Lenders Increasingly Facing Forensic Loan Audits

Posted on February 4, 2010. Filed under: Foreclosure Defense, Loan Modification, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Fraud, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending, Refinance, RESPA, right to rescind, Truth in Lending Act | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

For the past couple of years, it has become a fairly common practice for lenders and servicers to employ forensic loan audits on pools of mortgages, with the goal of uncovering patterns of noncompliance with federal and local regulations, the presence of fraud and/or the testing of high fee violations. Unfortunately, for these same lenders, the practice of forensic loan auditing has slipped over to the consumer side of the market and is now being used against the lenders themselves.

Homeowners, many of whom are facing foreclosures, have begun hiring forensic loan auditors to review their loan documents, and if violations are found, they are hiring attorneys to bring their case against the lenders. What do they hope to gain? At the very least, the homeowners are trying to forestall a foreclosure, push for a loan modification or, at the end of continuum, try to get the loan rescinded.

“The forensic loan review as we know it today came about two years ago, when the mortgage market started to melt down,” explains Jeffrey Taylor, co-founder and managing director for Orlando-based Digital Risk LLC. “The idea of the forensic review was to look for a breach of representations and warranties so the investor or servicer could put the loan back to the originator. This is when you had all the big banks reviewing nonperforming assets to see if there was any fraud material or breaches so as to put them back to the entity that sold the loan.”

Originally, and still today, most forensic loan reviews are done by institutions on nonconforming assets. Starting in about 2008, the concept morphed into a kind of consumer protection program. Forensic loan auditing companies have since sprouted up like weeds, and many advisors are now advocating the program as a best practice and the first step before bringing a lawsuit against the lender to get a “bad” mortgage rescinded or force a loan modification.

“Every constituent along the way is looking for their own get-out-of-jail-free card,” observes Frank Pallotta, a principal with Loan Value Group LLC of Rumson, N.J. “I’ve been seeing this for the last two years. It started with banks that bought loans from small correspondents, and when those loans were going down, they would look for anything in the loan documentss to put it back to the person they bought the loan from. Fannie and Freddie are doing it, too. Now you have borrowers going to the banks to see if they have all their documents in place; they want their own get-out-of-jail-free card.”

Litigation-a-go-go

In some regards, lenders should be worried, as a swarm of potential lawsuits could fly in their direction. These might not always be hefty lawsuits, considering they mostly represent individual loan amounts, but they are annoying and the fees to defend the institution from these efforts can mount up very quickly. In addition, if homeowners are successful in the bids to rescind a loan, the lender has to pay back all closing costs and finance charges.
The industry should also be concerned because experts in mortgage loan rescissions say it is very hard for a bank to mount an effective defense against people who can prove that their loan contained violations.

“It is extremely difficult for lenders to defend against a lawsuit when they face a bona fide rescission claim,” says Seth Leventhal, an attorney with Fafinski Mark & Johnson PA in Eden Prairie, Minn., who often works with banks.

Additionally, in this age of securitization, many banks don’t own the loans they originated, but, says Leventhal, this is not a defense. “If they don’t own the loan anymore, they are going to have to get in touch with the servicer who does,” he says.

On the other hand, the homeowner’s cost to arrange a loan audit and hire an attorney can be prohibitive, so there is some balance.
Jon Maddux, principal and founder of Carlsbad, Calif.-based You Walk Away LLC, started one of the first companies offering forensic home loan audits for homeowners back in January 2008.

“We found that about 80% of the loans we audited had some type of violation,” he says. “And we thought it was going to be a great new tactic to help the distressed homeowner.”

However, it wasn’t. Homeowners would take the audit findings to their lender or servicer, only to find themselves pretty much as ignored as they were before they made the investment in the audit.

“We found lenders weren’t really reacting to an audit,” says Maddux, adding that lenders and servicers would only react to lawsuits based on audit information.

An audit by itself is not some magical way to make everything go away; it’s just the beginning, adds Dean Mostofi, the founder of National Loan Audits in Rockville, Md.

“Borrowers who contact lenders with an audit don’t get too far,” he says. “It’s in their best interest to go in with an attorney.”

The problem is, Mostofi states, that the first point of contact is the loss mitigation department, and “those people typically have no idea what you are talking about. To get past them sometimes requires lawsuits.”

Paper chase

The forensic loan audit lets the homeowner know if the closing documents contain any violations of the Truth In Lending Act (TILA) and Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), or if there was any kind of fraud or misrepresentation.

“We go through the important documents – in particular, the applications – TILA disclosure, Department of Housing and Urban Development forms, the note, etc., making sure that everything was disclosed properly to the borrower and that borrowers knew what they were getting into,” says Mostofi. “We also look at the borrower’s income to see if everything was properly disclosed. If the lender didn’t care about the borrower’s income, then we look further for other signs that it might be a predatory loan.”

According to August Blass, CEO and president of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based National Loan Auditors, a forensic loan audit is a thorough risk assessment audit performed by professionals who have industry and legal qualifications to review loan documents and portfolios for potential compliance or underwriting violations, and provide an informative, accurate loan auditing report detailing errors or misrepresentations.

Some elements of a forensic loan audit, says Blass, should include: a compliance analysis report based on data from the actual file; post-closing underwriting review and analysis; and summary of applicable statutes, prevailing case law and action steps that the attorney or loss mitigation group may chose to act upon.

TILA’s statute of limitations extends back three years, so most people who end up on their lender’s doorsteps are people who financed or refinanced during the boom period of 2005 through early 2007. If serious violations are discovered, the borrower can move to have the mortgage rescinded.

Not everyone appreciates the efforts of the forensic loan auditors working the homeowner side of the business.

“It began with a bunch of entrepreneurial, ex-mortgage brokers who learned how to game the system the first time, then started offering services to consumers to teach them the game,” Digital Risk’s Taylor says.

A year ago, most people didn’t know what a forensic audit was, but “now almost everyone knows,” says Mostofi. “The problem that we are having is that the banks are coming back and telling borrowers that everyone who is offering some kind of service to help them is a crook because they are charging a fee.”

Indeed, fees for a forensic audit often fall into the $2,000 to $5,000 range – but a hefty sum for someone facing foreclosure.
This could all be a desperate attempt to get a loan rescinded, but in regard to loan rescissions, there’s bad news and good news.

“Yes, it’s tough for lenders to defend themselves,” says James Thompson, an attorney in the Chicago office of Jenner & Block LLP who represents banks and finance companies. But, he adds, there is an exception: the plaintiff in this kind of lawsuit has to essentially buy back the loan, which means the plaintive (borrower) has to get new financing.

“The borrower has to be able to repay the amount he borrowed,” explains Thompson. “If the property is underwater, as many of these are, the borrower can’t go out and get a replacement mortgage that would give him the entire amount he would need to repay the lender.”

In some court cases, as part of the initial lawsuit, the plaintiff needs to prove that he or she is capable of getting a refinancing. What happens if the court grants a rescission but the consumer can’t find financing? Oddly, no one knows, because court cases haven’t gotten that far.

“Every one of these cases gets resolved,” says Thompson. “The borrowers are struggling to get the attention of the overworked loan servicers, who are scrambling with as many loan modifications and workouts they can come up with. You can get to the head of the line sometimes if you show up with an attorney and forensic loan examination, saying, ‘Here is a TILA violation; we want to rescind.'”

“I don’t see very many of these litigating,” National Loan Auditors’ Blass concurs. “It brings the settlement offer to the table a little faster. It’s not as if the lender would not have brought an offer to the table without the audit. It just seems to fast-track the process a little bit more.”

Forensic loan audits expose mistakes and unscrupulous lending practices that will assist the borrower in negotiation efforts, Blass adds. “Federal-, state- or county-specific lending violations and the legal guidelines for remedy, can pave the way to successful and expedient modification.”

Perhaps, the bigger nightmare of all is not the lawsuits brought by individual homeowners, but the big law firms finding all these individuals and bringing them together for a class action suit.

“The plaintiff bar is as active as ever. They have these big dragnets, trying to capture all the misdeeds of mortgage bankers, going after them with class-action lawsuits,” says David Lykken, president of Mortgage Banking Solutions in Austin, Texas.

This just aggravates the situation, adds Lykken. “I have not seen one class-action lawsuit bring about any positive change. Punitive damages just drain the cash-out of already cash-strapped companies.”

Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer based in Mesa, Ariz., and author of “After The Fall: Opportunities & Strategies for Real Estate Investing in the Coming Decade,” published by John Wiley & Sons.

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A closer look at MERS

Posted on January 23, 2010. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , |

REQUIRED READING: There is little doubt that America is infatuated with convenience and efficiency. The assembly line, the microwave, the Internet, speed dating and drive-thrus are just a few examples.

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 good

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

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.

The ugly

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 rfinlay@wrightlegal.net. Nicholas Hood, an attorney with the firm, can be reached via e-mail at nhood@wrightlegal.net.


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Lynne Huxtable and Jeffrey Agnew, v. Timothy F. Geithner, et al.,

Posted on December 29, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Legislation, Loan Modification, Mortgage Law, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , |

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

OPINION

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.

I. BACKGROUND

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.

III. DISCUSSION

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.

IV. CONCLUSION

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 Judge

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MARLA LYNN SWANSON, Plaintiff, vs. EMC MORTGAGE CORPORATION, et al.,

Posted on December 12, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending | Tags: , , , , |

MARLA LYNN SWANSON, Plaintiff, vs. EMC MORTGAGE CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

CASE NO. CV F 09-1507 LJO DLB

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

October 29, 2009, Decided

October 29, 2009, Filed


COUNSEL: For Marla Lynn Swanson, Plaintiff: Sharon L. Lapin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Attorney At Law, San Rafael, CA.

