The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in favor of MERS in Montgomery County v. MERSCORP, (August 3, 2015, No. 15-1219) (Barry, J.). MERS, for the uninitiated,
is a national electronic loan registry system that permits its members to freely transfer, among themselves, the promissory notes associated with mortgages, while MERS remains the mortgagee of record in public land records as “nominee” for the note holder and its successors and assigns. MERS facilitates the secondary market for mortgages by permitting its members to transfer the beneficial interest associated with a mortgage—that is, the right to repayment pursuant to the terms of the promissory note—to one another, recording such transfers in the MERS database to notify one another and establish priority, instead of recording such transfers as mortgage assignments in local land recording offices. It was created, in part, to reduce costs associated with the transfer of notes secured by mortgages by permitting note holders to avoid recording fees. (4, footnote omitted)
I, along with others, had filed an amicus brief in this case. The court states that
We acknowledge the arguments of the Recorder and her amici contending that MERS has a harmful impact on homeowners, title professionals, local land records, and various public programs supported in part by the fees collected by Pennsylvania’s recorders of deeds. In this appeal, however, we are not called upon to evaluate how MERS impacts various constituencies or to adjudicate whether MERS is good or bad. Just as the Seventh Circuit observed in Union County, while the Recorder is critical of MERS in several respects, “[her] appeal claims only that MERSCORP is violating [state law] by failing to record its transfer of mortgage debts, thus depriving the county governments of recording fees. That claim—the only one before us—has no merit.” 735 F.3d at 734-35. (13)
MERS has had a lot of success in cases like this, but the fact remains that it was implemented in a flawed fashion with little to no input from a broad range of constituencies. Regulators and legislators should pay renewed attention to MERS to ensure that the ownership and servicing of residential mortgages are tracked in a way that protects consumers from abusive behavior by sophisticated mortgage market players who rely on opaque mechanisms like MERS.