Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

July 23, 2013

U.S. District Court for Hawaii Rules in Favor of MERS in Non-Judicial Foreclosure Proceeding, Validating its Right to Transfer, Foreclose, and Sell Property as the Lender’s Nominee

By Alex Orchowski

In Pascual v. Aurora Loan Services, No. 10–00759 JMS–KSC, 2012 WL 2355531, at 1-18 (D. Haw. June 18, 2012), the court explained the role of MERS in mortgage transfers and granted Defendant Aurora Loan Services’s motion to dismiss the Plaintiff Pascual’s claim that the non-judicial foreclosure executed by Defendant was void as a result of MERS’s invalid assignment of the mortgage.

Under the language of the mortgage, MERS held the power of sale of the subject property and “the right to foreclose and sell the property and to take action required of the Lender.” The mortgage also notified the Plaintiffs that the “Note [could] be sold without prior notice.” MERS, acting as a nominee for the lender, Lehman Brothers, assigned the mortgage to the Defendant after Lehman Brothers filed for voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Shortly after the assignment, the Plaintiffs defaulted on their loan. Defendants subsequently filed a Notice of Mortgagee’s Intention to Foreclosure Under Power of Sale. It held a public auction, and as the highest bidder, recorded a Mortgagee’s Affidavit of Foreclosure Sale under Power of Sale.

Under HRS §677-5, the “mortgagee, mortgagee’s successor in interest, or any person authorized by the power to act,” can foreclose under power of sale upon breach of a condition in the mortgage. Plaintiffs argued that because MERS did not match the description of one these parties, it did not have authority to assign the mortgage to the Defendant, thereby making the transfer invalid. In response, the Court denied the Plaintiff’s assertions and explained the role of MERS, citing Cervantes v. Countrywide Home Loans, 656 F. 3d 1034 (9th Cir. 2011). It described MERS as a “private electronic database that tracks the transfer of the beneficial interest in home loans as well as any changes in loan servicers.” It further stated that “at the origination of the loan, MERS is designated in the deed of trust as a nominee for the lender and the lender’s ‘successor’s and assigns,’ and as the deed’s ‘beneficiary’ which holds legal title to the security interest conveyed.” The court elaborated that under Cervantes, “claims attacking the MERS recording system as fraud fail, given that mortgages generally disclose MERS’[s] role as acting ‘solely as nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns,’” and that “MERS has the right to foreclose and sell the property.”

Applying the holding to the present case, the court concluded that the mortgage expressly notified the Plaintiffs of MERS’s role as the “nominee for the ‘Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns,’” which had the power of sale of the subject property without giving notice to the Borrower. For these reasons, the court concluded that the transfer from MERS to the Defendant was valid. As a result, it dismissed the Plaintiff’s claim for a violation of HRS § 667-5.

The Court also dismissed Plaintiff’s motion to amend their claim. Contrary to Plaintiff’s assertions, it concluded that there was not a statutory requirement for the Defendants to provide affirmative evidence that its assignment of the subject property was valid. It also denied Plaintiff’s claim that Lehman Brothers’ entrance into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings precluded it from validly transferring the mortgage to the Defendant.

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