finance charges of an existing extension of credit by the same creditor secured by an interest in the same property.” 12 C.F.R. section 226.23(f). The regulation states that the right to rescind applies “to the extent the new amount financed exceeds the unpaid principal balance, any earned unpaid finance charge on the existing debt, and amount attributed solely to the costs of refinancing or consolidation.” Here, plaintiff’s refinancing of his original loan (second transaction) with defendant was exempt from rescission, except “to the extent the new amount financed exceeded the unpaid principal balance, any earned unpaid finance charge on the existing debt, and amounts attributed solely to the costs of refinancing or consolidation.” The second transaction signed on September 21, 2006, was for $184,400 and included $9,500 as an additional amount paid to defendants. The amount financed, $184,400, exceeded the balance of the first loan ($174,900); therefore, plaintiff had a right to rescind the second transaction (the First Amendment to the Promissory Note). Similarly, the third transaction also falls under the exemption as it was for the amount of $216,216 with finance charges of $17,078.81. The amount financed, $216,216 exceeded the balance of the second transaction ($184,400), and therefore plaintiff had a right to rescind the third transaction.
While true that section 1635(e)(2) limits a rescission of a refinance with no new advances, the Board’s regulation clearly states that new amounts financed that exceed the unpaid principal balance, any earned unpaid finance charge on the existing debt, and amounts attributed solely to the costs of refinancing or consolidation are rescindable under the TILA. The Board’s construction of section 1635(d)(2) is entitled to deference. See Household Credit Services, Inc. v. Pfennig, 541 U.S. 232 (2004) (recognizing the Board and its staff are designed by Congress as the primary source of interpretation of truth-in-lending law). Therefore, pursuant to section 12 C.F.R. 226.23(f)(2), the refinancing exemption applies to the additional amounts financed and renders both the second and third transactions subject to rescission under 15 U.S.C. section 1635.
Moreover, Official Staff Comment 4 to 12 C.F.R. section 226.23(f), holds that for purposes of the right of rescission, generally “a new advance does not include amounts attributed solely to the costs of refinancing[,]” however, those fees allocated to the borrower must be “bona fide and reasonable in nature.” Plaintiff paid lender fees in the amount of 5.63% of the loan amount in his first transaction with defendants. In his second transaction, he paid 5.15% of the loan amount in lender fees; and finally, in his third transaction, plaintiff paid 7.9% of the loan amount in lender fees. Plaintiff was charged a total of $36,418.81 in loan origination fees for three transactions. In a little over four years, from September 12, 2005, to October 27, 2009, plaintiff’s debt to defendants increased from $174,900 to $253,945.92, or $79,045.92. Given that the Federal Housing Administration (“FHA”) recently announced a limitation on loan origination fees charged to a borrower as no more than 1% of the loan, plaintiff’s loan fees of 5% and 7%, even considering the increased risk associated with a sub-prime loan, seems “unreasonable,” and runs counter to section 226.23(f)’s comment that borrower fees must be “bona fide and reasonable.”
Finally, due to the lack of disclosures including a Good Faith Estimate of costs, it is difficult to discern whether the fees paid by plaintiff were bona fide and reasonable real estate related fees that are nonrescindable as a new advance, or a finance charge that is rescindable under 15 U.S.C. section 1635; 12 C.F.R. section 226.23(f)(2). Given these circumstances, the court will construe the statute in the light most favorable to plaintiff, deeming the fees unreasonable finance charges, and therefore allowing plaintiff to rescind the second and third loan transactions.
The Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act, (“HOEPA”), an amendment to TILA, created a special class of regulated closed end loans made at high annual percentage rates or with excessive costs and fees. HOEPA prohibits balloon payments and early financing unless it is in the best interests of the borrower. The lender is required to verify the borrower’s ability to repay the loan before extending credit. 15 U.S.C. section 1639. Mandatory compliance for creditors began on October 1, 2002, and if creditors fail to comply with the HOEPA required disclosures and prohibitions, the consequence is rescission under section 1635. HOEPA rescission does not have a statute of limitations subject to tolling, but a statute of repose that creates a substantive right not subject to tolling. TILA section 130(e).
Further, home equity loans that exceed either an APR trigger of 8% or a points and fees trigger of 8% are subject to additional consumer protections, including: three day advance disclosures regarding the high cost of the loan; and prohibitions on abusive loan terms and creditor practices. As calculated by plaintiff, the September 12, 2005, transaction has an APR rate spread of 9.06% and a 6.45% points and fees. The second transaction from September 21, 2006, has an APR rate spread of 8.021% and 5.43% points and fees. The final transaction from December 19, 2009 has an APR rate spread of 4.475% and 8.12% points and fees. All three transactions fall under HOEPA as high rate loans that required additional disclosures to plaintiff not less than three business days before closing the loan. Plaintiff maintains the required disclosures were never provided to him by defendants.
Besides regulating the cost of a home loan, HOEPA prohibits balloon payments, early refinancing also knows as “loan flipping,” and making unaffordable loans without verifying the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. All three transactions at issue here contained balloon payments in violation of HOEPA. The first two transactions contained a term of five years or less along with a balloon payment.
HOEPA and TILA. provide the authority for this court to allow plaintiff to rescind both the second and third transactions with defendant. Pursuant to King v. State of California, 784 F.2d 910, 915 (9th Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 802 (1987), this court also has authority to allow plaintiff to rescind the first transaction under the doctrine of equitable tolling. King held, “the doctrine of equitable tolling may, in the appropriate circumstances, suspend the limitations period until the borrower discovers or had reasonable opportunity to discover the fraud or nondisclosures that form the basis of the TILA action[.]” Pursuant to the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in King, supra, it is permissible for district courts to evaluate specific claims of fraudulent concealment and equitable tolling to determine if the general rule would be unjust or frustrate the purpose of the Act. I find those circumstances exist here and therefore adjust the Limitations period accordingly to allow plaintiff to rescind the first transaction.
Finally, defendants argue that regardless of plaintiff’s ability to rescind the transactions, plaintiff is still not likely to succeed on the merits of his recession claim because plaintiff is unable to repay the loan proceeds. Plaintiff’s loan has been in default status for several years. He obtained protection of the bankruptcy court and then defaulted on the Loan post-petition, thus causing the bankruptcy court to order relief from the stay. The burden of proof that plaintiff can repay the loan proceeds rests with plaintiff, without such a showing, plaintiff cannot prove that he is likely to succeed on the merits. See Yamamoto v. Bank of New York, 329 F.3d 1167, 1172 (9th Cir. 2003)(when lender contests notice of rescission, the security interest is not extinguished upon giving the notice and instead occurs only when the court so orders, and upon terms the court deems just, including conditioning rescission on the repayment of the loan proceeds).
Plaintiff represents to this court that he intends to modify his current bankruptcy plan to make monthly adequate protection payments toward tender through his Chapter 13 plan in a manner similar to making payments on secured personal property under 11 U.S.C. section 11326. The tender, including the interest rate of 7.547%, would be amortized over 30 years. Defendant would file an amended proof of claim using the tender amounts as the secured debt. Brian Lynch, the Chapter 13 trustee, is agreeable to working with plaintiff in putting together a proposal to pay the tender requirement. A comparative market analysis of the property estimates the property’s current value ranging from $200,000 to $225,000 considering the economy, sales, and market trends. Plaintiff is currently residing in his home with his children. He intends to make a monthly payment through his chapter 13 bankruptcy plan as adequate protection to defendants. Plaintiff has current homeowner’s insurance and he will be responsible for maintaining the property taxes with the county. Further, I find that plaintiff will suffer irreparable harm if he and his children are rendered homeless by the sale of his home. I find that plaintiff is likely to succeed on the merits, he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of the injunction; the balance of equities tip in his favor; and an injunction is in the public interest.
Plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction (doc. 5) is granted. Defendants’ motion to strike plaintiff’s exhibits (doc. 27) is denied.
IT IS SO ORDERED.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
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.”
301-867-3887Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
This case involves the foreclosure of plaintiff’s mortgage. His First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) names thirteen defendants and enumerates ten causes of action. Defendants American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc. (“AHMSI”), AHMSI Default Services, Inc. (“ADSI”), Deutsche Bank National Trust Company (“Deutsche”), and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) move to dismiss all claims against them, and in the alternative, for a more definite statement of plaintiff’s second and seventh causes of action. These defendants also move to expunge a Lis [*2] Pendens recorded by plaintiff on the subject property and request an award of attorney fees. Defendant T.D. Service Company (“T.D.”) separately moves to dismiss all claims against it. The court concluded that oral argument was not necessary in this matter, and decides the motions on the papers. For the reasons stated below, the motions to dismiss are granted in part and denied in part, and the motion to expunge is denied. Because the court grants plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint, the alternative motion for a more definite statement is denied.
A. Refinance of Plaintiff’s Mortgage 1
1 These facts are taken from the allegations in the FAC unless otherwise specified. The allegations are taken as true for purposes of this motion only.
On or about February 1, 2007, plaintiff was approached by defendant Ken Jonobi (“Jonobi”) of defendant Juvon, who introduced plaintiff to defendant Anthony Alfano (“Alfano”), a loan officer employed by defendant Novo Mortgage (“Novo”). FAC P 24. Defendant Alfano approached plaintiff, representing himself as the loan officer for defendant Novo, and solicited refinancing of a loan currently secured by plaintiff’s residence in New Castle, [*3] California. FAC P 25. Defendant Alfano advised plaintiff that Alfano could get plaintiff the “best deal” and “best interest rates” available on the market. FAC P 26.
In a loan brokered by Alfano, plaintiff then borrowed $ 450,000, the loan being secured by a deed of trust on his residence. FAC P 28. Alfano advised plaintiff that he could get a fixed rate loan, but the loan sold to him had a variable rate which subsequently adjusted. Id. At the time of the loan, plaintiff’s Fair Isaac Corporation (“FICO”) score, which is used to determine the type of loans for which a borrower is qualified, should have classified him as a “prime” borrower, but Alfano classified plaintiff as a “sub-prime” borrower without disclosing other loan program options. FAC P 29. Plaintiff was advised by Alfano that if the loan became unaffordable, Alfano would refinance it into an affordable loan. FAC P 31. Plaintiff was not given a copy of any loan documents prior to closing, and at closing plaintiff was given only a few minutes to sign the documents and, as a result, could not review them. FAC P 32. Plaintiff did not receive required documents and disclosures at the origination of his refinancing loan, including [*4] the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”) disclosures and the required number of copies of the notice of right to cancel. FAC P 43. This new loan was completed on or about May 16, 2007.
The deed of trust identified Old Republic Title Company as trustee, defendant American Brokers Conduit as lender, and defendant Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) as nominee for the lender and beneficiary. FAC PP 34-35. MERS’s conduct is governed by “Terms and Conditions” which provide that:
MERS shall serve as mortgagee of record with respect to all such mortgage loans solely as a nominee, in an administrative capacity, for the beneficial owner or owners thereof from time to time. MERS shall have no rights whatsoever to any payments made on account of such mortgage loans, to any servicing rights related to such mortgage loans, or to any mortgaged properties securing such mortgage loans. MERS agrees not to assert any rights (other than rights specified in the Governing Documents) with respect to such mortgage loans or mortgaged properties. References herein to “mortgage(s)” and “mortgagee of record” shall include deed(s) of trust and beneficiary under a deed of trust and any other form of [*5] security instrument under applicable state law.
FAC P 10. MERS was not licensed to do business in California and was not registered with the state at the inception of the loan. FAC P 35.
On or about April 17, 2009, a letter was mailed to defendant AHMSI which plaintiff alleges was a qualified written request (“QWR”) under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), identifying the loan, stating reasons that plaintiff believed the account was in error, requesting specific information from defendant, and demanding to rescind the loan under the Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”). FAC P 36. Plaintiff alleges that AHMSI never properly responded to this request. Id.
B. Events Subsequent to Refinance of Plaintiff’s Loan
On or about June 23, 2009, defendant T.D. filed a notice of default in Placer County, identifying Deutsche as beneficiary and AHMSI as trustee. FAC P 46. In an assignment of deed of trust dated July 15, 2009, MERS assigned the deed of trust to AHMSI. Defendants’ Request for Judicial Notice in Support of Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint and Motion to Expunge Notice of Pendency of Action (“Defs.’ RFJN”) Ex. 4. This assignment of deed of trust purports to [*6] be effective as of June 9, 2009. Id. A second assignment of deed of trust was executed on the same date as the first, July 15, 2009, but the time mark placed on the second assignment of deed of trust by the Placer County Recorder indicates that it was recorded eleven seconds after the first. Defs.’ RFJN Exs. 4-5. In this second assignment of deed of trust, AHMSI assigned the deed of trust to Deutsche. Defs.’ RFJN Ex. 5. This assignment indicates that it was effective as of June 22, 2009. Id. Both assignments were signed by Korell Harp. The assignment purportedly effective June 9, 2009, lists Harp as vice president of MERS and the assignment purportedly effective June 22, 2009, lists him as vice president of AHMSI. Defs.’ RFJN Exs. 4-5. Six days later, on July 21, 2009, plaintiff recorded a notice of pendency of action with the Placer County Recorder. Defs.’ RFJN Ex. 6. In a substitution of trustee recorded on July 29, 2009, Deutsche, as present beneficiary, substituted ADSI as trustee. Defs.’ RFJN Ex. 7.
A. Standard for a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss
A Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b).(6) motion challenges a complaint’s compliance with the pleading requirements provided [*7] by the Federal Rules. In general, these requirements are provided by Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, although claims that “sound in” fraud or mistake must meet the requirements provided by Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). Vess v. Ciba-Geigy Corp., 317 F.3d 1097, 1103-04 (9th Cir. 2003).
1. Dismissal of Claims Governed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 8
Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The complaint must give defendant “fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, at 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007) (internal quotation and modification omitted).
To meet this requirement, the complaint must be supported by factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, U.S. , 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint,” neither legal conclusions nor conclusory statements are themselves sufficient, and such statements are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Id. at 1949-50. Iqbal and Twombly therefore prescribe a two step process for evaluation of motions to dismiss. The court first identifies the non-conclusory factual allegations, [*8] and the court then determines whether these allegations, taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id.; Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S. Ct. 2197, 167 L. Ed. 2d 1081 (2007).
“Plausibility,” as it is used in Twombly and Iqbal, does not refer to the likelihood that a pleader will succeed in proving the allegations. Instead, it refers to whether the non-conclusory factual allegations, when assumed to be true, “allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). A complaint may fail to show a right to relief either by lacking a cognizable legal theory or by lacking sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
2. Dismissal of Claims Governed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b)
A Rule 12..(b)..(6) motion to dismiss may also challenge a complaint’s compliance with Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). See Vess, 317 F.3d at 1107. [*9] This rule provides that “In alleging fraud or mistake, a party must state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud or mistake. Malice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person’s mind may be alleged generally.” These circumstances include the “time, place, and specific content of the false representations as well as the identities of the parties to the misrepresentations.” Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 764 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Edwards v. Marin Park, Inc., 356 F.3d 1058, 1066 (9th Cir. 2004)). “In the context of a fraud suit involving multiple defendants, a plaintiff must, at a minimum, ‘identif[y] the role of [each] defendant in the alleged fraudulent scheme.'” Id. at 765 (quoting Moore v. Kayport Package Express, 885 F.2d 531, 541 (9th Cir. 1989)). Claims subject to Rule 9(b) must also satisfy the ordinary requirements of Rule 8.
B. Standard for Motion for a More Definite Statement
“If a pleading to which a responsive pleading is permitted is so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading, the party may move for a more definite statement before interposing a responsive pleading.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). [*10] “The situations in which a Rule 12(e) motion is appropriate are very limited.” 5A Wright and Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1377 (1990). Furthermore, absent special circumstances, a Rule 12(e) motion cannot be used to require the pleader to set forth “the statutory or constitutional basis for his claim, only the facts underlying it.” McCalden v. California Library Ass’n, 955 F.2d 1214, 1223 (9th Cir. 1990). However, “even though a complaint is not defective for failure to designate the statute or other provision of law violated, the judge may in his discretion . . . require such detail as may be appropriate in the particular case.” McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 1996).
C. Standard for Motion to Expunge Notice of Pendency of Action (Lis Pendens)
A lis pendens is a “recorded document giving constructive notice that an action has been filed affecting title or right to possession of the real property described in the notice.” Urez Corp. v. Superior Court, 190 Cal. App. 3d 1141, 1144, 235 Cal. Rptr. 837 (1987). Once filed, a lis pendens prevents the transfer of that real property until the lis pendens is expunged or the litigation is resolved. BGJ Assoc., LLC v. Superior Court of Los Angeles, 75 Cal. App. 4th 952, 966-67, 89 Cal. Rptr. 2d 693 (1999).
