Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

June 19, 2013

Rhode Island Superior Court Deems PennyMac Foreclosure Proper

By Devon Avallone

In Rutter v. MERS, et al., C.A. No. PC 10-4756 (R.I. Super. March 12, 2012) the Rhode Island Superior Court held that PennyMac’s foreclosure sale was proper, as the court upheld Rhode Island case law supporting the validity of MERS’s assignments and subsequent foreclosures.

In July 2007, the Rutters procured a loan with First National Bank of Arizona (FNBA) as lender. MERS was designated the mortgagee acting as nominee for the lender, FNBA. The loan was ultimately assigned by MERS to PennyMac.

The Rutters defaulted in November 2008, and received proper notice of both the intent to foreclose and the foreclosure sale, scheduled for February 2010. Although the Rutters attempted to submit a qualified written request under RESPA, PennyMac found their request insufficient and proceeded with the foreclosure sale. After the sale, the Rutters filed the within action to quiet title and sought damages for alleged RESPA violations by MERS and PennyMac, who counterclaimed for slander. Here, the court considers MERS and PennyMac’s motion for summary judgment, arguing that notice of foreclosure and the foreclosure sale were proper and that the assignment to PennyMac was valid. The motion further argues that even if the assignment were invalid, the Rutters lack standing to challenge it.

The court first considers the role MERS plays in current mortgage transactions, giving a brief history of MERS’s origination and its operational aspects. MERS was designed to promote efficiency and accuracy in transactions and recordkeeping, though the system is not without fault. Although some courts differ on how to manage MERS-affected foreclosures, the “clear majority” holds the MERS foreclosures are valid. The court criticizes the Rutters’ argument as lacking substance and failing to distinguish recent case law. The Rutters’ argument merely claimed that those decisions enforcing the MERS foreclosures were “flawed.”  Rhode Island courts have continuously held that “foreclosure sales conducted by MERS or one of MERS’s assignees [a]re valid.” Kriegel, 2011 WL 4947398, slip op. at 5. Here, the clear and unambiguous language in the Rutters’ mortgage is identical to the language of mortgage documents in precedent MERS cases, giving MERS statutory power with the right to foreclose as mortgagee and nominee of the lender.

The Rutters raised the show me the note argument claiming that the note and mortgage must be held by the same entity under Rhode Island law, citing case law only from other states, such as Eaton v. Fed. Nat‟l Mortg. Ass‟n, No. 11-1382 (Mass. Super. Jun. 17, 2011). The court cites Bucci, which held that requiring an entity to possess both the note and mortgage would prevent loan servicing, which is a major part of the mortgage industry. 2009 R.I. Super. LEXIS 110. The court did not, however, have to do decide whether the contradicting Eaton decision was binding in Rhode Island because PennyMac held both the note and mortgage at the time of the foreclosure sale.

As to the assignment from MERS to PennyMac, the court found the assignment valid under Rhode Island law. Even if the assignment were found to be invalid, the Rutters, as a non-party to the assignment lack standing to challenge its validity. Regarding allegations of “robosigning,” the court cited Payette, stating that the “contention that MERS’s assignments were executed by an unauthorized signatory is a mere conclusion or legal opinion that is insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact to defeat [a] Motion for Summary Judgment.” 2011 WL 3794700, slip op. at 19. Furthermore, MERS and PennyMac set forth the full chain of the note’s indorsements, which are presumed authentic.

The court found that PennyMac responded properly in rejecting the Rutters’ QWR attempt under RESPA, as RESPA no longer applied and the Rutters failed to prove that they suffered any actual damages. The fact that the Rutters submitted their QWR just days before the scheduled sale is emphasized heavily, as they had over 2 years to submit the QWR to PennyMac after their default. The Rutters also failed to act on a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure agreement which would have extended their occupancy in the property by 60 days.

The court granted MERS and PennyMac’s motion for summary judgment, holding that plaintiff homeowners failed to prove any existence of material factual disputes.

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