- New York state appeals court affirmed denying dismissal of claims against Morgan Stanley for fraud. Plaintiff bought $17 million in high-risk notes tied to residential mortgage-backed securities in a $500 million collateralized debt obligation that eventually were wiped out.
- Quicken Loans’ suit was dismissed against the U.S. government for its use of the False Claims Act for failure to state a claim. This suit was brought to prevent a costly enforcement action.
- JP Morgan has settled to pay $48 million fine for shoddy mortgage servicing practices in response to allegations from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC). (Consent Order; Termination).
- Credit Suisse AG has settled for $110 million in class action alleging the use of misleading financial disclosure documents that caused the plaintiffs to purchase $1.6 billion in bad mortgage-backed securities.
- S&P agrees to settlement of $58 million for fraudulent ratings on commercial mortgage-backed securities.
- SEC order regarding violations of Section 17(a)(1) of the Securities Act, Section 15E(c)(3) of the Exchange Act, and Exchange Act Rules 17g-2(a)(2)(iii) and 17g-2(a)(6). $6.2 million disgorgement, plus $800,000 prejudgment interest, and $35 million civil money penalty for affirmatively claiming to use one method of rating when it was actually using another method.
- SEC order regarding violations of Section 17(a)(l) of the Securities Act and Exchange Act Rule 17g-2(a)(6). $15 million penalty for publishing “false and misleading article purporting to show that its new credit enhancement levels could withstand Great Depression-era levels of economic stress.”
- SEC order regarding violations of Section 15E(c)(3)(a) of the Exchange Act and Exchange Act Rules 17g-2(a)(2)(iii) and 17g-2(a)(6). $1 million civil money penalty for failure in oversight of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) ratings.
- SEC order regarding a public hearing.
- Following the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filing a complaint in the District Court for the District of Maryland, JP Morgan and Wells Fargo agreed to pay $37.5 million in penalties for a mortgage-kickback scheme with a title company.
- The Supreme Court heard oral arguments for disparate impact case on January 21st. (Whether disparate impact is a cognizable claim under the Fair Housing Act).
The Urban Institute has posted its November Housing Finance At A Glance. This is a really valuable resource. The introduction provides a nice overview of recent developments in the area:
This is a residential mortgage foreclosure case. The original foreclosure by CMI (CitiMortgage, apparently Freddie Mac’s servicer) was by “advertisement” – i.e., pursuant to the Michigan nonjudicial foreclosure statute. Freddie was the successful bidder at the foreclosure sale. In a subsequent action to evict the borrowers, they raised two defenses.
Their first defense was based on the argument that, even though Freddie Mac was concededly a nongovernmental entity prior to it’s being placed into conservatorship in 2008 (see American Bankers Mortgage Corp v. Fed Home Loan Mortgage Corp, 75 F3d 1401, 1406–1409 (9th Cir. 1996)), it had become a federal agency by virtue of the conservatorship with FHFA as conservator. As such, it was required to comply with Due Process in foreclosing, and the borrowers argued that the Michigan nonjudicial foreclosure procedure did not afford due process.
The court rejected this argument, as has every court that has considered it. The test for federal agency status is found in Lebron v. Nat’l Railroad Passenger Corp, 513 U.S. 374, 377; 115 S Ct 961; 130 L.Ed.2d 902 (1995), which involved Amtrak. Amtrak was found to be a governmental body, in part because the control of the government was permanent. The court noted, however, that FHFA’s control of Freddie, while open-ended and continuing, was not intended to be permanent. Hence, Freddie was not a governmental entity and was not required to conform to Due Process standards in foreclosing mortgages. This may seem overly simplistic, but that’s the way the court analyzed it.
