Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

August 19, 2013

NJF and UCC and Contract Law, Oh My!

By David Reiss

Parsing how a court should approach a particular deed of trust foreclosure case can put you to sleep faster than crossing the poppy fields next to the yellow brick road.  Does the Non-Judicial Foreclosure (NJF) statute govern? Does the state’s Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) govern? Does the contract terms of the deed of trust itself govern? Or, more likely, do all three govern? And, if so, how do they interact with each other?

Brad Borden and I have recently noted that while

“show me the note” does come up in federal cases, federal courts defer to the applicable state law in reaching their results.  [T]he courts’ holdings tend to flow from a careful reading of the relevant state foreclosure statute, so a particular state’s law can have a big effect on the outcome.  We would note that many scholars and leaders of the bar are befuddled by courts’ failure to do a comprehensive analysis under the UCC as part of their reasoning in mortgage enforcement cases, but judges make the law, not scholars and members of the bar.  See Report of The Permanent Editorial Board for The Uniform Commercial Code Application of The Uniform Commercial Code to Selected Issues Relating to Mortgage Notes at 1 (Nov. 14, 2011).

Zadrozny v. Bank of New York Mellon, No. 11-16597 (June 28, 2013), a recent 9th Circuit case demonstrates the problem of an incomplete analysis in an Arizona non-judicial foreclosure case.  The Court notes that

The PEB [Permanent Editorial Board] Report [] clarifies:

the UCC does not resolve all issues in this field. Most particularly, the enforcement of real estate mortgages by foreclosure is primarily the province of a state’s real property law (although determinations made pursuant to the UCC are typically relevant under that law).

Given the PEB Report’s recognition that state law is typically controlling on foreclosure issues, the Zadroznys are unable to allege a cause of action premised on the PEB Report . . ..(14-15, citation omitted)

This is confusing in a few ways.  First, the UCC is state law, adopted with variants by all of the states’ legislatures.  What the PEB is calling for is for courts to apply state UCC law as appropriate.

Second, state foreclosure law does not “control” foreclosure issues in some inchoate and expansive way. It governs it to the extent that it governs it and not one bit more. So if state UCC law governs one facet of a foreclosure case, it is not trumped by the states’ foreclosure law. Or if the terms of the deed of trust were to govern, it would not be trumped by the foreclosure law either (so long as it did not violate it).

Finally, it is just plain weird to say that the Zadroznys would have a “cause of action premised on the PEB report.” How would that work?!?  The PEB report is merely an interpretation of general UCC principles. The Court should be asking how the Arizona UCC applies to this case.

I am not saying that the Court reached the wrong result under Arizona law in this regard, but the Court’s incomplete analysis offers no clarity to litigants, no more than the Wizard of Oz offered real solutions to his supplicants’ pleas. But judges decide the cases, not me and not you . . ..

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