A [*11] court must expunge a lis pendens without bond if the court makes any of these findings: (1) plaintiff’s complaint does not contain a “real property claim,” which is defined as one affecting title or possession of specific real property, Cal. Code. Civ. Pro. § 405.4; (2) plaintiff “has not established by a preponderance of the evidence the probably validity of a real property claim,” where probably validity requires a showing that it is more likely than not that the plaintiff will obtain a judgment against the defendant on the claim, id. §§ 405.3, 405.32; or (3) there was a defect in service or filing, id. § 405.32. See Castaneda v. Saxon Mortgage Servs., Inc., No. 2:09- 01124 WBS DAD, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17235, 2010 WL 726903, *8 (E.D. Cal. Feb 26, 2010).
A. Failure to Allege Ability to Make Tender
Defendants AHMSI, ADSI, Deutsche, and MERS argue that all of plaintiff’ claims are barred by plaintiff’s failure to allege his ability to tender the loan proceeds. Defendants assert that Abdallah v. United Savings Bank, 43 Cal. App. 4th 1101, 51 Cal. Rptr. 2d 286 (1996), requires a valid tender of payment to bring any claim that arises from a foreclosure sale. Abdallah, however, merely requires an allegation to tender for “any [*12] cause of action for irregularity in the [foreclosure] sale procedure.” Id. at 1109. Here, plaintiff asserts no causes of action that rely on any irregularity in the foreclosure sale itself. Indeed, the only claim addressed by the motions that may concern irregularity in the foreclosure itself is the wrongful foreclosure claim, which the court rejects below. Accordingly, the court concludes that plaintiff need not allege tender, and defendants’ motion is denied on this ground.
Plaintiff brings a claim for fraud against all defendants. The elements of a claim for intentional misrepresentation under California law are (1) misrepresentation (a false representation, concealment or nondisclosure), (2) knowledge of falsity, (3) intent to defraud (to induce reliance), (4) justifiable reliance, and (5) resulting damage. Agosta v. Astor, 120 Cal. App. 4th 596, 603, 15 Cal. Rptr. 3d 565 (2004). Claims for fraud are subject to a heightened pleading requirement under Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b), as discussed above. 2
2 Defendants also argue that California law requires a pleading of fraud against a corporation to be even more particular. However, as plaintiff points out, and defendants do not contest, pleading standards [*13] are a procedural requirement and while federal courts are to apply state substantive law to state law claims, they must always apply federal procedural law. Hanna v. Plumer, 380 U.S. 460, 465, 85 S. Ct. 1136, 14 L. Ed. 2d 8 (1965).
The FAC’s allegations in support of the claim for fraud as to moving defendants are that:
Defendant [AHMSI] misrepresented to Plaintiff that [AHMSI] has the right to collect monies from Plaintiff on its behalf or on behalf of others when Defendant [AHMSI] has no legal right to collect such moneys. [P] . . . Defendant MERS misrepresented to Plaintiff on the Deed of Trust that it is a qualified beneficiary with the ability to assign or transfer the Deed of Trust and/or Note and/or substitute trustees under the Deed of Trust. Further, Defendant MERS misrepresented that it followed the applicable legal requirements to transfer the Note and Deed of Trust to subsequent beneficiaries. [P] . . . Defendants T.D., [ADSI], and Deutsche misrepresented to Plaintiff that Defendants T.D., AHMSI, and Deutsche were entitled to enforce the security interest and has the right to institute a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding under the Deed of Trust when Defendant T.D. filed a Notice of Default on June 23, [*14] 2009. . . .
FAC PP 110-12. As to plaintiff’s claims against AHMSI and MERS, plaintiff failed to plead the time, place or identities of the parties of the misrepresentation. Accordingly, the fraud claim is dismissed as to these defendants. Further, as to defendant Deutsche, plaintiff has not alleged any misrepresentation made by these defendants, but rather relies on alleged misrepresentations made by another defendant concerning them. A claim for fraud requires that plaintiff plead that the defendant made a misrepresentation. As such, here, where plaintiff alleges no statements by defendants ADSI and Deutsche, plaintiff has not pled a claim against them, and thus, the fraud claims against them are likewise dismissed. Plaintiff’s claim against T.D., while pleading the time and place of the alleged misrepresentation, nonetheless fails to allege the identity of the parties to the alleged misrepresentation, mainly who made the statement(s) on behalf of T.D. The court further notes, as described below, that to the extent that plaintiff’s claim relies on defendants’ possession of the note prior to foreclosure, this court recently decided that California law does not impose a requirement of [*15] production or possession of the note prior to foreclosure, and sees no reason to depart from this reasoning. Champlaie v. BAC Home Loans Serv., No. S-09-1316 LKK/DAD, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102285, 2009 WL 3429622, at *12-14 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 22, 2009). Thus, plaintiff’s fraud claim is dismissed without prejudice as to all moving defendants.
C. Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act
Plaintiff argues that AHMSI has violated the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA) by failing to meet its disclosure requirements and failing to respond to a QWR. FAC PP 90-91. Defendant AHMSI argues that plaintiff has failed to attach the alleged QWR or to allege its full contents and that any QWR must inquire as to the account balance and relate to servicing of the loan, while plaintiff’s alleged QWR was nothing more than a request for documents. 12 U.S.C. 2605(e)(1) defines a QWR as written correspondence that identifies the name and account of the borrower and includes a statement of reasons the borrower believes the account is in error or provides sufficient detail regarding other information sought. Here, plaintiff alleges that its communication with AHMSI identified plaintiff’s name and loan number and included a statement [*16] of reasons for plaintiff’s belief that the loan was in error. FAC P 91. This is a sufficient allegation of a violation of 12 U.S.C. 2605(e). Further, a plaintiff need not attach a QWR to a complaint to plead a violation of RESPA for failure to respond to a QWR.
AHSMI also argues that plaintiff must factually demonstrate that written correspondence inquired as to the status of his account balance and related to servicing of the loan, citing MorEquity, Inc. v. Naeem, 118 F. Supp. 2d 885 (N.D. Ill. 2000). This case held that allegations of a forged deed and irregularity with respect to recording did not relate to servicing as it is defined in 12 U.S.C. Section 2605(i)(3), and that only servicers are required to respond to a QWR under 12 U.S.C. Section 2605(e)(1)(A). Morequity, 118 F. Supp. 2d at 901. Section 2605(i)(3) defines servicing as the “receiving [of] any scheduled periodic payments from a borrower pursuant to the terms of any loan, including amounts for escrow accounts described in section 2609 of this title, and making [of] the payments of principal and interest and such other payments with respect to the amounts received from the borrower as may be required pursuant to the terms [*17] of the loan.”
AHMSI does not contend that it is not a servicer but rather argues that the purported QWR here did not relate to servicing because it was merely a request for documents. However, 12 U.S.C. Section 2605(e)(1)(A) requires only that a QWR be received by a servicer, enable the servicer to identify the name and account of the borrower, and include a statement of reasons for the borrower’s belief that the account is in error or provide sufficient detail regarding other information sought. Here, plaintiff allegedly stated reasons for believing the account was in error and AHMSI does not contest that it was the servicer of plaintiff’s loan, distinguishing this case from MorEquity. Accordingly, plaintiff has stated a claim against AHMSI for violation of RESPA in failing to respond to a QWR.
Plaintiff also alleges that AHMSI violated RESPA by failing to provide notice to plaintiff of the assignment, sale, or transfer of servicing rights to plaintiff’s loan. FAC P 89. Notice by the transferor to the borrower is required by 12 U.S.C. Section 2605(b). AHMSI counters that plaintiff has failed to allege that servicing rights were actually transferred, that plaintiff is not even certain [*18] which defendant was actually servicer at any given time, and plaintiff’s allegations that AHMSI is responsible for responding to a QWR creates an inference that plaintiff believes it is responsible for servicing (and therefore did not transfer servicing rights). However, moving defendants themselves ask this court to take judicial notice of an assignment of deed of trust in which AHMSI purports to assign the deed of trust to Deutsche. Defs.’ RFJN ex. 5. This document is judicially noticeable as a public record. Thus, despite plaintiff’s uncertainty about who held servicing rights when, AHMSI cannot both ask us to take judicial notice of a transfer of their rights and contend that a claim that they failed to give requisite notice pursuant to said transfer is non-cognizable.
Accordingly, the motion to dismiss plaintiff’s RESPA claim with respect to AHMSI is denied.
D. Violations of California’s Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
California’s Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“Rosenthal Act”) prohibits creditors and debt collectors from, among other things, making false, deceptive, or misleading representations in an effort to collect a debt. Cal. Civ. Code § 1788, et seq. [*19] Pursuant to Cal. Civ. Code Section 1788.17, the Rosenthal Act incorporates the provisions of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibiting “[c]ommunicating or threatening to communicate to any person credit information which is known or which should be known to be false.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692e(8).
Plaintiff alleges that AHMSI violated the Rosenthal Act by making false reports to credit reporting agencies, falsely stating the amount of debt, falsely stating a debt was owed, attempting to collect said debt through deceptive letters and phone calls demanding payment, and increasing plaintiff’s debt by stating amounts not permitted including excessive service fees, attorneys’ fees, and late charges. FAC P 73-75. AHMSI argues that foreclosing on a property is not collection of a debt, and so is not regulated by the Rosenthal Act, that the alleged prohibited activities resulted from plaintiff’s default, and plaintiff has not alleged when the violations occurred. AHMSI correctly points out that foreclosure on a property securing a debt is not debt collection activity encompassed by Rosenthal Act. Cal. Civ. Code § 2924(b), Izenberg, 589 F. Supp. 2d at 1199. However, plaintiff’s allegations [*20] with respect to this cause of action do not mention foreclosure, instead alleging violations related to payment collection efforts. See Champlaie v. BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102285, 2009 WL 3429622 at *18 (E.D. Cal. October 22, 2009). Further, the actions of debt collectors under the act are not immunized if plaintiff actually owed money. Rather, the Rosenthal Act prohibits conduct in collecting a debt, whether valid or not. Accordingly, AHMSI’s second argument is without merit. Lastly, as to AHMSI’s third argument, plaintiff has sufficiently alleged the general time of the conduct he claims violates the Rosenthal Act. 3 Specifically, the court infers from the complaint, that the alleged conduct occurred after plaintiff stopped making his loan payments. Thus, AHMSI’s motion to dismiss this claim is denied.
3 AHMSI only appears to move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, and not 9(b).
E. Wrongful Foreclosure
Plaintiff alleges wrongful foreclosure against AHMSI, T.D., ADSI, Deutsche, and MERS because they do not possess the note, are not beneficiaries, assignees, or employees of the person or entity in possession of the note, and are not otherwise entitled to payment, such that they are [*21] not persons entitled to enforce the security interest under Cal. Com. Code Section 3301. FAC P 146. Plaintiff also alleges in his complaint that the foreclosure is wrongful because defendants failed to give proper notice of the notice of default under Cal. Civ. Code Section 2923.5 and AHMSI allegedly failed to respond to a QWR. 4 FAC PP 149-50.
4 Defendants only move to dismiss this claim based upon the first theory of liability. As such, plaintiff’s claim is not dismissed insofar as it depends on these other theories of liability articulated in his complaint.
AHMSI, ADSI, Deutsche, and MERS assert that they need not be in possession of the note in order to foreclose, and that recorded documents establish that Deutsche is holder in due course of the note and deed of trust and the foreclosing entity, and is thus legally entitled to enforce the power of sale provisions of the deed of trust. Defendant T.D. contends that the holder of the note theory is invalid, as a deed of trust is not a negotiable instrument, and that the requirements of Cal. Civ. Code Section 2923.5 have been met.
California’s non-judicial foreclosure process, Cal. Civ. Code Sections 2924-29241, establishes an exhaustive [*22] set of requirements for non-judicial foreclosure, and the production of the note is not one of these requirements. Champlaie, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102285, 2009 WL 3429622 at *13. Accordingly, possession of the promissory note is not a prerequisite to non-judicial foreclosure in that a party may validly own a beneficial interest in a promissory note or deed of trust without possession of the promissory note itself. 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102285, [WL] at *13-14. Consequently, defendants need not offer proof of possession of the note to legally institute non-judicial foreclosure proceedings against plaintiff, although, of course, they must prove that they have the right to foreclose. Thus, plaintiff’s wrongful foreclosure claim is dismissed insofar as it is premised upon this possession of the note theory.
Nonetheless, plaintiff may have stated a claim against defendants that they are not proper parties to foreclose. Plaintiff and AHMSI, Deutsche, and MERS have requested that the court take judicial notice of the assignment of deeds of trust which purport to assign the interest in the deed of trust first to AHMSI and then to Deutsche. As described above, the deed of trust listed MERS as the beneficiary. On June 23, 2009, T.D. recorded a notice of [*23] default that listed Deutsche as the beneficiary and AHMSI as the trustee. Nearly a month later, on July 20, 2009, MERS first recorded an assignment of this mortgage from MERS to AHMSI, which indicated that the assignment was effective June 9, 2009. Eleven seconds later, AHMSI recorded an assignment of the mortgage from AHMSI to Deutsche, which indicated that the assignment was effective June 22, 2009. The court interprets plaintiff’s argument to be that the backdated assignments of plaintiff’s mortgage are not valid, or at least were not valid on June 23, 2009, and therefore, Deutsche did not have the authority to record the notice of default on that date. Essentially, the court assumes plaintiff argues that MERS remained the beneficiary on that date, and therefore was the only party who could enforce the default.
While California law does not require beneficiaries to record assignments, see California Civil Code Section 2934, the process of recording assignments with backdated effective dates may be improper, and thereby taint the notice of default. Defendants have not demonstrated that these assignments are valid or that even if the dates of the assignments are not valid, the notice [*24] of default is valid. Accordingly, defendants motion to dismiss plaintiff’s wrongful foreclosure is denied insofar as it is premised on defendants being proper beneficiaries. As discussed below, defendant is invited, but not required, to file a motion addressing the validity of the notice of default given the suspicious dating in the assignments with respect to both their motion to dismiss and their motion to expunge the notice of pendency.
Thus, Plaintiff has not stated a claim that defendants did not possess the right to foreclose plaintiff’s loan because (1) defendants did not possess or produce the note or (2) Deutsche lacked the authority to record a notice of default. For the reasons described above, this claim is dismissed insofar as liability is based upon defendants’ not possessing the note.
Plaintiff alleges negligence against all defendants, but only T.D. has moved to dismiss this claim. Under California law, the elements of a claim for negligence are “(a) a legal duty to use due care; (b) a breach of such legal duty; and (c) the breach as the proximate or legal cause of the resulting injury.” Ladd v. County of San Mateo, 12 Cal. 4th 913, 917, 50 Cal. Rptr. 2d 309, 911 P.2d 496 (1996) (internal citations [*25] and quotations omitted); see also Cal Civ Code § 1714(a).
The other defendants do not directly counter the negligence claim, but T.D. argues that it fails because the FAC does not mention it by name or allege what it was supposed to do. The only notice T.D. received of the negligence allegations against it through plaintiff’s complaint are the words “Against all Defendants” and the incorporation of allegations set forth above. When a defendant must scour the entire complaint to learn of the basis of the charges against them, they have not received effective notice. See Baldain v. American Home Mortg. Servicing, Inc., No. CIV. S-09-0931, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5671, 2010 WL 582059, *8 (E.D.Cal. Jan. 5, 2010). Accordingly, this claim is dismissed as to T.D., with leave to amend.
G. Violations of California Business and Professions Code Sec. 17200
California’s Unfair Competition Law, Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200, (“UCL”) proscribes “unlawful, unfair or fraudulent” business acts and practices. Plaintiff claims all defendants violated the UCL. The claim against AHMSI is based on its alleged violations of the Rosenthal Act, RESPA, negligence, fraud, and illegal foreclosure activities. FAC P 122. The claim against T.D., [*26] Deutsche, and MERS is based on allegations of negligence, fraud, and illegal foreclosure activities. FAC P 124.
As discussed above, plaintiff has alleged valid causes of action against AHMSI for violation of the Rosenthal Act and RESPA and for negligence. Plaintiff has also stated valid claims against Deutsche and MERS for negligence. However, the court has dismissed the negligence claim against T.D. and the fraud and wrongful foreclosure claims against all defendants, and thus, these claims cannot form the basis of a violation of UCL under the present complaint.
Plaintiff’ UCL claim is therefore dismissed as to T.D., and as to the AHMSI, Deutsche, and MERS insofar as the claim is predicated on fraud and wrongful foreclosure under the possession or production of the note theory.
H. Motion to Expunge Notice of Pendency of Action (Lis Pendens)
1. Merits of Motion
Defendants AHMSI, Deutsche, and MERS move to expunge notice of pendency of action. As described above, in order to succeed in opposing a motion to expunge a notice of pendency of action, plaintiff 5 must establish (1) that his complaint contains a real property claim, (2) that it is more likely than not that he will obtain a judgment [*27] against the defendant, and (3) that there was a defect in service or filing. See Castaneda v. Saxon Mortgage Servs., Inc., No. 2:09-01124 WBS DAD, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17235, 2010 WL 726903, *8 (E.D. Cal. Feb 26, 2010). Accordingly, plaintiff must tender evidence to successfully demonstrate that he is more likely than not to obtain a judgment against defendants. Because plaintiff must prevail on all of these elements, the court need not resolve all three. Rather, the court grants defendants’ motion on all claims save one, because plaintiff has not established that it is more likely than not that he will obtain a judgment against the defendant.