There’s no surprise here. For other cases reaching the same result, see U.S. ex rel. Adams v. Wells Fargo Bank Nat. Ass’n, 2013 WL 6506732 (D. Nev. 2013) (in light of the GSEs’ lack of federal instrumentality status while in conservatorship, homeowners who failed to pay association dues to the GSEs could not be charged with violating the federal False Claims Act); Herron v. Fannie Mae, 857 F. Supp. 2d 87 (D.D.C. 2012) (Fannie Mae, while in conservatorship, is not a federal agency for purposes of a wrongful discharge claim); In re Kapla, 485 B.R. 136 (Bankr. E.D. Mich. 2012), aff’d, 2014 WL 346019 (E.D. Mich. 2014) (Fannie Mae, while in conservatorship, is not a “governmental actor” subject to Due Process Clause for purposes of foreclosure); May v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 2013 WL 3207511 (S.D. Tex. 2013) (same); In re Hermiz, 2013 WL 3353928 (E.D. Mich. 2013) (same, Freddie Mac).
There’s a potential issue that the court didn’t ever reach. Assume that a purely federal agency holds a mortgage, and transfers it to its servicer (a private entity) to foreclose. Does Due Process apply? The agency is still calling the shots, but the private servicer is the party whose name is on the foreclosure. Don’t you think that’s an interesting question?
The borrowers’ second defense was that Michigan statutes require a recorded chain of mortgage assignments in order to foreclose nonjudicially. See Mich. Comp. L. 600.3204(3). In this case the mortgage had been held by ABN-AMRO, which had been merged with CMI (CitiMortgage), the foreclosing entity. No assignment of the mortgage had been recorded in connection with the merger. However, the court was not impressed with this argument either. It noted that the Michigan Supreme Court in Kim v JP Morgan Chase Bank, NA, 493 Mich 98, 115-116; 825 NW2d 329 (2012), had stated
to set aside the foreclosure sale, plaintiffs must show that they were prejudiced by defendant’s failure to comply with MCL 600.3204. To demonstrate such prejudice, they must show they would have been in a better position to preserve their interest in the property absent defendant’s noncompliance with the statute.
The court found that the borrowers were not prejudiced by the failure to record an assignment in connection with the corporate merger, and hence could not set the sale aside.
But this holding raises an interesting issue: When is failure to record a mortgage assignment ever prejudicial to the borrower? One can conceive of such a case, but it’s pretty improbable. Suppose the borrowers want to seek a loan modification, and to do so, check the public records in Michigan to find out to whom their loan has been assigned. However, no assignment is recorded, and when they check with the originating lender, they are stonewalled. Are they prejudiced?
Well, not if it’s a MERS loan, since they can quickly find out who holds the loan by querying the MERS web site. (True, the MERS records might possibly be wrong, but they’re correct in the vast majority of cases.) And then there’s the fact that federal law requires written, mailed notification to the borrowers of both any change in servicing and any sale of the loan itself. If they received these notices (which are mandatory), there’s no prejudice to them in not being able to find the same information in the county real estate records.
So one can postulate a case in which failure to record an assignment is prejudicial to the borrowers, but it’s extremely improbable. The truth is that checking the public records is a terrible way to find out who holds your loan. Moreover, Michigan requires recording of assignments only for a nonjudicial foreclosure; a person with the right to enforce the promissory note can foreclose the mortgage judicially whether there’s a chain of assignments or not.
All in all, the statutory requirement to record a chain of assignments is pretty meaningless to everybody involved – a fact that the Michigan courts recognize implicitly by their requirement that the borrower show prejudice in order to set a foreclosure sale aside on this ground.
The National Credit Union Administration has sued J.P. Morgan Securities and Bear, Stearns & Co. for alleged securities laws violations relating to the sale of mortgage-backed securities to 4 credit unions that are now in NCUA conservatorship. According to the complaint, Bear Stearns (now owned by JPMorgan) made misrepresentations to the purchasing credit unions as part of its underwriting and sales of the MBS. The press release notes that NCUA has initiated eight similar suits against a variety of financial institutions.
One of the representations at issue states that “a mortgage loan will be considered to be originated in accordance with a given set of underwriting standards if, based on an overall qualitative evaluation, the loan is in substantial compliance with those underwriting standards.” (Complaint paragraph 408, page 170)
Given what we know about a lot of the securities that were issued, it is hard to imagine that reps like this were not violated for many of them.