I have been receiving increasingly urgent and frustrated messages from lawyers in nonjudicial cases. They are dismayed that the most basic components of proof are not required from “new” trustees on deeds of trust and “new” beneficiaries on the deed of trust, all self proclaimed and presumed valid even if the borrower denies it. Here is my answer:
I think what is missing is a plan for presentation. AND a decision about whether to go to Federal or State Court, or the California Supreme Court or even directly to the 9th Circuit if that is possible. Your case is really against the whole state of California (or whichever state the property is located) for violation of equal protection — debtors whose loans were mortgaged are treated differently from other debtors potentially including the debtors whose cars were mortgaged. Debtors who are subject to non judicial process are not given the same rights and procedures for debtors who are sued in judicial foreclosures. The normal process is if you want to allege a debt that requires a judicial judgment to enforce it, you are required to sue. That is why the decisions in and out of nonjudicial states say that due process requirements must be strictly construed. But in contested nonjudicial foreclosures, it is so loosely construed that complete strangers to the loan transaction can win the house. (See San Francisco study, Baltimore study etc.).
The argument that it is an agreement is cute but not right. Yes it is an agreement and anyone can contract with terms they agree to. But the exception is whether the contract violates law or public policy. Any agreement that violates public policy or to violate state or federal law is void. All Deeds of trust are arguably unconstitutional. But what will fly is a challenge to the nonjudicial scheme as to those cases where the borrower has made the proceeding a contested proceeding by denial of the essential elements of the nonjudicial procedure.
The “agreement” exists ONLY because of a statutory scheme that allows it and the only reason that statutory scheme exists is because of the original presumption behind such a scheme. If the foreclosure is truly uncontested, then it is hard to argue that the due process rights of the homeowner have been diminished. Thus repossession or forced sale at “auction” (another issue to be considered) might be the most expeditious way of handling it without clogging the courts.
But if the homeowner contests all aspects (including that he is a debtor and that the beneficiary is in fact the creditor) — the substitution of trustee, the naming of the beneficiary, the notice of default, the notice of sale etc. THEN the question becomes whether the “contract” (deed of trust) is valid and in particular whether the statutes allowing non judicial foreclosure are being APPLIED in an unconstitutional manner.
A non-creditor stranger who wins this procedure is allowed to place a “credit bid” at “auction” (which are really not conducted as public auctions) gets title to the property spending only the money required to pay for costs of filing.
Specifically, under normal circumstances, if the Trustee on the deed of trust was to receive a notice from the borrower that everything he has received from the wrong beneficiary has incorrect information and that the loan is not in default — the Trustee would ordinarily be required to file an interpleader action. The interpleader would say that he has a duty to both parties and there is a contested matter. The trustee asks for fees and costs because they have no vested interest in the outcome. Then the parties file pleadings about why they should get their way. But this doesn’t happen in practice. And the truth is, if the borrower is right, the substitution of trustee is invalid and the old trustee is still the trustee on the deed of trust. With that on record, how can anyone actually get clear title?
The problem in non-judicial states is that in practice (and in particular in the context of a contested loan which is subject to claims of successors or securitization) the self-declared beneficiary is not required to file substantive pleadings asking for specific relief. This would require the “beneficiary” to state that they are a beneficiary and to plead facts in support of that, attaching various exhibits, and that the loan is in default, and then they would be required to prove it. This would give them a prima facie case to prove. And the borrower would be required to answer the complaint of the beneficiary, file affirmative defenses and counterclaims. That is the very essence of due process in civil action and it should be strictly construed in foreclosures which consists of a forfeiture of the homestead — the virtual equivalent of the death penalty in civil litigation.
But in practice, the State of California doesn’t do any of that. In fact, they do the reverse. If a homeowner wishes to contest the substitution of trustee et al, the homeowner must file a complaint for TRO. And because they are the complainant, they are treated as having the burden of pleading and proof. This statutory scheme was conceived before multiple claims of successors and securitization were known. In practice it needs to be corrected by the courts until the legislature closes the loopholes that make the nonjudicial procedure unconstitutional in practice in certain types of cases.
This flips the rules of civil procedure and evidence on its head. In practice borrowers are not only required to plead that they deny the substitution of trustee et al was valid but to prove it — thus reversing the procedure that would be required in a judicial foreclosure, which is a second equal protection argument. Why are borrowers with other secured collateral (autos, e.g.) treated differently from borrowers with homes as collateral? Why are mortgagors treated differently in proceedings arising from non judicial process than in judicial process?
So the current practice requires the borrower to deny allegations that have not been filed and then prove that their denial is valid. That makes no sense and is an obvious denial of due process. The way the process works in practice is a stranger to any transaction with the borrower says “You owe me money” and then the borrower has the burden of saying “No I don’t” and then the defendant has the burden of pleading and proving that he doesn’t owe the money when he doesn’t know what the stranger is talking about. The only way the borrower can prevail on meritorious claims and defenses is by proving a negative. This is the opposite of due process.
This is why I have said since early 2008, that an action needs to be brought directly to the California Supreme Court or in Federal court or perhaps a special action to the 9th Circuit in which the application of the non judicial statutory scheme is challenged for those cases where the borrower denies the rights of substitution of trustee, denies the status of the self appointed new beneficiary and denies the default, denies the loan, etc. If the question is put to the court I feel confident that the decision will be in favor of borrowers. But any attempt to declare the non judicial scheme unconstitutional as a whole will fail.
Filed under: AMGAR, CORRUPTION, evidence, foreclosure, foreclosure defenses, GTC | Honor, investment banking, Investor, MODIFICATION, Mortgage, originator, Pleading, Servicer, STATUTES, Title, TRUST BENEFICIARIES, trustee | Tagged: due process, EQUAL PROTECTION, nonjudical procedure | 25 Comments »