MERS v. LISA MARIE CHONG

Posted on December 9, 2009. Filed under: bankruptcy, Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , , , , |

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

DISTRICT OF NEVADA

Dist. Ct. Case No. 2:09-CV-00661-KJD-LRL
Bankr. Ct. Case No. BK-S-07-16645-LBR

Presently before the Court is Appellant’s Appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 158(a) from the Bankruptcy Court’s Order Denying Motion to Lift Stay entered in the Adversary Proceeding No. BKS- 07-16645-LBR, docket no. 49, March 31, 2009.

Having considered the briefs and the record on appeal, including the arguments of parties at the consolidated hearing on November 10, 2009, the Court affirms the Order of the Bankruptcy Court

Procedural History and Facts

On April 14, 2009, Appellant Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) filed Notice of Appeal (#1) appealing the Bankruptcy Court’s order denying Appellant’s motion for relief from stay. This appeal is one of approximately eighteen (18) similar cases in which the Bankruptcy Court ruled that Appellant lacked standing to bring the motion.

In the underlying bankruptcy action, MERS filed its Motion for Relief from Stay (“the Motion”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Bankruptcy Practice (“Rule”) 4001 on January 14, 2008 seeking to have the automatic stay lifted so that MERS could conduct a non-judicial foreclosure saleon debtor’s real property because the debtor lacked the ability to make payments and could not provide adequate security. Trustee Lenard E. Schwartzer (“Trustee”) filed objections to the Motion claiming that MERS did not have standing as a real party in interest under the Rules to file the motion. (Appellant’s Appendix (“Appx.”) Doc. No. 12, p. 34).

In response, Appellant filed the Declaration of Faatima Straggans, an employee of Homecomings Financial, LLC the authorized servicing agent for MERS, attempting to authenticate a copy of the original Deed of Trust (“Deed”) and Note. (Appx. 36–38). The Deed described MERS as beneficiary and identified MERS as the nominee of the original lender, FMC Capital LLC. Id. However, the Declaration identified neither the current owner of the beneficial interest in the Note, nor any of the successors or assignees of the Deed of Trust. The Declaration also failed to assert that MERS, FMC Capital LLC or Homecomings Financial, LLC held the Note.

Due to the similar issues raised regarding motions for relief from stay in approximately twenty-seven (27) cases involving MERS, the Bankruptcy Court set a joint hearing for all twenty seven cases. (Appx. 113–18). The Bankruptcy Court also ordered consolidated briefing for all cases to be filed in Case No. 07-16226-LBR, In re Mitchell, the “lead case”. Id. In a majority of the cases, including the present case, Appellant attempted to withdraw the Motion but was procedurally unable to do so, because the Trustee would not consent. (Appx. 1383, 1902-1904, 1907-1909). MERS informed the Bankruptcy Court that it had attempted to withdraw the Motion, because it had been filed contrary to its own corporate procedures. (Appx. 432). Particularly in this case, MERS was unable to show that a MERS Certifying Officer was in physical possession of the Note at the time the Motion was filed. (Appx. 624).

A final hearing was held on August 19, 2008. (Appx. 650-729). On March 31, 2009, the Bankruptcy Court issued Memorandum Opinions and Orders denying MERS’ motions for relief from stay in Mitchell and two other cases. (Appx. 740-54, 1581-95, 1959-72). In the remaining cases, including the present case, the Bankruptcy Court denied the motions for relief from stay by incorporating the reasoning from the Mitchell Memorandum Opinion. (Appx.46). The Bankruptcy Court held that MERS lacked standing because it was not a real party in interest as required by the Rules. (Appx. 740-54). Specifically, the court found that “[w]hile MERS may have standing to prosecute the motion in the name of its Member as nominee, there is no evidence that the named nominee is entitled to enforce the note or that MERS is the agent of the note’s holder.” (Appx. 753).

The court further held that MERS’ asserted interest as beneficiary under the contract terms did not confer standing because MERS had no actual beneficial interest in the note and, therefore, was not a beneficiary. (Appx. 745-48). MERS now appeals that order asserting that the Bankruptcy Court erred as a matter of law when it determined that MERS may not be a beneficiary under the deeds of trust at issue in the eighteen consolidated cases where the express language of the deeds of trust provide that MERS is the beneficiary. The Trustee continues to assert that MERS lacks standing because it is not a real party in interest. II. Standard of Review

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 158(a) and reviews the Bankruptcy Court’s findings under the same standard that the court of appeals would review a district court’s findings in a civil matter. 28 U.S.C. § 158(c)(2). Therefore, the Court reviews the Bankruptcy Court’s factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard, and conclusions of law de novo. See In re Healthcentral.com, 504 F.3d 775, 783 (9th Cir. 2007); In re First Magnus Fin. Corp., 403 B.R. 659, 663 (D. Ariz. 2009). III. Analysis This appeal arises from eighteen cases in which MERS filed motions for relief from stay in the Bankruptcy Court. In each case, either a party or the Bankruptcy Court raised the issue of whether MERS had standing to bring the motion.

