Archive | August, 2009

Weapons of Mass Eviction: Faulty Intelligence in Mortgage War Increases “Mistaken Foreclosures”

21 Aug

Weapons of Mass Eviction: Faulty Intelligence in Mortgage War Increases “Mistaken Foreclosures”
08/20/2009 By: Adam Weinstein

Anna Ramirez had a tough day by any standard. First, there was the knock at her door by police. Then the forcible ejection of her husband, daughter and grandchildren from the property, and the scattering of their furniture across the front lawn. The chaining shut of her house’s front door. The humiliating realization of her own instant homelessness.

Then there was the acknowledgment by her mortgage lender that it was all a big mistake.

“This came out of nowhere,” said Ramirez – whose house, ironically, is nestled south of Miami in a onetime Florida boomtown called Homestead. “The bank took the house from right under my feet.”

Authorities say the woman’s lender, Washington Mutual – now part of J.P. Morgan Chase – foreclosed on her house while she was refinancing it, then auctioned it to a new owner. Then, after WaMu realized the mistake and reversed the sale, a Miami-Dade county court clerk failed to notify the home’s new owner – who chucked Ramirez and all her stuff off the property.

“This shouldn’t be happening, you know, because we did the right thing,” she said. “We went step by step.”

Doing the right thing is mattering less and less today. According to the data provider RealtyTrac, one of every 355 houses in the nation received a notice of default or foreclosure in July – 360,149 homes in all, a 7 percent jump since June and a 32 percent jump over the same time last year. Growing defaults mean overworked mortgage lenders, servicers, investors, attorneys and courts are making more mistakes – transposing social security numbers, mixing up names and losing payments. And increasingly, the victims of those mistakes are innocent homeowners who are up to date on their loans.

“This story really calls attention to just how inefficient and over-stressed the systems and people who process foreclosures are,” Rick Sharga, a RealtyTrac senior vice president said of Ramirez’ case. “We hear from people who find their homes listed as foreclosures on our website due only to errors from lenders in processing: entering the wrong address, the wrong loan document, sometimes even the wrong owner.”

Ramirez could have had it worse. Staff Sgt. Gerald Thitchener and his wife Katrina temporarily left their Las Vegas condo for his Air National Guard assignment as a fighter-jet mechanic in Tucson, Arizona. When his work was done, they returned to the home at 2981 Country Manor Lane, unit # 118. They found that Countrywide Financial had foreclosed on it, auctioned it and destroyed their belongings – including Katrina’s wedding dress and a photo of Gerald meeting President George H.W. Bush

during the first Gulf War.

But Countrywide was supposed to foreclose on unit #10.

It turned out a contracted inspector mixed up the units, and Countrywide sent a locksmith and a Realtor to inspect the Thitcheners’ apartment. He decided it had been abandoned and told the landlord to “trash out” their condo.

Warren and Norma Becker of Studio City, California, didn’t let events go that far when they started getting junk mail from attorneys who noted that their “home is involved in a foreclosure processing.” They poked around and discovered that a private publisher of foreclosure lists had mistakenly put out a notice of default in their names.

That publisher, Ronald M. Frumkin of Redloc Information Services, said such mistakes were inevitable in Southern California, where he deals with 20,000 similar notices in a month. “A clerk may look up the wrong deed of trust, the legal description may be copied wrong, the legal description may be matched with the wrong parcel or an error in entering all this information into the computer may occur,” he said.

In Ramirez’ home state of Florida, the foreclosure courts have gotten so glutted up with filings that they’re seeking help from the private sector. A panel set up by the state Supreme Court recommended this week that most foreclosure proceedings be sent to contracted mediators for resolution.

The task force didn’t even bother asking to hire more judges and clerks. “Given Florida’s financial situation, it would be a foolish exercise… in the absence of any realistic expectation that such recommendations could be funded,” the court said.

But the courts may be giving themselves more work in the long run. If private mediators don’t cut down on the false foreclosure rate, more angry homeowners may sue their overly exuberant servicers and lenders.

That’s what the Thitcheners ultimately did. They took Countrywide to court over its treatment of them. Some of Gerald Thitchener’s detractors didn’t like the fact that he wore his Air Force uniform to court appearances; that was grandstanding, they argued.

He replied that he’d had no choice: His last dress suit had been thrown out by creditors in the foreclosure.

The courts awarded him and his wife $2.2 million in damages.

