A case coming out of California, Peng v. Chase Home Finance LLC et al., California Courts of Appeal Second App. Dist., Div. 8, April 8th, 2014, has attracted a lot of attention in the blogosphere. This is particularly notable because this case is not to be published in the official reports and thus has no precedential value. Judge Rubin’s dissent has attracted much of the attention. It opens,
The promissory note signed by appellants Jeffry and Grace Peng obligated them to repay their home loan. In August 2007, Freddie Mac acquired the promissory note from Chase. Based on Freddie Mac owning the note, appellants seek to amend their complaint to allege Chase did not have authority to enforce the promissory note or to foreclose on their home, but the majority rejects appellants’ proposed amendment. Relying on case law rebuffing a homeowner’s challenge to a creditor-beneficiary’s authority to foreclose, the majority notes that courts have traditionally reasoned that the homeowner’s challenge is futile because, even if successful, the homeowner “merely substitute[s] one creditor for another, without changing [the homeowner’s] obligations under the note.” (Fontenot v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (2011) 198 Cal.App.4th 256, 271.) The only party prejudiced by an illegitimate creditor-beneficiary’s enforcement of the homeowner’s debt, courts have reasoned, is the bona fide creditor-beneficiary, not the homeowner.
Such reasoning troubles me. I wonder whether the law would apply the same reasoning if we were dealing with debtors other than homeowners. I wonder how most of us would react if, for example, a third-party purporting to act for one’s credit card company knocked on one’s door, demanding we pay our credit card’s monthly statement to the third party. Could we insist that the third party prove it owned our credit card debt? By the reasoning of Fontenot and similar cases, we could not because, after all, we owe the debt to someone, and the only truly aggrieved party if we paid the wrong party would, according to those cases, be our credit card company. I doubt anyone would stand for such a thing. (Dissent, 1)
The dissent’s concern is justified. As Professor Whitman has recently noted on the Dirt Listserv and elsewhere, it is a “bizarre notion that anyone can foreclose a mortgage without showing that they have the right to enforce the note.” He also notes that the majority (and even the dissent) in Peng confuse ownership of the note with the right to enforce it. Until courts fully understand how the UCC governs the enforcement of notes, one should worry that some state court judges might declare an open season on homeowners as the majority does here in Peng.