In holding that MERS did not have standing as the real party in interest to bring the motion for relief from stay, the Bankruptcy Court determined that MERS was not a beneficiary in spite of language that designated MERS as such in the Deed of Trust at issue. MERS seeks to overturn the Bankruptcy Court’s determination that it is not a beneficiary. However, the Court must affirm the Bankruptcy Court’s order under the facts presented because MERS failed to present sufficient evidence demonstrating that it is a real party in interest.

A motion for relief from stay is a contested matter under the Bankruptcy Code. See Fed. R. Bankr. P. 4001(a); 9014(c). Bankruptcy Rule 7017 applies in contested matters. Rule 7017 incorporates Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 17(a)(1) which requires that “[a]n action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.” See also, In re Jacobson, 402 B.R. 359, 365-66 (Bankr. W.D. Wash. 2009); In re Hwang, 396 B.R. 757, 766-67 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008). Thus, while MERS argues the bankruptcy court erred when it determined that MERS was not a beneficiary under the deeds of trust, MERS only has standing in the context of the motion to lift stay under the Rules if it is the real party in interest. See Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7017. Since MERS admits that it does not actually receive or forfeit money when borrowers fail to make their payments, MERS must at least provide evidence of its alleged agency relationship with the real party in interest in order to have standing to seek relief from stay. See Jacobson, 402 B.R. at 366, n.7 (quoting Hwang, 396 B.R. at 767 (“the right to enforce a note on behalf of a noteholder does not convert the noteholder’s agent into a real party in interest”)).

An agent for the purpose of bringing suit is “viewed as a nominal rather than a real party in interest and will be required to litigate in the name of his principal rather than his own name.” Hwang, 396 B.R. at 767. This is particularly important in the District of Nevada where the Local Rules of Bankruptcy Practice require parties to communicate in good faith regarding resolution of a motion for relief from stay before it is In other cases movant did not seek to withdraw the Motion, but similarly produced no evidence that it held the note or acted as the agent of the noteholder. filed. LR 4001(a)(3). The parties cannot come to a resolution if those with a beneficial interest in the note have not been identified and engaged in the communication.

In the context of a motion for relief from stay, the movant, MERS in this case, bears the burden of proving it is a real party in interest. In re Wilhelm, 407 B.R. 392, 400 (Bankr. D. Idaho 2009)(citing In re Hayes, 393 B.R. 259, 267 (Bankr. D.Mass. 2008)(“To have standing to seek relief from the automatic stay, [movant] was required to establish that it is a party in interest and that its rights are not those of another entity”)).

Initially, a movant seeking relief from stay may rely upon its motion. Id. However, if a trustee or debtor objects based upon standing, the movant must come forward with evidence of standing. Id.; Jacobson, 402 B.R. at 367 (requiring movant at least demonstrate who presently holds the note at issue or the source of movant’s authority). Instead of presenting the evidence to the Bankruptcy Court, MERS attempted to withdraw the Motion from the Bankruptcy Court’s consideration, citing the failure of a MERS Certifying Officer to demonstrate that a member was in physical possession of the promissory note at the time the motion was filed.1 The only evidence provided by MERS was a declaration that MERS had been identified as a beneficiary in the deed of trust and that it had been named nominee for the original lender.

Since MERS provided no evidence that it was the agent or nominee for the current owner of the beneficial interest in the note, it has failed to meet its burden of establishing that it is a real party in interest with standing. Accordingly, the order of the Bankruptcy Court must be affirmed. This holding is limited to the specific facts and procedural posture of the instant case. Since the Bankruptcy Court denied the Motion without prejudice nothing prevents Appellant from refilling the Motion in Bankruptcy Court providing the evidence it admits should be readily available in its system. The Court makes no finding that MERS would not be able to establish itself as a real party in interest had it identified the holder of the note or provided sufficient evidence of the source of its authority. IV.

Conclusion

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Order of the Bankruptcy Court entered March 31, 2009 is AFFIRMED. DATED this 4th day of December 2009.

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IN RE DARRELL ROYCE SHERIDAN, SHERRY ANN SHERIDAN, Chapter 7 Debtors.

Posted on October 25, 2009. Filed under: bankruptcy, Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Sheridan_decision

In this Chapter 7 case, the trustee, Ford Elsaesser (“Trustee”), objects to amotion under § 362(d) for relief from the § 362(a) automatic stay.1 Motions under § 362(d) are common in bankruptcy cases.2 Most stay relief requests proceed promptly to entry of an order, after proper notice, without any objection.

However, changes in mortgage practices over the past several years have created a number of new issues. The one highlighted in this case is the standing of the moving creditor. Serial assignments of the mortgagee’s interest(s) and the securitization of mortgages have complicated what was previously a generally straight-forward standing analysis. Though many creditors provide in their motions adequate explanation and documentation of their standing to seek relief on real estate secured debts, Trustee challenges the adequacy of the subject motion in this case.

Following hearing and consideration of the arguments of the parties, the Court determines that Trustee’s objection is well taken and the same will be sustained. The motion for stay relief will be denied.