For EMC Mortgage Corporation, Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc., Defendants: S. Christopher Yoo, LEAD ATTORNEY, Adorno Yoss Alvarado and Smith, Santa Ana, CA.

For Robert E. Weiss INC, Defendant: Cris A Klingerman, LEAD ATTORNEY, Robert E. Weiss, Inc., Covina, CA.

For Brokerleon Inc. DBA: A-ONE Home Loans, Leon Turner Jr., Shantae Michelle Curran, Defendants: SUSAN L. MOORE, LEAD ATTORNEY, Pascuzzi, Moore & Stoker, Attorneys At Law, Apc, Fresno, CA.

JUDGES: Lawrence J. O’Neill, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

OPINION BY: Lawrence J. O’Neill

OPINION

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS’ F.R.Civ.P. 12 MOTION TO DISMISS

(Doc. 17.)

INTRODUCTION

Defendants EMC Mortgage Corporation (“EMC”) and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) seek to dismiss as meritless and insufficiently plead plaintiff Marla Lynn Swanson’s (“Ms. Swanson’s”) claims arising from a loan, default and mortgage on Ms. Swanson’s Sanger residence (“property”). Ms. Swanson filed no papers to oppose dismissal of her claims against EMC and MERS. This Court considered EMC and MERS’ F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the record and VACATES the November  [*2] 10, 2009 hearing, pursuant to Local Rule 78-230(h). For the reasons discussed below, this Court DISMISSES this action against EMC and MERS.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Swanson’s Loan And Default

Ms. Swanson obtained a $ 308,000 loan from defendant Community Lending, Inc. (“Community Lending”) and which was secured by a deed of trust (“DOT”) encumbering the property and recorded on July 14, 2006. 1 The DOT identifies Ms. Swanson as borrower, Community Lending as lender, Stewart Title of California as Trustee, and MERS as beneficiary.

1   All documents pertaining to Ms. Swanson’s loan and default were recorded with the Fresno County Recorder.

Defendant Robert E. Weiss, Inc. (“Weiss”) was substituted as DOT trustee by a substitution of trustee recorded on February 24, 2009.

A Notice of Default and Election to Sell under Deed of Trust was recorded on February 24, 2009 and indicates that Ms. Swanson was $ 9,804.68 in arrears on her loan as of February 23, 2009.

A second Notice of Default and Election to Sell under Deed of Trust was recorded on March 5, 2009 and indicates that Ms. Swanson was $ 11,984.68 in arrears on her loan as of March 4, 2009.

Ms. Swanson’s Claims

On August 25, 2009, Ms. Swanson filed her complaint  [*3] (“complaint”) to allege federal and California statutory and common law claims. 2 The complaint appears to challenge EMC and/or MERS’ standing to initiate non-judicial foreclosure of the property. The complaint alleges on information and belief “that no legal transfer of the Mortgage Note, Deed of Trust or any other interest in Plaintiff’s Property was effected that gave any of the Defendants the right to be named a trustee, mortgagee, beneficiary or an authorized agent of trustee, mortgagee or beneficiary of Plaintiff’s Mortgage Note, Deed of Trust or any other interest in Plaintiff’s Property.” The complaint further alleges that “Defendants . . . are not the real parties in interest because they are not the legal trustee, mortgagee or beneficiary, nor are they authorized agents of the trustee, mortgagee or beneficiary, nor are they in possession of the Note, or holders of the Note, or non-holders of the Note entitled to payment . . . . Therefore, Defendants instituted foreclosure proceedings against Plaintiff’s Property without rights under the law.”

2   The complaint pursues claims against Ms. Swanson’s mortgage brokers. Such claims are not subject to EMC and MERS’ motion to dismiss.

The  [*4] complaint alleges six claims against EMS and/or MERS which this Court will address below and seeks an injunction against foreclosure, general, statutory and punitive damages, and attorney fees.

DISCUSSION

F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) Standards

EMC and MERS attack the claims against them as meritless, barred by law and lacking supporting facts. EMC and MERS characterize the allegations against them as “conclusory and boilerplate.”

“A trial court may dismiss a claim sua sponte under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). . . . Such dismissal may be made without notice where the claimant cannot possibly win relief.” Omar v. Sea-Land Service, Inc., 813 F.2d 986, 991 (9th Cir. 1987); see Wong v. Bell, 642 F.2d 359, 361-362 (9th Cir. 1981). Sua sponte dismissal may be made before process is served on defendants. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324, 109 S. Ct. 1827, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338 (1989) (dismissals under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) are often made sua sponte); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1226 (9th Cir. 1984) (court may dismiss frivolous in forma pauperis action sua sponte prior to service of process on defendants).

A F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is a challenge to the sufficiency of the pleadings set forth in the complaint. “When a federal  [*5] court reviews the sufficiency of a complaint, before the reception of any evidence either by affidavit or admissions, its task is necessarily a limited one. The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S. Ct. 1683, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90 (1974); Gilligan v. Jamco Development Corp., 108 F.3d 246, 249 (9th Cir. 1997). A F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper where there is either a “lack of a cognizable legal theory” or “the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990); Graehling v. Village of Lombard, Ill., 58 F.3d 295, 297 (7th Cir. 1995).

In resolving a F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion, the court must: (1) construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff; (2) accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true; and (3) determine whether plaintiff can prove any set of facts to support a claim that would merit relief. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-338 (9th Cir. 1996). Nonetheless, a court is “free to ignore legal conclusions, unsupported conclusions,  [*6] unwarranted inferences and sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.” Farm Credit Services v. American State Bank, 339 F.3d 764, 767 (8th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted). A court need not permit an attempt to amend a complaint if “it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by allegation of other facts.” Cook, Perkiss and Liehe, Inc. v. N. Cal. Collection Serv. Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007) (internal citations omitted). Moreover, a court “will dismiss any claim that, even when construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff, fails to plead sufficiently all required elements of a cause of action.” Student Loan Marketing Ass’n v. Hanes, 181 F.R.D. 629, 634 (S.D. Cal. 1998). In practice, “a complaint . . . must contain either direct or inferential allegations  [*7] respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562, 127 S.Ct. at 1969 (quoting Car Carriers, Inc. v. Ford Motor Co., 745 F.2d 1101, 1106 (7th Cir. 1984)).

In Ashcroft v. Iqbal,     U.S.    , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009), the U.S. Supreme Court recently explained:

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” . . . A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.

. . . Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. (Citation omitted.)

For a F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion, a court generally cannot consider material outside the complaint. Van Winkle v. Allstate Ins. Co., 290 F.Supp.2d 1158, 1162, n. 2 (C.D. Cal. 2003). Nonetheless, a court may consider exhibits submitted with the complaint. Van Winkle, 290 F.Supp.2d at 1162, n. 2. In addition, a “court may consider evidence on which the complaint ‘necessarily  [*8] relies’ if: (1) the complaint refers to the document; (2) the document is central to the plaintiff’s claim; and (3) no party questions the authenticity of the copy attached to the 12(b)(6) motion.” Marder v. Lopez, 450 F.3d 445, 448 (9th Cir. 2006). A court may treat such a document as “part of the complaint, and thus may assume that its contents are true for purposes of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir.2003). Such consideration prevents “plaintiffs from surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion by deliberately omitting reference to documents upon which their claims are based.” Parrino v. FHP, Inc., 146 F.3d 699, 706 (9th Cir. 1998). 3 A “court may disregard allegations in the complaint if contradicted by facts established by exhibits attached to the complaint.” Sumner Peck Ranch v. Bureau of Reclamation, 823 F.Supp. 715, 720 (E.D. Cal. 1993) (citing Durning v. First Boston Corp., 815 F.2d 1265, 1267 (9th Cir.1987)). Moreover, “judicial notice may be taken of a fact to show that a complaint does not state a cause of action.” Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Metropolitan Engravers, Ltd., 245 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1956); see Estate of Blue v. County of Los Angeles, 120 F.3d 982, 984 (9th Cir. 1997).  [*9] A court properly may take judicial notice of matters of public record outside the pleadings'” and consider them for purposes of the motion to dismiss. Mir v. Little Co. of Mary Hosp., 844 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1988) (citation omitted). As such, this Court may consider plaintiffs’ pertinent loan and foreclosure documents.

3   “We have extended the ‘incorporation by reference’ doctrine to situations in which the plaintiff’s claim depends on the contents of a document, the defendant attaches the document to its motion to dismiss, and the parties do not dispute the authenticity of the document, even though the plaintiff does not explicitly allege the contents of that document in the complaint.” Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1076 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Parrino, 146 F.3d at 706).

Rosenthal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act

The complaint’s second claim attempts to allege EMC’s violation of California’s Rosenthal Fair Debtor Collection Practices Act (“RFDCPA”), Cal. Civ. Code, §§ 1788, et seq. The claim alleges that “Defendants are debt collectors within the meaning of the Rosenthal Act in that they regularly, in the course of their business, on behalf of themselves or others, engage in the  [*10] collection of debt.”

EMC and MERS challenge the claim in that the complaint “does not properly allege that EMC is a debt collector within the meaning of the RFDCPA.”

The RFDCPA’s purpose is “to prohibit debt collectors from engaging in unfair or deceptive practices in the collection of consumer debts and to require debtors to act fairly in entering into and honoring such debts.” Cal. Civ. Code, § 1788.1(b). The RFDCPA defines “debt collector” as “any person who, in the ordinary course of business, regularly, on behalf of himself or herself or others, engages in debt collection.” Cal. Civ. Code, § 1788.2(c).

