New Bankruptcy Court Decision Sounds the Alarm – The USS MERS is Going Down

Preface…

Before I jump into this decision by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge in New York, I just want to acknowledge that I very rarely write about MERS.  And it’s not an accident; I’ve chosen not to do so… until now, anyway.

Perhaps I’ve been wrong not to cover the MERS debacle in greater detail, but the reason I haven’t is that I view some of the issues related to MERS as kind of… well, pedestrian… not to put too fine a point on it.

Other than a few good decisions by courts that have barred MERS from foreclosing, it just seemed to me that the problems presented by MERS could be fixed, and therefore I didn’t want homeowners who read my column to put too much stock in their loan being a MERS loan, as doing much for them if they find themselves at risk of foreclosure.

This decision has done a lot to change my view of MERS and the role it plays in foreclosures.  The judge in this case presents a damn strong, if non-binding case why MERS may in fact be a much larger problem than I thought it was.

According to consumer bankruptcy attorney and nationally known foreclosure defense guru, Max Gardner…

“This case may well be the final dagger in the deep dark heart of the MERS business model.  MERS has fired its President, R.K. Arnold, and may well terminate its Secretary, William Hultman, but MERS cannot fix the systematic and fundamentally flawed legal issues clearly and succinctly identified by the Court in Agard.”