5 Plaintiff bears the burden of proof. Cal. Code Civ. Pro. § 405.30.
As an initial matter, the only evidence plaintiff has presented to establish he is more likely than not to succeed on the merits of his claims are the recorded documents filed in defendants’ request for judicial notice. This in and of itself supports the granting of defendants’ motion on most of his claims. Instead of establishing his likelihood of success on the merits, plaintiff argues that the motion should be denied because he has stated a claim under the Rosenthal Act, the RESPA, and the Unfair Competition [*28] Law (“UCL”) and for fraud and wrongful foreclosure. As described above, plaintiff has not stated a claim for fraud or wrongful foreclosure premised on the possession of the note he argues in his oppositions to defendants’ motions to dismiss and motion to expunge, 6 so even if the court adopted plaintiff’s standard, he has not demonstrated he is likely to succeed on these claims. Finally, the only relief provided by RESPA 7 and the Rosenthal Act 8 is damages, and therefore, even if plaintiff were likely to succeed on the merits of these claims, it would not entitle him to injunctive relief. The UCL does, however, provide for injunctive relief. Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17203. In support of his argument as to why this cause of action should prevent this court from granting defendants motion, plaintiff merely states,
Plaintiff made viable charging allegations that named Defendants, moving Defendants included, have engaged in unfair and fraudulent business practices . . . [including] violations of . . . . RESPA . . ., fraud, negligence and [the] Rosenthal Act . . . .
Opposition at 23. Plaintiff continues to raise arguments concerning certain defendants alleged failures to make disclosures [*29] at loan origination, and numerous arguments of which the court disposed above in plaintiff’s wrongful foreclosure claim. Plaintiff makes no argument as to why this claim would likely or even possibly support injunctive relief of enjoining foreclosure of plaintiffs’ home.
6 As noted above, plaintiff also alleges in his complaint that the foreclosure is wrongful because the defendants failed to give proper notice of the notice of default. As further noted, the documents that the defendants requested the court to judicially notice raise questions about the propriety of the notice. Under the circumstances, the court will not expunge the lis pendens.
7 RESPA only affords the following types of relief for individual plaintiffs:
(A) any actual damages to the borrower as a result of the failure; and
(B) any additional damages, as the court may allow, in the case of a pattern or practice of noncompliance with the requirements of this section, in an amount not to exceed $ 1,000.
12 U.S.C. § 2605(f)(1).
8 The Rosenthal Act affords the following types of relief:
(A) Any debt collector who violates this title . . . shall be liable to the debtor in an amount equal to the sum of any actual damages sustained [*30] by the debtor as a result of the violation.
(B) Any debt collector who willfully and knowingly violates this title with respect to any debtor shall . . . also be liable to the debtor . . . for a penalty in such amount as the court may allow, which shall not be less than one hundred dollars ($ 100) nor greater than one thousand dollars ($ 1,000).
Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.30.
Nonetheless, as discussed above, plaintiff has raised a serious issue concerning the validity of the notice of default. Specifically, defendants’ have not persuaded the court that the backdated assignments are valid, and consequently, that they do not taint the notice of default. Accordingly, plaintiff may have demonstrated that it is more likely than not that he will be entitled to judgment on this real property claim that the backdated assignments invalidate the notice of default. Thus, the motion to expunge the notice of pendency of action is denied as to this claim only.
The court recognizes, however, that defendants may be able to demonstrate that the assignments are either valid or if invalid do not taint the notice of default. For this reason, the court invites to file a motion to dismiss and to expunge the notice [*31] of pendency on this issue alone. This motion should await plaintiff’s filing of any amended complaint.
For the reasons stated above, defendants’ motions to dismiss, Doc. 21 and Doc. 23, are GRANTED IN PART.
The court DISMISSES the following claims:
1. Sixth Claim, for fraud, as to all moving defendants.
2. Tenth Claim, for wrongful foreclosure insofar as it is premised on the theory that the note must be possessed or produced to foreclose, as to AHMSI, T.D., and MERS.
All dismissals are without prejudice. Plaintiff is granted twenty-one (21) days to file an amended complaint. It appears to the court that the plaintiff may truthfully amend to cure defects on some of his claims. However, plaintiff is cautioned not to replead insufficient claims, or to falsely plead.
The court DENIES defendants’ motion as to the following claims, insofar as they are premised on the theories found adequate in the analysis above:
1. Second Claim, for violation of the Rosenthal Act.
2. Third Claim, for negligence, as to AHMSI, ADSI, Deutsche, and MERS.
3. Fourth Claim, for violation of RESPA.
4. Seventh Claim, under the UCL, as to AHMSI, ADSI, Deutsche, and MERS.
The court further orders that defendants’ [*32] motion to expunge notice of pendency of action, Doc. 22, is DENIED.
Defendants are invited to file a motion to dismiss and a motion to expunge the notice of pendency as to plaintiff’s wrongful foreclosure claim insofar as it is premised on the backdated assignments of the mortgage.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: March 30, 2010.
/s/ Lawrence K. Karlton
LAWRENCE K. KARLTON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURTRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 3 so far )
On March 30, 2010, in the case of Ohlendorf v. Am. Home Mortg. Servicing, (2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31098) on Defendants’ 12(B)(6) Motion, United States District Court for the Eastern District of California denied the motion to dismiss Plaintiffs wrongful foreclosure claim on grounds that the assignment of mortgage was backdated and thus may have been invalid.
“On or about June 23, 2009, defendant T.D. Service Company [(a foreclosure processing service)] filed a notice of default in Placer County, identifying Deutsche Bank as beneficiary and AHMSI as trustee. In an assignment of deed of trust dated July 15, 2009, MERS assigned the deed of trust to AHMSI. This assignment of deed of trust purports to be effective as of June 9, 2009. A second assignment of deed of trust was executed on the same date as the first, July 15, 2009, but the time mark placed on the second assignment of deed of trust by the Placer County Recorder indicates that it was recorded eleven seconds after the first. In this second assignment of deed of trust, AHMSI assigned the deed of trust to Deutsche. This assignment indicates that it was effective as of June 22, 2009. Both assignments were signed by Korell Harp. The assignment purportedly effective June 9, 2009, lists Harp as vice president of MERS and the assignment purportedly effective June 22, 2009, lists him as vice president of AHMSI. Six days later, on July 21, 2009, plaintiff recorded a notice of pendency of action with the Placer County Recorder. In a substitution of trustee recorded on July 29, 2009, Deutsche, as present beneficiary, substituted ADSI as trustee.”
The court stated that “while California law does not require beneficiaries to record assignments, see California Civil Code Section 2934, the process of recording assignments with backdated effective dates may be improper, and thereby taint the notice of default.”
Plaintiff’s argument was interpreted by the court to be that the backdated assignments were not valid or at least were not valid on June 23, 2009, when the notice of default was recorded. As such the court assumed Plaintiff argued that MERS remained the beneficiary on that date and therefore was the only party who could enforce the default.
Judge Lawrence K. Karlton invited Defendants to file a motion to dismiss as to plaintiff’s wrongful foreclosure claim insofar as it is premised on the backdated assignments of the mortgage. You can read the full Opinion here.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
By Dean Mostofi
This article, in light of a recent filing of a class action complaint and news of an ongoing criminal investigation, examines the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and its potential application by homeowners seeking damages against foreclosure trustees and mortgage default servicing companies involved in wholesale and systemic mortgage assignment fraud and other deceptive acts and practices.
The Wall Street Journal reported last Saturday that a unit of Lender Processing Services Inc (LPS), a U.S. provider of paperwork used by banks in the foreclosure process, is being investigated by federal prosecutors. Sources have indicated the investigation is criminal in nature and involves the production and recording of fraudulent mortgage assignments.
Although this may have been news to the WSJ and its readers, loan auditors and foreclosure defense lawyers have been complaining about rampant foreclosure fraud perpetuated by trustees and their attorneys for at least 18 months.
During the recent real estate boom between 2002 and 2007 millions of loans were originated and sold to securitization trusts without much attention to detail or regard for proper paperwork and as a result the majority of loan files are missing the required documentation proving chain of title and assignment of the mortgage and note from originator to the trust. In the event of default, in certain jurisdictions, the trustee cannot foreclose without evidence of a recorded mortgage assignment; but since they were never executed and many of the originators are no longer in business, to facilitate foreclosures the assignments are now being forged, backdated and recorded every time a foreclosure action is commenced.
The fraud was so widespread and blatant that in some instances mortgage assignments were notarized and recorded with the name “BOGUS ASSIGNEE” shown to be the official grantee of the mortgage and no one including the court clerks ever questioned the bogus assignments’ authenticity.
On Feb 17, 2010 a putative class action complaint, styled as Schneider, Kenneth, et al. vs. Lender Processing Services, Inc., et al., was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The complaint alleges violations of the FDCPA by US Bank, Deutsche Bank, LPS and its subsidiary Docx LLC. Defendants are accused of:
- Making false, deceptive and misleading representations concerning their standing to sue the plaintiffs for foreclosure;
- Falsely representing the status of the debt in that it was due and owing to defendants at the time the foreclosure suit was filed;
- Falsely representing or implying that the debt was owing to defendants as an innocent purchaser for value when in fact such an assignment had not taken place;
- Threatening to take legal action and engaging in collection activities and foreclosure suits as trustee that could not legally be taken by them;
- Obtaining access to state and federal courts to collect on notes and foreclosure on mortgages under false pretences;
- Foreclosing without the ability to obtain and record an assignment of the mortgage and note;
This is a single count complaint that bets the house on FDCPA and its applicability to the named defendants who no doubt will move for dismissal claiming they are not debt collectors but trustees and document providers. As such a more careful analysis of the FDCPA is in order.
There are some gray areas in the applicability of the FDCPA, but it is generally accepted that a mortgage debt and those trying to collect on it are subject to the FDCPA. The Act applies only to debts that were incurred primarily for “personal, family or household purposes, whether or not [a debt] has been reduced to judgment.” This means that the character of the debt is determined by the use of the borrowed money and not by the type of property used for collateral. For example, monies loaned that are invested in a business or used to purchase a commercial building would represent a non-consumer debt and not be subject to the FDCPA. However, regardless of the type of property that is secured by the deed of trust, if the borrower used the money to purchase a boat, jewelry, clothing or for other personal expenses, the debt would be a consumer debt subject to the Act.
Debt Collector Defined
The FDCPA defines debt collector as any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another. 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692a(6)
Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has held that lawyers who regularly collect consumer debts, even when their collection efforts are through litigation only, are debt collectors under FDCPA. Heintz v. Jerkins 95 Daily Journal D.A.R. 7134 (1995). However, courts have held that lenders who foreclose on their own mortgage loans are not debt collectors. Olroyd v. Associates Consumer Discount Co., 863 F.2d 23 7 (D.C., E D. Penn 1994).
Assignment Before and After Default
Creditors who take an assignment of the debt while it is in default are generally subject to FDCPA as debt collectors. Therefore, mortgage servicers who obtained the loan while it was in default are subject to the FDCPA as debt collectors [Games v. Cavazas, 737 F.Supp. 1368 (D.C., D. Del. 1990)] but mortgage servicers who receive a loan prior to default are not covered as debt collectors (Penny v. Stewart Elk Co., 756 F.2d 1197 (5th Cir., 1985); rehearing granted on other grounds, 7611 F.2d 237).
The Fiduciary Exception
To make matters more complicated even when assignment takes place after default some trustees may fall under the exception to “debt collector” that covers “any person collecting or attempting to collect any debt … due another to the extent such activity … is incidental to a bona fide fiduciary obligation.” 15 U.S.C.A. § 1692a(6)(F)(i) (West 1998). As such, US Bank and Deutsche Bank may claim that, because they were acting as trustees foreclosing on a property pursuant to a deed of trust, they were fiduciaries benefitting from the exception of § 1692a(6)(F)(i).
However, the fact that trustees foreclosing on a deed of trust are fiduciaries only partially answers the question. Rather, the critical inquiry is whether a trustee’s actions are incidental to a bona fide fiduciary obligation.
In Wilson v. Draper, 443 F.3d 373 (4th Circuit 2006) the court “concluded that a trustee’s actions to foreclose on a property pursuant to a deed of trust are not “incidental” to its fiduciary obligation. Rather, they are central to it.” Thus, to the extent the trustees use the foreclosure process to collect the alleged debt, they could not benefit from the exemption contained in § 1692a(6)(F)(i).
The court further noted that “the exemption (i) for bona fide fiduciary obligations or escrow arrangements applies to entities such as trust departments of banks, and escrow companies. It does not include a party who is named as a debtor’s trustee solely for the purpose of conducting a foreclosure sale (i.e., exercising a power of sale in the event of default on a loan).”
Debt Collector’s Duties
Once subject to the FDCPA, a debt collector must disclose clearly to the debtor that, “the debt collector is attempting to collect the debt,” and, “any information obtained will be used for that purpose.”
The FDCPA also requires that a statement be included in the initial communication with the debtor (or within 5 days of the initial communication), providing the debtor with written notice containing the following:
- the amount of the debt;
- the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed;
- the statement that, unless the consumer, within thirty (30) days after the receipt of the notice disputes the validity of the debt or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector;
- the statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the thirty-day period that the debt or any portion thereof is disputed, the debt collector will obtain a verification of the debt or a copy of the judgment will be mailed to the consumer by the debt collector;
- a statement that upon the consumer’s written request within the thirty day period, a debt collector will provide the consumer with the name and address of the original creditor, if different from the current creditor
Prohibitions against False and Misleading Representation
Under §1692(e) a debt collector may not use any false, deceptive, or misleading representation or means in connection with the collection of any debt. Without limiting the general application of the foregoing, the following conduct is a violation of this section:
(1) The false representation or implication that the debt collector is vouched for, bonded by, or affiliated with the United States or any State, including the use of any badge, uniform, or facsimile thereof.
(2) The false representation of—
(A) the character, amount, or legal status of any debt; or
(B) any services rendered or compensation which may be lawfully received by any debt collector for the collection of a debt.
(3) The false representation or implication that any individual is an attorney or that any communication is from an attorney.
(4) The representation or implication that nonpayment of any debt will result in the arrest or imprisonment of any person or the seizure, garnishment, attachment, or sale of any property or wages of any person unless such action is lawful and the debt collector or creditor intends to take such action.
(5) The threat to take any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken.
(6) The false representation or implication that a sale, referral, or other transfer of any interest in a debt shall cause the consumer to—
(A) lose any claim or defense to payment of the debt; or
(B) become subject to any practice prohibited by this subchapter.
(7) The false representation or implication that the consumer committed any crime or other conduct in order to disgrace the consumer.
(8) Communicating or threatening to communicate to any person credit information which is known or which should be known to be false, including the failure to communicate that a disputed debt is disputed.
(9) The use or distribution of any written communication which simulates or is falsely represented to be a document authorized, issued, or approved by any court, official, or agency of the United States or any State, or which creates a false impression as to its source, authorization, or approval.
(10) The use of any false representation or deceptive means to collect or attempt to collect any debt or to obtain information concerning a consumer.
(11) The failure to disclose in the initial written communication with the consumer and, in addition, if the initial communication with the consumer is oral, in that initial oral communication, that the debt collector is attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose, and the failure to disclose in subsequent communications that the communication is from a debt collector, except that this paragraph shall not apply to a formal pleading made in connection with a legal action.
(12) The false representation or implication that accounts have been turned over to innocent purchasers for value.
(13) The false representation or implication that documents are legal process.
(14) The use of any business, company, or organization name other than the true name of the debt collector’s business, company, or organization.
(15) The false representation or implication that documents are not legal process forms or do not require action by the consumer.
If the debt collector is in violation of the FDCPA, he/she may be held liable for: (1) any actual damages sustained by the consumer (including damages for mental distress, loss of employment, etc.), and, (2) such additional damages as the court may allow, but not exceeding $ 1,000.
In the case of the class action, the court may award up to $500,000 or one percent of the debt collector’s net worth, whichever is less.
Evidently some advocates believe that without the FDCPA and its provisions which prohibit misrepresentation and deceitful conduct by debt collectors, homeowners as a class have little or no recourse against banks that choose to lie, cheat and defraud the court, while aided by judges who are complicit in the fraud for turning a blind eye and rubber stamping Orders. However, borrowers may have various other causes of action individually, which may or may not be economically feasible to litigate. As always the best advice is to have the loan file audited by a skilled forensic loan auditor to detect violations of federal and state laws followed by consultation with a seasoned foreclosure defense attorney.
National Loan Audits
301-867-3887Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
Every day I get calls from attorneys or people facing foreclosure asking about my services as a forensic loan auditor and expert witness. Generally the callers are reasonably well informed about my work and know what they can and cannot expect from an audit. But yesterday a nice lady from Ohio called and asked for information on a frozen loan audit! And increasingly I am getting calls from people who begin by asking what I charge, immediately followed by how many pages long my audits are! Maybe I am getting a little sensitive as I am nearing my 49th birthday but I become irritated when I am made to feel like a server at a fast food joint. Not that there is anything wrong with being a server, but what would be an appropriate response to such a dumb question? Today’s special is all you can read for $299 and a bag of chips at no extra cost. Will that be for here or to go?
