Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 5, 2013

Massachusetts District Court Rejects Homeowner-Plaintiff’s Challenge of the Validity of MERS’s Assignment in a Foreclosure Proceeding

By Ebube Okoli

In Kiah v. Aurora Loan Services, LLC, No. 10-40161-FDA, 2011 WL 841282 (D.Mass. Mar.4, 2011), the plaintiff-homeowner alleged that discrepancies in the assignment process prevented the foreclosing party [Aurora Loan Services, LLC] from having statutory power to initiate such proceedings. The plaintiff, on several grounds, challenged Aurora’s standing to bring such an action.

The plaintiff contended that MERS did not have the power to assign the mortgage to Aurora and that Aurora therefore cannot foreclose on the plaintiff’s property because it is not the mortgagee. The plaintiff did not, however, dispute Aurora’s possession of the note or challenge Aurora’s substantive right to enforce the note.

The question of mortgage ownership arose out of bankruptcy of the loan originator. The plaintiff argued that originator filed for bankruptcy and was dissolved before the mortgage was assigned to Aurora, that MERS could not act on behalf of a non-existent entity, and therefore MERS did not have the legal power to transfer the plaintiff’s mortgage to Aurora. The plaintiff argued that the assignment of the mortgage and the mortgage itself were therefore void as a result.

In deciding whether the mortgage and assignment were void the court focused on the assignment of the note and rejected the plaintiff’s contentions because he did not challenge the validity of the assignment of the note to Aurora. By law in Massachusetts, the transfer of the note automatically transfers an equitable interest in the underlying mortgage, even without a formal assignment. Thus, an equitable right in the mortgage was transferred to Aurora along with the note.

The plaintiff’s claim that the assignment was fraudulent was also without merit. The plaintiff alleged that Aurora cannot be the mortgagee if another entity owns the debt and that the assignment of the mortgage to Aurora is therefore fraudulent. The Court found that Aurora was acting in their capacity as a servicer and as such could act on behalf of Fannie Mae, the owner of the debt. Thus, as Fannie Mae’s agent, Aurora has the right to both collect debt and foreclose on the mortgage.

The plaintiff also alleged that the assignment was invalid as it was backdated and that MERS lacked the authority to have the mortgage assigned. Plaintiff asserted that the “backdating of the document was part of a scheme and conspiracy of fraudulent conveyance.” Plaintiff argued that the assignment was ineffective because MERS’s signing officer lacked the signatory authority at the time of the assignment to Aurora. The court found both of these contentions without merit. First, the signing officer had signatory authority on the date of assignment given to him by MERS’ “Corporate Resolution” that predated the assignment. Second, the Court found that even if the signing officer lacked the authority to assign the mortgage, this would not invalidate the assignment under Massachusetts law.

Plaintiff further contended that an assignment of a mortgage is invalid unless the note is transferred with it. As such Plaintiff alleged that MERS could not have assigned the mortgage because it did not have physical possession of, or a beneficial interest in, the note, and therefore the assignment is void. The Court found that even if MERS was not in possession of or a beneficial interest in the note, this claim fails because MERS was holding the mortgage in trust for Aurora. The assignment of mortgage, therefore, would still be valid.

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