EMC and MERS argue that the RFDCPA does not prevent a creditor to enforce its security interest under a deed of trust because foreclosing on property does not support a claim under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692, et seq. EMC and MERS note that as a loan servicer, EMC is an authorized agent of the DOT beneficiary to enforce the beneficiary’s security interest under the DOT.

EMC and MERS further fault the RFDCPA claim’s failure to allege facts to support EMC’s RFDCPA violation in that the claim conclusively alleges that “Defendants” “threatened  [*11] to take actions not permitted by law, including . . . collecting on a debt not owed to the Defendants, making false reports to credit reporting agencies, foreclosing upon a void security interest, foreclosing upon a Note of which they were not in possession nor otherwise entitled to payment, falsely stating the amount of a debt, increasing the amount of a debt by including amounts that are not permitted by law or contract, and using unfair and unconscionable means in an attempt to collect a debt.”

EMC and MERS cite to no conclusive authority that non-judicial foreclosure is not debt collection under the RFDCPA. However, “foreclosing on the property pursuant to a deed of trust is not the collection of a debt within the meaning of the FDCPA.” Hulse v. Ocwen Federal Bank, FSB, 195 F.Supp.2d 1188, 1204 (D. Or. 2002). As the fellow district court in Hulse, 195 F.Supp.2d at 1204, explained:

Foreclosing on a trust deed is distinct from the collection of the obligation to pay money. The FDCPA is intended to curtail objectionable acts occurring in the process of collecting funds from a debtor. But, foreclosing on a trust deed is an entirely different path. Payment of funds is not the object of  [*12] the foreclosure action. Rather, the lender is foreclosing its interest in the property.

. . . Foreclosure by the trustee is not the enforcement of the obligation because it is not an attempt to collect funds from the debtor.

Logic suggests that non-judicial foreclosure is not a debt collector’s act under California Civil Code section 1788.2(c). Like the FDCPA, the RFDCPA seeks to prohibit debt collection abuses. A foreclosure action does not address payment of funds. The complaint is void of facts that EMC sought to enforce Ms. Swanson’s obligation by collecting funds from her. The RFDCPA claim’s recitation of alleged wrongs fails to substantiate RFDCPA wrongdoing to warrant the claim’s dismissal against EMC and MERS.

Negligence

The complaint’s (third) negligence claim alleges that EMC and MERS “owed a duty to Plaintiff to perform acts in such a manner as to not cause Plaintiff harm.” The claim alleges “Defendants breached their duty of care to the Plaintiff when they failed to maintain the original Mortgage Note, failed to properly create original documents, failed to make the required disclosures to the Plaintiff and instituted foreclosure proceedings wrongfully.” The claim further alleges  [*13] that EMC and MERS “breached their duty of care to the Plaintiff when they took payments to which they were not entitled, charged fees they were not entitled to charge, and made or otherwise authorized negative reporting of Plaintiff’s creditworthiness to various credit bureaus wrongfully.”

EMC and MERS characterize the claim’s duty “theory” as a “common law duty of care.” EMC and MERS fault the claim’s “conclusory allegations” lacking details as to how EMC and MERS breached such a duty. EMC and MERS note their absence of a lender-borrower relationship with Ms. Swanson and an independent duty “to perform acts in such a manner as to not cause Plaintiff harm.”

“The elements of a cause of action for negligence are (1) a legal duty to use reasonable care, (2) breach of that duty, and (3) proximate [or legal] cause between the breach and (4) the plaintiff’s injury.” Mendoza v. City of Los Angeles, 66 Cal.App.4th 1333, 1339, 78 Cal.Rptr.2d 525 (1998) (citation omitted). “The existence of a duty of care owed by a defendant to a plaintiff is a prerequisite to establishing a claim for negligence.” Nymark v. Heart Fed. Savings & Loan Assn., 231 Cal.App.3d 1089, 1095, 283 Cal.Rptr. 53 (1991). “The  [*14] existence of a legal duty to use reasonable care in a particular factual situation is a question of law for the court to decide.” Vasquez v. Residential Investments, Inc., 118 Cal.App.4th 269, 278, 12 Cal.Rptr.3d 846 (2004) (citation omitted).

“The ‘legal duty’ of care may be of two general types: (a) the duty of a person to use ordinary care in activities from which harm might reasonably be anticipated [, or] (b) [a]n affirmative duty where the person occupies a particular relationship to others. . . . In the first situation, he is not liable unless he is actively careless; in the second, he may be liable for failure to act affirmatively to prevent harm.” McGettigan v. Bay Area Rapid Transit Dist., 57 Cal.App.4th 1011, 1016-1017, 67 Cal.Rptr.2d 516 (1997).

EMC and MERS correctly note the absence of an actionable duty between a lender and borrower in that loan transactions are arms-length and do not invoke fiduciary duties. Absent “special circumstances” a loan transaction “is at arms-length and there is no fiduciary relationship between the borrower and lender.” Oaks Management Corp. v. Superior Court, 145 Cal.App.4th 453, 466, 51 Cal.Rptr.3d 561 (2006); see Downey v. Humphreys, 102 Cal. App. 2d 323, 332, 227 P.2d 484 (1951) [*15] (“A debt is not a trust and there is not a fiduciary relation between debtor and creditor as such.”) Moreover, a lender “owes no duty of care to the [borrowers] in approving their loan. 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.'” Wagner v. Benson, 101 Cal.App.3d 27, 35, 161 Cal.Rptr. 516 (1980) (citing several cases). “[A]s a general rule, a financial institution owes no duty of care to a borrower when the institution’s involvement in the loan transaction does not exceed the scope of its conventional role as a mere lender of money.” Nymark, 231 Cal.App.3d at 1096, 283 Cal.Rptr. 53.

Public policy does not impose upon the Bank absolute liability for the hardships which may befall the [borrower] it finances.” Wagner, 101 Cal.App.3d at 34, 161 Cal.Rptr. 516. The success of a borrower’s investment “is not a benefit of the loan agreement which the Bank is under a duty to protect.” Wagner, 101 Cal.App.3d at 34, 161 Cal.Rptr. 516 (lender lacked duty to disclose “any information it may have had”).

The complaint alleges no facts of EMC and MERS’ cognizable duty to Ms. Swanson  [*16] to support a negligence claim. “No such duty exists” for a lender “to determine the borrower’s ability to repay the loan. . . . The lender’s efforts to determine the creditworthiness and ability to repay by a borrower are for the lender’s protection, not the borrower’s.” Renteria v. United States, 452 F. Supp. 2d 910, 922-923 (D. Ariz. 2006) (borrowers “had to rely on their own judgment and risk assessment to determine whether or not to accept the loan”). Ms. Swanson’s purported claims arise from her failure to pay her loan and subsequent initiation of foreclosure of the property. The complaint further lacks facts of special circumstances to impose duties on EMC and MERS in that the complaint depicts an arms-length home loan transaction, nothing more. The complaint fails to substantiate a special lending relationship with EMC and MERS or an actionable breach of duty to warrant dismissal of the negligence claim.

Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act

The complaint alleges that on June 10, 2009, a Qualified Written Request (“QWR”) under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (“RESPA”), 12 U.S.C. §§ 2601, et seq., was mailed to EMC and included a demand to rescind the loan under the Truth  [*17] in Lending Act (“TILA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1601, et seq. The complaint further alleges that “EMC has yet to properly respond to this Request.” The complaint’s fourth claim alleges that “EMC violated RESPA, 12 U.S.C. § 2605(e)(3), 4 by failing and refusing to provide a proper written explanation or response to Plaintiff’s QWR.”

4 12 U.S.C. § 2605(e)(2) addresses response to a QWR and provides:

Not later than 60 days (excluding legal public holidays, Saturdays, and Sundays) after the receipt from any borrower of any qualified written request under paragraph (1) and, if applicable, before taking any action with respect to the inquiry of the borrower, the servicer shall–

(A) make appropriate corrections in the account of the borrower, including the crediting of any late charges or penalties, and transmit to the borrower a written notification of such correction (which shall include the name and telephone number of a representative of the servicer who can provide assistance to the borrower);

(B) after conducting an investigation, provide the borrower with a written explanation or clarification that includes–

(i) to the extent applicable, a statement of the reasons for which the servicer believes  [*18] the account of the borrower is correct as determined by the servicer; and

(ii) the name and telephone number of an individual employed by, or the office or department of, the servicer who can provide assistance to the borrower; or

(C) after conducting an investigation, provide the borrower with a written explanation or clarification that includes–

(i) information requested by the borrower or an explanation of why the information requested is unavailable or cannot be obtained by the servicer; and

(ii) the name and telephone number of an individual employed by, or the office or department of, the servicer who can provide assistance to the borrower.

No Private Right Of Action For Disclosure Violations

EMC and MERS argue that to the extent the RESPA claim seeks to recover for disclosure violations, the claim is a barred in the absence of a private right of action.

RESPA’s purpose is to “curb abusive settlement practices in the real estate industry. Such amorphous goals, however, do not translate into a legislative intent to create a private right of action.” Bloom v. Martin, 865 F.Supp. 1377, 1385 (N.D. Cal. 1994), aff’d, 77 F.3d 318 (1996). “The structure of RESPA’s various statutory provisions  [*19] indicates that Congress did not intend to create a private right of action for disclosure violations under 12 U.S.C. § 2603 . . . Congress did not intend to provide a private remedy . . .” Bloom, 865 F.Supp. at 1384.

EMC and MERS correctly point out the absence of a private right of action for RESPA disclosure violations to doom the RESPA claim to the extent it is based on disclosure violations.

