NM and Fla Judges Express Doubt Over Whether Loans Ever Made it Into trust

Judges are thinking the unthinkable — that none of the trusts ever acquired anything and that the foreclosures were and are a sham.

THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS NOT A LEGAL OPINION UPON WHICH YOU CAN RELY IN ANY INDIVIDUAL CASE. HIRE A LAWYER.

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It isn’t “theory. It is facts, or rather the absence of facts.

As shown in the two articles by Jeff Barnes below, we are obviously reaching the tipping point. First, the presentation of a Trust instrument means nothing if there is no proof the trust was active — and in particular actually purchased the subject loan. And Second, Judges will deny all objections to discovery and will rule for the borrower if the Trust did not acquire the loan.

In ruling this way the two Judges — thousands of miles apart — are obviously recognizing that the long standing bank objection to borrowers’ defenses based upon lack of legal standing absolutely do not apply. It is not a matter of whether the borrower has “standing” to bring up the PSA, it is a matter of whether the trust was party to any real transaction with relation to the subject mortgage. The answer is no. And no amount of extra paper, powers of attorney, assignments, or endorsements can change that.

Judges are thinking the unthinkable — that none of the trusts ever acquired anything and that the foreclosures were and are a sham.

It is probably worth re-publishing this portion from a long article by Adam Levitin written shortly after the Ibanez decision was reached in Massachusetts. Note how he points out that the vast majority of PSAs that are offered as evidence are neither executed nor do they have a mortgage loan schedule that is “reviewable.” The real problem — and the reason why the SEC-filed PSA documents do not have any signatures and why there is no mortgage loan schedule is that there was no transaction in which the Trust acquired the loans. Virtually all assignments are backdated and virtually none of the assignments relate back to any ACTUAL transaction in which the Trust was involved. The banks have been winning on fumes generated by legal inapplicable presumptions. —

It seems to me that any trust with Massachusetts loans that doesn’t have a publicly filed, executed PSA with a reviewable loan schedule should be on a downgrade watch. Very few publicly filed PSAs are executed and even fewer have publicly filed loan schedules. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but somewhere off-line, but if I ran a rating agency, I’d want trustees to show me that they’ve got those papers on at least a sample of deals. Of course should and would are quite different–the ratings agencies, like the regulators, are refusing to take the securitization fail issue as seriously as they should (and I understand that it is a complex legal issue), but I think they ignore it at their (and our) peril

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Excerpts from Barnes’ articles:

A Florida Circuit Judge has gone on the record requiring Wells Fargo, as the claimed “trustee” of a securitized mortgage loan trust, to show that the mortgage loan which WF is attempting to enforce actually went into the PSA, and if not, the standing requirement has not been met and the case will fall on summary judgment. The homeowner is represented by Jeff Barnes, Esq.

The Judge specifically stated as follows:

“…but what I want plaintiff’s counsel to understand, that what you submitted to me with regards to the pooling and servicing agreement still does not have the actual mortgages that went into that pooling and servicing agreement…So at some point you’re going to have to show that this mortgage and note certainly went into that pooling and servicing agreement, which is what I have requested before. …  So I’m just asking you that before we get too far out, please make sure that’s there, or its going to be taken out on summary judgment. … In other words, if you’re a trustee for that pooling and servicing agreement, and the mortgage and note are not in that pooling and servicing agreement, you don’t have standing.”

This ruling not only directly confirms the proof requirements for standing in a securitization case, but supports the production of discovery on the issue as well.


DISCOVERY IS KEY.

The borrower thus requested 53 categories of documents from BAC, including securitization documents. BAC filed a Motion for Protective Order which claimed that public information on the SEC website was “confidential”; that the securitization-related discovery was “irrelevant”; and that it was essentially entitled to withhold discovery because it “has the original note” and has moved for summary judgment on the “relevant” issues.

The Court disagreed, denying BAC’s Motion in its entirety and commanding full responses to the borrower’s discovery request (including production of all responsive documents) within 30 days. The Court found BAC’s Motion to be “sparse”; not in compliance with New Mexico court rules as to discovery; and against New Mexico’s case law which provides for liberal discovery in foreclosure actions so that all of the issues are fully developed and a fair trial is had.