What is this fascination with size and quantity that drives the average consumer? He wants a McMansion, a Big Mac, an Extra Large Latte, a Jumbo Dog, a Super Sized Pizza, and a Voluminous Frozen Audit. Or is it forensic? Who cares, as long as you get a lot of pages and one of them money back guarantees. Oh yes, we love a money back guarantee. But seriously, why would someone facing foreclosure or having difficulty making mortgage payments care about the size of an audit? Are they calling five auditors and going with the cheapest who offers the most words for the money? Is that how you hire a professional these days?
Of course, I can’t place the entire blame on consumers who are simply trying to find the most affordable solution for perhaps the biggest problem they have had to face – losing their home. Understandably they are trying to find a method to measure the value of such an esoteric service as a forensic loan audit, which no one had even heard about until a few months ago. You can’t blame them for wanting to shop and compare products before buying and parting with their hard earned money. It is the service providers who are misleading the public and selling them a thick pile of worthless junk packaged as a forensic loan audit with a guarantee that if no violations are discovered a refund will be issued with no questions asked. I wonder how many refunds on these fake audits have been issued.
There are even law firms now peddling these audits for up to $2500 a pop but delivering nothing more than a standardized list of technical violations with some added legalese and fictitious causes of action thrown in for good measure (such as Rescission and Breach of the Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, none of which are valid or independent causes of action but they sound good). After all, how can you justify charging $2500 for a template audit, if you don’t embellish it with a few Latin words no one can pronounce or omit citations to inapposite case law inserted to fill space for lack of meaningful research.
This industry has been flooded with unprofessional ex loan officers and underemployed ambulance chasing lawyers who have setup shop as auditors with cheap copycat websites and a subscription to compliance software, representing themselves as experts offering hope to distressed homeowners, who in their desperation for keeping their homes and stopping foreclosure are easy prey.
What these unsavory characters are selling is essentially overpriced data entry and a template report purporting to be a legal analysis of the homeowner’s rights and remedies for alleged violations of the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), Fair Credit Reporting Act, Predatory Lending, Breach of Fiduciary Duty, Negligence, Fraud and Unfair or Deceptive Acts or Practices to name a few. After completion of the audit the borrower is usually encouraged to demand a response from the lender via a Qualified Written Request (QWR), which the auditor/lawyer sometimes offers to draft and submit as an added bonus with the assurance that as soon as the lender is served with their masterfully prepared QWR and sees the auditor’s impressive findings, its lawyers begin trembling with fear of being sued and offer to settle for pennies on the dollar. All that for $399 and a money back guarantee! How can anyone turn down such an offer? Yes please, I will have one audit and a bag of chips to munch on while laying back on my couch watching the bank get on its knees and beg for my forgiveness. I want to watch them grovel before they rescind my predatory loan and hand over the deed to my house free and clear. After all this is America.
Of course the reality is markedly different than what is purported by these overenthusiastic yet incompetent advocates. I have seen hundreds of audits and they all have one thing in common – they are worthless. First, many of the so called violations these audits uncover, such as failure to issue a good faith estimate within three days of application, or failure to issue a HUD-1 one day prior to settlement, provide for no private right of action, so their only value may lie in establishing a pattern and practice of misrepresentation, deception or on rare occasions fraud. But even if sufficient facts exist for allegations of broker or loan officer misconduct, liability for such conduct ordinarily remains with the original tortfeasor and not the assignee of the loan, who in all likelihood is a holder in due course, unless you can show, for example, that the holder had notice of your claims prior to purchasing the Note or that the Note was not properly negotiated or for various reasons it does not qualify as a negotiable instrument.
As mentioned ordinarily the holder in due course is not liable for disputes or claims you may have against the originator or mortgage broker who sold you the loan unless certain conditions pursuant to HOEPA have been met, or the TILA violation is apparent on the face of the loan documents, or you are using the claim as a defense in a collection action, or if you can state with particularity facts that would make the note and mortgage void under other legal theories. Some courts, however, have held that you cannot use certain claims in nature of recoupment in non judicial foreclosure proceedings in states such as California, while, on the other hand, a West Virginia court has said: “Securitization model – a system wherein parties that provide the money for loans and drive the entire origination process from afar and behind the scenes – does nothing to abolish the basic right of a borrower to assert a defense to the enforcement of a fraudulent loan, regardless of whether it was induced by another party involved in the origination of the loan transaction, be it a broker, appraiser, closing agent, or another”. Generally a fraudulent loan is not enforceable regardless of the holder in due course status of the party with the right to enforce. The trick is in providing sufficient facts to prove fraud, which, under normal circumstances is not an easy task to accomplish.
A popular finding proffered by some practitioners is an alleged violation of fiduciary duty by the lender. In general, however, a lender does not owe a fiduciary duty to a borrower. “A commercial lender is entitled to pursue its own economic interests in a loan transaction. This right is inconsistent with the obligations of a fiduciary which require that the fiduciary knowingly agree to subordinate its interests to act on behalf of and for the benefit of another.” Nymark v. Heart Fed. Savings & Loan Assn., 231 Cal. App. 3d 1089, 1093 n.1, 283 Cal. Rptr. 53 (1991). “[A]bsent special circumstances . . . a loan transaction is at arm’s length and there is no fiduciary relationship between the borrower and lender.” Oaks Management Corporation v. Superior Court, 145 Cal. App. 4th 453, 466, 51 Cal. Rptr. 3d 561 (2006).
Determining the existence of a fiduciary relationship involves a highly individualized inquiry into whether the facts of a given transaction establish that there has been a special confidence reposed in one who, in equity and good conscience, is bound to act in good faith and with due regard to the interests of the one reposing the confidence. Mulligan v. Choice Mortg. Corp. USA, 1998 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13248 (D.N.H. Aug. 11, 1998).
As such, an audit must inquire in to the circumstances surrounding the borrower’s initial introduction to and meeting with the lender’s agent and the content of all verbal and written communications between them. It is important for the auditor to determine the level and extent of trust and confidence reposed by borrower in the lender’s agent. A lender may owe to a borrower a duty of care sounding in negligence when the lender’s activities exceed those of a conventional lender. For example if it can be shown the appraisal was intended to induce borrower to enter into the loan transaction or to assure him that his collateral was sound the lender may have a duty to exercise due care in preparing the appraisal. See Wagner v. Benson, 101 Cal. App. 3d 27, 35, 161 Cal. Rptr. 516 (1980) (“Liability to a borrower for negligence arises only when the lender actively participates in the financed enterprise beyond the domain of the usual money lender.”).
A lender may be secondarily liable through the actions of a mortgage broker, who may have a fiduciary duty to its borrower-client, but only if there is an agency relationship between the lender and the broker. See Plata v. Long Beach Mortg. Co., 2005 U.S. Dist. Lexis 38807, at *23 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 13, 2005); Keen v. American Home Mortgage Servicing, Inc., 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100803, 2009 WL 3380454, at *21 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 21, 2009).
Therefore, the audit must propound sufficient facts to establish an agency relationship between lender and broker. An agency relationship exists where a principal authorizes an agent to represent and bind the principal. Although lenders offer the brokers incentives to act in ways that further their interests, there needs to be a showing that a lender gave the broker authority to represent or bind it, or that a lender took some action that would have given borrower the impression that such a relationship existed. I have yet to see an audit that provided facts for such a conclusion but instead they are filled with conclusory allegations unsupported by facts. It is not enough to merely state that lender is vicariously liable through the broker or that broker is lender’s authorized agent without specific facts to support such conclusions.
Under the conspiracy theory a party may be vicariously liable for another’s tort in a civil conspiracy where the plaintiff shows “(1) formation and operation of the conspiracy and (2) damage resulting to plaintiff (3) from a wrongful act done in furtherance of the common design.” Rusheen v. Cohen, 37 Cal. 4th 1048, 1062, 39 Cal. Rptr. 3d 516, 128 P.3d 713 (2006) (citing Doctors’ Co. v. Superior Court, 49 Cal.3d 39, 44, 260 Cal. Rptr. 183, 775 P.2d 508 (1989)), see also Applied Equipment Corp. v. Litton Saudi Arabia Ltd., 7 Cal. 4th 503, 511, 28 Cal. Rptr. 2d 475, 869 P.2d 454 (1994). The California Supreme Court has held that even when these elements are shown, however, a conspirator cannot be liable unless he personally owed the duty that was breached. Applied Equipment, 7 Cal. 4th at 511, 514.
Civil conspiracy “cannot create a duty . . . . [i]t allows tort recovery only against a party who already owes the duty.” Courts have specifically held that civil conspiracy cannot impose liability for breach of fiduciary duty on a party that does not already owe such a duty. Everest Investors 8 v. Whitehall Real Estate Ltd. Partnership XI, 100 Cal. App. 4th 1102, 1107, 123 Cal. Rptr. 2d 297 (2002) (citing Doctors’ Co., 49 Cal. 3d at 41-42, 44 and Applied Equipment, 7 Cal. 4th at 510-512).
Thus, civil conspiracy allows imposition of vicarious liability on a party who owes a tort duty, but who did not personally breach that duty. Doctors’ Co., 49 Cal. 3d at 44 (A party may be liable “irrespective of whether or not he was a direct actor and regardless of the degree of his activity.”).
Participation in a joint venture with a broker or other party in a predatory lending context gives rise to liability for such claims under a claim of joint venture. See Short v. Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, N.A., 401 F. Supp. 2d 549, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28612, available in 2005 WL 3091873, at 14-15 (S.D.W.Va. Nov. 18, 2005); see also generally Armor v. Lantz, 207 W. Va. 672, 677-78, 535 S.E.2d 737, 742-43 (2000); Sipple v. Starr, 205 W. Va. 717, 725, 520 S.E.2d 884, 892 (1999); Price v. Halstead, 177 W.Va. 592, 594, 355 S.E.2d 380, 384 (1987).
Similarly, if one party is directing or exercising control over loan origination in the circumstance of securitized lending, it is a factual question as to whether there is a principal/agency relationship sufficient to impose such liability on all the participants. See Short v. Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, N.A., supra, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28612, 2005 WL 3091873, at 14-15; England v. MG Investments, Inc., 93 F. Supp. 2d 718, 723 (S.D.W.Va. 2000); Arnold, 204 W.Va. at 240, 511 S.E.2d at 865.
An audit must inquire in to the relationships between parties involved in the joint venture and determine the level of control exercised by one party over another. Again, it is not sufficient to merely recite legal conclusions such as “Crooked Funding LLC controlled Scam Brokers Inc.”.
Fraud and Deceit
In most jurisdictions, “[t]he elements of fraud, which give rise to the tort action for deceit, are (a) misrepresentation (false representation, concealment, or nondisclosure); (b) knowledge of falsity (or scienter); (c) intent to defraud, i.e., to induce reliance; (d) justifiable reliance; and (e) resulting damage.” Small v. Fritz Companies, Inc., 30 Cal. 4th 167, 173, 132 Cal. Rptr. 2d 490, 65 P.3d 1255 (2003).
To prove mail fraud, as an example, the auditor must propound facts with particularity as follows:
Johnny Crookland, Crooked Broker’s President, misrepresented his intention to get borrowers the best rate available at their initial meeting in March 2006. The audit should also contain the date and content of all mailings and communications between the Crooked Broker and the borrowers through which the broker with the aid of a warehouse lender (Scam Fundings LLC) effectuated its scheme to defraud: (1) direct mail advertisement from Crooked Broker showing a teaser interest rate of 6.75% with zero broker fees or points (2) a “good faith estimate” of the loan terms mailed by Crooked Broker on March 26 which did not mention anything about a $5,890 fee for origination, (3) the first (rejected) loan document, with an interest rate of 7% which included a $ 5,890 fee, presented to the borrowers on April 13 at the first closing (though presumably mailed or faxed from the warehouse lender’s office in New York shortly before that date) (4) borrowers refusal to sign the closing documents because of the unauthorized fee that appeared on the HUD-1 on closing day, (5) a second good faith estimate mailed by Crooked Broker on April 16, showing 7% interest but this time without the unauthorized fee; and the second (accepted) loan document, which was presented in Baltimore on April 19 but at a higher rate of 7.125% and now subject to a yield spread premium that was never disclosed or explained as to how it may impact total finance charges over the length of the loan. (6) Crooked Broker’s statement in response to borrowers’ inquiry about the yield spread premium that it was standard practice and paid by lender with no impact on total finance charges payable by borrowers.
Show Me the Note
The template audits invariably omit a detailed inquiry in to the securitization process after the loan was funded by the Originator and sold to investors through securitization. Often the only theory proffered by incompetent auditors revolves around the “show me the note” defense, which has been shot down by almost every court in every jurisdiction because it lacks merit. A lost note affidavit can easily overcome this argument, so by itself as a foreclosure defense strategy this does nothing but cast doubt on a borrower’s credibility.
A skilled auditor will carefully examine all documents including the Note, Mortgage/DOT, Mortgage/DOT Assignment, Note Endorsement/Allonge, Notice of Default and the Pooling and Servicing Agreement to determine the identity of all parties involved in the chain of securitization and their respective interests in the Note and Mortgage.
Once settlement occurs the Note and Mortgage are normally transferred to a document custodian (e.g. Wells Fargo), while numerous book entries record their movement through the securitization chain which normally begins with the Originator (e.g. Mason Mortgage) who then sells them to an aggregator (e.g. Countrywide Home Loans) who then sells them with a thousand other loans to a Depositor (e.g. Asset Securities Inc.) who then deposits them with a Trustee (e.g Wells Fargo) for the benefit of the securitization trust (e.g Asset Securities Trust IV-290989 – 2003) which issues securities backed with the pool of mortgages (MBS). The trustee also selects a Servicer (e.g Countrywide Home Loans) to collect borrower payments and process foreclosures/short sales on behalf of the investors who own the MBS.
When there is default and in order to effectuate foreclosure, the Servicer asks the document custodian for the collateral file that pursuant to the PSA should contain the original Note indorsed by the Originator (e.g. Mason Mortgage), usually in blank thereby converting it in to a bearer instrument, and the Mortgage/DOT with an executed assignment either already recorded or in recordable form. Usually this is where everything can fall apart for the secured party attempting to foreclose and where the best defense opportunities may be uncovered by a skilled examiner. Without giving away too much proprietary information here is a list of some questions a diligent auditor should be asking:
- Was the execution of the Mortgage/DOT by the borrower properly witnessed and acknowledged?
- Was the Note legally negotiated and formally transferred from the Originator to the Aggregator, from the Aggregator to the Depositor and from the Depositor to the Trustee?
- Was the Note indorsed by an authorized agent of its holder before each transfer?
- Is the Indorsement evidenced by an Allonge while there is room for an Indorsement on the original Note?
- Was the Note negotiated to its current holder prior to the date of default?
- Did the Mortgage travel with the Note through the chain of securitization?
- Is the Mortgage held by MERS?
- Has the Mortgage assignment been properly recorded?
- Was the Mortgage and Note assigned to the Trustee by MERS?
- Was MERS authorized or allowed to assign the Mortgage?
- Who signed the assignment on behalf of MERS?
MERS and Splitting the DOT from the Note
The practical effect of splitting the deed of trust from the promissory note is to make it impossible for the holder of the note to foreclose, unless the holder of the deed of trust is the agent of the holder of the note. Without the agency relationship, the person holding only the note lacks the power to foreclose in the event of default. The person holding only the deed of trust will never experience default because only the holder of the note is entitled to payment of the underlying obligation. The mortgage loan becomes ineffectual when the note holder did not also hold the deed of trust.” Bellistri v. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC, 284 S.W.3d 619, 623 (Mo. App. 2009).
Some courts have found that, because MERS is not the original holder of the promissory note and because there is no evidence that the original holder of the note authorized MERS to transfer the note, the language of the assignment purporting to transfer the promissory note is ineffective. “MERS never held the promissory note, thus its assignment of the deed of trust to Ocwen separate from the note had no force.” 284 S.W.3d at 624; see also In re Wilhelm, 407 B.R. 392 (Bankr. D. Idaho 2009) (standard mortgage note language does not expressly or implicitly authorize MERS to transfer the note); In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511, 517 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008) (“[I]f FHM has transferred the note, MERS is no longer an authorized agent of the holder unless it has a separate agency contract with the new undisclosed principal. MERS presents no evidence as to who owns the note, or of any authorization to act on behalf of the present owner.”); Saxon Mortgage Services, Inc. v. Hillery, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 100056, 2008 WL 5170180 (N.D. Cal. 2008) (unpublished opinion) (“[F]or there to be a valid assignment, there must be more than just assignment of the deed alone; the note must also be assigned. . . . MERS purportedly assigned both the deed of trust and the promissory note. . . . However, there is no evidence of record that establishes that MERS either held the promissory note or was given the authority . . . to assign the note.”).
