Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 26, 2013

Massachusetts Bankruptcy Court Grants Assignee Bank’s Motion For Relief, Denies Debtor’s Assignment Challenges and Home Affordable Modification Program Claim

By Ebube Okoli

Aurora, as an assignee of a Chapter 13 debtor’s mortgage, moved for relief from stay to exercise its rights in property, and debtor objected to assignee’s standing and on the ground that his post petition payment default was the result of an improper refusal to modify his mortgage under the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). After considering arguments, the court decided In re Lopez, 446 B.R. 12, 18–19 (Bkrptcy.D.Mass.2011) by granting Aurora’s motion for relief.

The Debtor raised a plethora of questions regarding Aurora’s standing to prosecute the motion for relief. First, he contended that an assignment of the mortgage, without the note, was void. Next, the Debtor argued that MERS, as nominee, could not assign the mortgage because it was merely a title holding entity. Further, he noted that the assignment could not assign the note because MERS never held it.

The Debtor also found fault with the note, complaining that the endorsements were undated, thus concealed the date of the transactions. He further questioned whether the signatory of two of the endorsements could have been an authorized officer as the final endorsement is in blank, the Debtor asserted that the current holder of the note was unknown, making it unclear who authorized MERS to assign the mortgage.

Further, the Debtor attacked the validity of the assignment on the basis that Aurora had not proven that the signatory was sufficiently authorized to execute the assignment.

With respect to HAMP eligibility, the Debtor argued that the monthly payment used to determine borrower eligibility included a monthly payment of principal regardless of whether the expense was included in the Debtor’s current mortgage payment. Furthermore, he contended that Aurora mischaracterized the interest rate as adjustable rather than fixed. As such, the provisions regarding rate resets relied on by Aurora are inapplicable.

In determining whether a creditor has a colorable claim to property of the estate, the court found that Aurora has established a colorable claim to the Property as Mortgagee.

First, the Debtor asserted that the assignment of the mortgage, without the note, was void, but under Massachusetts law, “where a mortgage and the obligation secured thereby are held by different persons, the mortgage is regarded as an incident to the obligation, and, therefore, held in trust for the benefit of the owner of the obligation.” Accordingly, even though MERS never had possession of the Note, it was legally holding the Mortgage in trust for the Note holder.

Second, the Debtor contended that MERS, due to its status as a nominee, could not assign the Mortgage to Aurora. The court rejected this argument as it misapprehended the meaning of “nominee.” Though MERS never held the Note, it could, by virtue of its nominee status, transfer the Mortgage on behalf of the Note holder.

The remainder of the Debtor’s arguments involved challenges to the assignment authorization. Specifically, whether the signatory was authorized to execute the assignment; whether MERS was authorized to assign the mortgage; whether the officers endorsing the note had authorization to do so; whether, given the absence of transaction dates, the endorsements were placed on the note only recently; and the fact that the final endorsement on the note is blank, rendering it a bearer instrument negotiable by transfer of possession alone.

The Court found that the Debtor did not affirmatively state that there were any defects in Aurora’s chain of title; rather he merely suggested that an evidentiary hearing is necessary to be sure. This, the court noted, was not the standard.

Having determined that Aurora is a party in interest, the court considered whether relief from stay was warranted. The court found that the Debtor had not articulated any theory through which he could have asserted standing to obtain the relief he sought.

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