Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 11, 2013

Fieldstone Mortgage Company’s Bankruptcy Won’t Impact HSBC’s Right to Foreclose in Massachusetts

By Devon Avallone

In Marron v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., Bankruptcy Appeal No. 11-40191-NMG (D. Mass. September 26, 2012), the District Court denied homeowners’ request for certification regarding MERS’s authority to assign their mortgage, and dismissed homeowners’ bankruptcy appeal holding that the Bankruptcy Court properly lifted the automatic stay allowing HSBC to foreclose.

The homeowners procured a loan from Fieldstone Mortgage Company, with MERS designated as nominee and mortgagee. MERS assigned the mortgage to HSBC, which began foreclosure proceedings in 2007 after the homeowners defaulted. In November of 2007, Fieldstone filed for bankruptcy.  The homeowners filed for bankruptcy in 2010, automatically staying foreclosure proceedings. In response, HSBC filed a petition for relief from the automatic stay, which was granted by the Bankruptcy Court.

Here, Trustee appeals from the Bankruptcy Court’s order lifting the stay and seeks to certify the following questions: 1) whether the assignment by MERS is valid under Massachusetts law without proof of authorization from the note holder, and 2) if the recorded assignment alone can establish the truth of its contents. The District Court upheld the decision of the Bankruptcy Court, holding that certification is not warranted, as Massachusetts law is reasonably clear regarding assignment validity.

There is no Massachusetts statute preventing MERS from assigning its mortgages, and the court notes that the Massachusetts Land Court acknowledged the validity of MERS’s assignments in several cases.  Randle  v. GMAC Mortgage, LLC, No. 09 MISC 408202 GHP (Mass. Land Ct. Oct. 12, 2010); Amtrust Bank v. T.D. Banknorth, N.A., No. 07 MISC. 350750 KCL (Mass. Land Ct. 2010).  The court also notes that it has, on numerous occasions, held that MERS has authority to assign mortgages, citing Kiah, in which the court held that even if MERS doesn’t hold the beneficial interest in the property, MERS has authority to transfer the mortgage on behalf of the beneficial owner. CIV.A. No. 10-40161-FDS (D. Mass. Mar. 4, 2011).

As to the bankruptcy of the lender, the court held that “a lender’s bankruptcy does not affect the ability of MERS to assign a mortgage,” citing Kiah. The clear language of the mortgage grants MERS authority as the nominee for the “lender and its assigns” to transfer the mortgage, unaffected by the lender’s bankruptcy status. The court notes that similar reasoning was used in Rosa, holding “the dissolution of the original lender does not affect MERS’s authority to assign a mortgage.” 821 F. Supp. 2d at 431.

The court further found the assignment valid pursuant to M.G.L. Ch. 183 § 54B. MERS’s assignment complies with the statute’s requirements and is therefore presumed valid. The court cites Culhane for this explanation of validity, finding no way in which MERS’s method for assigning mortgages contradicts the statute. 826 F. Supp. 2d at 373.

The court dismissed appellant’s argument that the foreclosure was improper, as HSBC didn’t hold the note. In Eaton , the court held that the term “mortgagee” refers to “the person or entity then holding the mortgage and also either holding the mortgage note or acting on behalf of the note holder.” Eaton v. Fed. Nat. Mortg. Ass’n, 462 Mass. 569 (2012). To avoid overuse of this broad interpretation, the court held that the ruling in Eaton would not impact foreclosures commenced before the Eaton decision. Since HSBC’s foreclosure occurred pre-Eaton, HSBC was entitled to foreclose. As a result, appellant’s argument that an evidentiary hearing should have been held to determine ownership of the note was also dismissed by the court as immaterial. The appeal was denied, and the foreclosure sale upheld.

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