Sharga said such cases are the exception to the rule, and he defended mortgage servicers. “We’re dealing with an unbelievably complex situation: 51 sets of foreclosure laws (all 50 states plus DC) being executed by 3,140 county administrators, executed by multiple trustees who are dealing with different contracts from dozens of lenders and trying to address 3 million individual loans,” he said. “That’s a recipe for dysfunction.”

Maybe so, but lenders and servicers need to face the consequences of ousting innocent people from their houses, said John L. Smith, a columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal who championed the Thitcheners’ case.

“What do you suppose would happen to you if you inappropriately seized someone’s home, contacted a Realtor, had it sold and pocketed the profit?” he asked. “After you made bail, I mean.”

Arbitrary compliance with Civil Code 2923.5 Maybe a civil rights violation

16 Aug

Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civ. Code, �� 51, 52) – Essential Factual Elements

Plaintiff [Name of plaintiff] claims that [name of lender or trustee] denied [him/ her] full and equal [accommodations/advantages/facilities/ privileges/services] because of [his/her] [sex/race/color/religion/ ancestry/national origin/disability/medical condition/[insert other actionable characteristic]]. To establish this claim, [name of plaintiff] must prove all of the following:

1. That [name of defendant countrywide or wells fargo] [denied/aided or incited a denial of/discriminated or made a distinction that denied] full and equal [accommodations/advantages/facilities/privileges/ services] to [name of plaintiff]; in that they did not call contact or offer plaintiff alternatives to foreclosure as mandated in the newly enacted civil code 2923.5. they then ask for financial documents not required when originating said loan.

2. [That a motivating reason for [name of defendant]’s conduct was [its perception of] [name of plaintiff]’s [sex/ race/color/religion/ancestry/national origin/disability/medical condition/[insert other actionable characteristic];]

[That the [sex/race/color/religion/ancestry/national origin/ disability/medical condition/[insert other actionable characteristic]] of a person whom [name of plaintiff] was associated with was a motivating reason for [name of defendant]’s conduct;]

3. That [name of plaintiff] was harmed; and

4. That [name of defendant]’s conduct was a substantial factor in causing [name of plaintiff]’s harm.

Directions for Use

Note that this instruction uses the standard of “a motivating reason.” The causation standard is still an open issue under this statute.

The judge may decide the issue of whether the defendant is a business establishment as a matter of law. (Rotary Club of Duarte v. Bd. of Directors (1986) 178 Cal.App.3d 1035, 1050 [224 Cal.Rptr. 213].) Special interrogatories may be needed if there are factual issues. This element has been omitted from the instruction because it is unlikely to go to a jury.

“Legitimate business interests” may justify some degree of limitation on consumer access to public accommodations. (Hankins v. El Torito Restaurants, Inc. (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 510, 520 [74 Cal.Rptr.2d 684].) This will commonly be an issue for the judge to decide. (Harris v. Capital Growth Investors XIV (1991) 52 Cal.3d 1142, 1165 [278 Cal.Rptr. 614, 805 P.2d 873].) If there are contested factual issues, additional instructions may be necessary.
Sources and Authority

Civil Code section 51 provides:

(a) This section shall be known, and may be cited, as the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

(b) All persons within the jurisdiction of this state are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.

(c) This section shall not be construed to confer any right or privilege on a person that is conditioned or limited by law or that is applicable alike to persons of every sex, color, race, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, or medical condition.

(d) Nothing in this section shall be construed to require any construction, alteration, repair, structural or otherwise, or modification of any sort whatsoever, beyond that construction, alteration, repair, or modification that is otherwise required by other provisions of law, to any new or existing establishment, facility, building, improvement, or any other structure, nor shall anything in this section be construed to augment, restrict, or alter in any way the authority of the State Architect to require construction, alteration, repair, or modifications that the State Architect otherwise possesses pursuant to other laws.

(e) For purposes of this section:

(1) “Disability” means any mental or physical disability as defined in Section 12926 of the Government Code.

(2) “Medical condition” has the same meaning as defined in subdivision (h) of Section 12926 of the Government Code.

(f) A violation of the right of any individual under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-336) shall also constitute a violation of this section.

Civil Code section 52 provides:

(a) Whoever denies, aids or incites a denial, or makes any discrimination or distinction contrary to Section 51, 51.5, or 51.6, is liable for each and every offense for the actual damages, and any amount that may be determined by a jury, or a court sitting without a jury, up to a maximum of three times the amount of actual damage but in no case less than four thousand dollars ($4,000), and any attorney’s fees that may be determined by the court in addition thereto, suffered by any person denied the rights provided in Section 51, 51.5, or 51.6.