Absence Of Pecuniary Loss

EMC and MERS further fault the RESPA claim’s failure to allege pecuniary loss.

“Whoever fails to comply with this section shall be liable to the borrower . . . [for] any actual damages to the borrower as a result of the failure . . .” 12 U.S.C. § 2605(f)(1)(A). “However, alleging a breach of RESPA duties alone does not state a claim under RESPA. Plaintiffs must, at a minimum, also allege that the breach resulted in actual damages.” Hutchinson v. Delaware Sav. Bank FSB, 410 F.Supp.2d 374, 383 (D. N.J. 2006).

The RESPA claim fails to allege pecuniary loss from EMC’s alleged failure to respond to Ms. Swanson’s QWR. Such omission is fatal to the claim given its mere reliance on a RESPA violation without more.

Fraud

The complaint’s (sixth) fraud claim alleges that “EMC misrepresented  [*20] to Plaintiff that EMC has the right to collect monies from Plaintiff on its behalf or on behalf of others when Defendant EMC had no legal right to collect such monies.” The claim further alleges that “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 the 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.”

Absence Of Particularity

EMC and MERS challenge the fraud claim’s failure to satisfy F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) requirements to allege fraud with particularity.

The elements of a California fraud claim are: (1) misrepresentation (false representation, concealment or nondisclosure); (2) knowledge of the falsity (or “scienter”); (3) intent to defraud, i.e., to induce reliance; (4) justifiable reliance; and (5) resulting damage. Lazar v. Superior Court, 12 Cal.4th 631, 638, 49 Cal.Rptr.2d 377, 909 P.2d 981 (1996). The same elements comprise a cause of action for negligent misrepresentation, except there is no requirement of intent to induce reliance.  [*21] Cadlo v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., 125 Cal. App. 4th 513, 519, 23 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1, 23 Cal.Rtpr.3d 1 (2004).

“[T]o establish a cause of action for fraud a plaintiff must plead and prove in full, factually and specifically, all of the elements of the cause of action. Conrad v. Bank of America, 45 Cal.App.4th 133, 156, 53 Cal.Rptr.2d 336 (1996). There must be a showing “that the defendant thereby intended to induce the plaintiff to act to his detriment in reliance upon the false representation” and “that the plaintiff actually and justifiably relied upon the defendant’s misrepresentation in acting to his detriment.” Conrad, 45 Cal.App.4th at 157, 53 Cal.Rptr.2d 336.

F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) requires a party to “state with particularity the circumstances constituting fraud.” 5 In the Ninth Circuit, “claims for fraud and negligent misrepresentation must meet Rule 9(b)‘s particularity requirements.” Neilson v. Union Bank of California, N.A., 290 F.Supp.2d 1101, 1141 (C.D. Cal. 2003). A court may dismiss a claim grounded in fraud when its allegations fail to satisfy F.R.Civ.P. 9(b)‘s heightened pleading requirements. Vess, 317 F.3d at 1107. A motion to dismiss a claim “grounded in fraud” under F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) for failure to  [*22] plead with particularity is the “functional equivalent” of a F.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Vess, 317 F.3d at 1107. As a counter-balance, F.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) requires from a pleading “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”

5 F.R.Civ.P. 9(b)‘s particularity requirement applies to state law causes of action: “[W]hile a federal court will examine state law to determine whether the elements of fraud have been pled sufficiently to state a cause of action, the Rule 9(b) requirement that the circumstances of the fraud must be stated with particularity is a federally imposed rule.” Vess v. Ciba-Geigy Corp. USA, 317 F.3d 1097, 1103 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Hayduk v. Lanna, 775 F.2d 441, 443 (1st Cir. 1995)(italics in original)).

F.R.Civ.P. 9(b)‘s heightened pleading standard “is not an invitation to disregard Rule 8‘s requirement of simplicity, directness, and clarity” and “has among its purposes the avoidance of unnecessary discovery.” McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 1996). F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) requires “specific” allegations of fraud “to give defendants notice of the particular misconduct which is  [*23] alleged to constitute the fraud charged so that they can defend against the charge and not just deny that they have done anything wrong.” Semegen v. Weidner, 780 F.2d 727, 731 (9th Cir. 1985). “A pleading is sufficient under Rule 9(b) if it identifies the circumstances constituting fraud so that the defendant can prepare an adequate answer from the allegations.” Neubronner v. Milken, 6 F.3d 666, 671-672 (9th Cir. 1993) (internal quotations omitted; citing Gottreich v. San Francisco Investment Corp., 552 F.2d 866, 866 (9th Cir. 1997)). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has explained:

Rule 9(b) requires particularized allegations of the circumstances constituting fraud. The time, place and content of an alleged misrepresentation may identify the statement or the omission complained of, but these circumstances do not “constitute” fraud. The statement in question must be false to be fraudulent. Accordingly, our cases have consistently required that circumstances indicating falseness be set forth. . . . [W]e [have] observed that plaintiff must include statements regarding the time, place, and nature of the alleged fraudulent activities, and that “mere conclusory allegations of fraud are  [*24] insufficient.” . . . The plaintiff must set forth what is false or misleading about a statement, and why it is false. In other words, the plaintiff must set forth an explanation as to why the statement or omission complained of was false or misleading. . . .

In certain cases, to be sure, the requisite particularity might be supplied with great simplicity.

In Re Glenfed, Inc. Securities Litigation, 42 F.3d 1541, 1547-1548 (9th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (italics in original) superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Marksman Partners, L.P. v. Chantal Pharm. Corp., 927 F.Supp. 1297 (C.D. Cal. 1996); see Cooper v. Pickett, 137 F.3d 616, 627 (9th Cir. 1997) (fraud allegations must be accompanied by “the who, what, when, where, and how” of the misconduct charged); Neubronner, 6 F.3d at 672 (“The complaint must specify facts as the times, dates, places, benefits received and other details of the alleged fraudulent activity.”)

As to multiple fraud defendants, a plaintiff “must provide each and every defendant with enough information to enable them ‘to know what misrepresentations are attributable to them and what fraudulent conduct they are charged with.'” Pegasus Holdings v. Veterinary Centers of America, Inc., 38 F.Supp.2d 1158, 1163 (C.D. Ca. 1998) [*25] (quoting In re Worlds of Wonder Sec. Litig., 694 F.Supp. 1427, 1433 (N.D. Ca. 1988)). “Rule 9(b) does not allow a complaint to merely lump multiple defendants together but ‘require[s] plaintiffs to differentiate their allegations when suing more than one defendant . . . and inform each defendant separately of the allegations surrounding his alleged participation in the fraud.'” Swartz v. KPMG LLP, 476 F.3d 756, 764-765 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Haskin v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 995 F.Supp. 1437, 1439 (M.D. Fla. 1998)). “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.” Swartz, 476 F.3d at 765 (quoting Moore v. Kayport Package Express, Inc., 885 F.2d 531, 541 (9th Cir. 1989)).

Moreover, in a fraud action against a corporation, a plaintiff must “allege the names of the persons who made the allegedly fraudulent representations, their authority to speak, to whom they spoke, what they said or wrote, and when it was said or written.” Tarmann v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. 2 Cal.App.4th 153, 157, 2 Cal.Rptr.2d 861 (1991).

The complaint is severely lacking and fails  [*26] to satisfy F.R.Civ.P. 9(b) “who, what, when, where and how” requirements as to EMC, MERS and the other defendants. The complaint makes no effort to allege names of the persons who made the allegedly fraudulent representations, their authority to speak, to whom they spoke, what they said or wrote, and when it was said or written. The complaint fails to substantiate the circumstances alleging falseness attributable to EMC or MERS. The complaint lacks facts to support each fraud element. The fraud claim’s deficiencies are so severe to suggest no potential improvement from an attempt to amend.

MERS California License

The fraud claim disputes that MERS is a qualified DOT beneficiary. Ms. Swanson appears to base such notion on grounds that MERS is not qualified to conduct business in California. The complaint alleges that “MERS was not registered to do business in California.”

MERS contends that “its activities pursuant to the DOT are not considered instrastate business that will require it to be licensed in California.” MERS points to California Corporations Code section 191(c)(7) which provides that a “foreign corporation shall not be considered to be transacting instrastate business” by “[c]reating  [*27] evidences of debt or mortgage, liens or security interests on real or personal property.” California Corporations Code section 191(d)(3) exempts from doing “business in the state” the “enforcement of any loans by trustee’s sale.” Moreover, a foreign corporation does not transact instrastate business by “defending any action or suit.”

MERS demonstrates that it was qualified to conduct California business to defeat a fraud claim to the effect MERS was not.

DOT Beneficiary Authority

The fraud claim disputes that MERS has authority to pursue non-judicial foreclosure. MERS notes that the DOT names MERS as a beneficiary to defeat the complaint’s attempt to allege that MERS lacks a right to foreclose.

“Financing or refinancing of real property is generally accomplished in California through a deed of trust. The borrower (trustor) executes a promissory note and deed of trust, thereby transferring an interest in the property to the lender (beneficiary) as security for repayment of the loan.” Bartold v. Glendale Federal Bank, 81 Cal.App.4th 816, 821, 97 Cal.Rptr.2d 226 (2000). A deed of trust “entitles the lender to reach some asset of the debtor if the note is not paid.” Alliance Mortgage Co. v. Rothwell, 10 Cal.4th 1226, 1235, 44 Cal.Rptr.2d 352, 900 P.2d 601 (1995).  [*28] If a borrower defaults on a loan and the deed of trust contains a power of sale clause, the lender may non-judicially foreclose. See McDonald v. Smoke Creek Live Stock Co., 209 Cal. 231, 236-237, 286 P. 693 (1930).

