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Tag Archive | "Residential Funding"

Critics call Michigan Supreme Court ruling on foreclosures ‘intellectually dishonest’

Critics call Michigan Supreme Court ruling on foreclosures ‘intellectually dishonest’


I think we all can agree with this post… but those who benefit from real estate.

Where is Bill Hultman these days?

MLive-

A ruling this week by the Michigan Supreme Court put an end to some uncertainty in the real estate market, but it was a disappointment to local housing advocates.

The high court reversed an April state Court of Appeals decision that prevented the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, from bringing foreclosures against Michigan homeowners.

The system was widely used by the lending industry to streamline the packaging and selling of mortgages as securities without recording the deeds at county offices. In that role, it also started countless foreclosure proceedings.

The appeals court ruled that MERS did not own legal title to the properties and could not be the foreclosing party. That decision called into question the validity of thousands of foreclosures across the state, wreaking havoc in the housing market. Closings were canceled and homeowners who had purchased foreclosed houses wondered whether they had clear title to the property.

[MLIVE]

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Adam Levitin | Soured on Saurman

Adam Levitin | Soured on Saurman


Credit Slips –

Elected justice moves swiftly. The Michigan Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Residential Funding Co. v. Saurman on Wednesday, a couple of weeks after oral argument. They were in a rush to get the opinion out, it seems. Unfortunately, it’s a terrible opinion. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the appellate court to hold that MERS has the power to conduct non-judicial foreclosures (foreclosure by advertisement) in Michigan.

To reach this conclusion, the Michigan Supreme Court had to conclude that MERS had an interest in the indebtedness–that is an interest in the note.  MERS, however, expressly disclaims any interest in the note. So it took some acrobatics and legerdemain and outright tautology to get no to mean yes. Here’s how they did it:

[CREDIT SLIPS]

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Ingham County Register of Deeds, Curtis Hertel Jr. statement on Michigan Supreme Court’s MERS decision

Ingham County Register of Deeds, Curtis Hertel Jr. statement on Michigan Supreme Court’s MERS decision


“The Michigan Supreme Court decision on Mers is an embarrassment, to those of us who care about the property records of this state, and more importantly the citizens who are affected by these foreclosures. Mers created a shadow registry system that makes it impossible for individual citizens and their government officials to track who owns a mortgage. At the Michigan Chambers request, they now have the right to masquerade as a bank and take a citizen’s home . It is unfortunate that Justices Young, Markman, Zahra and Mary Beth Kelly decided to side with special interest groups instead of Michigan citizens.“

– Curtis Hertel Jr.

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MI Supreme Court “Persons or Groups may move the Court for permission to file briefs amicus curiae, to be filed no later than October 21, 2011 for RESIDENTIAL FUNDING CO. LLC v. SAURMAN

MI Supreme Court “Persons or Groups may move the Court for permission to file briefs amicus curiae, to be filed no later than October 21, 2011 for RESIDENTIAL FUNDING CO. LLC v. SAURMAN


RESIDENTIAL FUNDING CO., L.L.C., f/k/a RESIDENTIAL FUNDING CORPORATION, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
GERALD SAURMAN, Defendant-Appellee.
BANK OF NEW YORK TRUST COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
COREY MESSNER, Defendant-Appellee.

.

No. 143178-9 & (104)(108)(109)(111)(112)(113)(114).

Supreme Court of Michigan.

September 28, 2011.

Robert P. Young, Jr., Chief Justice, Michael F. Cavanagh, Marilyn Kelly, Stephen J. Markman, Diane M. Hathaway, Mary Beth Kelly, Brian K. Zahra, Justices.

Order

On order of the Court, the motion for expedited consideration of the application for leave to appeal is GRANTED. The application for leave to appeal the April 21, 2011 judgment of the Court of Appeals is considered, and we direct the Clerk to schedule oral argument, during the November 2011 session, on whether to grant the application or take other action. MCR 7.302(H)(1). At oral argument, the parties shall address whether Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. (MERS) as the mortgagee and nominee of the note holder is an “owner … of an interest in the indebtedness secured by the mortgage” within the meaning of MCL 600.3204(1)(d), such that it was permitted to foreclose by advertisement. The parties may file supplemental briefs no later than October 21, 2011. They should not submit mere restatements of their application papers.

The motions of the Michigan Association of Realtors, Legal Services Association of Michigan/Michigan Poverty Law Program/State Bar of Michigan Consumer Law Section Council/National Consumer Law Center, State Bar of Michigan Real Property Law Section, Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc./Mortgage Bankers Association, Michigan Bankers Association/Michigan Mortgage Lenders Association, and the American Land Title Association for leave to file brief amicus curiae are GRANTED. Other persons or groups interested in the determination of the issues presented in this case may move the Court for permission to file briefs amicus curiae, to be filed no later than October 21, 2011.

