Mnuchin, When No One Is Watching

Alexander Hamilton

My latest column for The Hill is Hamilton Acted in Good Faith. Will Steven Mnuchin Do The Same? It reads:

UCLA’s legendary basketball coach John Wooden famously said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

Steven Mnuchin, another leading citizen of Los Angeles, is now in the spotlight as President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Running the Treasury Department requires financial know-how, which this former Goldman Sachs banker has in spades. But it also requires character, as a large part of the Treasury secretary’s job is to embody the good faith that the American people want the rest of the world to have in us.

In Alexander Hamilton’s Report Relative to a Provision for the Support of Public Credit, written just after he became the first U.S. Treasury secretary, he notes that the government must maintain public credit “by good faith, by a punctual performance of contracts. States, like individuals, who observe their engagements, are respected and trusted, while the reverse is the fate of those, who pursue an opposite conduct.”

OneWest’s actions during Mnuchin’s tenure as chief executive officer raise questions about whether Mnuchin has demonstrated the character necessary to be a worthy successor to Hamilton.

A recently disclosed memo by lawyers at California’s Office of the Attorney General documents a pattern of bad faith toward homeowners with OneWest mortgages. The memo documents evidence of widespread wrongdoing that helped the bank and hurt the homeowners. The evidence includes the backdating of notarized and recorded documents in 99.6 percent of the examined mortgage files and unlawful credit bids and substitutions of trustees in 16.0 percent of those files.

These are not merely technical violations. They shortened the time that homeowners had to get their mortgages back in good standing and they violated a number of procedural protections for homeowners facing non-judicial foreclosures.

Non-judicial foreclosures give lenders the ability to bypass the courts so long as they strictly abide by the procedural protections set forth by statute. Non-judicial foreclosures can only maintain their legitimacy if lenders respect those procedural protections. This is because there is no judge to make sure that the procedural protections are being adhered to. Without them, a homeowner can be no more than a sheep being led to the financial slaughterhouse of an improper foreclosure.

Some bankers have argued that focusing on violations of mortgage terms is overly legalistic, and beside the point given the widespread defaults during the financial crisis. It isn’t. The violations documented in the memo benefited the bank and harmed homeowners by allowing foreclosures to occur faster than they would if the formalities were followed.

They also allowed the bank to avoid paying various taxes relating to the sale of foreclosed properties. Some of the violations documented in the memo can result in felony convictions, which shows just how seriously California views the procedural requirements relating to non-judicial foreclosures. Ultimately, California’s then-Attorney General (and now U.S. Senator) Kamala Harris, chose not to file this complex lawsuit, but the memo’s findings are disturbing nonetheless.

As Hamilton knew, acting in good faith, performing agreements as they are written and keeping promises lead to respect and trust, “while the reverse is the fate of those, who pursue an opposite conduct.” The American people deserve a leader at Treasury with those traits, one who cherishes the rule of law as the basis of a both a healthy market economy and a well-functioning democratic government.

Other nations expect that we meet this standard, too. If they see us as just another bully on the world stage, we will lose our ability to lead by example. Members of the Senate Finance Committee should ask Mnuchin whether his actions at OneWest met the standard set forth by Hamilton.

We won’t be in the rooms where important decisions happen, so we need to have confidence in how Mnuchin will act when he thinks that no one is watching.

Hawaiian Court Finds That Foreclosure was Permissible on 1250 Oceanside

The court in deciding In re 1250 Oceanside Partners, (Bankr. D. Haw., 2013) ultimately came to the conclusion that Oceanside was entitled to foreclose.

The debtor in possession, 1250 Oceanside (Oceanside), sought to enforce a promissory note and foreclose a mortgage made by defendants Lawrence Shaw and Lisa Shaw (the Shaws). The other defendants claimed interests in the mortgaged property. Oceanside now sought summary judgment. The Shaws argued that the court lacked jurisdiction, that Oceanside was not entitled to foreclose, and that if it was entitled to foreclose, it was not entitled to a deficiency judgment.

The court decided that there was no dispute as to any material fact. Oceanside was entitled to foreclose on the property, but it was not entitled to a deficiency judgment against the Shaws at this stage in the litigation.

Washington Court Upholds Dismissal of RESPA Claims

The court in deciding Bhatti v. Guild Mortg. Co., 2013 U.S. App. 25659 (9th Cir. Wash. 2013) ultimately upheld the lower court’s decision by dismissing the plaintiff’s RESPA claims.

Plaintiffs Nusrat Bhatti and Erfan Semuel filed a complaint in Washington state court against Guild Mortgage Co. and MERS for quiet title, declaratory judgment, and violations of the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, 12 U.S.C. § 2601.

Defendants filed a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. The lower court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss. Plaintiffs appealed, after considering the plaintiff’s appeal, this court affirmed the lower court.

This court held that the lower court did not abuse its discretion in ruling on defendants’ 12(b)(6) motion. This court also found that defendants did not violate the DTA’s requirement that a deed of trust’s beneficiary hold the note when it appoints a successor trustee

Accordingly, the lower court’s judgment was affirmed.