(b) Whoever denies the right provided by Section 51.7 or 51.9, or aids, incites, or conspires in that denial, is liable for each and every offense for the actual damages suffered by any person denied that right and, in addition, the following:

(1) An amount to be determined by a jury, or a court sitting without a jury, for exemplary damages.

(2) A civil penalty of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000) to be awarded to the person denied the right provided by Section 51.7 in any action brought by the person denied the right, or by the Attorney General, a district attorney, or a city attorney.

(3) Attorney’s fees as may be determined by the court.

(c) Whenever there is reasonable cause to believe that any person or group of persons is engaged in conduct of resistance to the full enjoyment of any of the rights described in this section, and that conduct is of that nature and is intended to deny the full exercise of those rights, the Attorney General, any district attorney or city attorney, or any person aggrieved by the conduct may bring a civil action in the appropriate court by filing with it a complaint. The complaint shall contain the following:

(1) The signature of the officer, or, in his or her absence, the individual acting on behalf of the officer, or the signature of the person aggrieved.

(2) The facts pertaining to the conduct.

(3) A request for preventive relief, including an application for a permanent or temporary injunction, restraining order, or other order against the person or persons responsible for the conduct, as the complainant deems necessary to ensure the full enjoyment of the rights described in this section.

(d) Whenever an action has been commenced in any court seeking relief from the denial of equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States on account of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability, the Attorney General or any district attorney or city attorney for or in the name of the people of the State of California may intervene in the action upon timely application if the Attorney General or any district attorney or city attorney certifies that the case is of general public importance. In that action, the people of the State of California shall be entitled to the same relief as if it had instituted the action.

(e) Actions brought pursuant to this section are independent of any other actions, remedies, or procedures that may be available to an aggrieved party pursuant to any other law.

(f) Any person claiming to be aggrieved by an alleged unlawful practice in violation of Section 51 or 51.7 may also file a verified complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing pursuant to Section 12948 of the Government Code.

(g) This section does not require any construction, alteration, repair, structural or otherwise, or modification of any sort whatsoever, beyond that construction, alteration, repair, or modification that is otherwise required by other provisions of law, to any new or existing establishment, facility, building, improvement, or any other structure, nor does this section augment, restrict, or alter in any way the authority of the State Architect to require construction, alteration, repair, or modifications that the State Architect otherwise possesses pursuant to other laws.

(h) For the purposes of this section, “actual damages” means special and general damages. This subdivision is declaratory of existing law.

” ‘The Legislature used the words “all” and “of every kind whatsoever” in referring to business establishments covered by the Unruh Act, and the inclusion of these words without any exception and without specification of particular kinds of enterprises, leaves no doubt that the term “business establishments” was used in the broadest sense reasonably possible. The word “business” embraces everything about which one can be employed, and it is often synonymous with “calling, occupation, or trade, engaged in for the purpose of making a livelihood or gain.” The word “establishment,” as broadly defined, includes not only a fixed location, such as the “place where one is permanently fixed for residence or business,” but also a permanent “commercial force or organization” or “a permanent settled position, (as in life or business).’ ” (O’Connor v. Village Green Owners Assn. (1983) 33 Cal.3d 790, 795 [191 Cal.Rptr. 320, 662 P.2d 427], internal citations omitted.)

Whether a defendant is a “business establishment” is decided as an issue of law. (Rotary Club of Duarte, supra, 178 Cal.App.3d at p. 1050.)

“In addition to the particular forms of discrimination specifically outlawed by the Act (sex, race, color, etc.), courts have held the Act ‘prohibit[s] discrimination based on several classifications which are not specifically enumerated in the statute.’ These judicially recognized classifications include unconventional dress or physical appearance, families with children, homosexuality, and persons under 18.” (Hessians Motorcycle Club v. J.C. Flanagans (2001) 86 Cal.App.4th 833, 836 [103 Cal.Rptr.2d 552], internal citations omitted.)

” ‘Although the Unruh Act proscribes “any form of arbitrary discrimination”, certain types of discrimination have been denominated “reasonable” and, therefore, not arbitrary.’ Thus, for example, ‘legitimate business interests may justify limitations on consumer access to public accommodations.’ ” (Hankins v. El Torito Restaurants, Inc. (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 510, 520 [74 Cal.Rptr.2d 684], internal citations omitted.)

“Unruh Act issues have often been decided as questions of law on demurrer or summary judgment when the policy or practice of a business establishment is valid on its face because it bears a reasonable relation to commercial objectives appropriate to an enterprise serving the public.” (Harris, supra, 52 Cal.3d at p. 1165, internal citations omitted.)