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MERS legal case delaying home sales in Jackson, Possibly headed to State Supreme Court

MERS legal case delaying home sales in Jackson, Possibly headed to State Supreme Court


Michigan law states that whoever forecloses on a property must own the debt, and MERS did not.

MLive-

A family was expecting to close on a house on a Friday. On Thursday night, the sale had to be scuttled.

Fifteen to 20 pending home sales fell apart that one Jackson title company was preparing to handle. Banks started pulling homes for sale off the market.

First, Jackson County’s real estate market suffered from the foreclosure crisis. Lately, it has been going through another convulsion due to a little-known company that has its name all over mortgage documents in Jackson and around the state.

Continue reading [MLIVE]

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MI Trial Court Finds “MERS Transferred Nothing, Purported Transfers, Endorsements or Assignments Are Void Ab Initio” | HENDRICKS v. U.S. BANK

MI Trial Court Finds “MERS Transferred Nothing, Purported Transfers, Endorsements or Assignments Are Void Ab Initio” | HENDRICKS v. U.S. BANK


H/T Michelle

STATE OF MICHIGAN
WASHTENAW COUNTY TRIAL COURT

JAMES HENDRICKS, et al

v.

US BANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION
AS SUCCESSOR TRUSTEE TO BANK
OF AMERICA


EXCERPT:

The Court finds that the “Assignment”, recored on Decmeber 30, 2009 in the Washtenaw County Register of Deeds, serves to transfer nothing. The alleged conveyance failed to comply with the terms and conditions of the PSA and the New York Trust Law which governs the PSA. The alleged conveyance stated MERS assigned the mortgage and Promissory Note to USB, however, there has been no evidence presented to support the chain of the required assignments and endorsements of the mortgage and note as required by the terms and conditions of the PSA.

[…]

Therefore, the purported transfers, endorsements or assignments are void ab initio or never properly transferred into the trust. The only defendant with standing to proceed is First Franklin, the originator and original Lender of the Note and Mortgage.

[ipaper docId=57341599 access_key=key-12pk63ursiztqrul41ni height=600 width=600 /]

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WHOA! MERS Ruling Forces HUD to Reforeclose on Michigan REO

WHOA! MERS Ruling Forces HUD to Reforeclose on Michigan REO


What about those already sold?


Mortgage National News-

The Department of Housing and Urban Development will re-foreclose on all its REO properties in Michigan where the original foreclosure was conducted in the name of MERS using the state’s nonjudicial process.

read the ruling below…

Michigan Court Of Appeals Rules, Consolidates (2) Cases MERS “STRAWMAN” Has No Authority To Foreclose

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[VIDEO] MI Rep. Hansen Clarke Discusses Making Lenders Prove Ownership to Foreclose, Supports $100M Class Action Against MERS

[VIDEO] MI Rep. Hansen Clarke Discusses Making Lenders Prove Ownership to Foreclose, Supports $100M Class Action Against MERS


Make this go VIRAL!!

Contact: https://hansenclarke.house.gov/contact-me

Uploaded by on May 16, 2011

Rep. Hansen Clarke discusses home foreclosures on WJR’s The Law Show

[image: VoiceofDetroit.net]

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MICHIGAN CLASS ACTION | DEPAUW v. MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS, INC. “MERS”

MICHIGAN CLASS ACTION | DEPAUW v. MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS, INC. “MERS”


UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
SOUTHERN DIVISION

* * * * * * * *

MARLYA DEPAUW and SHARON & TERRANCE LAFRANCE, Individually and as Representatives of a Class of Individuals Similarly Situated,
Plaintiffs,

v.

MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC
REGISTRATION SYSTEMS, INC.
c/o The Corporation Trust Company,
as Statutory Agent
Corporation Trust Center
1209 Orange Street
New Castle, DE 19801,
Defendant.

Case Number: 2:11-cv-12032

JUDGE:
Magistrate Judge:


______________________________________________________________________________

CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT WITH DEMAND FOR JURY
TRIAL ENDORSED HEREON

EXCERPT:

16. In many of the actions filed by MERS, mortgagor homeowners responded by filing pleadings arguing that MERS did not have the capacity to foreclose by advertisement as they did not own or have any interest in the underlying indebtedness.

17. In response to these challenges, MERS would normally answer by providing confusing loan documents and claiming an interest in the underlying debt, even though they knew this was not true and that they were not complying with the requirements of MCL 600.3201, et seq.

18. Even in the face of these challenges, MERS did, and continued for a period of years, to knowingly, fraudulently and illegally foreclose using a State law upon which they had no authority or right to utilize.