BACKGROUND AND FACTS

On June 24, 2008, Darrell and Sherry Ann Sheridan (“Debtors”) filed their joint chapter 7 bankruptcy petition, schedules and statements. They scheduled a fee ownership interest in a residence located in Post Falls, Idaho. See Doc. No. 1 at sched. A (the “Property”). Debtors asserted the Property’s value was $225,000.00. Id. They indicated secured claims existed in favor of “Litton Loan Servicing” ($197,000.00) and “Citimortgage” ($34,000.00). Id. at sched. D.

While this left no apparent equity in the Property, Debtors nevertheless claimed the benefit of an Idaho homestead exemption. Id. at sched. C.4

Sheridan_decision

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WHERE’S THE NOTE, WHO’S THE HOLDER

Posted on March 1, 2009. Filed under: bankruptcy, Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

INTRODUCTION

In an era where a very large portion of mortgage obligations have been securitized, by assignment to a trust indenture trustee, with the resulting pool of assets being then sold as mortgage backed securities, foreclosure becomes an interesting exercise, particularly where judicial process is involved.  We are all familiar with the securitization process.  The steps, if not the process, is simple.  A borrower goes to a mortgage lender.  The lender finances the purchase of real estate.  The borrower signs a note and mortgage or deed of trust.  The original lender sells the note and assigns the mortgage to an entity that securitizes the note by combining the note with hundreds or thousands of similar obligation to create a package of mortgage backed securities, which are then sold to investors.

Unfortunately, unless you represent borrowers, the vast flow of notes into the maw of the securitization industry meant that a lot of mistakes were made.  When the borrower defaults, the party seeking to enforce the obligation and foreclose on the underlying collateral sometimes cannot find the note.  A lawyer sophisticated in this area has speculated to one of the authors that perhaps a third of the notes “securitized” have been lost or destroyed.  The cases we are going to look at reflect the stark fact that the unnamed source’s speculation may be well-founded.

UCC SECTION 3-309

 If the issue were as simple as a missing note, UCC §3-309 would provide a simple solution.  A person entitled to enforce an instrument which has been lost, destroyed or stolen may enforce the instrument.  If the court is concerned that some third party may show up and attempt to enforce the instrument against the payee, it may order adequate protection.  But, and however, a person seeking to enforce a missing instrument must be a person entitled to enforce the instrument, and that person must prove the instrument’s terms and that person’s right to enforce the instrument.  §3-309 (a)(1) & (b).

WHO’S THE HOLDER

Enforcement of a note always requires that the person seeking to collect show that it is the holder.  A holder is an entity that has acquired the note either as the original payor or transfer by endorsement of order paper or physical possession of bearer paper.  These requirements are set out in Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code, which has been adopted in every state, including Louisiana, and in the District of Columbia.  Even in bankruptcy proceedings, State substantive law controls the rights of note and lien holders, as the Supreme Court pointed out almost forty (40) years ago in United States v. Butner, 440 U.S. 48, 54-55 (1979).  

However, as Judge Bufford has recently illustrated, in one of the cases discussed below, in the bankruptcy and other federal courts, procedure is governed by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy and Civil Procedure.  And, procedure may just have an impact on the issue of “who,” because, if the holder is unknown, pleading and standing issues arise.

 

BRIEF REVIEW OF UCC PROVISIONS

 

Article 3 governs negotiable instruments – it defines what a negotiable instrument is and defines how ownership of those pieces of paper is transferred.  For the precise definition, see § 3-104(a) (“an unconditional promise or order to pay a fixed amount of money, with or without interest . . . .”)  The instrument may be either payable to order or bearer and payable on demand or at a definite time, with or without interest.  

Ordinary negotiable instruments include notes and drafts (a check is a draft drawn on a bank).  See § 3-104(e).  

Negotiable paper is transferred from the original payor by negotiation.  §3-301.  “Order paper” must be endorsed; bearer paper need only be delivered.  §3-305.  However, in either case, for the note to be enforced, the person who asserts the status of the holder must be in possession of the instrument.  See UCC § 1-201 (20) and comments.  

The original and subsequent transferees are referred to as holders.  Holders who take with no notice of defect or default are called “holders in due course,” and take free of many defenses.  See §§ 3-305(b).  

The UCC says that a payment to a party “entitled to enforce the instrument” is sufficient to extinguish the obligation of the person obligated on the instrument.  Clearly, then, only a holder – a person in possession of a note endorsed to it or a holder of bearer paper – may seek satisfaction or enforce rights in collateral such as real estate.  

NOTE:  Those of us who went through the bank and savings and loan collapse of the 1980’s are familiar with these problems.  The FDIC/FSLIC/RTC sold millions of notes secured and unsecured, in bulk transactions.  Some notes could not be found and enforcement sometimes became a problem.  Of course, sometimes we are forced to repeat history.  For a recent FDIC case, see Liberty Savings Bank v. Redus, 2009 WL 41857 (Ohio App. 8 Dist.), January 8, 2009.