“It is thus manifested by section 51 that all persons are entitled to the full and equal privilege of associating with others in any business establishment. And section 52, liberally interpreted, makes clear that discrimination by such a business establishment against one’s right of association on account of the associates’ color, is violative of the Act. It follows . . . that discrimination by a business establishment against persons on account of their association with others of the black race is actionable under the Act.” (Winchell v. English (1976) 62 Cal.App.3d 125, 129 [133 Cal.Rptr. 20].)

“Section 51 by its express language applies only within California. It cannot (with its companion penalty provisions in � 52) be extended into the Hawaiian jurisdiction. A state cannot regulate or proscribe activities conducted in another state or supervise the internal affairs of another state in any way, even though the welfare or health of its citizens may be affected when they travel to that state.” (Archibald v. Cinerama Hawaiian Hotels, Inc. (1977) 73 Cal.App.3d 152, 159 [140 Cal.Rptr. 599], internal citations omitted, disapproved on other grounds in Koire v. Metro Car Wash (1985) 40 Cal.3d 24 [219 Cal.Rptr. 133, 707 P.2d 195].)
Secondary Sources

11 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 116, Civil Rights: Discrimination in Business Establishments, �� 116.10-116.13 (Matthew Bender)

3 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 35, Civil Rights (Matthew Bender)

WHERE’S THE NOTE, WHO’S THE HOLDER: ENFORCEMENT OF PROMISSORY NOTE SECURED BY REAL ESTATE

11 Aug

In an era where a very large portion of mortgage obligations have been securitized, by assignment to a trust indenture trustee, with the resulting pool of assets being then sold as mortgage backed securities, foreclosure becomes an interesting exercise, particularly where judicial process is involved. We are all familiar with the securitization process. The steps, if not the process, is simple. A borrower goes to a mortgage lender. The lender finances the purchase of real estate. The borrower signs a note and mortgage or deed of trust. The original lender sells the note and assigns the mortgage to an entity that securitizes the note by combining the note with hundreds or thousands of similar obligation to create a package of mortgage backed securities, which are then sold to investors.

Unfortunately, unless you represent borrowers, the vast flow of notes into the maw of the securitization industry meant that a lot of mistakes were made. When the borrower defaults, the party seeking to enforce the obligation and foreclose on the underlying collateral sometimes cannot find the note. A lawyer sophisticated in this area has speculated to one of the authors that perhaps a third of the notes “securitized” have been lost or destroyed. The cases we are going to look at reflect the stark fact that the unnamed source’s speculation may be well-founded.

UCC SECTION 3-309

If the issue were as simple as a missing note, UCC §3-309 would provide a simple solution. A person entitled to enforce an instrument which has been lost, destroyed or stolen may enforce the instrument. If the court is concerned that some third party may show up and attempt to enforce the instrument against the payee, it may order adequate protection. But, and however, a person seeking to enforce a missing instrument must be a person entitled to enforce the instrument, and that person must prove the instrument’s terms and that person’s right to enforce the instrument. §3-309 (a)(1) & (b).

WHO’S THE HOLDER

Enforcement of a note always requires that the person seeking to collect show that it is the holder. A holder is an entity that has acquired the note either as the original payor or transfer by endorsement of order paper or physical possession of bearer paper. These requirements are set out in Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code, which has been adopted in every state, including Louisiana, and in the District of Columbia. Even in bankruptcy proceedings, State substantive law controls the rights of note and lien holders, as the Supreme Court pointed out almost forty (40) years ago in United States v. Butner, 440 U.S. 48, 54-55 (1979).

However, as Judge Bufford has recently illustrated, in one of the cases discussed below, in the bankruptcy and other federal courts, procedure is governed by the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy and Civil Procedure. And, procedure may just have an impact on the issue of “who,” because, if the holder is unknown, pleading and standing issues arise.

BRIEF REVIEW OF UCC PROVISIONS

Article 3 governs negotiable instruments – it defines what a negotiable instrument is and defines how ownership of those pieces of paper is transferred. For the precise definition, see § 3-104(a) (“an unconditional promise or order to pay a fixed amount of money, with or without interest . . . .”) The instrument may be either payable to order or bearer and payable on demand or at a definite time, with or without interest.

Ordinary negotiable instruments include notes and drafts (a check is a draft drawn on a bank). See § 3-104(e).