 

A New Mexico District Judge yesterday denied BAC Home Loan Servicing’s Motion for Protective Order which it filed in an attempt to avoid producing documentary discovery to a homeowner who BAC has sued for foreclosure. The loan was originated by New Mexico Bank and Trust, was sold to Countrywide, and thereafter allegedly “assigned” first to MERS and then by MERS to BAC.

Jeff Barnes, Esq., www.ForeclosureDefenseNationwide.com

The Adam Levitin Article on Ibanez and Securitization fail:

Ibanez and Securitization Fail

posted by Adam Levitin

The Ibanez foreclosure decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has gotten a lot of attention since it came down on Friday. The case is, not surprisingly being taken to heart by both bulls and bears. While I don’t think Ibanez is a death blow to the securitization industry, at the very least it should make investors question the party line that’s been coming out of the American Securitization Forum. At the very least it shows that the ASF’s claims in its White Paper and Congressional testimony are wrong on some points, as I’ve argued elsewhere, including on this blog. I would argue that at the very least, Ibanez shows that there is previously undisclosed material risk in all private-label MBS.

The Ibanez case itself is actually very simple. The issue before the court was whether the two securitization trusts could prove a chain of title for the mortgages they were attempting to foreclose on.

There’s broad agreement that absent such a chain of title, they don’t have the right to foreclose–they’d have as much standing as I do relative to the homeowners. The trusts claimed three alternative bases for chain of title:

(1) that the mortgages were transferred via the pooling and servicing agreement (PSA)–basically a contract of sale of the mortgages

(2) that the mortgages were transferred via assignments in blank.

(3) that the mortgages follow the note and transferred via the transfers of the notes.

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) held that arguments #2 and #3 simply don’t work in Massachusetts. The reasoning here was heavily derived from Massachusetts being a title theory state, but I think a court in a lien theory state could easily reach the same result. It’s hard to predict if other states will adopt the SJC’s reasoning, but it is a unanimous verdict (with an even sharper concurrence) by one of the most highly regarded state courts in the country. The opinion is quite lucid and persuasive, particularly the point that if the wrong plaintiff is named is the foreclosure notice, the homeowner hasn’t received proper notice of the foreclosure.

Regarding #1, the SJC held that a PSA might suffice as a valid assignment of the mortgages, if the PSA is executed and contains a schedule that sufficiently identifies the mortgage in question, and if there is proof that the assignor in the PSA itself held the mortgage. (This last point is nothing more than the old rule of nemo dat–you can’t give what you don’t have. It shows that there has to be a complete chain of title going back to origination.)

On the facts, both mortgages in Ibanez failed these requirements. In one case, the PSA couldn’t even be located(!) and in the other, there was a non-executed copy and the purported loan schedule (not the actual schedule–see Marie McDonnell’s amicus brief to the SJC) didn’t sufficiently identify the loan. Moreover, there was no proof that the mortgage chain of title even got to the depositor (the assignor), without which the PSA is meaningless:

Even if there were an executed trust agreement with the required schedule, US Bank failed to furnish any evidence that the entity assigning the mortgage – Structured Asset Securities Corporation [the depositor] — ever held the mortgage to be assigned. The last assignment of the mortgage on record was from Rose Mortgage to Option One; nothing was submitted to the judge indicating that Option One ever assigned the mortgage to anyone before the foreclosure sale.

So Ibanez means that to foreclosure in Massachusetts, a securitization trust needs to prove:

(1) a complete and unbroken chain of title from origination to securitization trust
(2) an executed PSA
(3) a PSA loan schedule that unambiguously indicates that association of the defaulted mortgage loan with the PSA. Just having the ZIP code or city for the loan won’t suffice. (Lawyers: remember Raffles v. Wichelhaus, the Two Ships Peerless? This is also a Statute of Frauds issue–the banks lost on 1L contract issues!)

I don’t think this is a big victory for the securitization industry–I don’t know of anyone who argues that an executed PSA with sufficiently detailed schedules could not suffice to transfer a mortgage. That’s never been controversial. The real problem is that the schedules often can’t be found or aren’t sufficiently specific. In other words, deal design was fine, deal execution was terrible. Important point to note, however: the SJC did not say that an executed PSA plus valid schedules was sufficient for a transfer; the parties did not raise and the SJC did not address the question of whether there might be additional requirements, like those imposed by the PSA itself.

