Show Me The Note!
By now everyone has heard the phrase show me the note. After all asking where’s the note or show me the note was one of the main foreclosure defense techniques for several years after the 2008 banking meltdown and soon following foreclosure crisis. 60 Minutes even aired an episode called The Next Housing Shock which exposed the fact that banks were not only missing key foreclosure documents like the note and mortgage, but on top of that they were even engaging in robo signing signatures on fake documents to cover up their fraud. But what you may not know is that the Bankers Association testified to the Florida Supreme Court that they deliberately destroyed the original loan documents upon converting them into an electronic file in the MERS system. Read their testimony here: https://www.fraudstoppers.org/show-me-the-note-and-lost-note-affidavits/
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 or 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
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 to F.R.Civ Procedure 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.Por. 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, it’s not difficult, it’s 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.
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 (11thCir. 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 17thAnnual 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.
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.
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.
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.
HSBC Bank USA, N.A. v. Valentin, 21 Misc. 3D 1124(A), 2008 WL 4764816 (Table) (N.Y. Sup.) November 3, 2008. InValentin, 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.
In re Vargas, 396 B.R. 511 (Bankr. C.D. Cal. 2008)
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.
In re Parsley, 384 B.R. 138 (Bankr. S.D. Tex. 2008)
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.
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 it’s 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
Neil Garfield, livinglies.wordpress.com
Take action right now and get the FACTS and HELP that you need to gain the legal remedy that the law entitles you to, and that you deserve!
Who Owns Your Mortgage Note?
Have you ever asked who owns your mortgage note? A better question to ask is, “If I paid off my mortgage loan tomorrow, would I get clear and equitable title to my real property?” If your mortgage loan contract was converted into a mortgage backed security and sold to an investment trust on Wall Street you might not!
If you are thinking of applying for a loan modification, or refinancing through the Home Affordable Refinance Program (HARP), Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), or other program(s) under the Making Home Affordable (MHA) initiative there are a few things to consider.
First, remember that the entity who claims to own your mortgage loan is not automatically the same entity that may be servicing your mortgage loan. A loan servicer is a debt collections company that sends you mortgage statements, takes your payments each month, and if you have an escrow account, pays your homeowner’s insurance and property tax bills. But who really owns your mortgage loan?
If you want to find out here are a few things you can do:
- Ask the servicer. Your loan servicer is legally obligated to tell you the name, address, and telephone number of the owner of your loan as shown in their records. It’s a good idea to ask them in writing officially with a “Qualified Written Request” via certified mail while keeping a log of your communications. The name of your servicer should be on your mortgage statement, but you can also use the MERS link below.
- Original lender. Your loan may have never been sold, and still kept as a “portfolio loan” with the original lender. That’s the way loans used to be done!
- Fannie Mae. In reality, many loans are sold to FNMA aka “Fannie Mae”. See Fannie Mae loan lookup tool.
- Freddie Mac. Similar story with Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (FHLMC) aka “Freddie Mac”. See Freddie Mac loan lookup tool.
- Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) is a big online registry designed to replace the costly process of publicly recording mortgage ownership at the local government level with a private electronic version that allows the swapping of mortgages with no friction at all. MERS tracks both the servicing rights and ownership of mortgage loans in the United States, although the accuracy has been called into question. See MERS ServiceID lookup tool. You can also call them at 888-679-6377 FREE.
- Search the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for the alleged trust that claims they are the owner of your mortgage loan: https://www.fraudstoppers.org/how-to-search-the-sec-for-a-securitized-trust
- Register for a Free Mortgage Fraud Analysis and Securitization Search. Complete our Mortgage Fraud Analysis form and we will conduct a free securitization check to see if your mortgage loan contract was converted into a mortgage backed security and who really owns your note. If your loan was securitized than you may have legal standing to sue your lender, or current loan servicer, for mortgage fraud and quiet title. Find out more by completing our Mortgage Fraud Analysis form or call us at 773-877-3655 and we will help you get the facts and evidence you need to get the legal remedy you deserve.
Cases like the Glaski v. Bank of America and Jesinoski v. Countrywide Home Loans may have provided hope for homeowners who were victims of mortgage and foreclosure fraud. But they did not strike at the heart of the real problem behind the securitization of millions of mortgage loans.
The Glaski decision states that if some entity wants to collect on a debt they must first legally own that debt. Furthermore, if that entity is claiming ownership by way of an Assignment, it must prove that Assignment is legally valid.
The Jesinoski case addressed a borrower’s right to rescind, or cancel, their mortgage loan contract under the Truth in Lending Act (TILA) by only providing written notice to the lender, without filing suit. A loan is rescinded at the time the rescission letter is mailed. If the lender wants to refute or fight the rescission they must file an action to do so, and they have limited time to do so.
If your mortgage was securitized (the practice of pooling mortgages and selling their related cash flows to third party investors as securities) then it was part of a table funded transaction. In a table funded transaction the borrower named on the note is NOT in debt to the lender (“Pretender Lender”) because they signed the note in the capacity of an Accommodation Party, or co-signer for the purpose of incurring liability on the instrument without being a direct beneficiary of the value given for the instrument!
The broker, or originator, of the loan is pretending to loan money to the alleged “Borrower“, but in reality they trick the alleged “Borrower” into co-signing on a note that is pledged as collateral on a warehouse line of credit with the funding bank.
It is illegal for banks to loan credit, they can only loan money!
But if the Pretender Lender is not the entity putting up the funds, then there is no underlining indebtedness between the alleged “Borrower” and the originator who is named on the note. And if there is no underlining indebtedness between the parties named on the note, then the mortgage (or deed of trust) vaporizes into nothingness, and is legally unenforceable as a matter of law.
If your mortgage loan contract was part of a table funded transaction and converted into a mortgage backed security that was sold to an investment vehicle, or trust, on Wall Street, then you may have legal standing to rescind your mortgage loan contract, and sue your “Pretender Lender” for Special Damages equal to triple the original amount of your note, plus clear and equitable title to your home!
Fraud Stoppers is part of a National Private Members Association that provides back office litigation support to law firms, foreclosure defense advocacy groups, and pro se litigants nationwide. Our Private Members Association can help you sue your lender for mortgage fraud, with or without an attorney.
Then after our free mortgage fraud analysis is done, we can scheduled a free potential cause of action consultation to discuss your loan and lawsuit in detail and help you get started filing your state and federal lawsuit for the remedy that the law entitles you to, and that you deserve!
You can save 60% to 70% in legal fees when you get your lawsuit started yourself, Pro Se, (without an attorney), and then bring in a local attorney to help you at trial, where you need them the most! This way you can get the best of both worlds: Save money in legal fees, and get the professional help you need at the same time!
FRAUD STOPPERS Private Members Association (PMA) has a PROVEN WAY to help you save time and money, and increase your odds of success, suing the banks for mortgage and foreclosure fraud.
Our primary focus is helping you get clear and marketable title to your property by arguing that the actions of the banks have made the security provisions of the mortgage/deed of trust unenforceable as a matter of law.