Under California Civil Code section 2924(a)(1), a “trustee, mortgagee or beneficiary or any of their authorized agents” may conduct the foreclosure process. Under California Civil Code section 2924(b)(4), a “person authorized to record the notice of default or the notice of sale” includes “an agent for the mortgagee or beneficiary, an agent of the named trustee, any person designated in an executed substitution of trustee, or an agent of that substituted trustee.” “Upon default by the trustor, the beneficiary may declare a default and proceed with a nonjudicial foreclosure sale.” Moeller, 25 Cal.App.4th at 830, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 777.

“If the trustee’s deed recites that all statutory notice requirements and procedures required by law for the conduct of the foreclosure have been satisfied, a rebuttable presumption arises that the sale has been conducted regularly and properly.” Nguyen v. Calhoun, 105 Cal.App.4th 428, 440, 129 Cal.Rptr.2d 436 (2003). The California Court of Appeal  [*29] has explained non-judicial foreclosure under California Civil Code sections 2924-2924l:

The comprehensive statutory framework established to govern nonjudicial foreclosure sales is intended to be exhaustive. . . . It includes a myriad of rules relating to notice and right to cure. It would be inconsistent with the comprehensive and exhaustive statutory scheme regulating nonjudicial foreclosures to incorporate another unrelated cure provision into statutory nonjudicial foreclosure proceedings.

Moeller v. Lien, 25 Cal.App.4th 822, 834, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 777 (1994).

MERS correctly notes that as DOT beneficiary, MERS is empowered to commence foreclosure proceedings, including causing the trustee to execute a notice of default to start foreclosure. The DOT contains a power of sale to authorize non-judicial foreclosure. MERS demonstrates that it is a qualified DOT beneficiary to defeat a fraud claim to the effect it is not.

In short, the fraud claim’s severe deficiencies warrant its dismissal without leave to amend.

Unfair Business Practices

The complaint’s seventh claim alleges EMC and MERS’ acts “constitute unlawful, unfair, and/or fraudulent business practices, as defined in California Business and Professions Code § 17200 et seq. [*30] (Unfair Competition Law [‘UCL’]).”

Standing

EMC and MERS contend that Ms. Swanson lacks standing to pursue a UCL claim.

California Business and Professions Code section 17204 limits standing to bring a UCL claim to specified public officials and a private person “who has suffered injury in fact and has lost money or property as a result of the unfair competition.”

Business and Professions Codesection 17203 addresses UCL relief and provides in pertinent part:

Any person who engages, has engaged, or proposes to engage in unfair competition may be enjoined in any court of competent jurisdiction. The court may make such orders or judgments . . . as may be necessary to restore to any person in interest any money or property, real or personal, which may have been acquired by means of such unfair competition. (Bold added.)

EMC and MERS correctly note the complaint’s absence of facts of Ms. Swanson’s money or property allegedly lost due to a UCL violation. The UCL claim offers an insufficient, bare allegation that “Plaintiff has suffered various damages and injuries according to proof at trial.” The complaint lacks sufficient allegations of Ms. Swanson’s standing to warrant dismissal of the UCL  [*31] claim.

Unfair, Fraudulent Or Deceptive Business Practices

EMC and MERS take issue with the complaint’s attempt to allege an illegal business practice under the UCL.

The UCL prohibits “unlawful” practices “forbidden by law, be it civil or criminal, federal, state, or municipal, statutory, regulatory, or court-made.” Saunders v. Superior Court, 27 Cal. App. 4th 832, 838, 33 Cal. Rptr. 2d 438 (1999). According to the California Supreme Court, the UCL “borrows” violations of other laws and treats them as unlawful practices independently actionable under the UCL. Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Superior Court, 2 Cal.4th 377, 383, 6 Cal.Rptr.2d 487, 826 P.2d 730 (1992).

“Unfair” under the UCL “means conduct that threatens an incipient violation of an antitrust law, or violates the policy or spirit of one of those laws because its effects are comparable to or the same as a violation of the law, or otherwise significantly threatens or harms competition.” Cel-Tech Communications, Inc. v. Los Angeles Cellular Telephone Co., 20 Cal. 4th 163, 187, 83 Cal. Rptr. 2d 548, 973 P.2d 527 (1999).

The “fraudulent” prong under the UCL requires a plaintiff to “show deception to some members of the public, or harm to the public interest,” Watson Laboratories, Inc. v. Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Inc., 178 F.Supp.2d 1099, 1121 (C.D. Ca. 2001),  [*32] or to allege that “members of the public are likely to be deceived.” Medical Instrument, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41411, 2005 WL 1926673, at *5.

“The California Supreme Court has held that ‘something more than a single transaction,’ either on-going wrongful business conduct or a pattern of wrongful business conduct, must be alleged in order to state a cause of action under the Unfair Business Practices Act.” Newman v. Checkrite California, 912 F.Supp. 1354, 1375 (E.D. Ca. 1995). “The use of the phrase ‘business practice’ in section 17200 indicates that the statute is directed at ongoing wrongful conduct.” Hewlett v. Squaw Valley Ski Corp., 54 Cal.App.4th 499, 519, 63 Cal.Rptr.2d 118 (1997). “[T]he ‘practice’ requirement envisions something more than a single transaction . . .; it contemplates a ‘pattern of conduct’ [citation], ‘on-going . . . conduct’ [citation], ‘a pattern of behavior’ [citation], or ‘a course of conduct.’ . . .” State of California ex rel. Van de Kamp v. Texaco, Inc., 46 Cal.3d 1147, 1169-1170, 252 Cal.Rptr. 221, 762 P.2d 385 (1988).

“A plaintiff alleging unfair business practices under these statutes [UCL] must state with reasonable particularity the facts supporting the statutory elements of the violation.” Khoury v. Maly’s of California, Inc., 14 Cal.App.4th 612, 619, 17 Cal.Rptr.2d 708 (1993).

EMC  [*33] and MERS are correct that the complaint is “insufficient to establish that Defendants engaged in any ‘unfair’ business practices within the meaning of section 17200.” The complaint lacks reasonable particularity of facts to support an UCL claim. The claim’s bare mention of “unlawful, unfair and/or fraudulent business practices” provides not the slightest inference that Ms. Swanson has a viable UCL claim. The complaint points to no predicate violation of law. Similar to the fraud claim, the UCL claim lacks particularity of fraudulent circumstances, such as a misrepresentation, for a UCL claim. The complaint lacks allegations of ongoing wrongful business conduct or a pattern of such conduct. The UCL claim lacks facts to hint at a wrong subject to the UCL to warrant the claim’s dismissal.

Wrongful Foreclosure

The complaint’s tenth claim appears to fault EMC and MERS for failure “to suspend the foreclosure action to allow the Plaintiff to be considered for alternative foreclosure prevention options.” The wrongful foreclosure claim references absence of “possession of the Note,” failure “to properly record and give proper notice of the Notice of Default,” and “failure to comply with the statutory  [*34] requirements [to deny] Plaintiff the opportunity to exercise her statutory rights.”

EMC and MERS criticize the wrongful foreclosure claim as premature in that the property has not been foreclosed upon. EMC and MERS point to the absence of recording a trustee’s deed upon sale.

EMC and MERS are correct that in the absence of a foreclosure sale, they cannot be liable for “wrongful foreclosure.” Moreover, “a trustee or mortgagee may be liable to the trustor or mortgagor for damages sustained where there has been an illegal, fraudulent or wilfully oppressive sale of property under a power of sale contained in a mortgage or deed of trust.” Munger v. Moore, 11 Cal.App.3d 1, 7, 89 Cal.Rptr. 323 (1970). The complaint lacks facts of EMC and/or MERS’ alleged illegal or fraudulent activity to impose tort liability based on their conduct in connection with foreclosure of the property.

The wrongful foreclosure claim gives rise to no cognizable claim. It fails with Ms. Swanson’ other claims. Ms. Swanson’s attempt to manufacture a claim based on “possession of the Note” fails.

“Under Civil Code section 2924, no party needs to physically possess the promissory note.” Sicairos v. NDEX West, LLC, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11223, 2009 WL 385855, *3 (S.D. Cal. 2009) [*35] (citing Cal. Civ. Code, § 2924(a)(1)). Rather, “[t]he foreclosure process is commenced by the recording of a notice of default and election to sell by the trustee.” Moeller, 25 Cal.App.4th at 830, 30 Cal.Rptr.2d 777. An “allegation that the trustee did not have the original note or had not received it is insufficient to render the foreclosure proceeding invalid.” Neal v. Juarez, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 98068, 2007 WL 2140640, *8 (S.D. Cal. 2007).

The wrongful foreclosure claim is illogical to warrant its dismissal.

Attempt At Amendment And Malice

Ms. Swanson’s claims against EMC and MERS are insufficiently pled and barred as a matter of law. Ms. Swanson is unable to cure her claims by allegation of other facts and thus is not granted an attempt to amend.

Moreover, this Court is concerned that Ms. Swanson has brought this action in absence of good faith and that Ms. Swanson exploits the court system solely for delay or to vex EMC and MERS. The test for maliciousness is a subjective one and requires the court to “determine the . . . good faith of the applicant.” Kinney v. Plymouth Rock Squab Co., 236 U.S. 43, 46, 35 S. Ct. 236, 59 L. Ed. 457 (1915); see Wright v. Newsome, 795 F.2d 964, 968, n. 1 (11th Cir. 1986); cf. Glick v. Gutbrod, 782 F.2d 754, 757 (7th Cir. 1986) [*36] (court has inherent power to dismiss case demonstrating “clear pattern of abuse of judicial process”). A lack of good faith or malice also can be inferred from a complaint containing untrue material allegations of fact or false statements made with intent to deceive the court. See Horsey v. Asher, 741 F.2d 209, 212 (8th Cir. 1984). An attempt to vex or delay provides further grounds to dismiss this action against EMC and MERS.