The Court found That Bank of America had Standing Even After Merger

The court in deciding Bank of Am., N.A. v. Harris, 2013-Ohio-5749 (Ohio Ct. App., Cuyahoga County 2013) found Bank of America had standing after merger.

Plaintiff moved for summary judgment arguing that Bank of America lacked standing to foreclosure because the bank was “a party solely by virtue of a purported assignment from MERS.” Plaintiff argued that MERS had no authority to assign the mortgage to Bank of America, and thus, Bank of America had no standing to bring the suit.

The court found that the bank had standing to bring a foreclosure action because it was the real party in interest at the time that a foreclosure complaint was filed. The court noted that a party who received an assignment of mortgage from MERS as a nominee had standing to foreclose when the borrower defaulted. The court found that here the bank had possession of the note, therefore, it was the current holder of the note and entitled to enforce it under R.C. 1303.31. Further, the court found that after the merger, the bank stepped into the shoes of the absorbed company and had the ability to enforce, thus no further action was necessary to become a real party in interest.


Nevada Court Dismisses Show-me-the-Note Action Brought Against Chase and MERS

The court in Leong v. JPMorgan Chase, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 144678 (D. Nev. Oct. 7, 2013) granted defendants’ motion to dismiss.

This action arose out of the foreclosure proceedings initiated against the property of pro se Plaintiff Teresa Leong. Pending before the court was a motion to dismiss filed by defendants JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. (“Chase”) and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”) (collectively, “Defendants”). Plaintiff continued to request “to see my original documents Note and Deed.”

Plaintiff insisted that defendant failed to provide the original note. The court found that the only possibly relevant Nevada statute requiring the presentation of the original note or a certified copy is at a Foreclosure Mediation. Nev. Rev. Stat. § 107.086(4). Moreover, the court noted that it treats copies in the same way as it treats originals: “a duplicate is admissible to the same extent as an original.” Nev. Rev. Stat. § 52.245.

The court noted that the defendants correctly point out that plaintiff failed to cite to any authority that requires defendants to produce the original note, and defendants additionally provided non-binding legal authority to the contrary. As such, the court dismissed this cause of action with prejudice.

California Court Dismisses Action Brought Against MERS and Aurora Loan Services for Wrongfully Initiated Foreclosure Proceedings

The court in Morgan v. Aurora Loan Servs., LLC, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 145623 (C.D. Cal. 2013) granted defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claims. The court concluded that the “allegation of other facts consistent with the challenged pleading could not possibly cure the deficiencies” of either the first or third through tenth claims, thus the court dismissed these claims with prejudice.

Plaintiff Cherie J. Morgan filed this action against Aurora Loan Services, LLC (“Aurora”), Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (“MERS”), and Does 1-100, inclusive (collectively, “defendants”).

Plaintiff principally complained that defendants wrongfully initiated foreclosure proceedings against her property and that a subsequent trustee’s sale was invalid because defendants lacked any interest in the property. Plaintiff’s claim asserted the following claims for relief: (1) lack of standing; (2) breach of written contract; (3) intentional misrepresentation; (4) negligent misrepresentation; (5) cancellation of instruments; (6) quiet title; (7) promissory estoppel; (8) breach of implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (9) premature and unlawful filing of notice of default; and (10) unfair business practices under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et seq. (“UCL”).

Defendants moved to dismiss plaintiff’s SAC. Plaintiff opposed the motion, but after considering the parties’ arguments, the court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss.



Nevada Court Found Plaintiff’s Claim for Quiet Title Failed as a Matter of Law Based on Statute’s Express Language

The court in dealing with Beverly v. Weaver-Farley, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146150 (D. Nev. 2013) ultimately dismissed the plaintiff’s claims. In her complaint, plaintiff alleged that pursuant to NRS 116.3116(2)(b), Wells Fargo’s first deed of trust was extinguished by the HOA’s foreclosure and sale of the underlying property.

The court found that, the first deed of trust was recorded in October 2004; also defendant Wells Fargo was assigned all rights under the first deed of trust in April 2009, a full month before the delinquent HOA assessment was recorded on the subject property. Thus, Wells Fargo’s lien meets the statutory requirements of NRS 116.3116(2)(b) as such survived the HOA sale. Therefore, the plaintiff took title to the property subject to the first deed of trust.

As an alternative argument, plaintiff contended that Section 3116(2)(c) carved out a limited exception to Section 3116(2)(b) that is applicable in this matter.

Plaintiff further contended that this section provided that the foreclosure of a delinquent HOA assessment lien extinguished the first security interest on the property if it related to charges incurred during the nine months prior to the foreclosure.

However, once again the court found that the plaintiff misconstrued the statute. The court found that the plain language of NRS 116.3116(2)(c) simply created a limited super priority lien for nine months of HOA assessments leading up to the foreclosure of the first mortgage, but it did not eliminate the first security interest. Based on the express language of the statutes, the court found that the plaintiff’s claim for quiet title failed as a matter of law. Accordingly, the court granted Wells Fargo’s motion to dismiss.