A TAKING OF PROPERTY WOULD BE OTHERWISE UNCONSTITUTIONAL

1 Oct

Defective Procedure

The trustee’s failure to comply with the statutorily mandated procedures for a foreclosure sale is an important basis for attacking the foreclosure sale. The trustor bears the onus of establishing the impropriety of the sale, for a foreclosure is presumed to be conducted regularly and fairly in the absence of any contrary evidence Stevens v. Plumas Eureka Annex Min. Co. (1935) 2 Cal.2d 493, 497; 41 P.2d 927; Sain v. Silvestre (1978) 78 Cal.App.3d 461, 471 n. 10; 144 Cal.Rptr. 478; Hohn v. Riverside County Flood Control & Wat. Conserv. Dist. (1964) 228 Cal.App.2d 605, 612; 39 Cal.Rptr. 647; Brown v. Busch (1957) 152 Cal.App.2d 200, 204; 313 P.2d 19.] The presumption can be rebutted by contrary evidence [See, e.g., Wolfe v. Lipsv (1985) 163 Cal.App.3d 633,639; 209 Cal.Rptr. 801] and the courts will carefully scrutinize the proceedings to assure that the trustor’s rights were not violated. [See e.g., System Inv. Corp. v. Union Bank, supra, 21 Cal.App.3d 137, 153; Stirton v. Pastor (1960) 177 Cal.App.2d 232, 234; 2 Cal.Rptr. 135; Brown v. Busch, supra, 152 Cal.App.2d 200, 203-04; Pierson v. Fischer (1955) 131 Cal.App.2d 208, 214; 280 P.2d 491; Pv v. Pleitner, supra, 70 Cal.App.2d 576, 579.]

a.  Defective Notice of Default

A foreclosure may not be predicated on a notice of default which fails to comply strictly with legal requirements: “. . . a trustee’s sale based on a statutorily deficient notice of default is invalid.” With the enactment of The California Foreclosure prevention act Civil coded 2924 and 2923.5 and 2923.6 the recent decision in Mabury  the requirements are to be strictly complied with”  Miller v. Cote (1982) 127 Cal.App.3d 888, 894; see System Inv. Corp. v. Union Bank, supra, 21 Cal.App.3d 137, 152-53; Lockwood v. Sheedy. supra, 157 Cal.App.2d 741, 742.] Defective service of the notice of default will also invalidate the sale procedure. [See discussion in Chapter II, supra, “Adequacy of Notice to Trustor.]

b.  Defective Notice of Sale

Some cases hold that a sale held without proper notice of sale is void. [See Scott v. Security Title Ins. & Guar. Co. (1937) 9 Cal.2d 606, 613; 72 P.2d 143; United Bank & Trust Co. v. Brown (1928) 203 Cal. 359; 264 P. 482; Standlev v. Knapp (1931) 113 Cal.App. 91, 100-02; 298 P. 109; Seccombe v. Roe (1913) 22 Cal.App. 139, 142-43; 133 P. 507; see also discussion in Chapter II B 4 supra, “Giving the Notice of Sale”.] However, if a trustee’s deed has been issued that states a conclusive presumption that all notice requirements have been satisfied, the sale is voidable and may be vacated if the trustor proves that the conclusive presumption does not apply and that notice was defective. The conclusive presumption may not apply if there are equitable grounds for relief such as fraud or if the purchaser is not a bona fide purchaser for value. [See Little v. CFS Service Corp. (1987) 188 Cal.App.3d 1354, 1359; 233 Cal.Rptr. 923;

Moreover, a serious notice defect that was directly prejudicial to the rights of parties who justifiably relied on notice procedures may independently justify setting aside a sale, especially if the trustee’s deed has not been issued and the highest bidder’s consideration has been returned. [See Little v. CFS Service Corp., supra. 188 Cal.App.3d 1354, 1360-61.]

c.  Improper Conduct of Sale

As discussed above, the trustee must strictly follow the statutes and the terms of the deed of trust in selling the property. [See discussion in Chapter II B, supra, “Nonjudicial Foreclosure”.] For example, the Court of Appeal has declared that:

The power of sale under a deed of trust will be strictly construed, and in its execution the trustee must act in good faith and strictly follow the requirements of the deed with respect to the manner of sale. The sale will be scrutinized by courts with great care and will not be sustained unless conducted with all fairness, regularity and scrupulous integrity …. Pierson v. Fischer, supra, 131 Cal.App.2d 208, 214.