CONCLUSION AND ORDER

For the reasons discussed above, this Court:

1. DISMISSES with prejudice this action against EMS and MERS; and

2. DIRECTS the clerk to enter judgment against plaintiff Marla Lynn Swanson and in favor of defendants EMC Mortgage Corporation and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. in that there is no just reason to delay to enter such judgment given that Ms. Swanson’s claims against defendants EMC Mortgage Corporation and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. are clear and distinct from claims against the other defendants. See F.R.Civ.P. 54(b).

IT IS SO ORDERED.

Dated: October 29, 2009

/s/ Lawrence J. O’Neill

UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

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Indymac Bank F.S.B. v. Yano-Horoski

Posted on November 21, 2009. Filed under: Case Law, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Mortgage and Note voided, cancelled and nullified by the court because lender had acted in bad faith, refusing to negotiate a reasonable loan modification.

______________________________________________________________________________________________

Indymac Bank F.S.B. v Yano-Horoski
2009 NY Slip Op 52333(U)
Decided on November 19, 2009
Supreme Court, Suffolk County
Spinner, J.
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.

Decided on November 19, 2009

Supreme Court, Suffolk County

Indymac Bank F.S.B., Plaintiff

against

Diana Yano-Horoski, Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota National Association as Trustee for Soundview Home Equity Loan Trust 2001-1 and Kimberly Horoski, Defendants.

2005-17926

Steven J. Baum P.C.

Attorney for Plaintiff

P.O. Box 1291

Buffalo, New York 14240

Diana Yano-Horoski

Defendant Pro Se

8 Oakland Street

East Patchogue, New York 11772-5767

Jeffrey Arlen Spinner, J.

This is an action wherein the Plaintiff claims foreclosure of a mortgage dated August 4, 2004 in the original principal amount of $ 292,500.00 recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County, New York in Liber 20826 of Mortgages at Page 285. The mortgage secures an adjustable rate note of the same amount with an initial interest rate of 10.375%. The mortgage encumbers real property commonly known as 8 Oakland Street, East Patchogue, Town of Brookhaven, New York and described as District 0200 Section 979.50 Block 05.00 Lot 001.000 on the Tax Map of Suffolk County. Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a Summons, Verified Complaint and Notice of Pendency on July 27, 2005. The Notice of Pendency was extended by Order dated April 28, 2008 and a Judgment of Foreclosure & Sale was granted on January 12, 2009.

Thereafter and in accordance with the Laws of 2008, Ch. 472, Sec. 3-a and in view of the fact that the loan at issue was deemed to be “sub-prime” or “high cost” in nature, Defendant seasonably requested that the Court convene a settlement conference. That request was granted and a conference was commenced on February 24, 2009 which was continued five times in a series of unsuccessful attempts by the Court to obtain meaningful cooperation from Plaintiff. In view of Plaintiff’s intransigence in its continuing failure and refusal to cooperate, both with the Court and with Defendant’s multiple and reasonable requests, the Court directed that Plaintiff produce an officer of the bank at the adjourned conference scheduled for September 22, 2009.

At the conference held on September 22, 2009, Karen Dickinson, Regional Manager of [*2]Loss Mitigation for IndyMac Mortgage Services, division of OneWest Bank F.S.B. (“IndyMac”) appeared on behalf of Plaintiff. IndyMac purports to be the servicer of the loan for the benefit of Deutsche Bank who, it is claimed, is the owner and holder of the note and mortgage (though the record holder is IndyMac Bank F.S.B., an entity which no longer is in existence). At that conference, it was celeritously made clear to the Court that Plaintiff had no good faith intention whatsoever of resolving this matter in any manner other than a complete and forcible devolution of title from Defendant. Although IndyMac had prepared a two page document entitled “Mediation Yano-Horoski” which contained what purported to be a financial analysis, Ms. Dickinson’s affirmative statements made it abundantly clear that no form of mediation, resolution or settlement would be acceptable to Plaintiff. IndyMac asserts the total amount due it to be in excess of $ 525,000.00 and freely concedes that the property securing the loan is worth no more than $ 275,000.00. Although Ms. Dickinson insisted that Ms. Yano-Horoski had been offered a “Forbearance Agreement” in the recent past upon which she quickly defaulted, it was only after substantial prodding by the Court that Ms. Dickinson conceded, with great reluctance, that it had not been sent to Defendant until after its stated first payment due date and hence, Defendant could not have consummated it under any circumstances (Defendant, through Plaintiff’s duplicity, found herself to be in the unique and uncomfortable position of being placed in default of the “agreement” even before she had received it). Plaintiff flatly rejected an offer by Plaintiff’s daughter to purchase the house for its fair market value (a so-called “short sale”) with third party financing. Plaintiff refused to consider a loan modification utilizing any more than 25% of the income of Plaintiff’s husband and daughter (both of whom reside in the premises with her), the excuse being that “We can’t control what non-obligors do with their money” (the logical follow up to this statement is how does the bank control what the obligor does with her money?). The Court found IndyMac’s position to be deeply troubling, especially since a plethora of sub-prime loans in this County’s Foreclosure Conference Part have been successfully modified with the lender’s reliance upon the income of non-obligors who reside in the premises under foreclosure. The Plaintiff also summarily rejected an offer by both Plaintiff’s husband and daughter to voluntarily obligate themselves for payment upon the full indebtedness, thus committing their individual incomes expressly to the purpose of a loan modification. It should be noted here that Defendant did not even request any waiver or “forgiveness” of the indebtedness aside from some tinkering with the interest rate, just a modification of terms so as to enable her to repay the same. It was evident from Ms. Dickinson’s opprobrious demeanor and condescending attitude that no proffer by Defendant (short of consent to foreclosure and ejectment of Defendant and her family) would be acceptable to Plaintiff. Even a final and desperate offer of a deed in lieu of foreclosure was met with bland equivocation. In short, each and every proposal by Defendant, no matter how reasonable, was soundly rebuffed by Plaintiff. Viewed objectively, it is apparent that Plaintiff’s conduct in this matter falls within the definitions set forth in 22 NYCRR § 130-1.1( c)(2), which might well warrant the imposition of monetary sanctions.

On the Court’s own motion, a hearing was held on November 18, 2009 in order to explore the issues herein. At the hearing, Ms. Dickinson appeared as well as Mr. Horoski. IndyMac claimed a balance due, as of September 22, 2009 of $ 527,437.73 which included an escrow overdraft of $ 46,627.88 for taxes advanced since the date of default but did not include attorney’s fees and costs.. Plaintiff was unable to tell the Court the amount of the principal [*3]balance owed. Mr. Horoski advised the Court that according to two letters received from Plaintiff, the principal balance was said to be $ 285,381.70 as of February 9, 2009 and $ 283,992.48 as of August 10, 2009. Plaintiff stated was that Defendant must have made payments though it was conceded that in fact no payment had been made.Plaintiff insisted that it had remained in regular contact with Defendant in an effort to reach an amicable resolution, that it had extended two modification offers to Defendant which she did not accept and further, that due to her financial status she was not qualified for any modification, even under the Federal HAMP guidelines. Plaintiff denied that it had “singled out” Defendants, simply stating that her status was such that she fell outside applicable guidelines. All of these assertions were disputed by Defendant.

That having been said, the Court is greatly disturbed by Plaintiff’s assertions of the amount claimed to be due from Defendant. The Referee’s Report dated June 30, 2008, which has its genesis in a sworn affidavit by a representative of Plaintiff (presumably one with knowledge of the account), reflects a total amount due and owing of $ 392,983.42. The principal balance is reported to be $ 290,687.85 with interest computed at the rates of 10.375% from November 1, 2005 through August 31, 2006 ($ 25,118.62), 12.50% from September 1, 2006 to February 28, 2007 ($ 18,018.66), 12.375% from March 1, 2007 to March 31, 2008 ($ 39,126.39) and 11.375% from April 1, 2008 to June 24, 2008 ($ 7,700.24) totalling $ 89,963.91. Plaintiff also claims $ 20.00 in non-sufficient funds charges, $ 295.00 in property inspection fees and $ 12,016.66 for tax and insurance advances. The Judgment of Foreclosure & Sale dated January 12, 2009 was granted in the amount of $ 392,983.42 with interest at the contract rate from June 24, 2008 through January 12, 2009 and at the statutory rate thereafter plus attorney’s fees of $ 2,300.00 and a bill of costs in the amount of $ 1,705.00. Even computing the accrual of pre-judgment interest of $ 18,299.18 (using Plaintiff’s per diem rate in the Referee’s Report) together with post-judgment interest at a statutory 9% through November 19, 2009 (an additional $ 31,740.90), the application of simple addition yields a total amount due of $ 447,028.50. This figure is $ 80,409.23 less than the $ 527,437.73 asserted by Plaintiff to be due and owing from Defendant. The Court is astounded that Plaintiff now claims to be owed an escrow advance amount of $ 46,627.88 when, under oath, its officer swore that as of June 24, 2008 that amount was actually $ 34,611.22 less. Moreover, it now appears that the elusive principal balance is either $ 290,687.85, $ 285,381.70 or $ 283,992.48.