And so… without further delay, I present to you… the “Agard Decision”.

~~~

The State: New York

The Case: In re: Ferrel L. Agard, Debtor, Chapter 7

The Court: United States Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of New York

The Judge: The Honorable Robert E. Grossman

The Set Up: U.S. Bank, as the trustee for one First Franklin Mortgage Loan Trust 2006-FF12, Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2006-FF12… which all just means that we’re talking about a REMIC trust containing a securitized pool of mortgages… moves to obtain relief from the automatic stay created by a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, in order to complete the foreclosure of Ferrel Agard’s home.  New York State courts had already ruled and a foreclosure judgment was issued, so now U.S. Bank as trustee just needed to finish things out by obtaining relief from the automatic stay so they can proceed with selling the home.

Records show that the bankruptcy trustee expected a routine, no assets case… file report, collect fee, end of case.  U.S. Bank, represented by its loan servicer, Select Portfolio Servicing (“SPS”), who was in turn represented by Buffalo’s most infamous foreclosure mill, Steven J. Baum PC, must have thought about the same… a straight forward foreclosure case, lets get rid of the deadbeats and be home by dinner.

But, in today’s fast changing world of Fraudclosuregate, things are not always as they appear, and crap that flew yesterday may not fly again tomorrow.

The Opposition: On October 27, 2010, the borrower’s attorney filed a single page document on which the type was double-spaced.  It was a “partial opposition to the motion for relief from stay” that U.S. Bank had filed, and it suggested to the judge that perhaps there might be some sort of small problem with the MERS assignment.  It also, in so many words, posited: Who the heck was Select Portfolio Services and why did they have any role in the case anyway?

After that, one might say… the fit hit the shan.

The Hearing: At a hearing held on November 15, 2010, the judge must have more than just hinted that he was going to look very carefully at this whole MERS thing, because he suggested that the parties might want to consider filing some real legal briefs on the subject, and he made it clear that he would be holding a real hearing on the issues on December 15, 2010, just one month down the road.

The Response: All of a sudden nothing was at it seemed just days before… SPS asks the court for more time and rushes out for reinforcements, bringing in a “tall building” law firm from New York City to replace the relative pikers at Baum’s Mill.  The newly retained big city lawyers file a major brief in support of the U.S. Bank/SPS position on December 8th.

Then, on December 9th, MERS shows up, metaphorically at least with lights flashing and sirens blaring, to file an “emergency motion to intervene,” crying in sheer panic that their entire national business model is being attacked and that the result can be nothing less than the end of the world as we all know it.

They bring in a sworn declaration from MERS Treasurer and Corporate Secretary, William Hultman on December 10th, that explains what an entirely fabulous and utterly wonderful invention MERS actually is, and then… I suppose afraid that the one Hultman declaration just might not carry the day they show up with yet another declaration from MERS Treasurer and Corporate Secretary, William Hultman on December 23rd.

In an effort to keep things straight as related to the declarations, we’ll call that one: “Why Everyone Should Love MERS More Than Life Itself… The Sequel.”

The judge then begins to dig into the matter.  Perhaps he was waiting for a case such as this one, or perhaps some other forces were in play, but regardless… for MERS… this was the wrong judge on the wrong day.

The Decision: Judge Grossman devotes the first half of his opinion to discussing whether he even has the legal authority to look into how U.S. Bank obtained this mortgage in the first place, since it already had obtained a foreclosure judgment in state court, and because there is an irritating (to Federal judges) and arcane Rooker-Feldman doctrine that prohibits federal courts from interfering with state court judgments.

Alas, our intrepid judge concludes on page 18 of his decision that Rooker-Feldman does in fact preclude him from looking further into the issues that underlie the U.S. Bank foreclosure judgment.  And, as a result, Judge Grossman decides that he must grant U.S. Bank’s motion for relief from the bankruptcy automatic stay so that the trustee can complete the foreclosure.

Now, were we talking about most judges, that would represent the end of this proverbial road… the opinion would be dated and signed and I would not be writing about the case now.  But we’re not talking about most judges… we’re talking about the Honorable Judge Robert E. Grossman of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and he’s apparently not a judge with which one should trifle.

He’s got MERS in his crosshairs, apparently exactly where he wants them, and in the 18 pages that follow his decision to grant the relief from the automatic stay he goes after MERS mercilessly.  Attorney Thomas Cox of Portland, Maine, who you may remember from the “GMAC uses robo-signers deposition” that brought foreclosures to a standstill last fall, says that in his opinion…

“He (Judge Grossman) does the most thorough and competent analysis of the MERS charade that I have seen, basically concluding that the entire MERS business model does not comply with our laws, and that he will no longer accept MERS mortgage assignments in his court room.”

“It’s a decision that was a delight to see.”

Now, clearly this is a decision that’s worth reading for one’s self… Judge Grossman is one heck of a writer and not one to play patty-cake with MERS or those of the banking persuasion, but I thought I’d at least provide the overview of the decision with “training wheels” for those who aren’t of the mind to wade through the entire text of the decision themselves, or who find these things next to impossible to read and understand.

Here’s the overview of the Memorandum Decision in its entirety… with my clarifications added for those who find them valuable.  If you’re a lawyer or just an uber-smartee, just scroll on down to the imbedded document for a copy of Judge Grossman’s decision in its entirety.

The movant is Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc. (“Select Portfolio” or “Movant”), as servicer for U.S. Bank National Association, as Trustee for First Franklin Mortgage Loan Trust 2006-FF12, Mortgage Pass-Through Certificates, Series 2006-FF12 (“U.S. Bank”).

Okay, for now just remember that the servicer is the “Movant.”  The rest I already covered above at the very beginning.  U.S. Bank N.A. is the trustee for the First Franklin Mortgage Loan Trust… blah, blah, blah… got it?  Good, let’s move on…

The Debtor filed limited opposition to the Motion contesting the Movant’s standing to seek relief from stay. The Debtor argues that the only interest U.S. Bank holds in the underlying mortgage was received by way of an assignment from the Mortgage Electronic Registration System a/k/a MERS, as a “nominee” for the original lender.

The Debtor’s argument raises a fundamental question as to whether MERS had the legal authority to assign a valid and enforceable interest in the subject mortgage. Because U.S. Bank’s rights can be no greater than the rights as transferred by its assignor – MERS – the Debtor argues that the Movant, acting on behalf of U.S. Bank, has failed to establish that it holds an enforceable right against the Property1.

This references the single page, double-spaced document I described that was filed by the borrower’s attorney, called a “partial opposition to the motion top relief from stay”.  It raised some questions that the judge would later seek to answer.

The Movant’s initial response to the Debtor’s opposition was that MERS’s authority to assign the mortgage to U.S. Bank is derived from the mortgage itself, which allegedly grants to MERS its status as both “nominee” of the mortgagee and “mortgagee of record.”

Judge Grossman is going to attack this line of reasoning head on in the last 18 pages of his decision.  Among many other things, you’ll see him say… “Aside from the inappropriate reliance upon the statutory definition of “mortgagee,” MERS’s position that it can be both the mortgagee and an agent of the mortgagee is absurd, at best.” And there’s a whole lot more where that came from… read on…

The Movant later supplemented its papers taking the position that U.S. Bank is a creditor with standing to seek relief from stay by virtue of a judgment of foreclosure and sale entered in its favor by the state court prior to the filing of the bankruptcy.

