Bank Break-ins

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Chris Odinet has posted Banks, Break-Ins, and Bad Actors in Mortgage Foreclosure to SSRN. The abstract reads,

During the housing crisis banks were confronted with a previously unknown number mortgage foreclosures, and even as the height of the crisis has passed lenders are still dealing with a tremendous backlog. Overtime lenders have increasingly engaged third party contractors to assist them in managing these assets. These property management companies — with supposed expertise in the management and preservation of real estate — have taken charge of a large swathe of distressed properties in order to ensure that, during the post-default and pre-foreclosure phases, the property is being adequately preserved and maintained. But in mid-2013 a flurry of articles began cropping up in newspapers and media outlets across the country recounting stories of people who had fallen behind on their mortgage payments returning home one day to find that all of their belongings had been taken and their homes heavily damaged. These homeowners soon discovered that it was not a random thief that was the culprit, but rather property management contractors hired by the homeowners’ mortgage servicer.

The issues arising from these practices have become so pervasive that lawsuits have been filed in over 30 states, and legal aid organizations in California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, and New York report that complaints against lender-engaged property managements firms number among their top grievances. This Article analyzes lender-engaged property management firms and these break-in foreclosure activities. In doing so, the paper makes a three-part call to action, which includes the implementation of bank contractor oversight regulations, the creation of a private cause of action for aggrieved homeowners, and the curtailment of property preservation clauses in mortgage contracts.

This is a timely article about a cutting edge issue. All too often I have heard pro-bank lawyers claim that banks almost never foreclose improperly. The news reports and lawsuits discussed in this article counter that claim. And yet, I hope that some empirically-minded person could quantify the frequency of such misbehavior to better inform policymakers going forward.

California Court Holds that the Securitization of Mortgage Loan did not Nullify Rights Granted Under Deed, Including the Right to Foreclose

The court in deciding Rivac v. Ndex West LLC, 2013 U.S. Dist. (N.D. Cal. Dec. 17, 2013) granted the motion to dismiss tendered by the defendant.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint that alleged eight causes of action including; (1) breach of contract, (2) breach of implied agreement, (3) slander of title, (4) wrongful foreclosure, (5) violation of § 17200, (6) violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1601, et seq. (TILA) (7) violation of 12 U.S.C. § 2605 (RESPA), and (8) violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. (FDCPA).

After considering the plaintiff’s contentions, the court granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss. The court then held that the securitization of borrowers’ mortgage loan did not nullify any rights granted under a deed of trust, including the right to foreclose against the borrowers’ real property upon the borrowers’ default.

Further, the absence of the original promissory note in the nonjudicial foreclosure did not render the foreclosure invalid. Moreover, the court held that mere allegations that documents related to the deed of trust were robo-signed by persons who had no authority to execute the documents had no effect on the validity of the foreclosure process.

Lastly, the court held that there was no breach of the deed of trust since the beneficiary was expressly authorized to sell the underlying note, and the borrowers themselves did not perform under the deed of trust.

California Court Dismisses Show-Me-the-Note Claim

The court in deciding Newman v. Bank of N.Y. Mellon, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147562 (E.D. Cal. 2013) granted the defendant’s motion and dismissed the complaint.

Plaintiff (Newman) argued that he was not challenging the authorization to foreclose, nor was he requiring defendants to “produce the note.” Rather, he was challenging whether the correct entity is initiating foreclosure. He claimed that BONY did not have the right to enforce the mortgage because it did not own the loan, the note, or the mortgage.

Plaintiff alleged claims for declaratory relief, quasi-contract, California Civil Code § 2923.5, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 U.S.C. § 1692 et. seq.) (“FDCPA”),California Business & Professions Code § 17200 (“UCL”), and negligence.

Defendants argue that dismissal is appropriate for several reasons. First, Newman could not bring an action to determine whether the person initiating the foreclosure was authorized to do so. Second, Newman’s allegations that the assignments of the deed of trust involved illegible signatures and “robo-signers” were irrelevant. Third, Newman had no standing to challenge any violations of the Pooling and Servicing Agreement (“PSA”).

After reviewing the arguments the court found that the claims for declaratory relief, quasi-contract, under Cal. Civ. Code § 2923.5, and under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) failed because any claims that were based on violation of the pooling and servicing agreement were not viable, the borrower was estopped from arguing that the assignment violated the automatic stay, and the allegations of fraudulent assignments were insufficient and implausible.

The negligence claim also failed. The claim under Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code § 17200 (UCL) failed because the complaint did not state a claim for violation of the FDCPA, Cal. Penal Code § 532f(a)(4) could not have formed the basis of a UCL claim, and no violation of the Security First Rule was apparent.

(Non-)Enforcement of Securitized Mortgage Loans

Professors Neil Cohen and Dale Whitman, two important scholars who know their way around the UCC and mortgage law, will take on a highly contested topic in an upcoming ABA Professors’ Corner webinar: “Ownership, Transfer, and Enforcement of Securitized Mortgage Loans.” I blogged a bit about this topic a couple of days ago, in relation to Adam Levitin’s new article. There is a lot of misinformation floating around the blogosphere relating to this topic, so I encourage readers to register.

The full information on this program is as follows:

Professors’ Corner is a FREE monthly webinar, sponsored by the ABA Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section’s Legal Education and Uniform Law Group.  On the second Wednesday of each month, a panel of law professors discusses recent cases or issues of interest to real estate practitioners and scholars.