Now, the SJC did note that a “confirmatory assignment” could be valid, but (and this is s a HUGE but), it:

cannot confirm an assignment that was not validly made earlier or backdate an assignment being made for the first time. Where there is no prior valid assignment, a subsequent assignment by the mortgage holder to the note holder is not a confirmatory assignment because there is no earlier written assignment to confirm.”

In other words, a confirmatory assignment doesn’t get you anything unless you can show an original assignment. I’m afraid that the industry’s focus on the confirmatory assignment language just raises the possibility of fraudulent “confirmatory” assignments, much like the backdated assignments that emerged in the robosigning depositions.

So what does this mean? There’s still a valid mortgage and valid note. So in theory someone can enforce the mortgage and note. But no one can figure out who owns them. There were problems farther upstream in the chain of title in Ibanez (3 non-identical “true original copies” of the mortgage!) that the SJC declined to address because it wasn’t necessary for the outcome of the case. But even without those problems, I’m doubtful that these mortgages will ever be enforced. Actually going back and correcting the paperwork would be hard, neither the trustee nor the servicer has any incentive to do so, and it’s not clear that they can do so legally. Ibanez did not address any of the trust law issues revolving around securitization, but there might be problems assigning defaulted mortgages into REMIC trusts that specifically prohibit the acceptance of defaulted mortgages. Probably not worthwhile risking the REMIC status to try and fix bad paperwork (or at least that’s what I’d advise a trustee). I’m very curious to see how the trusts involved in this case account for the mortgages now.

The Street seemed heartened by a Maine Supreme Judicial Court decision that came out on FridayHarp v. JPM Chase. If they read the damn case, they wouldn’t put any stock in it.

In Harp, a pro se defendant took JPM all the way to the state supreme court. That alone should make investors nervous–there’s going to be a lot of delay from litigation. Harp also didn’t involve a securitized loan. But the critical difference between Harp and Ibanez is that Harp did not involve issues about the validity of chain of title. It was about the timing of the chain of title. Ibanez was about chain of title validity. In Harp JPM commenced a foreclosure and was subsequently assigned a loan. It then brought a summary judgment motion and prevailed. The Maine SJC stated that the foreclosure was improperly commenced, but it ruled for JPM on straightforward grounds: JPM had standing at the time it moved (and was granted) summary judgment. Given the procedural posture of the case, standing at the time of summary judgment, rather than at the commencement of the foreclosure was what mattered, and there was no prejudice to the defendant by the assignment occurring after the foreclosure action was brought, because the defendant had an opportunity to litigate against the real party in interest before judgment was rendered. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court also indicated that it might not be so charitable with improperly foreclosing lenders that were not in the future; JPM benefitted from the lack of clear law on the subject. In short, Harp says that if the title defects are cured before the foreclosure is completed, it’s ok. There’s a very limited cure possibility under Harp, which means that the law is basically what it was before: if you can’t show title, you can’t complete the foreclosure.

What about MERS?

The Ibanez mortgages didn’t involve MERS. MERS was created in part to fix the problem of unrecorded assignments gumming up foreclosures in the early 1990s (and also to avoid payment of local real estate recording fees). In theory, MERS should help, as it should provide a chain of title for the mortgages. Leaving aside the unresolved concerns about whether MERS recordings are valid and for what purposes, MERS only helps to the extent it’s accurate. And that’s a problem because MERS has lots of inaccuracies in the system. MERS does not always report the proper name of loan owners (e.g., “Bank of America,” instead of “Bank of America 2006-1 RMBS Trust”), and I’ve seen lots of cases where the info in the MERS system doesn’t remotely match with the name of either the servicer or the trust bringing the foreclosure. That might be because the mortgage was transferred out of the MERS system, but there’s still an outstanding record in the MERS system, which actually clouds the title. I’m guessing that on balance MERS should help on mortgage title issues, but it’s not a cure-all. And it is critical to note that MERS does nothing for chain of title issues involving notes.

Which brings me to a critical point: Ibanez and Harp involve mortgage chain of title issues, not note chain of title issues. There are plenty of problems with mortgage chain of title. But the note chain of title issues, which relate to trust law questions, are just as, if not more serious. We don’t have any legal rulings on the note chain of title issues. But even the rosiest reading of Ibanez cannot provide any comfort on note chain of title concerns.