The Movant argues that the judgment of foreclosure is a final adjudication as to U.S. Bank’s status as a secured creditor and therefore the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits this Court from looking behind the judgment and questioning whether U.S. Bank has proper standing before this Court by virtue of a valid assignment of the mortgage from MERS.

This is the part that caused Judge Grossman to back down in this particular instance and allow the relief from automatic stay, thus allowing the foreclosure to proceed.  Basically, he concludes that he’s not allowed to question the facts that underlie the foreclosure judgment that was previously granted by the state court.

There is also an important footnote (“1”) on the second page that reads as follows:

The Debtor also questions whether Select Portfolio has the authority and the standing to seek relief from the automatic stay. The Movant argues that Select Portfolio has standing to bring the Motion based upon its status as “servicer” of the Mortgage, and attaches an affidavit of a vice president of Select Portfolio attesting to that servicing relationship.

Case law has established that a mortgage servicer has standing to seek relief from the automatic stay as a party in interest. See, e.g., Greer v. O’Dell, 305 F.3d 1297 (11th Cir. 2002); In re Woodberry, 383 B.R. 373 (Bankr. D.S.C. 2008).

This presumes, however, that the lender for whom the servicer acts validly holds the subject note and mortgage. Thus, this Decision will focus on whether U.S. Bank validly holds the subject note and mortgage.

I think the judge is saying that servicers do have standing to seek relief from an automatic stay that results from a borrower filing bankruptcy, but that such standing presumes that the lender being represented by the servicer validly holds the note and mortgage, and that the decision will address that issue.

Okay, you’ve got that part pretty much down, right?  Then the decision goes on to say…

The Court received extensive briefing and oral argument from MERS, as an intervenor in these proceedings, which go beyond the arguments presented by the Movant.

This just says that MERS showed up with all guns blazing, arguing that MERS represents all that is right, good and just in the world.  The judge isn’t buying though…

In addition to the rights created by the mortgage documents themselves MERS argues that the terms of its membership agreement with the original lender and its successors in interest, as well as New York state agency laws, give MERS the authority to assign the mortgage.

MERS argues that it holds legal title to mortgages for its member/lenders as both “nominee” and “mortgagee of record.” As such, it argues that any member/lender, which holds a note secured by real property, that assigns that note to another member by way of entry into the MERS database, need not also assign the mortgage because legal title to the mortgage remains in the name of MERS, as agent for any member/lender, which holds the corresponding note.

MERS’s position is that if a MERS member directs it to provide a written assignment of the mortgage, MERS has the legal authority, as an agent for each of its members, to assign mortgages to the member/lender currently holding the note as reflected in the MERS database.

Judge Grossman is going to examine all of these arguments and then some in his decision.  But before he does that, he’s going to agree that he’s precluded from digging into the facts pertaining to the foreclosure judgment previously obtained in state court, and so he’s going to grant relief from the automatic stay and allow this foreclosure to proceed.  And in that regard the judge writes…

For the reasons that follow, the Debtor’s objection to the Motion is overruled and the Motion is granted. The Debtor’s objection is overruled by application of either the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, or res judicata. Under those doctrines, this Court must accept the state court judgment of foreclosure as evidence of U.S. Bank’s status as a creditor secured by the Property. Such status is sufficient to establish the Movant’s standing to seek relief from the automatic stay. The Motion is granted on the merits because the Movant has shown, and the Debtor has not disputed, sufficient basis to lift the stay under Section 362(d).

Next the judge explains that, even though this court is constrained by Rooker-Feldman and the previously obtained state court decision, because there are numerous other cases before this court that present identical issues, and for which there have been no prior dispositive state court decisions, he’s going to look beyond this case’s limitations and publish a decision that addresses the issue of whether the “Movant” has established standing in this case because of the precedential effect it will have on other cases pending before the court.  And so he writes…

Although the Court is constrained in this case to give full force and effect to the state court judgment of foreclosure, there are numerous other cases before this Court, which present identical issues with respect to MERS and in which there have been no prior dispositive state court decisions.

This Court has deferred rulings on dozens of other motions for relief from stay pending the resolution of the issue of whether an entity which acquires its interests in a mortgage by way of assignment from MERS, as nominee, is a valid secured creditor with standing to seek relief from the automatic stay.

It is for this reason that the Court’s decision in this matter will address the issue of whether the Movant has established standing in this case notwithstanding the existence of the foreclosure judgment. The Court believes this analysis is necessary for the precedential effect it will have on other cases pending before this Court.

The next paragraph of the judge’s decision is particularly telling.  It is Judge Grossman completely disregarding perhaps MERS’ favorite argument, which is that MERS has to be okay because half the mortgages in this country are registered with MERS and if it’s not okay, the whole world will come to an end.

Judge Grossman states his view of this argument in no uncertain terms…

The Court recognizes that an adverse ruling regarding MERS’s authority to assign mortgages or act on behalf of its member/lenders could have a significant impact on MERS and upon the lenders, which do business with MERS throughout the United States.

However, the Court must resolve the instant matter by applying the laws as they exist today. It is up to the legislative branch, if it chooses, to amend the current statutes to confer upon MERS the requisite authority to assign mortgages under its current business practices.

MERS and its partners made the decision to create and operate under a business model that was designed in large part to avoid the requirements of the traditional mortgage recording process. This Court does not accept the argument that because MERS may be involved with 50% of all residential mortgages in the country, that is reason enough for this Court to turn a blind eye to the fact that this process does not comply with the law.

Wow, so you see what he’s saying there, right?  It’s worth repeating…

MERS and its partners made the decision to create and operate under a business model that was designed in large part to avoid the requirements of the traditional mortgage recording process. This Court does not accept the argument that because MERS may be involved with 50% of all residential mortgages in the country, that is reason enough for this Court to turn a blind eye to the fact that this process does not comply with the law.

Did you hear that sound?  That was the sound of the MERS ship hitting an iceberg and starting to sink.  To the lifeboats, banker-people, your ship is sinking, and the water’s damn cold.

And on that note, it’s once again time to Sing-Along with Mandelman!  You remember the song from our youth about “How they built the ship Titanic to sail the ocean blue?  And they thought they had a ship that the water would never leak through.  But the Lord’s almighty hand, knew that ship would never stand… it was sad when the great ship went down.  It was sad, so sad… it was sad, so sad…”  You remember that one right?

Alrighty then… so, sing it like you mean it… with feeling… and if you don’t want to sing, maybe you should be reading about this stuff on Naked Capitalism, or Firedog Lake… Yves Smith is smarter than all get out, but when was the last time she led you in song?

V1:

Oh they built the good ship MERS, so foreclosures could sail through,

And they thought they had a plan that the courts would never see through,

But some lawyers’ learned hands, showed that MERS just didn’t stand,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down.