Negotiable paper is transferred from the original payor by negotiation. §3-301. “Order paper” must be endorsed; bearer paper need only be delivered. §3-305. However, in either case, for the note to be enforced, the person who asserts the status of the holder must be in possession of the instrument. See UCC § 1-201 (20) and comments.

The original and subsequent transferees are referred to as holders. Holders who take with no notice of defect or default are called “holders in due course,” and take free of many defenses. See §§ 3-305(b).

The UCC says that a payment to a party “entitled to enforce the instrument” is sufficient to extinguish the obligation of the person obligated on the instrument. Clearly, then, only a holder – a person in possession of a note endorsed to it or a holder of bearer paper – may seek satisfaction or enforce rights in collateral such as real estate.

NOTE: Those of us who went through the bank and savings and loan collapse of the 1980’s are familiar with these problems. The FDIC/FSLIC/RTC sold millions of notes secured and unsecured, in bulk transactions. Some notes could not be found and enforcement sometimes became a problem. Of course, sometimes we are forced to repeat history. For a recent FDIC case, see Liberty Savings Bank v. Redus, 2009 WL 41857 (Ohio App. 8 Dist.), January 8, 2009.

THE RULES

Judge Bufford addressed the rules issue this past year. See In re Hwang, 396 B.R. 757 (Bankr. C. D. Cal. 2008). First, there are the pleading problems that arise when the holder of the note is unknown. Typically, the issue will arise in a motion for relief from stay in a bankruptcy proceeding.

According F.R.Civ. Pro. 17, “[a]n action must be prosecuted in the name of the real party in interest.” This rule is incorporated into the rules governing bankruptcy procedure in several ways. As Judge Bufford has pointed out, for example, in a motion for relief from stay, filed under F.R.Bankr.Pro. 4001 is a contested matter, governed by F. R. Bankr. P. 9014, which makes F.R. Bankr. Pro. 7017 applicable to such motions. F.R. Bankr. P. 7017 is, of course, a restatement of F.R. Civ. P. 17. In re Hwang, 396 B.R. at 766. The real party in interest in a federal action to enforce a note, whether in bankruptcy court or federal district court, is the owner of a note. (In securitization transactions, this would be the trustee for the “certificate holders.”) When the actual holder of the note is unknown, it is impossible – not difficult but impossible – to plead a cause of action in a federal court (unless the movant simply lies about the ownership of the note). Unless the name of the actual note holder can be stated, the very pleadings are defective.

STANDING

Often, the servicing agent for the loan will appear to enforce the note. Assume that the servicing agent states that it is the authorized agent of the note holder, which is “Trust Number 99.” The servicing agent is certainly a party in interest, since a party in interest in a bankruptcy court is a very broad term or concept. See, e.g., Greer v. O’Dell, 305 F.3d 1297, 1302-03 (11th Cir. 2002). However, the servicing agent may not have standing: “Federal Courts have only the power authorized by Article III of the Constitutions and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant thereto. … [A] plaintiff must have Constitutional standing in order for a federal court to have jurisdiction.” In re Foreclosure Cases, 521 F.Supp. 3d 650, 653 (S.D. Ohio, 2007) (citations omitted).

But, the servicing agent does not have standing, for only a person who is the holder of the note has standing to enforce the note. See, e.g., In re Hwang, 2008 WL 4899273 at 8.

The servicing agent may have standing if acting as an agent for the holder, assuming that the agent can both show agency status and that the principle is the holder. See, e.g., In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008) at 520.

A BRIEF ASIDE: WHO IS MERS?

For those of you who are not familiar with the entity known as MERS, a frequent participant in these foreclosure proceedings:

MERS is the “Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc. “MERS is a mortgage banking ‘utility’ that registers mortgage loans in a book entry system so that … real estate loans can be bought, sold and securitized, just like Wall Street’s book entry utility for stocks and bonds is the Depository Trust and Clearinghouse.” Bastian, “Foreclosure Forms”, State. Bar of Texas 17th Annual Advanced Real Estate Drafting Course, March 9-10, 2007, Dallas, Texas. MERS is enormous. It originates thousands of loans daily and is the mortgagee of record for at least 40 million mortgages and other security documents. Id.

MERS acts as agent for the owner of the note. Its authority to act should be shown by an agency agreement. Of course, if the owner is unknown, MERS cannot show that it is an authorized agent of the owner.

