Sunday, January 9, 2011

Two State Supreme Court Opinions On Foreclosures And Assignments

On Friday, the high court in two states issued opinions relating to foreclosures.  

In JPMorgan Chase Bank v. Harp, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court held that lack of ownership of the mortgage at the time suit is filed is not a fatal defect if ownership is acquired before summary judgment is obtained.
Harp asserts that JPMorgan did not have standing to bring this action before it received assignment of the mortgage and therefore the complaint should be dismissed without prejudice....At the commencement of litigation, JPMorgan owned the note, but not the mortgage.   JPMorgan would  have been vulnerable to a motion by Harp challenging JPMorgan’s ability to foreclose at that time.  However, Harp did not raise this issue before JPMorgan cured the defect through the assignment of the mortgage from Nationwide Lending Corp.  At the time JPMorgan filed its motion for summary judgment,  it had satisfied the ownership prerequisites for standing.
The court concluded:
In summary, we hold that JPMorgan improperly filed the foreclosure complaint before it owned both the note and the mortgage, but this defect was cured when JPMorgan was assigned the mortgage.  Because Harp did not raise this issue until after the assignment, the court did not err in considering JPMorgan’s motion for summary judgment.
In U.S. Bank National Association v. Ibanzez, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed a lower court's ruling voiding two foreclosure sales.  The opinion began:
After foreclosing on two properties and purchasing the properties back at the foreclosure sales, U.S. Bank National Association (U.S.Bank), as trustee for the Structured Asset Securities Corporation Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2006-Z; and Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. (Wells Fargo), as trustee for ABFC 2005-OPT 1 Trust, ABFC Asset Backed Certificates, Series 2005-OPT 1 (plaintiffs) filed separate complaints in the Land Court asking a judge to declare that they held clear title to the properties in fee simple. We agree with the judge that the plaintiffs, who were not the original mortgagees, failed to make the required showing that they were the holders of the mortgages at the time of foreclosure. As a result, they did not demonstrate that the foreclosure sales were valid to convey title to the subject properties, and their requests for a declaration of clear title were properly denied. 
The court described the foreclosure process in Massachusetts, which does not include judicial oversight, and stated:
Recognizing the substantial power that the statutory scheme affords to a mortgage holder to foreclose without immediate judicial oversight, we adhere to the familiar rule that "one who sells under a power [of sale] must follow strictly its terms. If he fails to do so there is no valid execution of the power, and the sale is wholly void."....
One of the terms of the power of sale that must be strictly adhered to is the restriction on who is entitled to foreclose. The "statutory power of sale" can be exercised by "the mortgagee or his executors, administrators, successors or assigns." G.L. c. 183, § 21. Under G.L. c. 244, § 14, "[t]he mortgagee or person having his estate in the land mortgaged, or a person authorized by the power of sale, or the attorney duly authorized by a writing under seal, or the legal guardian or conservator of such mortgagee or person acting in the name of such mortgagee or person" is empowered to exercise the statutory power of sale. Any effort to foreclose by a party lacking "jurisdiction and authority" to carry out a foreclosure under these statutes is void.... 
For the plaintiffs to obtain the judicial declaration of clear title that they seek, they had to prove their authority to foreclose under the power of sale and show their compliance with the requirements on which this authority rests. Here, the plaintiffs were not the original mortgagees to whom the power of sale was granted; rather, they claimed the authority to foreclose as the eventual assignees of the original mortgagees. Under the plain language of G.L. c. 183, § 21, and G.L. c. 244, § 14, the plaintiffs had the authority to exercise the power of sale contained in the Ibanez and LaRace mortgages only if they were the assignees of the mortgages at the time of the notice of sale and the subsequent foreclosure sale....
We do not suggest that an assignment must be in recordable form at the time of the notice of sale or the subsequent foreclosure sale, although recording is likely the better practice. Where a pool of mortgages is assigned to a securitized trust, the executed agreement that assigns the pool of mortgages, with a schedule of the pooled mortgage loans that clearly and specifically identifies the mortgage at issue as among those assigned, may suffice to establish the trustee as the mortgage holder. However, there must be proof that the assignment was made by a party that itself held the mortgage....
Third, the plaintiffs initially argued that postsale assignments were sufficient to establish their authority to foreclose, and now argue that these assignments are sufficient when taken in conjunction with the evidence of a presale assignment. They argue that the use of postsale assignments was customary in the industry, and point to Title Standard No. 58(3) issued by the Real Estate Bar Association for Massachusetts, which declares: "A title is not defective by reason of ... [t]he recording of an Assignment of Mortgage executed either prior, or subsequent, to foreclosure where said Mortgage has been foreclosed, of record, by the Assignee." [FN21] To the extent that the plaintiffs rely on this title standard for the proposition that an entity that does not hold a mortgage may foreclose on a property, and then cure the cloud on title by a later assignment of a mortgage, their reliance is misplaced because this proposition is contrary to G.L. c. 183, § 21, and G.L. c. 244, § 14. If the plaintiffs did not have their assignments to the Ibanez and LaRace mortgages at the time of the publication of the notices and the sales, they lacked authority to foreclose under G.L. c. 183, § 21, and G.L. c. 244, § 14, and their published claims to be the present holders of the mortgages were false. Nor may a postforeclosure assignment be treated as a pre-foreclosure assignment simply by declaring an "effective date" that precedes the notice of sale and foreclosure, as did Option One's assignment of the LaRace mortgage to Wells Fargo. Because an assignment of a mortgage is a transfer of legal title, it becomes effective with respect to the power of sale only on the transfer; it cannot become effective before the transfer. See In re Schwartz, supra at 269. 
However, we do not disagree with Title Standard No. 58(3) that, where an assignment is confirmatory of an earlier, valid assignment made prior to the publication of notice and execution of the sale, that confirmatory assignment may be executed and recorded after the foreclosure, and doing so will not make the title defective. A valid assignment of a mortgage gives the holder of that mortgage the statutory power to sell after a default regardless whether the assignment has been recorded. See G.L. c. 183, § 21; MacFarlane v. Thompson, 241 Mass. 486, 489 (1922). Where the earlier assignment is not in recordable form or bears some defect, a written assignment executed after foreclosure that confirms the earlier assignment may be properly recorded. See Bon v. Graves, 216 Mass. 440, 444-445 (1914). A confirmatory assignment, however, cannot confirm an assignment that was not validly made earlier or backdate an assignment being made for the first time.   
The briefs and oral argument in the Massachusetts case can be viewed below:
video

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