~~~

CHORUS:

Oh we were glad, so glad,

We were glad, so glad,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down, to the bottom of the sea…

Many lost homes, but to those who lacked their loans,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down.

~~~

V2:

Oh, they went into the courts, hoping judges were inclined,

To not care exactly how, someone’s loan had been assigned.

Yes, the banks would rue the day, when they wrote that PSA,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down.

~~~

CHORUS:

Oh we were glad, so glad,

We were glad, so glad,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down, to the bottom of the sea…

Many lost homes, but to those who lacked their loans,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down.

~~~

V3:

MERS said it had the right, to do things as it pleased,

But the courts did not agree, and soon homes could not be seized.

Seems laws had important words, and MERS assertions were absurd,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down.

~~~

CHORUS:

Oh we were glad, so glad

We were glad, so glad

We were glad when the MERS ship went down, to the bottom of the sea…

Many lost homes, but to those who lacked their loans,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down.

V4:

Soon the bankers will all see, that fraud is not what prevails,

And they’ll realize their hot air will not fill this nation’s sails,

But the price will have been paid, for their mortgage-backed charade,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down.

~~~

CHORUS:

Oh we were glad, so glad

We were glad, so glad

We were glad when the MERS ship went down, to the bottom of the sea…

Many lost homes, but to those who lacked their loans,

We were glad when the MERS ship went down.

~~~

Okay, so I know there are at least a few people out there singing along with that little ditty from days spent at summer camp or on the school bus while on the way home from a field trip.  Maybe next time I’ll work from Bingo Was His Name-O, or 100 bottles of Beer on the Wall.