Postponements

One of the major problems occurring at sales involves postponements: the trustee may fail to postpone a sale when the trustor needs a postponement or the trustee may unnecessarily postpone the sale and thereby discourage the participation of bidders. Current law expressly gives the trustee discretion to postpone the sale upon the written request of the trustor for the purpose of obtaining cash sufficient to satisfy the obligation or bid at the sale. [Civ. Code § 2924g(c) (1). ] There are no limitations on the number of times the trustee may postpone the sale to enable the trustor to obtain cash. The trustor is entitled to one such requested postponement, and any postponement for this reason cannot exceed one business day. (Id.) Failure to grant this postponement will invalidate the sale. [See discussion in Chapter II B 7, supra, “Conduct of the Foreclosure Sale”.] However, the trustee is under no general obligation to postpone the sale to enable the trustor to obtain funds, particularly when the trustor receives the notices of default and sale and has months to raise the money. [See Oiler v. Sonoma County Land Title Co. (1955) 137 Cal.App.2d 633, 634-35; 290 P.2d 880.] In addition, the trustee’s duty to exercise its discretion to favor the trustor is tempered by the trustee’s duty to the beneficiary; thus, for example, the trustee may be more obliged to postpone the sale at the trustor’s request if only the beneficiary appears at the sale

to bid than if other bidders appear who are qualified to bid enough to satisfy the unpaid debt.

The foreclosure sale may also have to be postponed if there is an agreement between the beneficiary and the trustor for a postponement. An agreement to postpone a trustee’s sale is deemed an alteration of the terms of the deed of trust and is enforceable only if it assumes the form of a written agreement or an executed oral agreement. [See Civ. Code § 1698; Karlsen v. American Sav. & Loan Assn. (1971) 15 Cal.App.3d 112, 121; 92 Cal.Rptr. 851; Stafford v. Clinard (1948) 87 Cal.App.2d 480, 481; 197 P.2d 84.] Thus, a gratuitous oral promise generally is insufficient to support an agreement to continue the sale; however, if the oral agreement is predicated on a promissory estoppel or if the trustor fully performs the trustor’s consideration for the oral agreement, the trustor may enforce the beneficiary’s oral promise to postpone. Raedeke v. Gilbraltar Sav. & Loan Assn. (1974) 10 Cal.3d 665; 111 Cal.Rptr. 693.] In Raedeke, the trustor could obtain a responsible purchaser for the property, and the beneficiary agreed. The trustor obtained the purchaser, but the beneficiary foreclosed. The Supreme Court held that the trustor fully performed its promise — to procure a buyer — which was good consideration for the agreement to postpone and that the beneficiary’s breach entitled the trustor to damages for the wrongful foreclosure.

Although the failure to postpone may be a problem, the trustee’s improper granting of postponements is generally a far greater problem. Notice of a postponement must be given “by public declaration” at the time and place “last appointed for sale,” and no other notice need be supplied. [Civ. Code § 2924g(d).] Therefore, any prospective bidder will have to attend each appointed time for sale to discover whether the sale will occur or be postponed. As a result, prospective bidders will be discouraged from participating in a sale involving numerous postponements, and there will be less chance that an active auction will occur which will generate surplus funds to which the trustor may be entitled. [Cf. Block v. Tobin (1975) 45 Cal.App.3d 214; 119 Cal.Rptr. 288.]

The abuse of the postponement procedure prompted the Legislature to curb the trustee’s ability to make discretionary postponements. The trustee may make only three postponements at its discretion or at the beneficiary’s direction without re­commencing the entire notice procedure prescribed in Civ. Code § 2924f. [Civ. Code § 2924g(c)(1).] In addition, the trustee must publicly announce the reason for every postponement and must maintain records of each postponement and the reason for it. [Civ. Code § 2924g(d).]

A lawyer representing a client whose home has been sold at a foreclosure sale involving discretionary or beneficiary directed

postponements should, at the first opportunity for discovery, obtain production of the foreclosure file and any documents relating to it, and any documents relating to the postponement and reasons for it, including the statutorily mandated record concerning the postponement, as well as any notes, telephone messages, logs, or calendar entries relating to the postponement. In addition, the lawyer should quickly discover who attended the sale to determine whether the reason for the postponement was given “by public declaration” and, if so, whether the same reason is indicated for the postponement in the record maintained by the trustee.

The failure to postpone properly should invalidate the sale. Certainly, a sale held without any public announcement of the date, time, and place to which the sale has been postponed is invalid. [See Holland v. Pendelton Mortgage Co. (1943) 61 Cal.App.2d 570, 573-74; 143 P.2d 493.] The cases upholding sales made on postponed dates are based on the trustee’s compliance with the notice of postponement requirements prescribed by statute or contained in the trust deed. [See e.g., Cobb v. California Bank (1946) 6 Cal.2d 389, 390; 57 P.2d 924; Craig v. Buckley (1933) 218 Cal. 78, 80-81; 21 P.2d 430; Alameda County Home Inv. Co. v. Whitaker (1933) 217 Cal. 231, 234-35; 18 P.2d 662.] Since the trustee sale must be conducted in strict compliance with the notice requirements, a notice of postponement which does not contain a statement of the

reason for the postponement is defective.  Any sale held pursuant to the defective notice may be held to be improper.

Moreover, the records relating to the postponement may reveal that the postponement was unnecessary or may lead to evidence establishing that the postponement was made in bad faith. As discussed above, fraud, unfairness, and irregularity in the conduct of the sale should render the sale invalid.

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