RULES OF EVIDENCE – A PRACTICAL PROBLEM

This structure also possesses practical evidentiary problems where the party asserting a right to foreclose must be able to show a default. Once again, Judge Bufford has addressed this issue. At In re Vargas, 396 B.R. at 517-19. Judge Bufford made a finding that the witness called to testify as to debt and default was incompetent. All the witness could testify was that he had looked at the MERS computerized records. The witness was unable to satisfy the requirements of the Federal Rules of Evidence, particularly Rule 803, as applied to computerized records in the Ninth Circuit. See id. at 517-20. The low level employee could really only testify that the MERS screen shot he reviewed reflected a default. That really is not much in the way of evidence, and not nearly enough to get around the hearsay rule.

FORECLOSURE OR RELIEF FROM STAY

In a foreclosure proceeding in a judicial foreclosure state, or a request for injunctive relief in a non-judicial foreclosure state, or in a motion for relief proceeding in a bankruptcy court, the courts are dealing with and writing about the problems very frequently.

In many if not almost all cases, the party seeking to exercise the rights of the creditor will be a servicing company. Servicing companies will be asserting the rights of their alleged principal, the note holder, which is, again, often going to be a trustee for a securitization package. The mortgage holder or beneficiary under the deed of trust will, again, very often be MERS.

Even before reaching the practical problem of debt and default, mentioned above, the moving party must show that it holds the note or (1) that it is an agent of the holder and that (2) the holder remains the holder. In addition, the owner of the note, if different from the holder, must join in the motion.

Some states, like Texas, have passed statutes that allow servicing companies to act in foreclosure proceedings as a statutorily recognized agent of the noteholder. See, e.g., Tex. Prop. Code §51.0001. However, that statute refers to the servicer as the last entity to whom the debtor has been instructed to make payments. This status is certainly open to challenge. The statute certainly provides nothing more than prima facie evidence of the ability of the servicer to act. If challenged, the servicing agent must show that the last entity to communicate instructions to the debtor is still the holder of the note. See, e.g., HSBC Bank, N.A. v. Valentin, 2l N.Y. Misc. 3d 1123(A), 2008 WL 4764816 (Table) (N.Y. Sup.), Nov. 3, 2008. In addition, such a statute does not control in federal court where Fed. R. Civ. P. 17 and 19 (and Fed. R. Bankr. P. 7017 and 7019) apply.

SOME RECENT CASE LAW

These cases are arranged by state, for no particular reason.

Massachusetts

In re Schwartz, 366 B.R.265 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2007)

Schwartz concerns a Motion for Relief to pursue an eviction. Movant asserted that the property had been foreclosed upon prior to the date of the bankruptcy petition. The pro se debtor asserted that the Movant was required to show that it had authority to conduct the sale. Movant, and “the party which appears to be the current mortgagee…” provided documents for the court to review, but did not ask for an evidentiary hearing. Judge Rosenthal sifted through the documents and found that the Movant and the current mortgagee had failed to prove that the foreclosure was properly conducted.

Specifically, Judge Rosenthal found that there was no evidence of a proper assignment of the mortgage prior to foreclosure. However, at footnote 5, Id. at 268, the Court also finds that there is no evidence that the note itself was assigned and no evidence as to who the current holder might be.

Nosek v. Ameriquest Mortgage Company (In re Nosek), 286 Br. 374 (Bankr D Mass. 2008).

Almost a year to the day after Schwartz was signed, Judge Rosenthal issued a second opinion. This is an opinion on an order to show cause. Judge Rosenthal specifically found that, although the note and mortgage involved in the case had been transferred from the originator to another party within five days of closing, during the five years in which the chapter 13 proceeding was pending, the note and mortgage and associated claims had been prosecuted by Ameriquest which has represented itself to be the holder of the note and the mortgage. Not until September of 2007 did Ameriquest notify the Court that it was merely the servicer. In fact, only after the chapter 13 bankruptcy had been pending for about three years was there even an assignment of the servicing rights. Id. at 378.

Because these misrepresentations were not simple mistakes: as the Court has noted on more than one occasion, those parties who do not hold the note of mortgage do not service the mortgage do not have standing to pursue motions for leave or other actions arising form the mortgage obligation. Id at 380.

As a result, the Court sanctioned the local law firm that had been prosecuting the claim $25,000. It sanctioned a partner at that firm an additional $25,000. Then the Court sanctioned the national law firm involved $100,000 and ultimately sanctioned Wells Fargo $250,000. Id. at 382-386.

In re Hayes, 393 B.R. 259 (Bankr. D. Mass. 2008).