So who loses here? In theory, these loans should be put-back to the seller. Will that happen? I’m skeptical. If not, that means that investors will be eating the loss. This case also means that foreclosures in MA (and probably elsewhere) will be harder, which means more delay, which again hurts investors because there will be more servicing advances to be repaid off the top. The servicer and the trustee aren’t necessarily getting off scot free, though. They might get hit with Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Fair Credit Reporting Act suits from the homeowners (plus anything else a creative lawyer can scrape together). And mortgage insurers might start using this case as an excuse for denying coverage. REO purchasers and title insurers should be feeling a little nervous now, although I doubt that anyone who bought REO before Ibanez will get tossed out of their house if they are living in it. Going forward, though, I don’t think there’s a such thing as a good faith purchaser of REO in MA.

You can’t believe everything you read. Some of the materials coming out of the financial services sector are simply wrong. Three examples:

(1) JPMorgan Chase put out an analyst report this morning claiming the Massachusetts has not adopted the UCC. This is sourced to calls with two law firms. I sure hope JPM didn’t pay for that advice and that it didn’t come from anyone I know. It’s flat out wrong. Massachusetts has adopted the uniform version of Revised Article 9 of the UCC and a non-uniform version of Revised Article 1 of the UCC, but it has adopted the relevant language in Revised Article 1. There’s not a material divergence in the UCC here.
(2) One of my favorite MBS analysts (whom I will not name), put out a report this morning that stated that Ibanez said assignments in blank are fine. Wrong. It said that they are not and never have been valid in Massachusetts:

[In the banks’] reply briefs they conceded that the assignments in blank did not constitute a lawful assignment of the mortgages. Their concession is appropriate. We have long held that a conveyance of real property, such as a mortgage, that does not name the assignee conveys nothing and is void; we do not regard an assignment of land in blank as giving legal title in land to the bearer of the assignment.”

A similar line is coming out of ASF. Courtesy of the American Banker:

Perplexingly, the American Securitization Forum issued a press release hailing the court’s ruling as upholding the validity of assignments in blank. A spokesman for the organization could not be reached to explain its interpretation.

ASF’s credibility seems to really be crumbling here. It’s one thing to disagree with the Massachusetts SJC. It’s another thing to persist in blatant misstatements of black letter law.

(3) Wells and US Bank, the trustees in the Ibanez case, immediately put out statements that they had no liability. Really? I’m not so sure. Trustees certainly have very broad exculpation and very narrow duties. But an inability to produce deal documents strikes me as such a critical error that it might not be covered. Do they really want to litigate a case where the facts make them look like such buffoons? Do they really want daylight shed on the details of their operations? Indeed, absent an executed PSA, I don’t think the trustees have any proof of exculpation. They might be acting, unwittingly, as common law trustees and thus general fiduciaries. I think they’ll settle quickly and quietly with any investors who sue.
Finally, what are the ratings agencies going to do?

It seems to me that any trust with Massachusetts loans that doesn’t have a publicly filed, executed PSA with a reviewable loan schedule should be on a downgrade watch. Very few publicly filed PSAs are executed and even fewer have publicly filed loan schedules. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but somewhere off-line, but if I ran a rating agency, I’d want trustees to show me that they’ve got those papers on at least a sample of deals. Of course should and would are quite different–the ratings agencies, like the regulators, are refusing to take the securitization fail issue as seriously as they should (and I understand that it is a complex legal issue), but I think they ignore it at their (and our) peril

 

5 Responses

  1. WHAT IS THE CASE # FOR THE FLORIDA CASE NAMED?

  2. Consumer Rights Defenders has been complaining about this for years….If your attorney does not get it….call us for some pro se assistance since WE DO get it. 818.453.3585.

  3. Reblogged this on Deadly Clear and commented:
    We have New Century agreements between parties that establish the collateral is merely “pledged” until default and that the investment bank may continue to reuse, repledge, rehypothecate the collateral – even though he collateral is supposed to be inside a closed trust.

  4. I just cooked up a reply to the fourth attempt to foreclose on my property, and one thing I noticed this time around but missed previously is the mailing list. In every case the Trustee failed to notify the bank/entity in whose name the foreclosure is brought, and others who might be considered of interest, like MERS. So they’re not even party to the foreclosure.
    My guess is the omission is purposeful, either to prevent some sort of liability and provide plausible deniability, or because the foreclosing party doesn’t exist and can’t be notified.

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