December 2013 Professors’ Corner
“Ownership, Transfer, and Enforcement of Securitized Mortgage Loans”
Profs. Neil Cohen and Dale Whitman
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
12:30pm Eastern/11:30am Cental/9:30am Pacific
Register for this FREE program at http://ambar.org/ProfessorsCorner

Our nation’s courts have been swamped with litigation involving the foreclosure of securitized mortgage loans.  Much of this litigation involves the appropriate interaction of the Uniform Commercial Code and state foreclosure law. Because few foreclosure lawyers and judges are UCC experts, the outcomes of the reported cases have reflected a significant degree of uncertainty or confusion.

In addition, much litigation has been triggered by poor practices in the securitization of mortgage loans, such as robo-signing and the failure to transfer loans into a securitized trust within the time period required by the IRS REMIC rules.  This litigation has likewise produced conflicting case outcomes.  In particular, recent decisions have reflected some disagreement regarding whether a mortgagor — who is not a party to the Pooling and Servicing Agreement that governs the securitized trust that holds the mortgage — can successfully defend a foreclosure by challenging the validity of the assignment of the mortgage to a securitized trust.

Our speakers for the December program will bring some much-needed clarity to these issues.  Our speakers are Prof. Neil B. Cohen, the Jeffrey D. Forchelli Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, and Prof. Dale A. Whitman, the James E Campbell Missouri Endowed Professor Emeritus of Law at the University of Missouri School of Law.  Prof. Cohen is the Research Director of the Permanent Editorial Board for the Uniform Commercial Code, and a principal contributor to the November 2011 PEB Report, “Application of the Uniform Commercial Code to Selected Issues Relating to Mortgage Notes.” Prof. Whitman is the co-Reporter for the Restatement (Third) of Property — Mortgages, and the co-author of the pre-eminent treatise on Real Estate Finance Law.

Please join us for this program.  You may register at http://ambar.org/ProfessorsCorner.

Homeowners in Fifth Circuit Fail to Defeat Deutsche Bank Assignments

In Reinagel v. Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co., 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 22133 (5th Cir. Tex. July 11, 2013), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the Texas district court’s decision to grant Deutsche Bank’s motion to dismiss the homeowners’ complaint alleging the loan assignments were invalid due to robo-signing. The Reinagels refinanced their property in 2006 with Argent Mortgage Company, LLC who sold the loan to Deutsche Bank where it was pooled and sold to investors. The sale of the loan to Deutsche Bank was not documented until 2008, when the assignment was executed. The first assignment of the deed of trust failed to reference the promissory note. A second assignment was executed in 2009, expressly naming the subject note.

After the homeowners defaulted on payments, the state court granted the order for foreclosure in 2010, naming Deutsche Bank as mortgagee with right to foreclose. The Reinagels brought this action for a temporary injunction alleging that the assignments were “robo-signed” and as such facially void. They further argued that the assignments violated the pooling and service agreement (“PSA”), which did not permit transfers into the Deutsche Bank trust after October 1, 2006. The case was removed to the district court on diversity grounds, where the court later granted Deutsche Bank’s motion to dismiss the complaint. The Fifth Circuit affirmed this decision on appeal, finding the Reingals’ challenge of the the assignments unconvincing. The court held that although a non-party to a contract cannot enforce said contract, the obligor may defend on any ground which renders the assignment void, giving homeowners standing as they assert the assignments are facially void. The first assignment was held valid, as the court notes “the transfer of a mortgage presumptively includes the note secured by the mortgage” even if it doesn’t expressly reference the note; the validity of the second assignment is irrelevant here. Additionally, the Reinagels cited no precedent to support invalidating the assignments solely on account of robo-signing, or that violations of the PSA would invalidate the assignments. Further, the court did not find sufficient evidence of robo-signing in regard to either assignment. The court is careful to note that its decision is a narrow one, and provides a warning to banks: “we merely reaffirm that under Texas law facially valid assignments cannot be challenged for want of authority except by the defrauded assignor. We do not condone ‘robo-signing’ more broadly and remind that bank employees or contractors who commit forgery or prepare false affidavits subject themselves and their supervisors to civil and criminal liability.” Id at 12.

Rhode Island Superior Court Deems PennyMac Foreclosure Proper

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.

No Scarlet Letter for Robo-Signing

An “admitted robo-signer” and her bank were let off the hook in Grullon v. Bank of America et al.  (Mar. 28, 2013, No. 10-5427 (KSH) (PS)) (D.N.J.). (19)  Grullon, a homeowner, alleged that he, and others similarly situated, was entitled to relief under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act because of BoA’s “bad practices, including: robo-signing, foreclosure documents, concealing the true owner of loans from the borrowers, and initiating foreclosure proceedings before it had the right too, resulted in unreliable and unfair foreclosure proceedings and ascertainable losses.” (1)

Grullon alleged a variety of fraudulent robo-signing practices, including for affidavits and assignments.  The Court found that in “light of the lack of- or de minimis nature of- the errors found on the documents said to have been “robo-signed,” and Grullon’s lack of standing to challenge the Assignment, the Court is not satisfied that Grullon has proffered sufficient evidence to support his NJCFA claim on this basis.” (21) The Court was also not satisfied that Grullon “has adequately shown that he suffered any ascertainable loss as a result of the 2009 NOI [Notice of Intention to Foreclosure] or the ‘robo-signed’ documents.” (24)  The Court also appears to find that the “robo-signing” of assignments presents no problem as the signer is not attesting to the truth of such a document. (20-21)

Bottom line:  one needs to demonstrate that there was a wrong and that harm resulted from it. Scatter shot allegations of robo-signing don’t work.

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