Posted on 10 January 2011.
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:
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