Meanwhile, you’ve got plenty to do reading Judge Grossman’s decision as provided below.  But, before you do, here are a few highlights, once again for those who want the Reader’s Digest Version.

First, from the MERS side of the argument…

In addition to adopting the arguments asserted by the Movant, MERS strenuously defends its authority to act as mortgagee pursuant to the procedures for processing this and other mortgages under the MERS “system.”

First, MERS points out that the Mortgage itself designates MERS as the “nominee” for the original lender, First Franklin, and its successors and assigns.

In addition, the lender designates, and the Debtor agrees to recognize, MERS “as the mortgagee of record and as nominee for ‘Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns’” and as such the Debtor “expressly agreed without qualification that MERS had the right to foreclose upon the premises as well as exercise any and all rights as nominee for the Lender.” (MERS Memorandum of Law at 7).

These designations as “nominee,” and “mortgagee of record,” and the Debtor’s recognition thereof, it argues, leads to the conclusion that MERS was authorized as a matter of law to assign the Mortgage to U.S. Bank.

Although MERS believes that the mortgage documents alone provide it with authority to effectuate the assignment at issue, they also urge the Court to broaden its analysis and read the documents in the context of the overall “MERS System.” According to MERS, each participating bank/lender agrees to be bound by the terms of a membership agreement pursuant to which the member appoints MERS to act as its authorized agent with authority to, among other things, hold legal title to mortgages and as a result, MERS is empowered to execute assignments of mortgage on behalf of all its member banks.

In this particular case, MERS maintains that as a member of MERS and pursuant to the MERS membership agreement, the loan originator in this case, First Franklin, appointed MERS “to act as its agent to hold the Mortgage as nominee on First Franklin’s behalf, and on behalf of First Franklin’s successors and assigns.”

MERS explains that subsequent to the mortgage’s inception, First Franklin assigned the Note to Aurora Bank FSB f/k/a Lehman Brothers Bank (“Aurora”), another MERS member. According to MERS, note assignments among MERS members are tracked via self-effectuated and self-monitored computer entries into the MERS database. As a MERS member, by operation of the MERS membership rules, Aurora is deemed to have appointed MERS to act as its agent to hold the Mortgage as nominee.

Aurora subsequently assigned the Note to U.S. Bank, also a MERS member. By operation of the MERS membership agreement, U.S. Bank is deemed to have appointed MERS to act as its agent to hold the Mortgage as nominee. Then, according to MERS, “U.S. Bank, as the holder of the note, under the MERS Membership Rules, chose to instruct MERS to assign the Mortgage to U.S. Bank prior to commencing the foreclosure proceedings by U.S. Bank.” (Affirmation of William C. Hultman, ¶12).

MERS argues that the express terms of the mortgage coupled with the provisions of the MERS membership agreement, is “more than sufficient to create an agency relationship between MERS and lender and the lender’s successors in interest” under New York law and as a result establish MERS’s authority to assign the Mortgage.

Okay, so that’s much of what MERS has to say about why it’s practices are fine and dandy, now let’s take a quick look at what the judge in this case has to say about the assignment of the note, among other things…

Noteholder Status

In the Motion, the Movant asserts U.S. Bank’s status as the “holder” of the Mortgage.

However, in order to have standing to seek relief from stay, Movant, which acts as the representative of U.S. Bank, must show that U.S. Bank holds both the Mortgage and the Note. Mims, 438 B.R. at 56. Although the Motion does not explicitly state that U.S. Bank is the holder of the Note, it is implicit in the Motion and the arguments presented by the Movant at the hearing.

However, the record demonstrates that the Movant has produced no evidence, documentary or otherwise, that U.S. Bank is the rightful holder of the Note.

Movant’s reliance on the fact that U.S. Bank’s noteholder status has not been challenged thus far does not alter or diminish the Movant’s burden to show that it is the holder of the Note as well as the Mortgage.

Under New York law, Movant can prove that U.S. Bank is the holder of the Note by providing the Court with proof of a written assignment of the Note, or by demonstrating that U.S. Bank has physical possession of the Note endorsed over to it. See, eg., LaSalle Bank N.A. v. Lamy, 824 N.Y.S.2d 769, 2006 WL 2251721, at *1 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Aug. 7, 2006).