 

THE RULES

Judge Bufford addressed the rules issue this past year.  See In re Hwang, 396 B.R. 757  (Bankr. C. D. Cal. 2008).  First, there are the pleading problems that arise when the holder of the note is unknown.  Typically, the issue will arise in a motion for relief from stay in a bankruptcy proceeding.

According F.R.Civ. Pro. 17, “[a]n action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.”  This rule is incorporated into the rules governing bankruptcy procedure in several ways.  As Judge Bufford has pointed out, for example, in a motion for relief from stay, filed under F.R.Bankr.Pro. 4001 is a contested matter, governed by F. R. Bankr. P. 9014, which makes F.R. Bankr. Pro. 7017 applicable to such motions.  F.R. Bankr. P. 7017 is, of course, a restatement of F.R. Civ. P. 17.  In re Hwang, 396 B.R. at 766.  The real party in interest in a federal action to enforce a note, whether in bankruptcy court or federal district court, is the owner of a note.  (In securitization transactions, this would be the trustee for the “certificate holders.”) When the actual holder of the note is unknown, it is impossible – not difficult but impossible – to plead a cause of action in a federal court (unless the movant simply lies about the ownership of the note).  Unless the name of the actual note holder can be stated, the very pleadings are defective.

 

STANDING

Often, the servicing agent for the loan will appear to enforce the note.   Assume that the servicing agent states that it is the authorized agent of the note holder, which is “Trust Number 99.”   The servicing agent is certainly a party in interest, since a party in interest in a bankruptcy court is a very broad term or concept.  See, e.g., Greer v. O’Dell, 305 F.3d 1297, 1302-03 (11th Cir. 2002).  However, the servicing agent may not have standing: “Federal Courts have only the power authorized by Article III of the Constitutions and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto. … [A] plaintiff must have Constitutional standing in order for a federal court to have jurisdiction.”  In re Foreclosure Cases, 521 F.Supp. 3d 650, 653 (S.D. Ohio, 2007) (citations omitted). 

But, the servicing agent does not have standing, for only a person who is the holder of the note has standing to enforce the note.  See, e.g., In re Hwang, 2008 WL 4899273 at 8.

The servicing agent may have standing if acting as an agent for the holder, assuming that the agent can both show agency status and that the principle is the holder.  See, e.g., In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008) at 520.

 

A BRIEF ASIDE:  WHO IS MERS?

For those of you who are not familiar with the entity known as MERS, a frequent participant in these foreclosure proceedings:

MERS is the “Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc.  “MERS is a mortgage banking ‘utility’ that registers mortgage loans in a book entry system so that … real estate loans can be bought, sold and securitized, just like Wall Street’s book entry utility for stocks and bonds is the Depository Trust and Clearinghouse.” Bastian, “Foreclosure Forms”, State. Bar of Texas 17th Annual Advanced Real Estate Drafting Course, March 9-10, 2007, Dallas, Texas. MERS is enormous.  It originates thousands of loans daily and is the mortgagee of record for at least 40 million mortgages and other security documents. Id.

MERS acts as agent for the owner of the note.  Its authority to act should be shown by an agency agreement.  Of course, if the owner is unknown, MERS cannot show that it is an authorized agent of  the owner.

 

RULES OF EVIDENCE – A PRACTICAL PROBLEM

This structure also possesses practical evidentiary problems where the party asserting a right to foreclose must be able to show a default.  Once again, Judge Bufford has addressed this issue.   At In re Vargas, 396 B.R. at 517-19.  Judge Bufford made a finding that the witness called to testify as to debt and default was incompetent.  All the witness could testify was that he had looked at the MERS computerized records.  The witness was unable to satisfy the requirements of the Federal Rules of Evidence, particularly Rule 803, as applied to computerized records in the Ninth Circuit.  See id. at 517-20.  The low level employee could really only testify that the MERS screen shot he reviewed reflected a default.  That really is not much in the way of evidence, and not nearly enough to get around the hearsay rule.

 

FORECLOSURE OR RELIEF FROM STAY

In a foreclosure proceeding in a judicial foreclosure state, or a request for injunctive relief in a non-judicial foreclosure state, or in a motion for relief proceeding in a bankruptcy court, the courts are dealing with and writing about the problems very frequently.

In many if not almost all cases, the party seeking to exercise the rights of the creditor will be a servicing company.  Servicing companies will be asserting the rights of their alleged principal, the note holder, which is, again, often going to be a trustee for a securitization package.  The mortgage holder or beneficiary under the deed of trust will, again, very often be MERS.

 

Even before reaching the practical problem of debt and default, mentioned above, the moving party must show that it holds the note or (1) that it is an agent of the holder and that (2) the holder remains the holder.  In addition, the owner of the note, if different from the holder, must join in the motion.

