Challenging Wrongful Foreclosures

photo by Oparvez

The California Supreme Court issued an opinion a few days ago that has been getting a lot of attention, Yvanova v. New Century Mortgage Corp., S218973 (Feb. 18, 2016). The opinion opens by noting that

The collapse in 2008 of the housing bubble and its accompanying system of home loan securitization led, among other consequences, to a great national wave of loan defaults and foreclosures. One key legal issue arising out of the collapse was whether and how defaulting homeowners could challenge the validity of the chain of assignments involved in securitization of their loans. (1)

The Court concludes that

a home loan borrower has standing to claim a nonjudicial foreclosure was wrongful because an assignment by which the foreclosing party purportedly took a beneficial interest in the deed of trust was not merely voidable but void, depriving the foreclosing party of any legitimate authority to order a trustee’s sale. (30)

First, let us be clear what it is NOT saying: “We do not hold or suggest that a borrower may attempt to preempt a threatened nonjudicial foreclosure by a suit questioning the foreclosing party’s right to proceed.” (2) This is an important distinction between challenging a nonjudicial foreclosure and having standing to bring a wrongful foreclosure tort action.

And let us be clear as to what it is saying: if a homeowner argues that that an assignment of a deed of trust is void, that can provide the basis for a wrongful foreclosure action because it “is no mere ‘procedural nicety,’ from a contractual point of view, to insist that only those with authority to foreclose on a borrower be permitted to do so.” (22) Quoting Adam Levitin, the Court finds that

“Such a view fundamentally misunderstands the mortgage contract. The mortgage contract is not simply an agreement that the home may be sold upon a default on the loan. Instead, it is an agreement that if the homeowner defaults on the loan, the mortgagee may sell the property pursuant to the requisite legal procedure.” (23, italics changed)

Sounds like common sense to me.


Open Season on Homeowners

A case coming out of California, Peng v. Chase Home Finance LLC et al., California Courts of Appeal Second App. Dist., Div. 8, April 8th, 2014, has attracted a lot of attention in the blogosphere. This is particularly notable because this case is not to be published in the official reports and thus has no precedential value. Judge Rubin’s dissent has attracted much of the attention. It opens,

The promissory note signed by appellants Jeffry and Grace Peng obligated them to repay their home loan. In August 2007, Freddie Mac acquired the promissory note from Chase. Based on Freddie Mac owning the note, appellants seek to amend their complaint to allege Chase did not have authority to enforce the promissory note or to foreclose on their home, but the majority rejects appellants’ proposed amendment. Relying on case law rebuffing a homeowner’s challenge to a creditor-beneficiary’s authority to foreclose, the majority notes that courts have traditionally reasoned that the homeowner’s challenge is futile because, even if successful, the homeowner “merely substitute[s] one creditor for another, without changing [the homeowner’s] obligations under the note.” (Fontenot v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (2011) 198 Cal.App.4th 256, 271.) The only party prejudiced by an illegitimate creditor-beneficiary’s enforcement of the homeowner’s debt, courts have reasoned, is the bona fide creditor-beneficiary, not the homeowner.

Such reasoning troubles me. I wonder whether the law would apply the same reasoning if we were dealing with debtors other than homeowners. I wonder how most of us would react if, for example, a third-party purporting to act for one’s credit card company knocked on one’s door, demanding we pay our credit card’s monthly statement to the third party. Could we insist that the third party prove it owned our credit card debt? By the reasoning of Fontenot and similar cases, we could not because, after all, we owe the debt to someone, and the only truly aggrieved party if we paid the wrong party would, according to those cases, be our credit card company. I doubt anyone would stand for such a thing. (Dissent, 1)

The dissent’s concern is justified. As Professor Whitman has recently noted on the Dirt Listserv and elsewhere, it is a “bizarre notion that anyone can foreclose a mortgage without showing that they have the right to enforce the note.” He also notes that the majority (and even the dissent) in Peng confuse ownership of the note with the right to enforce it. Until courts fully understand how the UCC governs the enforcement of notes, one should worry that some state court judges might declare an open season on homeowners as the majority does here in Peng.

Glaski Full of It?

I had blogged about Glaski v. Bank of America, No. F064556 (7/31/13, Cal. 5th App. Dist.) soon after it was decided, arguing that it did not bode well for REMICs that did not comply with the rules governing REMICS that are contained in the Internal Revenue Code. The case is highly controversial. Indeed, the mere question of whether it should be a published opinion or not has been highly contested, with the trustee now asking that the case be depublished. The request for depublication is effectively a brief to the California Supreme Court that argues that Glaski was wrongly decided.

Because of its significance, there has been a lot of discussion about the case in the blogosphere. Here is Roger Bernhardt‘s (Golden Gate Law School) take on it, posted to the DIRT listserv and elsewhere:

If some lenders are reacting with shock and horror to this decision, that is probably only because they reacted too giddily to Gomes v Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. (2011) 192 CA4th 1149 (reported at 34 CEB RPLR 66 (Mar. 2011)) and similar decisions that they took to mean that their nonjudicial foreclosures were completely immune from judicial review. Because I think that Glaski simply holds that some borrower foreclosure challenges may warrant factual investigation (rather than outright dismissal at the pleading stage), I do not find this decision that earth-shaking.