IN CONCLUSION, the value of a forensic loan audit lies not in its word count, size or thickness but rather in the knowledge and expertise of the individual performing the work and examining the documents. Many of the worthless template audits produced by scammers consist of more than 100 pages of garbage and pointless recitations of statutes you can find online or in any library. Moreover, finding a technical violation in loan documents is a virtual certainty, so a money back guarantee is merely a marketing gimmick offered by unscrupulous con artists to gain your trust and to distract you from what really counts. If you are worried about word count and a money back guarantee you are missing the point. And if you are looking for the least expensive audit advertised on the web, you will certainly get what you pay for. An authentic audit done right takes at least 3 hours to complete (a more detailed analysis can take over 8 hours) and a skilled auditor charges between $250 to $300 per hour, so do the math.
Remember an audit is merely a tool that should be handled with care by a seasoned attorney. It does not magically stop foreclosure while you lay back on the couch with a bag of chips. A lengthy template audit attached to a lengthy QWR sent to a lender’s loss mitigation department will most likely end up in the trash. The best way to measure the quality and value of an auditor’s work, short of a referral, is by picking up the phone, speaking to him and making sure he knows what he is talking about. Surround yourself with smart and skilled advocates and you will be a step or two ahead of the bank trying to take your home away. That I can guarantee.
Dean Mostofi, President
National Loan Audits
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In re GIFTY SAMUELS, Debtor
Chapter 11, Case No. 06-11656-FJB
UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS, EASTERN DIVISION
415 B.R. 8; 2009 Bankr. LEXIS 1954
July 6, 2009, Decided
PROCEDURAL POSTURE: In contested Chapter 11 proceedings, movant creditor, as trustee–under a pooling and servicing agreement–of a mortgage investment trust, sought summary judgment as to an objection filed by the debtor to its secured claim, which was based on a promissory note and a mortgage given as security. The debtor challenged the creditor’s claim that it was the holder of the note and the owner of the mortgage and its standing to enforce its rights.
OVERVIEW: The debtor alleged that defects existed in the creditor’s proof of chain of title to the promissory note and the mortgage. The creditor argued that it held the documents as a successor-in-interest to the original bankruptcy claimant. The court agreed, finding that the loan originator had endorsed both the note and the mortgage in blank–converting them into bearer instruments–then delivered them to the creditor as pool trustee. In 2008, an assignee acting under a limited power of attorney (LPA) executed a confirmatory assignment of the mortgage, which it recorded. Although the documents submitted with the proof of claim did not show a valid assignment of rights, depriving the claim of prima facie validity, the creditor met its burden of showing that it held rights to the note and the mortgage. Under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 106, § 3-205(b) the creditor was the holder of the note, which it had standing to enforce under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 106, § 3-301. The assignee retroactively ratified the mortgage through the 2008 LPA. The postpetition transfer of the recorded mortgage did not constitute a transfer of an estate asset in violation of the automatic stay in 11 U.S.C.S. § 362(a).
OUTCOME: The court granted summary judgment in favor of the bank.
JUDGES: Frank J. Bailey, United states Bankruptcy Judge.
OPINION BY: Frank J. Bailey
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON MOTION OF DEUTSCHE BANK FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON DEBTOR’S OBJECTION TO ITS PROOF OF CLAIM
By the motion before the Court, Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, [*11] as trustee under a pooling and servicing agreement of a certain mortgage investment trust (“Deutsche Bank”), seeks summary judgment as to the objection filed by Chapter 11 debtor Gifty Samuels to its secured claim. Deutsche Bank’s claim is based on the contention that Deutsche Bank is the present holder of a promissory note given by Samuels to Argent Mortgage Company, LLC (“Argent”), and the owner of the mortgage given by Samuels to Argent to secure the promissory note. By her objection, Samuels now challenges not the validity of the underlying note and mortgage but only Deutsche Bank’s claim to be the holder of the note and owner of the mortgage and thus its standing to enforce these. Finding the motion for summary judgment to be well-supported, the Court will grant summary judgment and overrule the objection to claim.
Gifty Samuels filed a petition for relief under [**2] Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code on June 1, 2006, thereby commencing this bankruptcy case. Upon discovery that her debt exceeded the eligibility limits for Chapter 13, she moved to convert her case to one under Chapter 11, and the Court granted that motion on August 10, 2006. She has remained a debtor in possession under Chapter 11 since that time.
AMC Mortgage Services, Inc., as loan servicer for Argent, filed a proof of a claim in the case on June 23, 2006 for $ 292,206.37, and an amended proof of claim on September 18, 2006 for $ 294,466.50. 1 Both indicated that the claim in question was secured, but neither included an attached promissory note or mortgage or identified the property securing the debt.
1 The original proof of claim appears on the claims register as number 3-1, the amended as -2.
The property securing this debt was certain real property owned by Samuels and located at 316B, Essex Street, Lynn, Massachusetts. AMC Mortgage Services, Inc., as loan servicer for Argent, moved for relief from the automatic stay as to this property on April 2, 2007. [Doc. # 143] After a hearing, the court denied the motion without prejudice to renewal but, in the same order, expressly permitted [**3] AMC Mortgage Services, Inc. to file an affidavit of noncompliance seeking further court action if the Debtor, commencing in July 2007, failed to make timely monthly mortgage payments. [Doc. # 198]
On November 9, 2007, Citi Residential Lending, Inc. (“Citi Residential”), by Mario Vasquez, a duly authorized agent, filed such an affidavit of noncompliance. [Doc. # 239] In the affidavit, Mr. Vasquez stated that Citi Residential “is now the servicer for Argent Mortgage Company” and that Samuels had failed to make her monthly mortgage payments. On November 23, 2007, the Court held a hearing on the affidavit and the underlying motion for relief, resulting in entry of an agreed order of that same date, granting Citi Residential relief from the automatic stay to foreclose, effective January 31, 2008. [Doc. # 251]
On February 1, 2008, in an Omnibus Objection to claims, Samuels objected to the amended claim of AMC Mortgage Services (Claim No. 3-2), stating that “[t]his claim alleges a security interest but fails to identify the property securing the claim or to attach a copy of any documentation in support of the claim.” [Doc. # 267] Citi Residential Lending filed a response to the objection [Doc. [**4] # 294] that identified the property in question as the real property at 316B Essex Street, Lynn, Massachusetts, [*12] and included as attachments the relevant promissory note and mortgage. Just prior to the preliminary hearing on the objection, the Debtor filed a report and hearing agenda that, with respect to this claim, stated:
A response was filed by Citi Residential Lending, Inc. regarding this claim . The response includes a copy of the Note and Mortgage, as requested in the objection, but fails to demonstrate that AMC or Citi Residential is the actual holder of the note and mortgage, such as by attaching a copy of an assignment(s). The response also fails to provide a complete Loan History or to provide an affidavit of the keeper of records regarding the amount owed as of the date of the response.
The Debtor thus essentially retracted her original grounds for objecting–failure to identify the property and lack of supporting documentation–and raised new grounds: lack of evidence that AMC or Citi Residential was the actual holder of the promissory note and mortgage. The court held a preliminary hearing on the objection as so amended on April 15, 2008 and a continued hearing on June [**5] 20, 2008. The court then issued a procedural order requiring (i) that the claimant file documentation establishing true ownership of the note and mortgage that form the basis for its claim and then (ii) that the Debtor file a response indicating whether it accepts the evidence as establishing the validity of the claim, including (in the event of rejection) an explanation as to why.
The documentation required by the first prong of this order was filed by Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, as Trustee, in trust for the registered holders of Argent Securities Inc., Asset-Backed Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2005-W3 (“Deutsche Bank”). In the response to which the documentation was attached [Doc. # 363], 2 Deutsche Bank claimed to be the present holder of the mortgage at issue. The Debtor filed a response indicating that she did not accept the documents adduced as evidence establishing the validity of the lien. [Doc. # 366]
2 Deutsche Bank also filed a Supplemental Response [Doc. # 364].
On August 19, 2008, Citi Residential, as loan servicer and attorney-in-fact for Deutsche Bank, then moved to amend proof of claim No. 3, stating that AMC Mortgage Services, Inc. had incorrectly named [**6] Argent as the creditor in that proof of claim. [Doc. # 377] Citi Residential said in the motion that in fact the loan is held by Deutsche Bank, and therefore that the proof of claim should name Deutsche Bank as the creditor. The motion further stated that effective October 1, 2007, Citi Residential had replaced AMC Mortgage Services, Inc. as servicer of the loan. On October 21, 2008, and over the Debtor’s objection, the court granted this motion. Accordingly, on October 24, 2008, Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, as Trustee, in trust for the registered holders of Argent Securities Inc., Asset-Backed Pass- Through Certificates, Series 2005-W3, filed proof of claim No. 14-2, complete with supporting documents, as an amendment to claim No. 3-2. The supporting documents, filed as exhibits to the proof of claim, included (i) the Samuels Note, (ii) the Samuels Mortgage, (iii) on the Samuels Mortgage, a registry stamp constituting evidence that the Mortgage was recorded on August 23, 2005; (iv) a Confirmatory Assignment of the Samuels Mortgage and Note from Argent to Deutsche Bank, dated August 4, 2008, bearing a registry stamp constituting evidence that the Confirmatory Assignment was [**7] recorded on August 11, 2008; and (v) a Limited Power of Attorney from Argent [*13] to Citi Residential, dated October 18, 2007 (the “2007 LPA”).
On September 29, 2008, while the motion to amend proof of claim was pending, and pursuant to FED. R. BANKR. P. 3001(e)(2), Citi Residential filed evidence–essentially a notice–of transfer of claim No. 3 (as amended) other than for security [Doc. # 396]. The notice indicates that Claim No. 3 was transferred from AMC Mortgage Services, Inc., as loan servicer for Argent, to Citi Residential, as loan servicer and attorney in fact for Deutsche Bank. The clerk promptly then notified AMC Mortgage Services, Inc. of the evidence of transfer and established a deadline for the alleged transferor to object, failing which the transferee would be substituted for the original claimant without further order of the court. AMC Mortgage Services, Inc. filed no objection, and the time to object has long since passed.
On December 11, 2008, Deutsche Bank then filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment as to Claim No. 14 [Doc. # 415]. 3 Deutsche Bank construes the Debtor’s objection to Claim No. 3 as in fact an objection to Claim No. 14 (because Claim No. 14 is an [**8] amendment to Claim No. 3) and, by its motion for summary judgment, seeks an order overruling the objection and allowing Claim No. 14. In support of the motion, Deutsche Bank submitted the affidavits of Ronaldo Reyes, Diane E. Tiberend, and Margarita Guerreo and the exhibits authenticated by these affiants. The Debtor has filed an opposition to the motion and, in support of her opposition, an unauthenticated deposition of Tamara Price. 4 Price is a Citi Residential employee that was deposed in another case. The court held a hearing on the motion on March 31, 2009 and took the matter under advisement.
3 A motion for summary judgment may appropriately be filed as to an objection to claim. An objection to claim is a contested matter. Pursuant to FED. R. BANKR. P. 9014(c), Rule 7056 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure applies to contested matters. Rule 7056 in turn makes FED. R. CIV. P. 56 applicable.
4 In her opposition, the Debtor also asks the court to take judicial notice of the entire record of this case, but she fails to identify particular documents or parts of the record of which she would have the court take judicial notice.
ARGUMENTS OF THE PARTIES
This contested matter has [**9] evolved in two significant respects since its inception with the Debtor’s filing of her objection to Claim No. 3. First, the underlying claim has been amended, such that the claim in issue is no longer Claim No. 3, filed by AMC Mortgage Services, Inc., as loan servicer for Argent, but Claim No. 14-2, filed by Deutsche Bank, with Deutsche Bank claiming to be the successor in interest to Argent as holder of the same promissory note and mortgage that formed the basis of the Claim No. 3. Second, the grounds of objection have changed: the Debtor’s original objection–that the proof of claim “alleges a security interest but fails to identify the property securing the claim or to attach a copy of any documentation in support of the claim”–has been satisfied, the note and mortgage having been adduced and the property having been identified. Instead, the objection has now become a challenge to Deutsche Bank’s contention that it holds the promissory note and owns the mortgage on which the claim is based. It is this particular objection, as it is leveled against Claim No. 14-2, that is presently before the court as the subject of Deutsche Bank’s motion for summary judgment. Neither party disputes [**10] that the issue so framed is properly [*14] before the Court, the lack of a formal objection to Claim No. 14-2 notwithstanding.
Deutsche Bank’s argument in support of summary judgment is as follows. Pursuant to a certain Mortgage Loan Purchase and Warranties Agreement, the following sequence of transfers occurred: Argent, as the originator of the loan and payee and original holder of the note, sold the loan in question to Ameriquest Mortgage Company LLC, which, in turn sold the loan to Argent Securities, Inc., which deposited the loan into the ARSI Series 2005-W3 Pool subject to the Pooling and Servicing Agreement (“PSA”) dated as of October 1, 2005 between Argent Securities, Inc. as Depositor, Ameriquest as Master Servicer, and Deutsche Bank, as Trustee. Accordingly, Argent endorsed the original promissory note in blank, without recourse–thus converting it into a bearer instrument, negotiable by transfer of possession alone–and delivered it to Deutsche Bank as pool Trustee, which has had actual physical custody of the note since August 18, 2005. The mortgage followed a similar path, twice: first on August 18, 2005, when Argent Mortgage Company LLC, the original mortgagee, assigned the mortgage [**11] in blank and delivered it to Deutsche Bank as pool Trustee; and a second time on August 4, 2008, when Citi Residential, acting under a limited power of attorney from Argent, executed on behalf of Argent a confirmatory assignment of the mortgage to Deutsche Bank as pool Trustee and recorded the same in the applicable registry of deeds. In addition, Deutsche Bank argues, Argent ratified the assignment of the mortgage to Deutsche Bank by raising no objection to the court’s notice of evidence of transfer of claim.
The Debtor argues that Deutsche Bank must show that it is the lawful owner of both the note and the mortgage. The Debtor does not dispute that the promissory note was indorsed in blank and transferred to Deutsche Bank and that Deutsche Bank is now, and since August 18, 2005 has been, in possession of the note. The Debtor instead concentrates her opposition on the mortgage, arguing that there exist several defects in Deutsche Bank’s chain of title, or at least in Deutsche Bank’s proof of the chain of title. First, the Debtor argues that Argent’s original assignment of the mortgage in blank was ineffective because a mortgage is an interest in land that, under the statute of frauds, [**12] requires a conveyance in writing that identifies the assignee; Argent’s conveyance in blank, though in writing, does not identify an assignee and therefore, the Debtor concludes, was ineffective.
Second, the Debtor contends that the PSA required that all mortgages acquired thereunder had to be funneled to Deutsche Bank, as pool trustee, through the entity designated by the PSA as “depositor,” ARSI. A failure to follow this protocol–such as by direct assignment of the mortgage from the loan originator to the pool trustee, bypassing the depositor–would, the Debtor contends, constitute a breach of the PSA, a breach of fiduciary obligations under the PSA to investors, a breach of federal regulations, and an act giving rise to unfavorable tax consequences for the investors. The Debtor argues that because the mortgage assignments described by Deutsche Bank do not indicate that title passed to Deutsche Bank through the depositor, the assignments of the mortgage must be invalid.
Third, the Debtor argues that the confirmatory assignment is invalid because the vice-president of Citi Residential who executed that assignment, a Ms. Tamara Price, indicated in a deposition in an unrelated case that [**13] (1) she signs documents [*15] presented to her for signing without knowing what she is signing and (2) she signs these documents outside the presence of a notary, after which the documents are forwarded to a notary for completion. The Debtor further argues that Price patently lied when she recited in the Confirmatory Assignment that the original assignment “was lost”; the assignment in blank was produced in this proceeding and therefore was not lost. The Debtor does not elaborate on the consequences or import of these allegations. Nor does he dispute that Ms. Price had authority to execute the assignment and that she actually did execute it.
Fourth, the Debtor argues very briefly that, because the execution and recording of the confirmatory assignment occurred after she filed her bankruptcy petition, these acts constituted violations of the automatic stay and of 11 U.S.C. § 549 (permitting a trustee to avoid certain postpetition transfers). In support of this argument, the Debtor cites In re Beaulac, 298 B.R. 31 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2003) without elaboration. She offers no explanation as to how the postpetition transfer of a mortgage already in existence and previously recorded can constitute [**14] a transfer of an asset of the estate or a violation of the automatic stay. She further suggests that she has the power to avoid the “unauthorized postpetition conveyance” but does not explain how or on what grounds and has not moved to avoid the conveyance.