The only written assignment presented to the Court is not an assignment of the Note but rather an “Assignment of Mortgage” which contains a vague reference to the Note.

Tagged to the end of the provisions which purport to assign the Mortgage, there is language in the Assignment stating “To Have and to Hold the said Mortgage and Note, and also the said property until the said Assignee forever, subject to the terms contained in said Mortgage and Note.” (Assignment of Mortgage (emphasis added)).

Not only is the language vague and insufficient to prove an intent to assign the Note, but MERS is not a party to the Note and the record is barren of any representation that MERS, the purported assignee, had any authority to take any action with respect to the Note. Therefore, the Court finds that the Assignment of Mortgage is not sufficient to establish an effective assignment of the Note.

By MERS’s own account, it took no part in the assignment of the Note in this case, but merely provided a database, which allowed its members to electronically self-report transfers of the Note.

MERS does not confirm that the Note was properly transferred or in fact whether anyone including agents of MERS had or have physical possession of the Note. What remains undisputed is that MERS did not have any rights with respect to the Note and other than as described above, MERS played no role in the transfer of the Note.

Absent a showing of a valid assignment of the Note, Movant can demonstrate that U.S. Bank is the holder of the Note if it can show that U.S. Bank has physical possession of the Note endorsed to its name. See In re Mims, 423 B.R. at 56-57.

According to the evidence presented in this matter the manner in which the MERS system is structured provides that, “when the beneficial interest in a loan is sold, the promissory note is transferred by an endorsement and delivery from the buyer to the seller [sic], but MERS Members are obligated to update the MERS® System to reflect the change in ownership of the promissory note. . . .” (MERS Supplemental Memorandum of Law at 6).

However, there is nothing in the record to prove that the Note in this case was transferred according to the processes described above other than MERS’s representation that its computer database reflects that the Note was transferred to U.S. Bank.

The Court has no evidentiary basis to find that the Note was endorsed to U.S. Bank or that U.S. Bank has physical possession of the Note. Therefore, the Court finds that Movant has not satisfied its burden of showing that U.S. Bank, the party on whose behalf Movant seeks relief from stay, is the holder of the Note.

So, the judge is saying things that are very similar to what we’ve all heard before, most recently in the Ibanez Decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, and in the New Jersey court decision, Kemp v. Countrywide, among numerous others of late.  How was the note assigned, was it endorsed properly, can the trustee even produce any evidence that the trust is the holder of the note?

What it would seem to come down to is quite simple, I think…

Does the trust that thinks that it owns the loan, actually own the loan, and can the trustee produce any evidence that it does own the loan?

If the loan was not properly transferred into the trust, and if there is no evidence that the trust owns the loan in question, then it would seem that the investor bought a mortgage-backed security without the mortgage-backed part, and my guess would be that the investors at this point don’t care about the mortgages… they will want their pound of flesh from the bankers whose massive securities fraud has robbed them of untold billions and destroyed the global financial system.

I’m not a lawyer, but with the first investor lawsuit against Bank of America – Countrywide having been filed just a couple weeks ago, and saying basically that the investor was delivered mortgage-backed securities without the mortgages, that’s how I’m seeing it start to stack up.

Now let’s look at what the judge says about the mortgage itself… you see… it’s supposed to follow the note, but when MERS is in the game, it simply doesn’t.

Mortgagee Status

The Movant’s failure to show that U.S. Bank holds the Note should be fatal to the Movant’s standing.

However, even if the Movant could show that U.S. Bank is the holder of the Note, it still would have to establish that it holds the Mortgage in order to prove that it is a secured creditor with standing to bring this Motion before this Court.

The Movant urges the Court to adhere to the adage that a mortgage necessarily follows the same path as the note for which it stands as collateral. See Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Perry, 875 N.Y.S.2d 853, 856 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 2009).

In simple terms the Movant relies on the argument that a note and mortgage are inseparable. See Carpenter v. Longan, 83 U.S. 271, 274 (1872).

While it is generally true that a mortgage travels a parallel path with its corresponding debt obligation, the parties in this case have adopted a process, which by its very terms alters this practice where mortgages are held by MERS as “mortgagee of record.”

By MERS’s own account, the Note in this case was transferred among its members, while the Mortgage remained in MERS’s name.