Two of this plaintiff’s major contentions were in fact entirely rejected at the demurrer level:

-That the foreclosure was fraudulent because the statutory notices looked robosigned (“forged”); and

-That the loan documents were not truly transferred into the loan pool.

Only the borrower’s wrongful foreclosure count survived into the next round. If the bank can show that the documents were handled in proper fashion, it should be able to dispose of this last issue on summary judgment.

Bank of America appeared to not prevail on demurrer on this issue because the record did include two deed of trust assignments that had been recorded outside the Real Estate Mortgage Investment Conduit (REMIC) period and did not include any evidence showing that the loan was put into the securitization pool within the proper REMIC period. The court’s ruling that a transfer into a trust that is made too late may constitute a void rather than voidable transfer (to not jeopardize the tax-exempt status of the other assets in the trust) seems like a sane conclusion. That ruling does no harm to securitization pools that were created with proper attention to the necessary timetables. (It probably also has only slight effect on loans that were improperly securitized, other than to require that a different procedure be followed for their foreclosure.)

In this case, the fact that two assignments of a deed of trust were recorded after trust closure proves almost nothing about when the loans themselves were actually transferred into the trust pool, it having been a common practice back then not to record assignments until some other development made recording appropriate. I suspect that it was only the combination of seeing two “belatedly” recorded assignments and also seeing no indication of any timely made document deposits into the trust pool that led to court to say that the borrower had sufficiently alleged an invalid (i.e., void) attempted transfer into the trust. Because that seemed to be a factual possibility, on remand, the court logically should ask whether the pool trustee was the rightful party to conduct the foreclosure of the deed of trust, or whether that should have been done by someone else.

While courts may not want to find their dockets cluttered with frivolous attacks on valid foreclosures, they are probably equally averse to allowing potentially meritorious challenges to wrongful foreclosures to be rejected out of hand.

A REMIC Unraveling?

An unpublished opinion, Glaski v. Bank of America, No. F064556 (7/31/13, Cal. 5th App. Dist.), presents one possible future for REMICs that failed to comply with the strict rules set for them by Congress and the IRS. Glaski, a homeowner, argues that the trial court erred by dismissing his case challenging the nonjudicial foreclosure of the deed of trust secured by his home. For my purposes, I am interested in the Court’s consideration of “whether a post-closing date transfer into a [REMIC] securitized trust is the type of defect that would render the transfer void.” (20) I am going to quote the opinion at length because the reasoning is somewhat complex:

The allegation that the WaMu Securitized Trust was formed under New York law supports the conclusion that New York law governs the operation of the trust.  New York Estates, Powers & Trusts Law section 7-2.4, provides:  “If the trust is expressed in an instrument creating the estate of the trustee, every sale, conveyance or other act of the trustee in contravention of the trust, except as authorized by this article and by any other provision of law, is void.”

Because the WaMu Securitized Trust was created by the pooling and servicing  agreement and that agreement establishes a closing date after which the trust may no longer accept loans, this statutory provision provides a legal basis for concluding that the trustee’s attempt to accept a loan after the closing date would be void as an act in contravention of the trust document.

We are aware that some courts have considered the role of New York law and rejected the post-closing date theory on the grounds that the New York statute is not interpreted literally, but treats acts in contravention of the trust instrument as merely voidable.

Despite the foregoing cases, we will join those courts that have read the New York statute literally.  We recognize that a literal reading and application of the statute may not always be appropriate because, in some contexts, a literal reading might defeat the statutory purpose by harming, rather than protecting, the beneficiaries of the trust.  In this case, however, we believe applying the statute to void the attempted transfer is justified because it protects the beneficiaries of the WaMu Securitized Trust from the potential adverse tax consequence of the trust losing its status as a REMIC trust under the Internal Revenue Code.  Because the literal interpretation furthers the statutory purpose, we join the position stated by a New York court approximately two months ago:  “Under New York Trust Law, every sale, conveyance or other act of the trustee in contravention of the trust is void.  EPTL § 7-2.4.  Therefore, the acceptance of the note and mortgage by the trustee after the date the trust closed, would be void.” [quoting Erobobo] Relying on Erobobo, a bankruptcy court recently concluded “that under New York law, assignment of the Saldivars’ Note after the start up day is void ab initio.  As such, none of the Saldivars’ claims will be dismissed for lack of standing.”(quoting Saldivar)

We conclude that Glaski’s factual allegations regarding post-closing date attempts to transfer his deed of trust into the WaMu Securitized Trust are sufficient to state a basis for concluding the attempted transfers were void.  As a result, Glaski has a stated cognizable claim for wrongful foreclosure under the theory that the entity invoking the power of sale (i.e., Bank of America in its capacity as trustee for the WaMu Securitized Trust) was not the holder of the Glaski deed of trust. (20-22, citations and footnotes omitted)

We are now seeing a trend that started with Erobobo and continued with Saldivar:  courts are finally addressing the REMIC attributes of the mortgage-backed securities at issue in downstream cases. I am not sure that the reasoning of those three cases will hold up on appeal, but it is interesting to see judges add another level of understanding to foreclosures in the age of of the mortgage-backed security.

[Hat tip April Charney]

UPDATE:  I just heard (August 8, 2013) from Richard L. Antognini, Glaski’s appellate lawyer, that the court has decided to publish this opinion. As he notes, “It now can be cited to other California and federal courts, and it is binding authority, until another court of appeal disagrees or the California Supreme Court decides to review it.”