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
[HN1] A party is entitled to summary judgment only upon a showing that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that, on the uncontroverted facts, the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED R. CIV. P. 56(c). Where, as here, the burden of proof at trial would fall on the party seeking summary judgment, that party must support its motion with evidence–in the form of affidavits, admissions, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and the like–as to each essential element of its cause of action. The evidence must be such as would permit the movant at trial to withstand a motion for directed verdict under FED. R. CIV. P. 50(a). Anderson v Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). If the motion is properly supported, the burden shifts to the adverse party to submit evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue as to at least one material fact. If the adverse party does not so respond, [**15] “summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse party.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e); Jaroma v. Massey, 873 F.2d 17, 20 (1st Cir. 1989). The court makes no findings of fact but only determines whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact and, if not, whether, on the uncontroverted facts, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
a. Burden of Proof
The present motion seeks summary judgment as to a proof of claim. The burdens with respect to proofs of claim were summarized by Judge Somma in In re Long, 353 B.R. 1, at 13 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2006):
[HN2] A proof of claim executed and filed in accordance with the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure constitutes prima facie evidence of the validity and amount of the claim. FED. R. BANKR. P. 3001(f); see also Juniper Dev. Group v. Kahn (In re Hemingway Transp., Inc.), 993 F.2d 915, 925 (1st Cir. 1993). In order to rebut this prima facie evidence, the objecting party must produce “substantial evidence.” United States v. Clifford (In re Clifford), 255 B.R. 258, 262 (D. Mass. [*16] 2000) (Hemingway Transport, 993 F.2d at 925). If the objecting party produces substantial evidence in opposition to the proof [**16] of claim and thereby rebuts the prima facie evidence, the burden shifts to the claimant to establish the validity of its claim. Hemingway Transport, 993 F.2d at 925 (“Once the trustee manages the initial burden of producing substantial evidence . . . the ultimate risk of nonpersuasion as to the allowability of the claim resides with the party asserting the claim.”). Where the proof of claim is not filed in accordance with the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, the proof of claim does not constitute prima facie evidence of the validity and amount of the claim, and therefore the burden of proof rests at all times on the claimant.
In order for a proof of claim to be executed and filed in accordance with the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, it must satisfy (among other things) two requirements set forth in Rule 3001 itself. First, “when a claim . . . is based on a writing, the original or a duplicate shall be filed with the proof of claim.” FED. R. BANKR. P. 3001(c). Second, “[i]f a security interest in property of the debtor is claimed, the proof of claim shall be accompanied by evidence that the security interest has been perfected.” FED. R. BANKR. P. 3001(d).
Deutsche Bank contends [**17] that its amended proof of claim (No. 14-2) enjoys prima facie validity, and that the Debtor has not rebutted this prima facie validity with substantial evidence or any evidence at all. The Debtor disagrees, arguing that the proof of claim was not supported by documents showing a complete chain of title and therefore does not constitute prima facie evidence of the claim, such that the burden rests from the start on the claimant.
The Court agrees with the Debtor: the documents attached to Proof of Claim No. 14-2–in relevant part, the Note, the Mortgage, the Confirmatory Assignment, and the 2007 LPA–do not, by themselves, establish the necessary chain of title. The Note and Mortgage are in fact the underlying documents on which the claim is based, but they identify Argent as payee and mortgagee, not Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank attempted to show that it now holds the rights originally given to Argent by attaching the Confirmatory Assignment to its proof of claim. The Confirmatory Assignment, being an assignment in writing from Argent to Deutsche Bank of all rights under the Note and Mortgage, would suffice but for one problem: its validity is contingent on the limited power of attorney [**18] pursuant to which Citi Residential executed it for Argent, but the 2007 LPA that was attached to the proof of claim does not authorize the particular type of mortgage assignment that was involved in the Confirmatory Assignment.
The 2007 LPA expressly authorizes Citi Residential to execute, on behalf of Argent, only two kinds of mortgage assignment: (i) “the assignment of any Mortgage or Deed of Trust and the related Mortgage Note, in connection with the repurchase of the mortgage loan secured and evidenced thereby,” and (ii) “the full assignment of a Mortgage or Deed of Trust upon payment and discharge of all sums secured thereby in conjunction the refinancing thereof.” 5 The Confirmatory Assignment was not executed in connection with the repurchase of a mortgage loan or the refinancing of [*17] this loan, and the 2007 LPA does not authorize mortgage assignments of any other kind. A further paragraph in the 2007 LPA authorizing Citi Residential to foreclose on mortgages is not an authorization to execute assignments of mortgages, even where the assignment would facilitate a foreclosure of the mortgage. 6 Where the 2007 LPA narrowly circumscribed the two types of mortgage assignment it did [**19] authorize Citi Residential to execute, the further grant of authority to foreclose should not be construed broadly to authorize additional types of mortgage assignment.
5 2007 LPA (attached as Exhibit 4 to Proof of Claim No. 14-2), at PP 6 and 7 (emphasis added).
6 Judge Feeney reached this same conclusion with respect to identical language in another limited power of attorney from Argent to Citi Residential. See In re Hayes, 393 B.R. 259, 268, 270 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2008).
Consequently, the documents submitted with the proof of claim do not by themselves show a valid assignment of rights from Argent to Deutsche Bank and do not fully support the asserted claim. It follows that the proof of claim is not supported by documents adequate to establish the assignment of rights on which it is based, and therefore that the claim does not enjoy prima facie validity. In the alternative, whatever prima facie validity the claim initially enjoyed was rebutted by the Debtor’s pointing out of the defect in the chain of title that was evident in the documents submitted with the proof of claim. Either way, for purposes of the present motion, the proof of claim does not enjoy prima facie validity, and the [**20] burden is on the claimant, Deutsche Bank, to establish that it now holds the rights given by the Debtor to Argent in the Note and Mortgage.
b. The Factual Record
The evidence adduced in support of summary judgment, when construed in the light most favorable to Samuels, shows the following. There are no genuine issues as to the material facts.
On August 18, 2005, Samuels, as owner of the real property located at 316B Essex Street, Lynn, Massachusetts (“the Property”), executed in favor of Argent Mortgage Company LLC, as lender, a promissory note (“the Note”) in the original principal amount of $ 272,000 and, to secure repayment of the note, a mortgage on the Property (“the Mortgage”). The Mortgage was recorded with the Essex South Registry of Deeds on August 23, 2005.
On the same day that it originated the Samuels loan, Argent endorsed the Note in blank and also executed a written assignment in blank–i.e., without designation of an assignee–of the Note and Mortgage (“the Assignment”). Also on the same day, Argent transmitted the Note, Mortgage, and Assignment to Deutsche Bank in its capacity as custodian of Argent’s original collateral files.
Under a Mortgage Loan Purchase and Warranties [**21] Agreement (“MLPWA”) 7 dated January 2, 2003 between Argent and its affiliate, Ameriquest Mortgage Company, Inc., Argent regularly and systematically sold and transferred the loans that it originated to Ameriquest for securitization purposes. The MLPWA did not itself effectuate conveyance or sale of any specific loan; under section 2(a) of the MLPWA, a further act would be necessary to effectuate a sale pursuant to the MLPWA: specifically, the execution of an Assignment and Conveyance Agreement. From the affidavit of Diane Tiberand, a senior vice president of ACC Capital Holdings Corporation, the parent company of both Argent and Ameriquest, it is clear that both Argent and [*18] Ameriquest believe that the Samuels loan was conveyed by Argent through Ameriquest to Argent Securities, Inc. (“ARSI”) to Deutsche Bank. However, Deutsche Bank has adduced no evidence that the Samuels loan was among those that Argent sold and transferred to Ameriquest, either under the MLPWA or otherwise.
7 Tiberand Affidavit [Doc. 420], Exhibit 1.
Ameriquest securitized its mortgage loans through one of two corporate vehicles; in the case of the Samuels loan, the vehicle Ameriquest used was ARSI. Pursuant to and through [**22] a Mortgage Loan Purchase Agreement dated October 26, 2005 (“MLPA”) between Ameriquest and ARSI, 8 Ameriquest sold the Samuels loan–or at least whatever interest Ameriquest had therein–to ARSI for subsequent deposit by ARSI into the ARSI Series 2005-W3 pool trust. The sale and transfer of the loan from Ameriquest to ARSI was effectuated by the MLPA itself, which was not merely an agreement to sell but also the actual written instrument of conveyance. Thus, section 1 of the MLPA states, “[t]he Seller hereby sells, and the Purchaser hereby purchases, as of October 28, 2005, certain . . . residential mortgage loans.” The loans in question were identified in a Closing Schedule executed pursuant to Section 2 of the MLPA. The Samuels loan was listed on the closing schedule as Loan No. 83442632, which is the loan number that appears on both the Note and the Mortgage.
8 The Mortgage Loan Purchase Agreement of October 26, 2005 is attached as Exhibit C to the affidavit of Ronaldo Reyes [Doc. 418].
ARSI then deposited the Samuels Loan, or whatever interest ARSI had in that loan, into the ARSI Series 2005-W3 pool trust by transfer to Deutsche Bank as trustee. The deposit into the pool trust was [**23] done pursuant to a Pooling and Servicing Agreement dated October 1, 2005 (“the PSA”) among ARSI, Ameriquest, and Deutsche Bank. Under the PSA, ARSI, as Depositor, deposited certain designated mortgage loans, including the Samuels loan, into the pool; Ameriquest, as Master Servicer, agreed to be responsible for servicing of the loans, either itself or through one or more subservicers; and Deutsche Bank agreed to serve as trustee to hold legal title to the pooled mortgage loans for the benefit of investors in the pool. ARSI sold and deposited the Samuels loan (and 9,909 other mortgage loans) into the ARSI Series 2005-W3 pool on October 28, 2005. The PSA itself, in conjunction with the schedule of mortgages deposited through it into the pool trust, served as a written assignment of the designated mortgage loans, including the mortgages themselves. Thus in section 2.01, the PSA states: “The Depositor [ARSI], concurrently with the execution and delivery hereof, does hereby transfer, assign, set over and otherwise convey to the Trustee [Deutsche Bank] without recourse for the benefit of the Certificateholders all the right, title and interest of the Depositor, including any security interest [**24] therein for the benefit of the Depositor, in and to the Mortgage Loans identified on the Mortgage Loan Schedule[.]” (Emphasis added.) Per Section 2 of the MLPA, the Mortgage Loan Schedule for the PSA was the same document as the Closing Schedule executed pursuant to Section 2 of the MLPA, on which was listed the number of the Samuels Loan.
Except only as set forth in the following sentence, Deutsche Bank has had and continues to have possession of the Note and Mortgage evidencing the Samuels loan since August 18, 2005, first as custodian of Argent’s original collateral files and then, from and after October 28, 2005, as trustee [*19] of the ARSI Series 2005-W3 pool for the benefit of certificate holders of the trust. In August 2008, Deutsche Bank relinquished physical custody of the collateral file, including the Note, to Citi Residential for purposes of an evidentiary hearing scheduled for August 20, 2008. Citi Residential had by then become servicer of the loan for Deutsche Bank. The collateral file, including the Note, remains in Citi Residential’s physical custody for the benefit of Deutsche Bank.
On October 18, 2007, Argent executed a limited power of attorney (“the 2007 LPA”) under which [**25] it made Citi Residential its attorney-in-fact for certain purposes. In relevant part, the 2007 LPA gave Citi Residential
full power and authority to sign, execute, acknowledge, deliver, file for record, and record any instrument on its behalf and to perform such other act or acts as may be customarily and reasonably necessary and appropriate to effectuate the following enumerated transactions in respect of any of the mortgages or deeds of trust (the “Mortgages” and “Deeds of Trust”, respectively) and promissory notes secured thereby (the “Mortgage Notes”). 9
The enumerated transactions include, in relevant part:
(6) The assignment of any Mortgage or Deed of Trust and the related Mortgage Note, in connection with the repurchase of the mortgage loan secured and evidenced thereby.
(7) The full assignment of a Mortgage or Deed of Trust upon payment and discharge of all sums secured thereby in conjunction the refinancing thereof.
(8) With respect to a Mortgage or Deed of Trust, the foreclosure, the taking of a deed in lieu of foreclosure, or the completion of judicial or non-judicial foreclosure . . . . 10
9 2007 LPA.
10 2007 LPA, PP 6, 7, and 8.
On August 4, 2008, Argent, acting through Citi Residential [**26] as attorney in fact for Argent, executed a confirmatory assignment of the Samuels Mortgage to Deutsche Bank. The document was signed for Citi Residential by its vice president Tamara Price. The Confirmatory Assignment states that it was effective as of April 14, 2006. In the confirmatory assignment, Ms. Price also stated that the confirmatory assignment was being executed with intent “to replace the original assignment which due to inadvertence and/or mistake was lost[.]” 11 Citi Residential recorded this confirmatory assignment in the Essex South Registry of Deeds on August 11, 2008. Though the Mortgage itself had previously been recorded, no earlier assignment of the Mortgage had been recorded.
11 Aside from this statement, Deutsche Bank has adduced no evidence that an assignment of the mortgage has been lost; nor does Deutsche Bank allege that there exists a lost assignment or rely on any lost assignment in this motion. There is evidence of only one assignment that predates the Confirmatory Assignment: the assignment in blank that was executed immediately after origination of the loan. That assignment is in evidence here, and there is no evidence that it was ever lost. There exists [**27] a genuine issue as to whether the original assignment was lost and as to whether Ms. Price’s representation to that effect was knowingly false, but, as explained below, the Court also concludes that these facts are not material to resolution of the present controversy. They present no genuine issue of material fact.
On December 5, 2008, Argent executed another limited power of attorney (“the 2008 LPA”) under which it made Citi Residential its attorney-in-fact for certain purposes. The 2008 LPA stated that it was [*20] effective retroactively to September 1, 2007, and that Argent ratified any and all actions theretofore taken by Citi Residential within the scope of the powers granted by the 2008 LPA from and after September 1, 2007. The 2008 LPA expressly stated that the powers it conferred on Citi Residential included the power to execute and record the assignment of any mortgage and the related mortgage note.
Since the recording of the Confirmatory Assignment, record title to the Mortgage has stood in the name of Deutsche Bank. Neither Argent nor Ameriquest claims any interest in the Samuels Mortgage and Note.
c. The Promissory Note
The uncontroverted evidence shows, and the Debtor does not [**28] dispute, that the Samuels Note was endorsed in blank by its named payee, that possession of the note was thereafter transferred to Deutsche Bank, and that Deutsche Bank is now, and since August 18, 2005 has been, in possession of the note. As a negotiable instrument, the Note may be transferred in accordance with Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code as enacted in Massachusetts: [HN3] “When indorsed in blank, an instrument becomes payable to bearer and may be negotiated by transfer of possession alone until specially indorsed.” G.L. c. 106, § 3-205(b). By virtue of its possession of a note indorsed in blank, Deutsche Bank is the holder of the note and as such has standing in this case to seek payment thereof. G.L. c. 106, § 3-301 ([HN4] “Person entitled to enforce” an instrument includes the holder of the instrument.”); First National Bank of Cape Cod v. North Adams Hoosac Savings Bank, 7 Mass. App. Ct. 790, 797, 391 N.E.2d 689 (1979) (“As the holder of the note, [plaintiff] also would be entitled to all payments to be made by the mortgagors on the note.”).
d. The Mortgage
In order to establish that it holds not only the Samuels Note but also the Samuels Mortgage, Deutsche Bank follows two alternate paths. The [**29] first relies on showing a chain of three assignments of the mortgage: from Argent to Ameriquest, then Ameriquest to ARSI, and then ARSI to Deutsche Bank. The problem with this strategy is that Deutsche Bank has adduced no writing evidencing the first of these transfers, from Argent to Ameriquest. [HN5] A mortgage is an interest in real property, and the statute of frauds accordingly requires that an assignment of a mortgage be in writing. Warden v. Adams, 15 Mass. 233 (1818) (“By force of our statutes regulating the transfer of real estates and for preventing frauds, no interest passes by a mere delivery of a mortgage deed, without an assignment in writing and by deed.”). Deutsche Bank has adduced evidence of an agreement pursuant to which Argent agreed to transfer mortgage loans to Ameriquest, but it has adduced no writing evidencing the assignment of the Samuels Mortgage from Argent to Ameriquest. Consequently, the chain of title is incomplete, and Deutsche Bank must, as it anticipated, fall back on its alternate strategy.
In the alternative, Deutsche Bank relies on the Confirmatory Assignment from Argent to Deutsche Bank, executed for Argent by Citi Residential on August 4, 2008 under [**30] a limited power of attorney. The Confirmatory Assignment expressly and in writing conveys from Argent to Deutsche Bank both the Samuels Mortgage and the Samuel Note.
The Confirmatory Assignment was not executed by Argent itself but by Citi Residential purporting to act under a limited power of attorney. Deutsche Bank contends that this action by Citi Residential [*21] should be deemed a valid and effective act by Argent for three independent reasons: Argent authorized it by the 2007 LPA; Argent ratified it by the 2008 LPA; and Argent further ratified it by not objecting to the evidence of transfer of claim filed by Citi Residential in this bankruptcy case. For the following reasons, the Court rejects the first, accepts the second, and, having accepted the second, does not address the third.
The first is that, prior to the Confirmatory Assignment, Argent had executed a limited power of attorney, the 2007 LPA, that empowered Citi Residential to execute this assignment for Argent. This reliance on an already-existing limited power of attorney is unavailing for the reasons articulated above (in the section on Burden of Proof): the 2007 LPA did not authorize Citi Residential to execute the Confirmatory [**31] Assignment.