19. In these cases, MERS lacked the authority to foreclose by advertisement pursuant to MCL 600.3201, et seq., as MERS was never either the owner of the underlying indebtedness or loan and was not the servicing agent of the mortgage.

20. On April 21, 2011, the State of Michigan, Court of Appeals in the consolidated case of Residential Funding Co., LLC v. Gerald Saurman, (Residential Funding Co, LLC v. Saurman, 290248, 291443 (MICA)), issued a ruling stating in pertinent part that in cases where MERS did not own the underlying indebtedness, did not own an interest in the indebtedness secured by the mortgage, or did not service the mortgage, MERS was therefore unable to comply with the statutory requirements of MCL 600.3201(1)(d), and subsequently had no right to foreclose by advertisement.

21. The Court of Appeals continued, and ruled that in those such cases where MERS did foreclose by advertisement upon the foregoing conditions rendered those foreclosure proceedings void ab initio.

Continue below…

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Merscorp Mortgage Registry Sued Over Non-Judicial Foreclosures in Michigan

Merscorp Mortgage Registry Sued Over Non-Judicial Foreclosures in Michigan


Now we SAW this baby coming across miles away, and this will not be the last. Just yesterday, Fannie said MERS poses a significant risk…no DOUBT!

BLOOMBERG-

Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. “illegally prosecuted” non-judicial foreclosures in Michigan and owes more than $100 million to people who lost their homes, lawyers for three homeowners said in a lawsuit.

The homeowners said Merscorp Inc.’s MERS, which runs an electronic registry of mortgages, used Michigan’s so-called foreclosure by advertisement process illegally and “misappropriated” their homes. Any foreclosures by MERS using this process in Michigan should be voided, they said in their complaint filed in federal court in Detroit.

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Title agencies running scared, canceling closings after Michigan Appeals Court rules against MERS

Title agencies running scared, canceling closings after Michigan Appeals Court rules against MERS


DETROIT FREE PRESS-

Local Realtors say title companies are canceling closings on some bank-owned homes after a recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision made it more risky to insure them.

Late last month, the court ruled the Mortgage Electronic Registration System lacks authority to foreclose by advertisement in Michigan. The system is an electronic record-keeper of mortgages.

read the ruling below…

Michigan Court Of Appeals Rules, Consolidates (2) Cases MERS “STRAWMAN” Has No Authority To Foreclose

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In re: GILBERT | NC Appeals Court Reversal “Improper Indorsement, No Evidence of Debt” JEFFREY STEPHAN AFFIDAVIT, DEUTSCHE BANK, GMAC, RESIDENTIAL FUNDING

In re: GILBERT | NC Appeals Court Reversal “Improper Indorsement, No Evidence of Debt” JEFFREY STEPHAN AFFIDAVIT, DEUTSCHE BANK, GMAC, RESIDENTIAL FUNDING


Here’s a snippet and highly recommend reading this in its entirety!

Excerpt:

The record is void of any evidence the Note was assigned and securitized to a trust.

[ipaper docId=54673705 access_key=key-1dch86ck9zy229rl5p87 height=600 width=600 /]

IN THE MATTER OF THE FORECLOSURE BY DAVID A. SIMPSON, P.C., SUBSTITUTE TRUSTEE, OF A DEED OF TRUST EXECUTED BY REX T. GILBERT, JR. AND DANIELA L. GILBERT, HUSBAND AND WIFE, DATED MAY 5, 2006 AND RECORDED ON MAY 10, 2006, IN BOOK 219 AT PAGE 53 OF THE HYDE COUNTY PUBLIC REGISTRY.

No. COA10-361.

Court of Appeals of North Carolina.

Filed May 3, 2011.

Katherine S. Parker-Lowe, for respondent-appellants.

The Law Office of John T. Benjamin, Jr., P.A., by John T. Benjamin, Jr. and James R. White for petitioner-appellee.

HUNTER, JR., Robert N., Judge.

Respondents Rex T. Gilbert, Jr. and his wife Daniela L. Gilbert, appeal from the trial court’s Order authorizing David A. Simpson, P.C., as Substitute Trustee, to proceed with foreclosure under a power of sale in the Deed of Trust recorded in Book 219 at Page 53 in the Hyde County Register of Deeds. We reverse.

I. Factual and Procedural History

On 5 May 2006, Respondent Rex T. Gilbert, Jr. executed an adjustable rate note (“the Note”) to refinance an existing mortgage on his home. According to the terms of the Note, Mr. Gilbert promised to pay a principal amount of $525,000.00 plus interest to First National Bank of Arizona. The Note was secured by a Deed of Trust, executed by Mr. Gilbert and his wife, Daniela L. Gilbert, on real property located at 134 West End Road, Ocracoke, North Carolina. The Deed of Trust identified First National Bank of Arizona as the lender and Matthew J. Ragaller of Casey, Grimsley & Ragaller, PLLC as the trustee.