MERS admits that the very foundation of its business model as described herein requires that the Note and Mortgage travel on divergent paths. Because the Note and Mortgage did not travel together, Movant must prove not only that it is acting on behalf of a valid assignee of the Note, but also that it is acting on behalf of the valid assignee of the Mortgage5.

Footnote 5 – MERS argues that notes and mortgages processed through the MERS System are never “separated” because beneficial ownership of the notes and mortgages are always held by the same entity.

The Court will not address that issue in this Decision, but leaves open the issue as to whether mortgages processed through the MERS system are properly perfected and valid liens. See Carpenter v. Longan, 83 U.S. at 274 (finding that an assignment of the mortgage without the note is a nullity); Landmark Nat’l Bank v. Kesler, 216 P.3d 158, 166-67 (Kan. 2009)

(“In the event that a mortgage loan somehow separates interests of the note and the deed of trust, with the deed of trust lying with some independent entity, the mortgage may become unenforceable”).

Yes, you read that last part right.  The mortgage may become unenforceable.  That’s really the 800-pound Gorilla in the room, isn’t it?  Do they own it or not, and if they broke the laws, who wins?

Many people get all upset about the idea that a homeowner could not have to pay their mortgage because the laws were broken related to the transfer of the note and mortgage, but I’m starting to think they’re just a bunch of crybabies.  The law is the law and if it says that someone doesn’t owe their mortgage, well… good for them.

We’re a nation built on laws and forged by lawyers, and there have been a lot of unpopular decisions that rightly stood because they upheld our nation’s laws… Brown v. The Board of Education comes immediately to mind, but there are many.

We need our plaintiff’s lawyers, our judges and our courts, if we’re going to live through what’s ahead of us.  We certainly can’t depend on our legislature or our executive branches… they have, for the most part, been bought and paid for… our system is corrupt with the money of lobbyists.  Only our laws and our courts can see us through this, and I’m willing to abide by whatever they say follows the law.

Okay, so here’s just a bit more from Judge Grossman’s analysis and conclusion…

MERS asserts that its right to assign the Mortgage to U.S. Bank in this case, and in what it estimates to be literally millions of other cases, stems from three sources: the Mortgage documents; the MERS membership agreement; and state law.

In order to provide some context to this discussion, the Court will begin its analysis with an overview of mortgage and loan processing within the MERS network of lenders as set forth in the record of this case.

In the most common residential lending scenario, there are two parties to a real property mortgage – a mortgagee, i.e., a lender, and a mortgagor, i.e., a borrower. With some nuances and allowances for the needs of modern finance this model has been followed for hundreds of years.

The MERS business plan, as envisioned and implemented by lenders and others involved in what has become known as the mortgage finance industry, is based in large part on amending this traditional model and introducing a third party into the equation.

MERS is, in fact, neither a borrower nor a lender, but rather purports to be both “mortgagee of record” and a “nominee” for the mortgagee.

MERS was created to alleviate problems created by, what was determined by the financial community to be, slow and burdensome recording processes adopted by virtually every state and locality. In effect the MERS system was designed to circumvent these procedures. MERS, as envisioned by its originators, operates as a replacement for our traditional system of public recordation of mortgages.

MERS argues that it had full authority to validly execute the Assignment of Mortgage to U.S. Bank on February 1, 2008, and that as of the date the foreclosure proceeding was commenced U.S. Bank held both the Note and the Mortgage.

However, without more, this Court finds that MERS’s “nominee” status and the rights bestowed upon MERS within the Mortgage itself are insufficient to empower MERS to effectuate a valid assignment of mortgage.

There are several published New York state trial level decisions holding that the status of “nominee” or “mortgagee of record” bestowed upon MERS in the mortgage documents, by itself, does not empower MERS to effectuate an assignment of the mortgage.

However, the rules lack any specific mention of an agency relationship, and do not bestow upon MERS any authority to act. Rather, the rules are ambiguous as to MERS’s authority to take affirmative actions with respect to mortgages registered on its system.

That’s pretty clear, I think.  MERS, you’re going down.

In addition to casting itself as nominee/agent, MERS seems to argue that its role as “mortgagee of record” gives it the rights of a mortgagee in its own right.