It is the province and indeed the obligation of the trial court to assess and to determine issues regarding credibility, Morgan v. McCaffrey 14 AD3d 670 (2nd Dept. 2005). In the matter before the Court, the pendulum of credibility swings heavily in favor of Defendant. When the conduct of Plaintiff in this proceeding is viewed in its entirety, it compels the Court to invoke the ancient and venerable principle of “Falsus in uno, falsus in omni” (Latin; “false in one, false in all”) upon Defendant which, after review, is wholly appropriate in the context presented, Deering v. Metcalf 74 NY 501 (1878). Regrettably, the Court has been unable to find even so much as a scintilla of good faith on the part of Plaintiff. Plaintiff comes before this Court with unclean hands yet has the insufferable temerity to demand equitable relief against Defendant.

The Court, over the course of some six substantive appearances in seven months, has been afforded more than ample opportunity to assess the demeanor, credibility and general state [*4]of relevant affairs of Defendant and Plaintiff. Although not actually relevant to the disposition of this matter, the Court is constrained to note that Defendant is afflicted with multiple health problems which outwardly manifest in her experiencing great difficulty in ambulation, necessitating the use of mechanical supports. Moreover, Defendant’s husband, Mr. Gregory Horoski, suffers from a myriad of serious medical conditions which greatly impede most aspects of his daily existence. Nonetheless, both of these persons, together with their adult daughter who resides with them and who is substantially and gainfully employed, receive income which they are more than willing to commit, in good faith, toward repayment of the debt to Plaintiff and indeed, despite their physical challenges, they have appeared at each and every scheduled conference before this Court. At each appearance, they have assiduously attempted to resolve this controversy in an amicable fashion, only to be callously and arbitrarily turned away by Plaintiff. This has been so even in spite of the Court’s continuing albeit futile endeavors at brokering a settlement.

As a relevant aside, the scenario presented here raises the specter of a much greater social problem, that of housing those persons whose homes are foreclosed and who are thereafter dispossessed. It is certainly no secret that Suffolk County is in the yawning abyss of a deep mortgage and housing crisis with foreclosure filings at a record high rate and a corresponding paucity of emergency housing. While foreclosure and its attendant eviction are clearly the inevitable (and in some cases, proper) result in a number of these situations, the Court is persuaded that this need not be the case here. In this matter, Defendant is plainly willing to make arrangements for repayment and both her husband and daughter are likewise willing to allocate their respective incomes in order to reach the same end. Were Plaintiff amenable, she would presumably continue to maintain the property’s physical plant, pay taxes thereon and the property would retain or perhaps increase its market value. Plaintiff would receive a regular income stream, albeit with a reduced rate of interest and without sustaining a loss of several hundred thousand dollars. In addition, no neighborhood blight would occur from the boarding of the property after foreclosure which would, in turn, avert problems of litter, dumping, vagrancy and vandalism as well as a corresponding decline in the property values in the immediate area. In short, a loan modification would result in a proverbial “win-win” for all parties involved. To do otherwise would result in virtually certain undomiciled status for two physically unhealthy persons and their daughter, leading to an additional level of problems, both for them and for society.

Since an action claiming foreclosure of a mortgage is one sounding in equity, Jamaica Savings Bank v. M.S. Investing Co. 274 NY 215 (1937), the very commencement of the action by Plaintiff invokes the Court’s equity jurisdiction. While it must be noted 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 nevertheless has equity jurisdiction and distinct rules regarding equity are still extant, Carroll v. Bullock 207 NY 567, 101 NE 438 (1913). Speaking generally and broadly, it is settled law that “Stability of contract obligations must not be undermined by judicial sympathy…” Graf v. Hope Building Corporation 254 NY 1 (1930). However, it is true with equal force and effect that equity must not and cannot slavishly and blindly follow the law, Hedges v. Dixon County 150 US 182, 192 (1893). Moreover, as succinctly decreed by our Court of Appeals in the matter of Noyes v. [*5]Anderson 124 NY 175 (1890) “A party having a legal right shall not be permitted to avail himself of it for the purposes of injustice or oppression…” 124 NY at 179.

In the matter of Eastman Kodak Co. v. Schwartz 133 NYS2d 908 (Sup. Ct., New York County, 1954), Special Term stated that “The maxim of “clean hands” fundamentally was conceived in equity jurisprudence to refuse to lend its aid in any manner to one seeking its active interposition who has been guilty of unlawful, unconscionable or inequitable conduct in the matter with relation to which he seeks relief.” 133 NYS2d at 925, citing First Trust & Savings Bank v. Iowa-Wisconsin Bridge Co. 98 F 2d 416 (8th Cir. 1938), cert. denied 305 US 650, 59 S. Ct. 243, 83 L. Ed. 240 (1938), reh. denied 305 US 676, 59 S Ct. 356 83 L. Ed. 437 (1939); General Excavator Co. v. Keystone Driller Co. 65 F 2d 39 (6th Cir. 1933), cert. granted 289 US 721, 53 S. Ct. 791, 77 L. Ed. 1472 (1933), aff’d 290 US 240, 54 S. Ct. 146, 78 L. Ed. 793 (1934).

In attempting to arrive at a determination as to whether or not equity should properly intervene in this matter so as to permit foreclosure of the mortgage, the Court is required to look at the situattion in toto, giving due and careful consideration as to whether the remedy sought by Plaintiff would be repugnant to the public interest when seen from the point of view of public morality, see, for example, 55 NY Jur. Equity § 113, Molinas v. Podloff 133 NYS2d 743 (Sup. Ct., New York County, 1954). Equitable relief will not lie in favor of one who acts in a manner which is shocking to the conscience, Duggan v. Platz 238 AD 197, 264 NYS 403 (3rd Dept. 1933), mod. on other grounds 263 NY 505, 189 NE 566 (1934), neither will equity be available to one who acts in a manner that is oppressive or unjust or whose conduct is sufficiently egregious so as to prohibit the party from asserting its legal rights against a defaulting adversary, In Re Foreclosure Of Tax Liens 117 NYS2d 725 (Sup. Ct. Kings County, 1952), aff’d on other grounds 286 AD 1027, 145 NYS2d 97 (2nd Dept. 1955), mod. on other grounds on reargument 1 AD2d 95, 148 NYS2d 173 (2nd Dept. 1955), appeal granted 7 AD2d 784, 149 NYS2d 227 (2nd Dept. 1956). The compass by which the questioned conduct must be measured is a moral one and the acts complained of (those that are sufficient so as to prevent equity’s intervention) need not be criminal nor actionable at law but must merely be willful and unconscionable or be of such a nature that honest and fair minded folk would roundly denounce such actions as being morally and ethically wrong, Pecorella v. Greater Buffalo Press Inc. 107 AD2d 1064, 468 NYS2d 562 (4th Dept. 1985). Thus, where a party acts in a manner that is offensive to good conscience and justice, he will be completely without recourse in a court of equity, regardless of what his legal rights may be, Eastman Kodak Co. v. Schwartz 133 NYS2d 908 (Sup. Ct., New York County, 1954), York v. Searles 97 AD 331, 90 NYS 37 (2nd Dept. 1904), aff’d 189 NY 573, 82 NE 1134 (1907).

An objective and painstaking examination of the totality of the facts and circumstances herein leads this Court to the inescapable conclusion that the affirmative conduct exhibited by Plaintiff at least since since February 24, 2009 (and perhaps earlier) has been and is inequitable, unconscionable, vexatious and opprobrious. The Court is constrained, solely as a result of Plaintiff’s affirmative acts, to conclude that Plaintiff’s conduct is wholly unsupportable at law or in equity, greatly egregious and so completely devoid of good faith that equity cannot be permitted to intervene on its behalf. Indeed, Plaintiff’s actions toward Defendant in this matter have been harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive to the extent that it must be appropriately [*6]sanctioned so as to deter it from imposing further mortifying abuse against Defendant. The Court cannot be assured that Plaintiff will not repeat this course of conduct if this action is merely dismissed and hence, dismissal standing alone is not a reasonable option. Likewise, the imposition of monetary sanctions under 22 NYCRR § 130-1.1 et. seq. is not likely to have a salubrious or remedial effect on these proceedings and certainly would not inure to Defendant’s benefit. This Court is of the opinion that cancellation of the indebtedness and discharge of the mortgage, when taken together, constitute the appropriate equitable disposition under the unique facts and circumstances presented herein.

After careful consideration, it is the determination of this Court that the indebtedness evidenced by the Adjustable Rate Note dated August 4, 2004 in the original principal amount of $ 292,500.00 made by Diana J. Yano-Horoski in favor of IndyMac Bank F.S.B. should be cancelled, voided and set aside. In addition, the Mortgage which secures the Adjustable Rate Note, given to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. As Nominee For IndyMac Bank F.S.B. dated August 4, 2004 and recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County on August 16, 2004 in Liber 20826 of Mortgages at Page 285, as assigned by Assignment recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County in Liber 21273 of Mortgages at Page 808 should be cancelled and discharged of record. Further, Plaintiff, its successors and assigns should be forever barred and prohibited from any action to collect upon the Adjustable Rate Note. In addition, the Judgment of Foreclosure & Sale granted on January 12, 2009 and entered on January 23, 2009 should be vacated and set aside and the Notice of Pendency should be cancelled and discharged of record. For this Court to decree anything less than the foregoing would be for the Court to be wholly derelict in the performance of its obligations.