Like Judge Rosenthal, Judge Feeney has attacked the problem of standing and authority head on. She has also held that standing must be established before either a claim can be allowed or a motion for relief be granted.

Ohio

In re Foreclosure Cases, 521 F.Supp. 2d (S.D. Ohio 2007).

Perhaps the District Court’s orders in the foreclosure cases in Ohio have received the most press of any of these opinions. Relying almost exclusively on standing, the Judge Rose has determined that a foreclosing party must show standing. “[I]n a foreclosure action, the plaintiff must show that it is the holder of the note and the mortgage at the time that the complaint was filed.” Id. at 653.

Judge Rose instructed the parties involved that the willful failure of the movants to comply with the general orders of the Court would in the future result in immediate dismissal of foreclosure actions.

Deutsche Bank Nat’l Trust Co. v. Steele, 2008 WL 111227 (S.D. Ohio) January 8, 2008.

In Steele, Judge Abel followed the lead of Judge Rose and found that Deutsche Bank had filed evidence in support of its motion for default judgment indicating that MERS was the mortgage holder. There was not sufficient evidence to support the claim that Deutsche Bank was the owner and holder of the note as of that date. Following In re Foreclosure Cases, 2007 WL 456586, the Court held that summary judgment would be denied “until such time as Deutsche Bank was able to offer evidence showing, by a preponderance of evidence, that it owned the note and mortgage when the complaint was filed.” 2008 WL 111227 at 2. Deutsche Bank was given twenty-one days to comply. Id.

Illinois

U.S. Bank, N.A. v. Cook, 2009 WL 35286 (N.D. Ill. January 6, 2009).

Not all federal district judges are as concerned with the issues surrounding the transfer of notes and mortgages. Cook is a very pro lender case and, in an order granting a motion for summary judgment, the Court found that Cook had shown no “countervailing evidence to create a genuine issue of facts.” Id. at 3. In fact, a review of the evidence submitted by U.S. Bank showed only that it was the alleged trustee of the securitization pool. U.S. Bank relied exclusively on the “pooling and serving agreement” to show that it was the holder of the note. Id.

Under UCC Article 3, the evidence presented in Cook was clearly insufficient.

New York

HSBC Bank USA, N.A. v. Valentin, 21 Misc. 3D 1124(A), 2008 WL 4764816 (Table) (N.Y. Sup.) November 3, 2008. In Valentin, the New York court found that, even though given an opportunity to, HSBC did not show the ownership of debt and mortgage. The complaint was dismissed with prejudice and the “notice of pendency” against the property was cancelled.

Note that the Valentin case does not involve some sort of ambush. The Court gave every HSBC every opportunity to cure the defects the Court perceived in the pleadings.

California

In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008)

and

In re Hwang, 396 B.R. 757 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008)

These two opinions by Judge Bufford have been discussed above. Judge Bufford carefully explores the related issues of standing and ownership under both federal and California law.

Texas

In re Parsley, 384 B.R. 138 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2008)

and

In re Gilbreath, 395 B.R. 356 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2008)

These two recent opinions by Judge Jeff Bohm are not really on point, but illustrate another thread of cases running through the issues of motions for relief from stay in bankruptcy court and the sloppiness of loan servicing agencies. Both of these cases involve motions for relief that were not based upon fact but upon mistakes by servicing agencies. Both opinions deal with the issue of sanctions and, put simply, both cases illustrate that Judge Bohm (and perhaps other members of the bankruptcy bench in the Southern District of Texas) are going to be very strict about motions for relief in consumer cases.

SUMMARY

The cases cited illustrate enormous problems in the loan servicing industry. These problems arise in the context of securitization and illustrate the difficulty of determining the name of the holder, the assignee of the mortgage, and the parties with both the legal right under Article 3 and the standing under the Constitution to enforce notes, whether in state court or federal court.

Interestingly, with the exception of Judge Bufford and a few other judges, there has been less than adequate focus upon the UCC title issues. The next round of cases may and should focus upon the title to debt instrument. The person seeking to enforce the note must show that:

(1) It is the holder of this note original by transfer, with all necessary rounds;
(2) It had possession of the note before it was lost;
(3) If it can show that title to the note runs to it, but the original is lost or destroyed, the holder must be prepared to post a bond;
(4) If the person seeking to enforce is an agent, it must show its agency status and that its principal is the holder of the note (and meets the above requirements).

Then, and only then, do the issues of evidence of debt and default and assignment of mortgage rights become relevant.