 

Some states, like Texas, have passed statutes that allow servicing companies to act in foreclosure proceedings as a statutorily recognized agent of the noteholder.  See, e.g., Tex. Prop. Code §51.0001.  However, that statute refers to the servicer as the last entity to whom the debtor has been instructed to make payments.  This status is certainly open to challenge.  The statute certainly provides nothing more than prima facie evidence of the ability of the servicer to act.   If challenged, the servicing agent must show that the last entity to communicate instructions to the debtor is still the holder of the note.  See, e.g., HSBC Bank, N.A. v. Valentin, 2l N.Y.  Misc. 3d 1123(A), 2008 WL 4764816 (Table) (N.Y. Sup.), Nov. 3, 2008.  In addition, such a statute does not control in federal court where Fed. R. Civ. P. 17 and 19 (and Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7017 and 7019) apply.

 

SOME RECENT CASE LAW

 

These cases are arranged by state, for no particular reason.

 

Massachusetts

 

In re Schwartz, 366 B.R.265 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2007)

 

Schwartz concerns a Motion for Relief to pursue an eviction. Movant asserted that the property had been foreclosed upon prior to the date of the bankruptcy petition.  The pro se debtor asserted that the Movant was required to show that it had authority to conduct the sale.  Movant, and “the party which appears to be the current mortgagee…” provided documents for the court to review, but did not ask for an evidentiary hearing.  Judge Rosenthal sifted through the documents and found that the Movant and the current mortgagee had failed to prove that the foreclosure was properly conducted. 

 

Specifically, Judge Rosenthal found that there was no evidence of a proper assignment of the mortgage prior to foreclosure.  However, at footnote 5, Id. at 268, the Court also finds that there is no evidence that the note itself was assigned and no evidence as to who the current holder might be.  

 

Nosek v. Ameriquest Mortgage Company (In re Nosek), 286 Br. 374 (Bankr D Mass. 2008).  

 

Almost a year to the day after Schwartz was signed, Judge Rosenthal issued a second opinion.  This is an opinion on an order to show cause.  Judge Rosenthal specifically found that, although the note and mortgage involved in the case had been transferred from the originator to another party within five days of closing, during the five years in which the chapter 13 proceeding was pending, the note and mortgage and associated claims had been prosecuted by Ameriquest which has represented itself to be the holder of the note and the mortgage.  Not until September of 2007 did Ameriquest notify the Court that it was merely the servicer.  In fact, only after the chapter 13 bankruptcy had been pending for about three years was there even an assignment of the servicing rights.  Id. at 378.  

 

Because these misrepresentations were not simple mistakes:  as the Court has noted on more than one occasion, those parties who do not hold the note of mortgage do not service the mortgage do not have standing to pursue motions for leave or other actions arising form the mortgage obligation.  Id at 380.  

 

As a result, the Court sanctioned the local law firm that had been prosecuting the claim $25,000.  It sanctioned a partner at that firm an additional $25,000.  Then the Court sanctioned the national law firm involved $100,000 and ultimately sanctioned Wells Fargo $250,000.  Id. at 382-386.  

 

In re Hayes, 393 B.R. 259 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2008).  

 

Like Judge Rosenthal, Judge Feeney has attacked the problem of standing and authority head on.  She has also held that standing must be established before either a claim can be allowed or a motion for relief be granted.  

 

Ohio

 

In re Foreclosure Cases, 521 F.Supp. 2d (S.D. Ohio 2007).  

 

Perhaps the District Court’s orders in the foreclosure cases in Ohio have received the most press of any of these opinions.  Relying almost exclusively on standing, the Judge Rose has determined that a foreclosing party must show standing.  “[I]n a foreclosure action, the plaintiff must show that it is the holder of the note and the mortgage at the time that the complaint was filed.”  Id. at 653.  

 

Judge Rose instructed the parties involved that the willful failure of the movants to comply with the general orders of the Court would in the future result in immediate dismissal of foreclosure actions.  

 

Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. v. Steele, 2008 WL 111227 (S.D. Ohio) January 8, 2008. 

 

In Steele, Judge Abel followed the lead of Judge Rose and found that Deutsche Bank had filed evidence in support of its motion for default judgment indicating that MERS was the mortgage holder.  There was not sufficient evidence to support the claim that Deutsche Bank was the owner and holder of the note as of that date.  Following In re Foreclosure Cases, 2007 WL 456586, the Court held that summary judgment would be denied “until such time as Deutsche Bank was able to offer evidence showing, by a preponderance of evidence, that it owned the note and mortgage when the complaint was filed.”  2008 WL 111227 at 2.  Deutsche Bank was given twenty-one days to comply.  Id.  

 

Illinois

 

U.S. Bank, N.A. v. Cook, 2009 WL 35286 (N.D. Ill. January 6, 2009).  

 

Not all federal district judges are as concerned with the issues surrounding the transfer of notes and mortgages.  Cook is a very pro lender case and, in an order granting a motion for summary judgment, the Court found that Cook had shown no “countervailing evidence to create a genuine issue of facts.”  Id. at 3.  In fact, a review of the evidence submitted by U.S. Bank showed only that it was the alleged trustee of the securitization pool.  U.S. Bank relied exclusively on the “pooling and serving agreement” to show that it was the holder of the note.  Id.

 

Under UCC Article 3, the evidence presented in Cook was clearly insufficient.  