Upon the Court’s own motion, it is

ORDERED that the Adjustable Rate Note in the amount of $ 292,500.00 dated August 4, 2004 made by Diana J. Yano-Horoski in favor of IndyMac Bank F.S.B. shall be and the same is hereby cancelled, voided, avoided, nullified, set aside and is of no further force and effect; and it is further

ORDERED that the Mortgage in the amount of $ 292,500.00 which secures said Adjustable Rate Note given by Diana J. Yano-Horoski to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. As Nominee For IndyMac Bank F.S.B. dated August 4, 2004 and recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County on August 16, 2004 in Liber 20826 of Mortgages as Page 285, as assigned to IndyMac Bank F.S.B. by Assignment recorded with the Clerk of Suffolk County in Liber 21273 of Mortgages at Page 808 shall be and the same is hereby vacated, cancelled, released and discharged of record; and it is further

ORDERED that the Plaintiff, its successors and assigns are hereby barred, prohibited and foreclosed from attempting, in any manner, directly or indirectly, to enforce any provision of the [*7]aforesaid Adjustable Rate Note and Mortgage or any portion thereof as against Defendant, her heirs or successors; and it is further

ORDERED that the Judgment of Foreclosure & Sale granted under this index number on January 12, 2009 and entered in the Office of the Clerk of Suffolk County on January 23, 2009 shall be and the same is hereby vacated and set aside; and it is further

ORDERED that the Notice of Pendency filed with the Clerk of Suffolk County on July 27, 2005 under sequence no. 172456, which was extended by Order dated September 2, 2008 shall be and the same is hereby cancelled, vacated and set aside; and it is further

ORDERED that the Notice of Pendency filed with the Clerk of Suffolk County on August 29, 2008 under sequence no. 199616, shall be and the same is hereby cancelled, vacated and set aside; and it is further

ORDERED that the Clerk of Suffolk County shall cause a copy of this Order & Judgment to be filed in the Land Records so as to effectuate of record each and every one of the provisions hereinabove set forth with respect to cancellation of the instruments and items of record; and it is further

ORDERED that Plaintiff shall pay to the Clerk of Suffolk County, within ten (10) days from the date of entry hereof, any and all fees and costs required to effect cancellation of record of the Mortgage, Notices of Pendency and any other fees so levied; and it is further

ORDERED that within ten (10) days of the date of entry hereof, Plaintiff’s counsel shall serve a copy of this Order upon the Clerk of Suffolk County and the Defendant.

This shall constitute the Decision, Judgment and Order of this Court.

Dated: November 19, 2009

Riverhead, New York

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Fannie Mae to rent out homes instead foreclosing

Posted on November 5, 2009. Filed under: Foreclosure Defense, Housing, Mortgage Law | Tags: , , , , , , |

Fannie Mae to rent out homes instead foreclosing

By ALAN ZIBEL (AP) – 4 hours ago

WASHINGTON — Thousands of borrowers on the verge of foreclosure will soon have the option of renting their homes from Fannie Mae, under a policy announced Thursday.

The government-controlled company, through its new “Deed for Lease” program, will allow borrowers to transfer ownership to Fannie Mae and sign a one-year lease, with month-to-month extensions after that.

The program will “eliminate some of the uncertainty of foreclosure, keeps families and tenants in their homes during a transitional period, and helps to stabilize neighborhoods and communities,” Jay Ryan, a Fannie Mae vice president, said in a statement.

But the effort is likely to affect a relatively small number of homeowners. In the first half of the year, Fannie Mae took back about 1,200 properties through this process, known as a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure. That pales in comparison to the 57,000 foreclosed properties the company repossessed in the period.

While neither option is particularly attractive for the homeowner, a deed-in-lieu does less harm to the borrower’s credit record.

The rental program is designed to help homeowners who don’t qualify for a loan modification under the Obama administration’s plan, but still want to remain in their homes. Fannie Mae is not planning to market the homes for sale during the one-year rental period.

Fannie Mae has hired an outside company, which officials declined to identify, to manage the properties.

To qualify, homeowners have to live in the home as their primary residence and prove that they can afford the market rent, which would be determined by the management company. The rent can’t be more than 31 percent of their pretax income.

Fannie Mae’s sibling company, Freddie Mac, launched a similar effort in March. That policy, however, requires the foreclosure to be complete and only allows month-to-month leases. A Freddie Mac spokesman declined to say how many borrowers have participated.

via The Associated Press: Fannie Mae to rent out homes instead foreclosing.

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Mortgage Assignment & Affidavit Fraud

Posted on October 27, 2009. Filed under: Banking, Finance, Foreclosure Defense, Mortgage Audit, Mortgage Fraud, Mortgage Law, Predatory Lending | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

In bankruptcy and government takeovers of financial institutions, missing collateral is a major obstacle for trustees and regulators to overcome. The missing assignment problem is an extension of not carelessness or sloppiness as many have claimed, but of overt acts of fraud.

Skilled attorneys and forensic accounting experts could expose this fraud and as such, the effects and implications are more far reaching than a borrower, simply having their debt extinguished. Debt extinguishment or dismissal of foreclosure actions could be obtained if it can be shown that the entity filing the foreclosure:

• Does not own the note;
• Made false representations to the court in pleadings;
• Does not have proper authority to foreclose;
• Does not have possession of the note; and/or
• All indispensable parties (the actual owners) are not before the
court or represented in the pending foreclosure action.

To circumvent these issues, mortgage servicers and the secondary market have created and maintained a number of practices and procedures. MERS was briefly discussed and will be the sole subject of a major fraud report in the future.

Another common trade practice is to create pre-dated, backdated, and fraudulent assignments of mortgages and endorsements before or after the fact to support the allegations being made by the foreclosing party. Foreclosing parties are most often the servicer or MERS acting on the servicer’s behalf, not the owners of the actual promissory note. Often, they assist in concealing known frauds and abuses by originators, prior servicers, and mortgage brokers from both the borrowers and investors by the utilization of concealing the true chain of ownership of a borrower’s loan.
Ocwen-Anderson-Report-Sue-First-Ask-Questions-Later

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Fair Game – If the Lender Can’t Find the Mortgage

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

Published: October 24, 2009

FOR decades, when troubled homeowners and banks battled over delinquent mortgages, it wasn’t a contest. Homes went into foreclosure, and lenders took control of the property.

On top of that, courts rubber-stamped the array of foreclosure charges that lenders heaped onto borrowers and took banks at their word when the lenders said they owned the mortgage notes underlying troubled properties.

In other words, with lenders in the driver’s seat, borrowers were run over, more often than not. Of course, errant borrowers hardly deserve sympathy from bankers or anyone else, and banks are well within their rights to try to protect their financial interests.

But if our current financial crisis has taught us anything, it is that many borrowers entered into mortgage agreements without a clear understanding of the debt they were incurring. And banks often lacked a clear understanding of whether all those borrowers could really repay their loans.

Even so, banks and borrowers still do battle over foreclosures on an unlevel playing field that exists in far too many courtrooms. But some judges are starting to scrutinize the rules-don’t-matter methods used by lenders and their lawyers in the recent foreclosure wave. On occasion, lenders are even getting slapped around a bit.

One surprising smackdown occurred on Oct. 9 in federal bankruptcy court in the Southern District of New York. Ruling that a lender, PHH Mortgage, hadn’t proved its claim to a delinquent borrower’s home in White Plains, Judge Robert D. Drain wiped out a $461,263 mortgage debt on the property. That’s right: the mortgage debt disappeared, via a court order.

So the ruling may put a new dynamic in play in the foreclosure mess: If the lender can’t come forward with proof of ownership, and judges don’t look kindly on that, then borrowers may have a stronger hand to play in court and, apparently, may even be able to stay in their homes mortgage-free.

The reason that notes have gone missing is the huge mass of mortgage securitizations that occurred during the housing boom. Securitizations allowed for large pools of bank loans to be bundled and sold to legions of investors, but some of the nuts and bolts of the mortgage game — notes, for example — were never adequately tracked or recorded during the boom. In some cases, that means nobody truly knows who owns what.

To be sure, many legal hurdles mean that the initial outcome of the White Plains case may not be repeated elsewhere. Nevertheless, the ruling — by a federal judge, no less — is bound to bring a smile to anyone who has been subjected to rough treatment by a lender. Methinks a few of those people still exist.

More important, the case is an alert to lenders that dubious proof-of-ownership tactics may no longer be accepted practice. They may even be viewed as a fraud on the court.

The United States Trustee, a division of the Justice Department charged with monitoring the nation’s bankruptcy courts, has also taken an interest in the White Plains case. Its representative has attended hearings in the matter, and it has registered with the court as an interested party.

THE case involves a borrower, who declined to be named, living in a home with her daughter and son-in-law. According to court documents, the borrower bought the house in 2001 with a mortgage from Wells Fargo; four and a half years later she refinanced with Mortgage World Bankers Inc.

She fell behind in her payments, and David B. Shaev, a consumer bankruptcy lawyer in Manhattan, filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy plan on her behalf in late February in an effort to save her home from foreclosure.

A proof of claim to the debt was filed in March by PHH, a company based in Mount Laurel, N.J. The $461,263 that PHH said was owed included $33,545 in arrears.

Mr. Shaev said that when he filed the case, he had simply hoped to persuade PHH to modify his client’s loan. But after months of what he described as foot-dragging by PHH and its lawyers, he asked for proof of PHH’s standing in the case.

“If you want to take someone’s house away, you’d better make sure you have the right to do it,” Mr. Shaev said in an interview last week.

via Fair Game – If the Lender Can’t Find the Mortgage – NYTimes.com.

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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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Deutsche Bank v. Debra Abbate Etal.

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

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

against

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

100893/07

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

Defendant was represented by Robert E. Brown, Esq.

Joseph J. Maltese, J.

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

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

Discussion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affirmative Defense of Standing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accordingly, it is hereby:

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

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

ENTER,

DATED: October 6, 2009

Joseph J. Maltese

Justice of the Supreme Court

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