HON. SAMUEL L. BUFFORD
UNITED STATES BANKRUPTCY JUDGE
CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

(FORMERLY HON.) R. GLEN AYERS
LANGLEY & BANACK
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS

AMERICAN BANKRUPTCY INSTUTUTE
APRIL 3, 2009
WASHINGTON, D.C.

wHAT IF THEY VIOLATE THE STAY UNDER 11 USC 362

8 Aug

Dismissal Of A Bankruptcy Case Does Not End Or Prevent Automatic Stay Violation Litigation Even If The Court Does Not Explicitly Retain Jurisdiction Or Reopen The Case

Harris Hartz It is something that we as practitioners run into all of the time. A willful violation of the automatic stay took place when the bankruptcy case was pending, or the bankruptcy case gets dismissed during the stay litigation for one reason or the other. Then the violator comes in and argues that the bankruptcy court has somehow lost jurisdiction to hear the stay violation case. Or, the bankruptcy court dismisses the pending adversary proceeding sua sponte as if the adversary is based on the continued administration of the estate. Often times it is a self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts. In fact, the argument can almost rise to that of a strategy. If true, all the violator needs to do is disrupt the bankruptcy enough that it gets dismissed, often for non-payment of trustee payments, which usually is a result of the stay violation.

Although there are some judges that for some reason buy into this argument that dismissal of the bankruptcy ends or prevents the litigation on the stay violation case, most bankruptcy judges do not. Yet, for some reason, this issue is never much discussed or published.

Now, the United States Court of Appeals, 10th Circuit, has addressed the issue in Johnson vs. Smith. Writing for a unanimous panel, the decision was decided without oral argument by Judge Harris Hartz, in an appeal from the 10th Circuit BAP.

M&M Auto Outlet is Wyoming’s largest used car dealership. It was found to have willfully violated the automatic stay provisions of 11 U.S.C. § 362(a) of Tommy and Candice Johnson’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy. (Mr. Johnson later passed away). As a result, the Bankruptcy Court awarded damages as against M&M. $937.50 was awarded directly to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, $5,028.50 in attorneys’ fees and $232.23 in expenses. M&M appealed that decision to the 10th Circuit BAP and then to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, before it was remanded back to the Bankruptcy Court to reconsider the amount of damages. During the reconsideration of damages, the Johnson’s bankruptcy case was dismissed. The Bankruptcy Court then reconsidered the damages, and the case was appealed again based upon the argument that because the bankruptcy had been dismissed, and alternatively because the Bankruptcy Court had not specifically retained jurisdiction of the matter in the dismissal order or otherwise reopened the bankruptcy to retain jurisdiction, that no jurisdiction existed by the courts to hear or decide this matter. The Bankruptcy Court dismissed M&M’s argument that dismissal of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson’s Chapter 13 bankruptcy divested the bankruptcy court of jurisdiction, and then awarded actual damages of $11,816.02. The BAP reduced this award by $17.34, but otherwise rejected the jurisdiction argument as well.

The 10th Circuit ruled that stay violation case was a “core proceeding … which have no existence outside of bankruptcy.” Therefore, stay violation cases are unique because they depend on the bankruptcy laws for their existence. It found that M&M was liable by virtue of the private cause of action under 11 U.S.C. § 362(k)(1). The Court found that M&M’s argument was supported by cases that hold that noncore and related matters are barred by the dismissal of a bankruptcy, but that was not the situation in the case at hand.

The 10th Circuit stated that “It is particularly appropriate for bankruptcy courts to maintain jurisdiction over § 362(k)(1) proceedings because their purpose is not negated by dismissal of the underlying bankruptcy case. They still serve (a) to compensate for losses that are not extinguished by the termination of the bankruptcy case and (b) to vindicate the authority of the automatic stay. Requiring the dismissal of a § 362(k)(1) proceeding simply because the underlying bankruptcy case has been dismissed would not make sense. A court must have the power to compensate victims of violations of the automatic stay and punish the violators, even after the conclusion of the underlying bankruptcy case”. (Internal cites omitted). The Court analogized this to other sanction hearings under Rule 11 sanctions. And, the Court stated that “Nothing in the Bankruptcy Code mandates dismissal of the § 362(k)(1) proceeding when the bankruptcy case is closed.”

Finally, the 10th Circuit ruled that “we see no basis for requiring a bankruptcy court to state explicitly that it is retaining jurisdiction over § 362(k)(1) adversary proceeding when it dismisses an underlying Chapter 13 case, or for requiring the Johnsons to move to reopen the Chapter 13 case to pursue the § 362(k)(1) adversary proceeding”.

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