 

New York

 

HSBC Bank USA, N.A. v. Valentin, 21 Misc. 3D 1124(A), 2008 WL 4764816 (Table) (N.Y. Sup.) November 3, 2008.  In Valentin, the New York court found that, even though given an opportunity to, HSBC did not show the ownership of debt and mortgage.  The complaint was dismissed with prejudice and the “notice of pendency” against the property was cancelled.  

 

Note that the Valentin case does not involve some sort of ambush. The Court gave every HSBC every opportunity to cure the defects the Court perceived in the pleadings.  

 

California 

 

In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008)

 

and

 

In re Hwang, 396 B.R. 757 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008)

 

These two opinions by Judge Bufford have been discussed above.  Judge Bufford carefully explores the related issues of standing and ownership under both federal and California law.  

 

Texas

 

In re Parsley, 384 B.R. 138 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2008)

 

and

 

In re Gilbreath, 395 B.R. 356 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2008)

 

These two recent opinions by Judge Jeff Bohm are not really on point, but illustrate another thread of cases running through the issues of motions for relief from stay in bankruptcy court and the sloppiness of loan servicing agencies.  Both of these cases involve motions for relief that were not based upon fact but upon mistakes by servicing agencies.  Both opinions deal with the issue of sanctions and, put simply, both cases illustrate that Judge Bohm (and perhaps other members of the bankruptcy bench in the Southern District of Texas) are going to be very strict about motions for relief in consumer cases.  

 

SUMMARY

 

The cases cited illustrate enormous problems in the loan servicing industry.  These problems arise in the context of securitization and illustrate the difficulty of determining the name of the holder, the assignee of the mortgage, and the parties with both the legal right under Article 3 and the standing under the Constitution to enforce notes, whether in state court or federal court.  

 

Interestingly, with the exception of Judge Bufford and a few other judges, there has been less than adequate focus upon the UCC title issues.  The next round of cases may and should focus upon the title to debt instrument.  The person seeking to enforce the note must show that:

 

(1) It is the holder of this note original by transfer, with all necessary rounds; 

(2) It had possession of the note before it was lost; 

(3) If it can show that title to the note runs to it, but the original is lost or destroyed, the holder must be prepared to post a bond;  

(4) If the person seeking to enforce is an agent, it must show its agency status and that its principal is the holder of the note (and meets the above requirements).  

 

Then, and only then, do the issues of evidence of debt and default and assignment of mortgage rights become relevant.  

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Forensic Loan Audit Uncovered TILA Disclosure Violations

Posted on January 18, 2009. Filed under: bankruptcy, Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Audit, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

By Lane Houk

The borrower in this case had foreclosure filed against them. After retaining an attorney for the foreclosure, the attorney advised them to have an audit of their loan closing file which revealed a material disclosure violation. It is important to note that a loan can ONLY be rescinded when:

  1. The loan is a refinance transaction;
  2. Funded in the last three years
  3. On the borrower’s primary residence;
  4. When a “material disclosure violation” is found

The term “material disclosure violation” is a very important component. Many people (including self-proclaimed experts in loan auditing) think that “any” violation of the Truth in Lending Act gives someone the right to rescind.  That is patently wrong. The four conditions above must be true in order for the borrower to have the possible “extended right to rescind” the loan transaction. There are only 4 potential “material disclosure violations.”

The borrower in this case was given an insufficient amount of the Notice of Right to Cancel. A borrower should receive two (2) copies of the Notice.

If a married couple is identifiable on a Universal Residential Application, then each consumer is entitled to rescind and must be given a copy of the TILA Disclosure Statement with all material information accurately and correctly disclosed, 15 U.S.C. § 1602(u); Reg. Z § 226.23(a)(3) n.48, and two (2) copies each of the rescission notice, 15 U.S.C. § 1635(a); Reg. Z § 226.23(b), irrespective of whether both are obligated on the note (or either, for that matter).

In this case, the borrowers were married and received only 2 copies total. Material disclosure violation. Thus they rescinded. The lender Option One obviously contested the matter.

Once the Consumer rescinds, the security interest arising by operation of law becomes void automatically. The promissory note is also voided since it is part of the same “transaction,” see i.e., 15 U.S.C. § 1635(b) and Reg. Z § 226.23(d)(1).]

This is powerful folks. This is a complete remedy to foreclosure. The mortgage is the security interest and it is the mortgage (and the mortgage only) that gives the lender the right to foreclose. In a rescission, the lender must void the mortgage within 20 days. If it does not, it is another violation of TILA.

After rescinding the loan the borrowers also filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The lender refused to rescind the loan. The borrowers filed an Adversary Proceeding in the Bankruptcy Court. Bottom line: The judge heard all arguments from both Plaintiff (borrower) and the Defendant (Option One). The judge found in favor of the borrower/plaintiff and determined that they had the right to rescind. Victory number one.

But a BIG ruling in this case was that since they had rescinded the loan, the loan became an “unsecured” debt since the mortgage was automatically voided as per TILA. Since the debt became “unsecured” it was able to be discharged through bankruptcy like any other type of unsecured debt such as a credit card debt.