Second, and in the alternative, Deutsche Bank relies on the 2008 LPA, executed by Argent on December 5, 2008, some four months after the confirmatory assignment. The 2008 LPA was expressly retroactive to September 1, 2007, and ratified any and all actions theretofore taken by Citi Residential within the scope of the powers granted by the 2008 LPA from and after September 1, 2007. The 2008 LPA expressly conferred on Citi Residential the power to execute and record the assignment of any mortgage and the related mortgage note, which powers, I conclude, include the power to execute the Confirmatory Assignment. By its ratification through the 2008 LPA of actions undertaken before it was issued, Argent remedied any lack of authority that may have existed when Citi Residential executed the Confirmatory Assignment. Linkage Corp. v. Trustees of Boston University, 425 Mass. 1, at 18, 679 N.E.2d 191 (1997) (“Where an agent lacks actual authority to agree on behalf of his principal, the principal may still be bound if the principal acquiesces in the agent’s action[.]”).
The Debtor argues that the Confirmatory Assignment should nonetheless be deemed ineffective for three reasons. First she argues that [**32] the confirmatory assignment is invalid because the vice-president of Citi Residential who executed that assignment, a Ms. Tamara Price, indicated in a deposition in an unrelated case that (1) she signs documents presented to her for signing without knowing what she is signing and (2) she signs such documents outside the presence of a notary, after which the documents are forwarded to a notary for completion. The Debtor further contends that Price patently lied when she recited in the Confirmatory Assignment that the original assignment “was lost.” The Debtor does not elaborate on the consequences or import of these allegations. The Court sees no reason that these alleged facts, if true, should invalidate the assignment. There is no evidence that Price signed this Confirmatory Assignment without knowing what she was signing, much less that Citi Residential did not know what it was doing by having her sign the Confirmatory Assignment on its behalf, but even if neither Price nor Citi Residential knew what they were doing, that would not invalidate the assignment. Nor does it matter that Price signed documents outside the presence of a notary and then forwarded them to the notary for completion, [**33] where the Debtor neither disputes that Price did in fact sign the Confirmatory Assignment nor offers argument that this practice was contrary to applicable law and constitutes a defect in the assignment. And any falsity or lie as to the purpose of the confirmatory assignment is immaterial: the Court knows of no requirement that an assignment contain a [*22] statement of purpose, truthful or otherwise.
Second, the Debtor argues that the PSA required that all mortgages acquired thereunder to be funneled to Deutsche Bank, as pool trustee, through the entity designated by the PSA as “depositor,” ARSI. A failure to follow this protocol–such as by direct assignment of the mortgage from the loan originator to the pool trustee, bypassing the depositor–would, the Debtor contends, constitute a breach of the PSA, a breach of fiduciary obligations under the PSA to investors, a breach of federal regulations, and an act giving rise to unfavorable tax consequences for the investors. The Debtor argues that because the Confirmatory Assignment is a direct assignment from Argent to Deutsche Bank that bypasses the depositor, it must be invalid. This argument falls far short of its goal. Even if this direct [**34] assignment were somehow violative of the PSA, giving rise to unfavorable tax, regulatory, contractual, and tort consequences, 12 neither the PSA nor those consequences would render the assignment itself invalid. In fact, under the Debtor’s own argument, the unfavorable consequences could and would arise only if, and precisely because, the assignment were valid and effective.
12 The Court does not conclude that the Confirmatory Assignment violates the PSA or gives rise to unfavorable tax, regulatory, contractual, or tort consequences; the debtor’s argument is so lacking in detail on all these points as to constitute no real argument at all, certainly none permitting the conclusions she urges on the Court.
Third and last, the Debtor argues very briefly that, because the execution and recording of the confirmatory assignment occurred after she filed her bankruptcy petition, these acts constituted violations of the automatic stay and of 11 U.S.C. § 549 (permitting a trustee to avoid certain postpetition transfers). In support of this argument, the Debtor cites In re Beaulac, 298 B.R. 31 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2003) without elaboration. She offers no explanation as to how the postpetition transfer [**35] of a mortgage already in existence and previously recorded can constitute a transfer of an asset of the estate or a violation of the automatic stay. She further suggests that she has the power to avoid the “unauthorized postpetition conveyance” but does not explain how or on what grounds and has not moved to avoid the conveyance.
I find no merit in this argument or any of its parts. The postpetition assignment of a mortgage and the related note from one holder to another is not a transfer of property of the estate. The mortgage and note are assets of the creditor mortgagee, not of the Debtor. Nor is the postpetition assignment of a mortgage and the related note an act to collect a debt; the assignment merely transfers the claim from one entity to another. The Debtor cites no particular subsection of 11 U.S.C. § 362(a), the automatic stay, that she contends such an assignment violates, and the court is aware of none.
I need not address the Debtor’s further unsupported contention that the postpetition recording of an assignment of mortgage is a violation of the automatic stay 13 or of 11 U.S.C. § 549(a). 14 As the [*23] Debtor herself acknowledges, [HN6] an assignment of mortgage need not be recorded [**36] in order to be valid against the mortgagor or her grantees. Lamson & Co. v. Abrams, 305 Mass. 238, 241-242, 25 N.E.2d 374 (1940); O’Gasapian v. Danielson, 284 Mass. 27, 32, 187 N.E. 107 (1933). Therefore, even if the recording were void and ineffectual, the assignment to Deutsche Bank would still be valid.
13 The recording of an assignment of mortgage by the assignee of the mortgagee creates a record chain of title for anyone taking through the mortgage and protects the assignee from subsequent transfers by or through the assignor. The Debtor offers no explanation as to how the recording might be an act to collect a debt or a violation of some other section of the automatic stay. In Beaulac, which the Debtor cites without discussion, the mortgage in question had been given to the debtor, not by the debtor; Beaulac is therefore wholly inapposite.
14 The debtor invokes the automatic stay and § 549(a) only defensively.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court concludes that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that, on the uncontroverted facts, Deutsche Bank has established that it is in possession of the note and the owner of the mortgage securing it and therefore is entitled to summary judgment [**37] as a matter of law. A separate order will enter allowing Deutsche Bank’s Motion for Summary Judgment and overruling the Debtor’s objection to its proof of claim, No. 14-2.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 1 so far )
Wells Fargo, Plaintiff v. Steven E. Tyson, SUSAN L. TYSON, LEITH ANN TYSON, LINDSAY TYSON and KYRA TYSON, Defendants
SUPREME COURT OF NEW YORK, SUFFOLK COUNTY
2010 NY Slip Op 20079; 2010 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 410
March 5, 2010, Decided
JUDGES: JEFFREY ARLEN SPINNER, J.S.C.
OPINION BY: JEFFREY ARLEN SPINNER
Jeffrey Arlen Spinner, J.
On September 7, 2007 Plaintiff commenced this action claiming foreclosure of a mortgage by filing its Notice of Pendency and Summons and Complaint with the Clerk of Suffolk County. The mortgage at issue was originally given in favor of New Century Mortgage Corporation, Plaintiff’s assignor. Said mortgage was given to secure a note and constitutes a first lien upon premises known as 3 Danville Court, Greenlawn, Town of Huntington, New York. On November 30, 2007, Plaintiff filed an application with this Court seeking the appointment of a referee pursuant to RPAPL § 1321 but withdrew that application on December 5, 2007. Subsequently and on September 18, 2009, Plaintiff filed a second application for the same relief which was granted by Order of this Court dated November 4, 2009.
On January 14, 2010, upon the written request of Defendant STEVEN TYSON, this Court convened a conference in order to address certain serious issues which had arisen with respect to the property under foreclosure. Defendant took the time to appear in person while Plaintiff dispatched a per diem attorney who had absolutely no knowledge of the matter inasmuch as she was not regular counsel, was not provided with any information and hence no meaningful progress could occur. The Court was thereupon compelled to continue the conference to February 24, 2010, at which time the Defendant again appeared in person, on this occasion, with counsel of record for the Plaintiff, appearing as instructed by the Court.
The issue that brings these parties before the Court at this time concerns the entry, without permission, into Defendant’s dwelling house, by agents dispatched expressly for that purpose by Plaintiff. Plaintiff vociferously asserts that it has the absolute and unfettered right, under the express terms of the mortgage, to enter the premises at any time, for purposes of inspection and protection of its security interest and that it is free to do so without having to obtain Defendant’s consent for the same. Defendant counters that Plaintiff has wrongfully and without justification entered the dwelling on at least two separate occasions, causing damage to the premises and resulting in the loss of various items of personalty.
The following facts are not in dispute. Defendant and his wife are the owners, in fee simple absolute, of the premises known as 3 Danville Court, Greenlawn, New York, which are subject to a first lien in favor of Plaintiff. Plaintiff has commenced an action to foreclose that lien, but there has been no devolution of title. Defendant’s personal financial situation is such that he can no longer maintain the high cost of utility service, resulting in the voluntary discontinuance of same. Defendant has previously winterized the plumbing and heating systems in the dwelling, has secured the building, maintains the exterior of the premises and retains virtually all of his personalty in the home including furniture, clothing and foodstuffs. Defendant has, previous to any entry on the premises herein, notified Plaintiff of the discontinuance of utility service and the winterization and securing of the dwelling. Defendant, although he is now residing elsewhere, has not abandoned the property, has not evinced any intent to abandon it and he visits the premises at least once weekly and sometimes with greater frequency. In addition, Defendant has arranged with a neighbor to keep a watchful eye on the property in his absence.
It is also undisputed that without any notice to Defendant, on or about November 13, 2009, Plaintiff dispatched an agent to the premises who thereupon changed the locks, thus barring Defendant from access to his property. When Defendant contacted Plaintiff relative to his wrongful ouster from the dwelling and demanded access, Plaintiff’s representative denied any knowledge of the entry and directed him to contact Fein Such & Crane, their counsel of record. Upon contacting them, Defendant was advised by someone named Matt that the entry into the home was standard procedure but a new key to the premises would be provided to him by Plaintiff, and Defendant expressly directed that they remain away from the property. In spite of Defendant’s requests Plaintiff caused the property to be entered yet again in late December or early January, at which time Defendant, having been telephoned by his neighbor, actually confronted these persons and urged them to immediately leave the premises. Defendant was able to discover that these persons obtained access by use of a key identical to the one that was previously provided by Plaintiff to Defendant. Defendant then secured the premises only to return later that day to find his garage open and the loss of various items of personal property, including an 8 kilowatt portable generator, a 14 foot aluminum sectional extension ladder, an aluminum step ladder, a convertible hand truck, an AquaBot pool cleaning device and other items, valued, according to documentation supplied by Defendant, at $ 4,892.00. Defendant thereafter contacted the Suffolk County Police Department and made a full report, which was docketed under central complaint no. 10-85647.
It is at this point that the accounts begin to diverge. Defendant offered sworn testimony as follows: he arrived at the premises on November 17, 2009 to discover that he had been “locked out,” so to speak; upon communicating with Plaintiff, he was redirected to their attorney who informed him that the property was “inspected and secured” due to its abandoned state; they dispatched a new key to him whereupon he discovered that his door lock cylinders had been drilled out; Plaintiff advised Defendant that he was in possession of the premises, that he had not abandoned the dwelling, that it was replete with his furniture and personal effects and he further instructed them to remain away from the property and to refrain from any entry into the dwelling; according to Defendant, Plaintiff’s representative apologized and stated that they would not enter the premises.
On February 24, 2010, Plaintiff produced a witness, one John Denza, who testified under oath, as follows: at the express direction of Plaintiff, his company (a private property inspection and preservation firm) caused the mortgaged premises to be inspected on November 3, 2009, allegedly found the front door to be wide open and the premises completely unsecured and so notified Plaintiff; Plaintiff faxed his company a work order on November 6, 2009 directing that the locks be changed and the dwelling be secured and winterized and further, that on November 13, 2009 his company caused the locks to be changed; he flatly denied that the locks had been drilled or otherwise forcibly removed, instead asserting that the front door to the premises was ajar and the existing lock cylinders were simply unscrewed and set aside. It was only after a rather probing examination by the Court that Mr. Denza conceded that he had no actual knowledge as to the matters about which he testified since he never visited the premises, relying instead upon another individual to whom he had delegated all responsibility. Placing things into simpler terms, the totality of his testimony consisted of nothing more than self-serving statements constituting [*3] inadmissible hearsay not subject to any exception, Latimer v. Burrows 163 NY 7, 57 NE 95 (1900), People v. Huertas 75 NY2d 487, 553 N.E.2d 992, 554 NYS2d 444 (1990). No testimony or evidence from a party with actual knowledge was proffered by Plaintiff.
The law is clear that it is both the province and the obligation of the trial court to assess and determine all matters of credibility, Matter of Liccione v. Miuchael A. 65 NY2d 826, 482 NE2d 917, 493 NYS2d 121 (1985), Morgan v. McCaffrey 14 AD3d 670, 789 NYS2d 274 (2nd Dept. 2005). It is for the trial court to apply and resolve issues of witness credibility. Here, Plaintiff has produced a witness who has absolutely no firsthand knowledge of the controversy, hence his testimony is devoid of all probative value and cannot be the subject of any serious consideration. On the other hand, upon assessment of Defendant’s demeanor and comportment, the Court is convinced that he is telling the truth and he is worthy of belief.
At the February 24, 2010 conference, Plaintiff’s counsel doggedly insisted that Plaintiff was wholly justified in taking the actions complained of by Defendant (entry upon the property), asserting that it had done so in accordance with the rights conferred upon it under the terms of the mortgage and therefore Plaintiff bore no liability whatsoever to Defendant. At no time was there any denial that Plaintiff had caused Defendant’s property to be entered on more than one occasion, counsel simply asserting that Plaintiff had the right to enter into and protect the property as it saw fit.
Though not specifically enumerated by counsel, the Court presumes that Plaintiff derives its claimed rights from Paragraph 7(b) of the mortgage herein, which states, in pertinent part, that “Lender, and others authorized by Lender may enter on and inspect the Property. They will do so in a reasonable manner and at reasonable times. If it has a reasonable purpose, Lender may inspect the inside of the home or other improvements on the Property. Before or at the time an inspection is made, Lender will give me notice stating a reasonable purpose for such [**9] interior inspection.” Though this contractual provision clearly requires some kind of notice to Defendant, there is no indication that any notice at all was provided to Defendant. Indeed Plaintiff does not even advance any claim that it has complied with this section but instead baldly asserts, through counsel and not through any person with actual knowledge, that it has what appears to be an unfettered right to enter the premises at any time.
Presumably, counsel for Plaintiff further relies upon the express provisions of Paragraph 9 of the mortgage which states, in pertinent part, that “If…I have abandoned the Property, then Lender may do and pay for whatever is reasonable and appropriate to protect Lender’s interest in the Property…Lender’s actions may include but are not limited to: (a) protecting and/or assessing the value of the Property; (b) securing and/or repairing the Property;…Lender can also enter the Property to make repairs, change locks…and take any other action to secure the Property.” This section presupposes that Defendant has abandoned the property. It logically follows then that abandonment would be a strict pre-requisite to Plaintiff’s right of entry upon and within the premises. Here, Defendant’s testimony plainly reveals that he has not abandoned the property in any manner whatsoever and therefore the required condition precedent to Plaintiff’s entry does not exist.
A fair reading of the contractual provisions set forth, supra makes it abundantly clear that any and all actions taken by Plaintiff must be reasonable and, where entry into improvements on the property s contemplated, then the same must be accomplished only upon notice to the other party. It is apparent that Plaintiff has breached its own contract by its failure to give notice and further, that its actions are not reasonable under the circumstances presented. This is especially true herein since the condition precedent to Plaintiff’s right of entry has not occurred.
Since the mortgage at issue is an instrument promulgated by the lender to the borrower and since the operative and binding terms thereof are not negotiable by the borrower, such an instrument is considered to be a contract of adhesion which is typically construed against the drafter thereof, Belt Painting Corp. v. TIG Insurance Company 100 NY2d 377, 795 N.E.2d 15, 763 N.Y.S.2d 790 (2000). Under the circumstances presented to this Court, it is appropriate [**11] and fair that the terms of the instrument be construed in favor of Defendant.