MERS relies on the definition of “mortgagee” in the New York Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law Section 1921, which states that a “mortgagee” when used in the context of Section 1921, means the “current holder of the mortgage of record . . . or their agents, successors or assigns.” N.Y. Real Prop. Acts. L. § 1921 (McKinney 2011).

The provisions of Section 1921 relate solely to the discharge of mortgages and the Court will not apply that definition beyond the provisions of that section in order to find that MERS is a “mortgagee” with full authority to perform the duties of mortgagee in its own right.

Aside from the inappropriate reliance upon the statutory definition of “mortgagee,” MERS’s position that it can be both the mortgagee and an agent of the mortgagee is absurd, at best.

Okay, so some of that gets a little technical, I agree, but the last sentence is about as straightforward as it gets… MERS’s position that it can be both the mortgagee and an agent of the mortgagee is absurd, at best. And wait… there’s just a little bit more…

Adding to this absurdity, it is notable in this case that the Assignment of Mortgage was by MERS, as nominee for First Franklin, the original lender.

By the Movant’s and MERS’s own admission, at the time the assignment was effectuated, First Franklin no longer held any interest in the Note.

Both the Movant and MERS have represented to the Court that subsequent to the origination of the loan, the Note was assigned, through the MERS tracking system, from First Franklin to Aurora, and then from Aurora to U.S. Bank. Accordingly, at the time that MERS, as nominee of First Franklin, assigned the interest in the Mortgage to U.S. Bank, U.S. Bank allegedly already held the Note and it was at U.S. Bank’s direction, not First Franklin’s, that the Mortgage was assigned to U.S. Bank.

Said another way, when MERS assigned the Mortgage to U.S. Bank on First Franklin’s behalf, it took its direction from U.S. Bank, not First Franklin, to provide documentation of an assignment from an entity that no longer had any rights to the Note or the Mortgage.

The documentation provided to the Court in this case (and the Court has no reason to believe that any further documentation exists), is stunningly inconsistent with what the parties define as the facts of this case.

However, even if MERS had assigned the Mortgage acting on behalf of the entity which held the Note at the time of the assignment, this Court finds that MERS did not have authority, as “nominee” or agent, to assign the Mortgage absent a showing that it was given specific written directions by its principal.

This Court finds that MERS’s theory that it can act as a “common agent” for undisclosed principals is not support by the law.

The relationship between MERS and its lenders and its distortion of its alleged “nominee” status was appropriately described by the Supreme Court of Kansas as follows: “The parties appear to have defined the word [nominee] in much the same way that the blind men of Indian legend described an elephant – their description depended on which part they were touching at any given time.”

For all of the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that the Motion in this case should be granted. However, in all future cases, which involve MERS, the moving party must show that it validly holds both the mortgage and the underlying note in order to prove standing before this Court.

February 10, 2011

Hon. Robert E. Grossman United States Bankruptcy Judge

~~~

It’s very important to realize that the judge’s findings related to MERS in this case are NOT BINDING ON ANY COURT.

As foreclosure defense attorney Thomas Cox explains:

“Judge Grossman’s findings about MERS are not binding on anyone, because they did not resolve any issue in the case where Rooker-Feldman blocked that inquiry.”

Cox says he won’t be surprised if the MERS/securitization/foreclosure industry spin mentions this point since the law prohibited the judge from going behind the judgment to see how U.S. Bank got the mortgage, then it also prohibited making binding findings about the MERS issue.

Cox further points out…

“On the other hand, with that being so, I am highly doubtful that U.S. Bank and Select Portfolio Servicing could appeal from those MERS holdings because their position in the case was not affected by them.  While the judge did allow them to intervene, since the judge’s opinions about MERS are not binding on any court, I do not see how MERS could effectively argue that it suffered a legally cognizable harm.  If and when Judge Grossman, or some other judge, in some other case uses the rationale laid out by Judge Grossman to nullify a MERS mortgage assignment, only then will a trustee and/or MERS have any ability to appeal the issue.”

Okay, so that about covers it, I’d say.  Below you’ll find the Judge Grossman’s decision in its entirety, and hat tip to attorney Thomas Cox of Portland, Maine for bringing this decision to my attention, helping me to understand it, and continuing to go after the bastards with the strength and tenacity of a Mainer.

Mandelman out.


In re: Ferrel L. Agard, Debtor

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