The moral of the story: TILA Rescission is the most powerful remedy to foreclosure if/when the borrower has this remedy afforded to them. The key is to obtain a loan audit by a real expert.

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Bankruptcy Act of 2009

Posted on January 12, 2009. Filed under: bankruptcy, Legislation, Loan Modification, Mortgage Law, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , |

Section by Section Summary

Section 1. Short Title. Section 1 sets forth the short title of the bill as the “Helping Families Save Their Homes in Bankruptcy Act of 2009.”

Section 2. Eligibility for Relief. Bankruptcy Code section 109(e) sets forth secured and unsecured debt limits to establish a debtor’s eligibility for relief under chapter 13, currently equal to just over $1 million. Section 2 amends this provision to provide that the computation of debts does not include the secured or unsecured portions of debts secured by the debtor’s principal residence, under certain circumstances. First, the exception applies if the current value of the debtor’s principal residence is less than the secured debt limit. Second, the exception applies if the debtor’s principal residence was sold in foreclosure or the debtor surrendered such residence and the current value of such residence is less than the secured debt limit. Without this provision, many struggling homeowners in high-cost areas such as California would be ineligible for relief.

In addition, section 2 amends Bankruptcy Code section 109(h) to waive the mandatory requirement that a debtor must receive credit counseling prior to filing for bankruptcy relief, under certain circumstances. The waiver applies in a chapter 13 case where the debtor submits to the court a certification that the debtor has received notice that the holder of a claim secured by the debtor’s principal residence may commence a foreclosure proceeding against such residence.

Section 3. Prohibiting Claims Arising from Violations of Consumer Protection Laws. Section 3 amends Bankruptcy Code section 502(b) to disallow a claim that is subject to any remedy for damages or rescission as a result of the claimant’s failure to comply with any applicable requirement under the Truth in Lending Act or other applicable state or federal consumer protection law in effect when the noncompliance took place, notwithstanding the prior entry of a foreclosure judgment.

Section 4. Authority to Modify Certain Mortgages. Section 4 amends Bankruptcy Code section 1322(b) to permit modification of certain mortgages that are secured by the debtor’s principal residence in specified respects. The modification authority applies in a chapter 13 case where the debtor’s principal residence is the subject of a notice that a foreclosure may be commenced. New section 1322(b)(11) allows the court to modify the rights of a mortgagee by: (1) providing for payment of the amount of the allowed secured claim as determined under section 506(a)(1); (2) prohibiting, reducing, or delaying any adjustable interest rates applicable on and after the date the case is filed; (3) extending the repayment period of the mortgage for a period that is no longer than the longer of 40 years (reduced by the period for which the mortgage has been outstanding) or the remaining term of the mortgage beginning on the filing date of the case; and (4) providing for the payment of interest at an annual percentage rate calculated at a fixed annual percentage rate equal to that used for conventional mortgages as published by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, plus a reasonable premium for risk.

Section 5. Combating Excessive Fees. Section 5 amends Bankruptcy Code section 1322(c) to provide that the debtor, the debtor’s property, and property of the bankruptcy estate are not liable for a fee, cost, or charge incurred while the chapter 13 case is pending and that arises from a debt secured by the debtor’s principal residence, unless the holder of the claim complies with certain requirements. These requirements consist of the following: (1) the holder files with the court an annual notice of such fee, cost, or charge (or on a more frequent basis as the court determines) before the earlier of one year of when such fee, cost, or charge was incurred or 60 days before the case is closed; (2) the fee, cost, or charge is lawful under applicable nonbankruptcy law, reasonable, and provided for in the applicable security agreement; and (3) the value of the debtor’s principal residence is greater the amount of the claim, including such fee, cost or charge. If the holder fails to give the required notice, such failure is deemed to be a waiver of any claim for fees, costs, or charges (as described in this provision) for all purposes. Any attempt to collect such fees, costs, or charges would constitute a violation of the Bankruptcy Code’s discharge injunction under section 524(a)(2) or the automatic stay under section 362(a).
Section 5 further provides that a chapter 13 plan may waive any prepayment penalty on a claim secured by the debtor’s principal residence.

Section 6. Confirmation of Plan. Section 6 amends Bankruptcy Code section 1325(a) to provide certain protections for a creditor whose rights are modified under new section 1322(b)(11). As a condition of confirmation, it requires a plan to provide that such creditor must retain its lien until the later of when the claim (as modified) is paid or the debtor obtains a discharge. In addition, the court must find that the modification is in good faith.

Section 7. Discharge. Bankruptcy Code section 1328 sets forth the requirements for discharge. Section 7 amends section 1328(a) to clarify that a claim modified under section 1322(b)(11) is not discharged to the extent of the unpaid allowed secured portion of the claim.

Section 8. Effective Date; Application of Amendments. Section 8(a) provides that the Act and the amendments made by it, except as provided in subsection (b), take effect on the Act’s date of enactment. Section 8(b) provides that the amendments made by the Act apply to cases commenced under title 11 of the United States Code before, on, or after the Act’s date of enactment.