In the matter before the Court, it is apparent that Plaintiff has perpetrated a trespass against the real property of Defendant, which is actionable and subjects Plaintiff to liability for damages. Distilled to its very essence, trespass is characterized by one’s intentional entry, with neither permission nor legal justification, upon the real property of another, Woodhull v. Town of Riverhead 46 AD3d 802, 849 NYS2d 79 (2nd Dept. 2007). The injury arising therefrom afflicts the owner’s right of exclusive possession of the property, Steinfeld v. Morris 258 AD 228, 16 NYS2d 155 (1st Dept. 1939), Kaplan v. Incorporated Village of Lynbrook 12 AD3d 410, 784 NYS2d 586 (2nd Dept. 2004). [HN3] The elements of a claim for trespass are intent coupled with the entry upon the land that is in possession of another. In order for trespass to lie, general intent is legally insufficient. Instead, there must be a specific intent, either to enter the land or to engage in some act whereby it is substantially certain that such entry onto the land will result therefrom, Phillips v. Sun Oil Co. 307 NY 328, 121 NE2d 249 (1954). The intent [**12] need not be illegal or unlawful, MacDonald v. Parama Inc. 15 AD2d 797, 224 NYS2d 854 (2nd Dept. 1962) but even one who enters the land upon the erroneous belief that he has the right to enter thereon will be held liable in trespass, Burger v. Singh 28 AD3d 695, 816 NYS2d 478 (2nd Dept. 2006). Trespass will lie against a party if entry upon the land was perpetrated by a third party, such as an independent contractor or other party, at the direction of the party to be charged, Gracey v. Van Kamp 299 AD2d 837, 750 NYS2d 400 (4th Dept. 2002). It follows then, both logically and legally, that the injured party must have been in possession, whether actual or constructive, at the time that the alleged wrongful entry occurred, Cirillo v. Wyker 51 AD2d 758, 379 NYS2d 505 (2nd Dept. 1976). In the matter that is presently sub judice, it is clear that a trespass has occurred on at least two separate occasions. It is apparent to the Court that this trespass was perpetrated against the property of Defendant and was done at the special instance and request and upon the affirmative directive of Plaintiff. Since the Court finds that liability for trespass lies against Plaintiff and in favor of Defendant, [**13] the Court must now move forward to consider and to determine the damages, if any, that should properly be awarded to Defendant.
Actual damages may be recovered against the trespasser-tortfeasor though they are not a mandatory component of the claim, Amodeo v. Town of Marlborough 307 AD2d 507, 763 NYS2d 132 (3rd Dept. 2003). The rule applicable herein is that [HN5] where the invasion is de minimis or the actual amount of damages is not capable of calculation nor is it readily quantifiable, then an award of nominal damages will be appropriate under the circumstances, Town of Guilderland v. Swanson 29 AD2d 717, 286 NYS2d 425 (3rd Dept. 1968), aff’d 24 NY2d 802, 249 NE2d 467, 301 NYS2d 622 (1969). Indeed, the damages that are recoverable by the injured party include those resulting from each and every consequence of the trespass, inclusive of both damage to property and injury to the person but only to the extent that such damages arose as a direct result of the wrongful intrusion by the trespasser-tortfeasor, Vandenburgh v. Truax 4 Denio 464, 1847 LEXIS 157 (Supreme Court Of Judicature Of New York, 1847).
Damages for injury to real property are typically calculated and awarded as the lesser amount of the decline in fair market value versus the cost of restoring the property to its state before the trespass, in other words, the injured party is entitled to recover the amount by which the property has been devalued, Hartshorn v. Chaddock 135 NY 116, 31 NE 997 (1892) Slavin v. State 152 NY 45, 46 NE 321 (1897). In this matter, there is no evidence that the value of the property has been diminished or otherwise adversely affected by the trespass, hence this method of calculation of damages is inapplicable.
In instances where the conduct complained of is willful, wanton or egregious, the Court is vested with the power to award exemplary damages. Exemplary damages may lie in a situation where it is necessary not only to effectuate punishment but also to deter the offending party from engaging in such conduct in the future. Such an award may also be made to address, as enunciated by the Court of Appeals in Home Insurance Co. v. American Home Products Corp. 75 NY2d 196, 550 NE2d 930, 551 NYS2d 481 (1989) “…gross misbehavior for the good of the public…on the ground of public policy“. Indeed, exemplary damages are intended to have a deterrent effect upon conduct which is unconscionable, egregious, deliberate and inequitable, I.H.P. Corp. v. 210 Central Park South Corp. 12 N.Y.2d 329, 189 NE2d 812, 239 NYS2d 547 (1963).
Since an action to foreclose a mortgage is a suit in equity, Jamaica Savings Bank v. M.S. Investing Co. 274 NY 215, 8 NE2d 493 (1937), all of the rules of equity are fully applicable to the proceeding, including those regarding punitive or exemplary damages, I.H.P. Corp. v. 210 Central Park South Corp., supra. Indeed this Court is persuaded that Judge Benjamin Cardozo was most assuredly correct in stating that “The whole body of principles, whether of law or of equity, bearing on the case, becomes the reservoir drawn upon by the court in enlightening its judgment” Susquehannah Steamship Co. Inc. v. A.O. Andersen & Co. Inc. 239 NY 285 at 294, 146 NE 381 (1925). In a suit in equity, the Court is empowered with jurisdiction to do that which ought to be done. While the Court notes that the formal distinctions between an action at law and a suit in equity have long since been abolished in New York (see CPLR 103, Field Code of 1848 §§ 2, 3, 4, 69), the Supreme Court is nevertheless vested with equity jurisdiction and [*5] the distinct rules governing equity are still very much [**16] applicable, Carroll v. Bullock 207 NY 567, 101 NE 438 (1913). Therefore, in a matter where the conduct of the party to be charged is either willful, wanton or reckless, the Court may invoke the principles of equity so as to make an award of exemplary damages.
Here, the Court is constrained to find that the conduct of Plaintiff in this matter was both willful and wanton, as evidenced by not one but two unauthorized entries into Defendant’s dwelling, occurring in complete derogation of Defendant’s right of possession. This conduct becomes even more glaring when consideration is given to the fact that Defendant affirmatively notified Plaintiff that he had secured the property and that it was not abandoned and still contained his personal property. Even so, Plaintiff maintains that it has entered the property under a color of right, which turns out to be illusory under the circumstances. In spite of these declarations, Plaintiff willfully took it upon itself to enter the property on more than one occasion, doing so unreasonably and without notice, in direct contravention of the terms of its mortgage promulgated to Defendant by its assignor. This is even more distressing when it is considered that Plaintiff breaches its obligations to Defendant under the mortgage, running roughshod over Defendant’s rights with a specious claim that it is acting to protect its rights and the property. In short, the conduct of Plaintiff was nothing short of oppressive and would best be described as heavy handed and egregious, to say the very least. Certainly, the trespass was willful and calculated and was not accidental in any way and the Court finds that Plaintiff did not act in good faith. Under these circumstances, an award of both actual and exemplary damages is necessary and appropriate in order to properly compensate Defendant for the losses he has sustained by way of Plaintiff’s shockingly wrongful conduct as well as to serve as an appropriate deterrent to any future outrageous, improper and unlawful deeds.
The Court finds the appropriate measure of damages for the trespass to Defendant’s possessory interest in the property to be in the amount of $ 200.00. The Court further finds that Defendant is entitled to recover $ 4,892.00 representing the value of the personalty lost as a direct result of Plaintiff’s actions in trespass. Finally, the Court finds that Defendant is entitled to recover exemplary damages from Plaintiff in the amount of $ 150,000.00.
For all of the foregoing reasons, it is, therefore
ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED that the Defendant STEVEN E. TYSON residing at 3 Danville Court, Greenlawn, New York 11740 recover judgment against the Plaintiff WELLS FARGO BANK N.A. with an office located at 3476 Stateview Boulevard, Fort Mill, South Carolina 29715 the sum of $ 200.00 for damages resulting from trespass, together with the sum of $ 4,892.00 for actual loss, together with the sum of $ 150,000.00 for exemplary damages, for a total recovery of $ 155,092.00 and that the Defendant have execution therefor. The Clerk of Suffolk County is directed to enter judgment accordingly.
This shall constitute the Decision, Judgment and Order of this Court.
Dated: March 5, 2010
Riverhead, New York
JEFFREY ARLEN SPINNER, J.S.C.Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( 4 so far )
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.
Lender’s refusal to modify loan may have violated borrowers’ Fifth Amendment rights to due process.
LYNNE HUXTABLE and JEFFREY A. AGNEW, Plaintiffs, v. TIMOTHY F. GEITHNER, et al., Defendants.
Case No. 09cv1846 BTM(NLS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
December 23, 2009, Decided
December 23, 2009, Filed
CORE TERMS: lender, public function, joint action, mortgage, factual allegations, private entities, modification, state action, state actors, quotations, guaranty, notice, home mortgage, mortgage loan, mere fact, federal program, summary judgment, fully developed, fact-bound, foreclosed, defaulted, federally, veteran’s, nexus, government officials, discovery, recorded
COUNSEL: [*1] For Lynne Huxtable, Jeffrey A Agnew, Plaintiffs: Jeffrey Alan Agnew, LEAD ATTORNEY, Jeffrey A Agnew, Attorney at Law, Ramona, CA.
For Timothy F. Geithner, as United States Secretary of the Treasury, United States Department of the Treasury, Defendants: Thomas C Stahl, LEAD ATTORNEY, U S Attorneys Office Southern District of California, San Diego, CA.
For The Federal Housing Finance Agency, as conservator for the Federal National Mortgage Association and for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation, doing business as Freddie Mac, doing business as Fannie Mae, Defendant: Christopher S Tarbell, LEAD ATTORNEY, Arnold & Porter LLP, Los Angeles, CA.
For National City Corporation, a Delaware corporation, PNC Financial Services Group, Inc, a Pennsylvania corporation, National City Mortgage, a division of National City Bank, National City Bank, a nationally chartered bank, Defendants: Cathy Lynn Granger, LEAD ATTORNEY, Wolfe & Wyman LLP, Irvine, CA.
For Cal-Western Reconveyance Corporation, a California corporation, Defendant: Thomas N Abbott, LEAD ATTORNEY, Pite Duncan LLP, San Diego, CA.
JUDGES: Honorable Barry Ted Moskowitz, United States District Judge.
OPINION BY: Barry Ted Moskowitz
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS
On [*2] September 21, 2009, Defendants National City Bank and PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (“Moving Defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim. For the following reasons, the motion is DENIED.
Plaintiffs’ Complaint arises out of non-judicial foreclosure proceedings related to their home in Ramona, California. The following are factual allegations in the Complaint and are not the Court’s findings.
Plaintiffs defaulted on their home mortgage in November 2007. (Compl. P 26.) In February 2008, a notice of default was recorded and served. (Compl. P 27.) And in December 2008, a notice of sale was recorded and served, setting a date for the public auction of Plaintiffs’ home. (Compl. P 29.) Pursuant to a joint motion, the Court has enjoined the sale of Plaintiffs’ home during the pendency of this action. (September 29, 2009 Order, Doc. 25.)
Plaintiffs allege that they are eligible for a loan modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program (“HAMP”). (Compl. P 95.) HAMP is a federally funded program that allows mortgagors to refinance their mortgages and reduce their monthly payments. (Compl. P 66.) Despite their eligibility for HAMP, [*3] the loan servicer, Defendant National City Mortgage Company, twice denied their application for a loan modification. (Compl. PP 90, 93.) Plaintiffs did not receive a reason for the denial or an opportunity to appeal. (Compl. P 100.)
Plaintiffs’ Complaint contains two counts. Both are for violation of due process under the Fifth Amendment for failing to create rules implementing HAMP that comport with due process. (Compl. PP 114-27.)
Defendants National City Bank and PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. have moved to dismiss the Complaint on the grounds that Plaintiffs have failed to plead that they are state actors.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the plaintiff is required only to set forth a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” and “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). When reviewing a motion to dismiss, the allegations of material fact in plaintiff’s complaint are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995). [*4] But only factual allegations must be accepted as true–not legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. Although detailed factual allegations are not required, the factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Furthermore, “only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss.” Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.
Plaintiffs have alleged that Defendants have violated their Fifth Amendment procedural due process rights. The Fifth Amendment, however, only applies to governmental actions, Bingue v. Prunchak, 512 F.3d 1169, 1174 (9th Cir. 2008), and the Moving Defendants are private entities. Therefore, the Moving Defendants argue, the Complaint fails to state a claim against them.
But in some circumstances the Fifth Amendment does apply to private entities. “In order to apply the proscriptions of the Fifth Amendment to private actors, there must exist a sufficiently close nexus between the (government) and the challenged action of the . [*5] . . (private) entity so that the action of the latter may be fairly treated as that of the (government) itself.” Rank v. Nimmo, 677 F.2d 692, 701 (9th Cir. 1982) (internal quotations omitted). There are four different tests used to determine whether private action can be attributed to the state: “(1) public function; (2) joint action; (3) governmental compulsion or coercion; and (4) governmental nexus. Satisfaction of any one test is sufficient to find state action, so long as no countervailing factor exists.” Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1092 (9th Cir. 2003). The application of these tests is a “necessarily fact-bound inquiry.” Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 939, 102 S. Ct. 2744, 73 L. Ed. 2d 482 (1982).
Plaintiffs argue that two tests apply here: public function and joint action.
1. Public Function
“Under the public function test, when private individuals or groups are endowed by the State with powers or functions governmental in nature, they become agencies or instrumentalities of the State and subject to its constitutional limitations. The public function test is satisfied only on a showing that the function at issue is both traditionally and exclusively governmental.” Kirtley, 326 F.3d at 1093 [*6] (internal quotations and citations omitted). Mortgage loan servicing is neither traditionally nor exclusively governmental, and Plaintiffs cannot show government action under this test.
2. Joint Action
Under the joint action test, the Court considers “whether the state has so far insinuated itself into a position of interdependence with the private entity that it must be recognized as a joint participant in the challenged activity. This occurs when the state knowingly accepts the benefits derived from unconstitutional behavior.” Kirtley, 326 F.3d at 1093 (internal quotations omitted). “A private party is liable under this theory, however, only if its particular actions are ‘inextricably intertwined’ with those of the government.” Brunette v. Humane Soc’y of Ventura County, 294 F.3d 1205, 1211 (9th Cir. 2002). “The mere fact that a business is subject to state regulation does not itself convert its action into that of the State . . . . Nor does the fact that the regulation is extensive and detailed . . . .” Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 350, 95 S. Ct. 449, 42 L. Ed. 2d 477 (addressing equivalent provision in Fourteenth Amendment).
The Court does not have sufficient facts before it to determine whether [*7] state action exists here. As the Supreme Court has stated, this is a “necessarily fact-bound inquiry.” Lugar, 457 U.S. at 939. Although the mere fact that a business is subject to extensive regulation is not sufficient to find joint action, here there may be more than just extensive regulation. Plaintiffs have pled that the HAMP program imposes affirmative duties on lenders, like the Moving Defendants, who participate in the program. If an applicant meets certain federally created criteria, then the lender has no discretion and must grant a loan modification. The federal program is completely administered by the Moving Defendants, and they are essentially acting as the government’s agents in executing HAMP. Making all reasonable inference in Plaintiff’s favor, the Court find that Plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Of course, facts developed through discovery may ultimately show that Plaintiff cannot establish state action. But at this stage in the litigation, the Court does not have the answers to several relevant issues, including (1) whether government officials were involved in the decision to deny Plaintiff’s request; (2) whether government officials [*8] provide guidance to the Moving Defendants regarding the administration of HAMP; (3) the extent of ongoing communication between the government and the Moving Defendants regarding HAMP; (4) and the financial arrangements between the government and the Moving Defendants regarding HAMP. This is not an exhaustive list and the course of discovery may yield other relevant facts not listed here.
Defendant’s best case–which it does not cite–in support of its motion to dismiss is Rank v. Nimmo, 677 F.2d 692 (9th Cir. 1982). In Nimmo, the Ninth Circuit held that a private mortgage lender who foreclosed on a plaintiff’s property was not a state actor. The plaintiff had obtained a mortgage loan through the VA Home Mortgage Guarantee Program, which was a federal program that guaranteed a portion of a qualifying veteran’s mortgage, enabling veterans to obtain mortgage loans without a substantial down payment. 677 F.2d at 693-94. A private commercial lender made a loan to the plaintiff under the program. Id. at 693. When the plaintiff defaulted, the lender foreclosed on the plaintiff’s property. Id. at 695-96. The Plaintiff sued the lender for depriving him of his entitlement to a federal-home-loan [*9] program without affording him due process under the Fifth Amendment. Id. at 696. The Ninth Circuit held that even though the private lender was subject to extensive federal regulation under the federal home loan guaranty program, the private lender was not a state actor. Id. at 702.
This case is different from Nimmo for at least two reasons. First, and most importantly, the Ninth Circuit decided Nimmo on cross motions for summary judgment and had the benefit of a more fully developed factual record. And second, the guaranty program at issue in Nimmo was very different from HAMP. Under the guaranty program, private lenders applied to the government for participation in the program and the government could deny their participation if the private lender failed to meet certain criteria. 677 F.2d 692, 694. But in this case, Plaintiffs contend that the government required private lenders to participate if they have received federal money, and the private lenders must administer HAMP on the government’s behalf. Whether this is correct or not is not an issue that can be determined on the record before the Court.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court DENIES the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. [*10] 21.) The Moving Defendants may raise their argument again on a motion for summary judgment once the record has been more fully developed.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED: December 23, 2009
/s/ Barry Ted Moskowitz
Honorable Barry Ted Moskowitz
United States District JudgeRead Full Post | Make a Comment ( 7 so far )
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