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Mortgage Industry Balks at Loan Modification Plan

Posted on January 9, 2009. Filed under: bankruptcy, Foreclosure Defense, Legislation, Loan Modification, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

If you want a sign the financial world is changing fast, look no farther than Thursday’s announcement that Citigroup would back legislation allowing judges to modify mortgage terms in bankruptcy.

The bill, championed for more than a year by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) — and backed by many Democrats, including President-elect Barack Obama and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) — has been anathema to the financial-services industry for just as long. The industry successfully fought it off several times over the last 18 months, most recently in this fall’s negotiation over the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. And as recently as December, industry officials were promising an ugly fight, and saying they might still be able to head off the measure entirely.

No longer. Citigroup’s announcement on the new loan modification plan comes even as the same officials acknowledge that a compromise is likely — though perhaps not this compromise. “I think the politics, the substance, the economics, the tax angle all work against the industry on this one,” a financial-services industry official said in an interview Wednesday night, before the Citigroup’s loan modification agreement was public.

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Cramdown Loan Modification Legislation Approved

Posted on January 9, 2009. Filed under: bankruptcy, Foreclosure Defense, Legislation, Loan Modification, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , , , |

Banks and the building industry are purportedly working together with Senators on “cramdown” legislation affecting bankruptcy judges’ powers regarding mortgage loan modifications. The rule change would give bankruptcy judges the power to change repayment terms for certain homeowners who declare bankruptcy.

The Wall Street Journal reports that lenders including Citigroup are cooperating with key Senators on “cramdown” legislation to increase bankruptcy judges’ power to modify the payment terms (loan modification) on primary home mortgages. As of last October, the WSJ reported that almost one in six homes was worth less than the value of its mortgage. “Cramdown” (or “strip down”) refers to taking the value of a home’s mortgage and cramming it down to the current value of the home.

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin introduced legislation including court ordered workouts of individual mortgages on Tuesday’s first day of the new Congress. Endorsement of cramdown provisions by lending institutions could bode well for passage either separately, or as part of the anticipated Obama stimulus package.

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Loan Rescission In Bankruptcy

Posted on October 17, 2008. Filed under: bankruptcy, Case Law, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , |

In re Jaaskelainen, Case No. 07-12832-WCH (Bankr.Mass. 7/7/2008) (Bankr.Mass., 2008)

Upon the valid exercise of the right of rescission, the security interest becomes void and borrower is not liable for finance or any other charges or interest. Within twenty calendar days of the receipt of the NOR, the creditor shall return all money or property given in connection with the transaction and take any necessary action to terminate its security interest. Once this occurs, the borrower must tender the money or property loaned back to the creditor.

I previously held that rescission by an obligor is not conditioned by tender or payment in the context of a bankruptcy case.118 In Myers, I relied on the following passage by Judge Deitz explaining the difference between cases where the obligor is subject to a bankruptcy proceeding and those where the obligor is not:In a non-bankruptcy setting, the rights and duties of the parties upon TIL[A] rescission are clear and absolute. Each party must make the other as whole as he would have been had the contract never been entered into. In the absence of bankruptcy, there is no legal impediment to either party doing what is required to restore the status quo ante. Consequently, the creditor’s statutory duty to perform first merely establishes the order of performance; it does not alter the ultimate effect on the remedy.

Bankruptcy, however, relieves the debtor from his obligation to pay the creditor upon rescission. Conditioning rescission upon the debtor’s payment therefore imposes an obligation from which the debtor has been legally freed. Unlike the situation absent bankruptcy, there is a legitimate, legal impediment to the debtor’s reciprocal performance. It would be palpably unfair to deny the relief to which a consumer is entitled under TIL[A] because that consumer has also availed himself of bankruptcy relief. To do so would require that the consumer choose between bankruptcy and TIL[A], something neither form of statutory relief contemplates.

Essentially, when a borrower rescinds a transaction and the security interest is terminated as a matter of law, the creditor is left with an unsecured debt. Outside a bankruptcy proceeding, this characterization is of little consequence because unsecured debts must otherwise be paid in full, failing which, a creditor may take steps to reacquire a security interest. In a bankruptcy proceeding, however, unsecured debts are paid pro rata and may be discharged without payment. Requiring a Chapter 13 Debtor to tender the full amount of the loan on a creditor’s now unsecured claim would unfairly discriminate among unsecured claims in violation of 11 U.S.C. § 1322(a)(3).

In this case, Debtors sent a valid notice of rescission to the Defendants during the extended rescission period afforded them by the Defendants’ failure to provide each of them with two copies of the NOR.120 As such, the Defendants’ security interest is void and they hold nothing more than an unsecured claim which will receive the same dividend as other unsecured claims under the Debtors’ Chapter 13 plan. Moreover, the Debtors are only liable for the principal of the loan, minus the $16,143.32 which the parties stipulated was given by the Debtors in connection with the Refinancing, as they are no longer liable for any finance or other charges.121 While this circuit does not apply a hyper-technical standard of compliance to TILA, it nonetheless remains a strict liability statute.122 As such, I find the Defendants’ equitable arguments unpersuasive.

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