The record reveals that, during 2008, Respondents ceased making payments on the Note and made an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate a modification of the loan. On 9 March 2009, a Substitution of Trustee was recorded in the Hyde County Register of Deeds, which purports to remove Matthew Ragaller as the trustee of the Deed of Trust and appoint his successor, David A. Simpson, P.C. (“Substitute Trustee”). The Substitution of Trustee identified Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 (“Petitioner”) as the holder of the Note and the lien created by the Deed of Trust.

On 12 March 2009, the Substitute Trustee commenced this action by filing a Notice of Hearing on Foreclosure of Deed of Trust with the Hyde County Clerk of Superior Court pursuant to section 45-21.16 of our General Statutes. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.16 (2009). The Notice of Hearing stated, “the current holder of the foregoing Deed of Trust, and of the debt secured thereby, is: Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6.”

In a letter dated 5 April 2009, Mr. Gilbert purported to exercise his right to rescind the loan transaction he entered into with the original lender, First National Bank of Arizona, pursuant to the federal Truth in Lending Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1635. As justification for his purported rescission, Gilbert alleged that the Truth in Lending Disclosure Statement provided by First National Bank of Arizona failed to accurately provide all required material disclosures including, inter alia, the correct annual percentage rate and payment schedule. The Substitute Trustee responded with a letter from GMAC ResCap, in which it denied any material disclosure errors were made and refused to rescind the loan transaction.

The foreclosure hearing was held on 2 June 2009 before the Clerk of Superior Court of Hyde County. The Honorable Sharon G. Sadler entered an Order on 17 June 2009, permitting the Substitute Trustee to proceed with the foreclosure. In the Order, the Clerk specifically found, inter alia, that Petitioner was the holder of the Note and Deed of Trust that it sought to foreclose and the Note evidenced a valid debt owed by Mr. Gilbert. Respondents appealed the Order to superior court.

The matter came on for a de novo hearing on 18 August 2009 before the Honorable Marvin K. Blount, III, in Hyde County Superior Court. During the hearing, the trial court admitted into evidence a certified copy of the Note and the Deed of Trust and two affidavits attesting to the validity of Gilbert’s indebtedness pursuant to the Note, and that Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 is the current owner and holder of the Note. Additionally, Petitioner introduced the original Note and Allonge for the trial court’s inspection.

Reviewing the record before this Court, the Allonge contains a series of indorsements evidencing the alleged assignments of the Note, as follows:

PAY TO THE ORDER OF: First National Bank of Nevada WITHOUT RECOURSE BY: [Signature] ___________________________ AMY HAWKINS, ASSISTANT VICE PRESIDENT FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF ARIZONA Pay to the order of: RESIDENTIAL FUNDING CORPORATION Without Recourse FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF NEVADA By: [Signature] __________________________ Deutsche Bank National Trust Company, F/K/A Bankers Trust Company of California, N.A. as Custodian as Attorney in Fact [Illegible Name and Title] PAY TO THE ORDER OF Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee WITHOUT RECOURSE Residential Funding Corporation BY [Signature] ________________________ Judy Faber, Vice President

Respondents made two arguments at the hearing. First, Respondents argued that the debt evidenced by the Note no longer existed, as Mr. Gilbert had rescinded the transaction for the loan with First National Bank of Arizona. Petitioner objected to Respondents’ rescission argument as being a defense in equity and, as such, inadmissible in a proceeding held pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.16. The trial court agreed and refused to let Respondents’ expert witness testify as to alleged material errors in the Truth in Lending Disclosure Statement, which Mr. Gilbert alleged permitted him the right to rescind the loan. Second, Respondents argued that Petitioner had not produced sufficient evidence to establish that Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 was the holder of the Note.

Based on the preceding evidence, the trial court entered an order on 18 August 2009 in which it found, inter alia: Mr. Gilbert executed the Note and, with his wife, executed a Deed of Trust in favor of First National Bank of Arizona, secured by the real property described in the Deed of Trust; a valid debt exists and is owed by Gilbert to Petitioner; Gilbert is in default under the Note and Deed of Trust; proper notice of the foreclosure hearing was given to all parties as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.16; Petitioner was the current holder of the Note and the Deed of Trust. The trial court concluded as a matter of law that the requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.16 had been satisfied. Based on these findings and conclusion of law, the trial court authorized the Substitute Trustee to proceed with the foreclosure. Respondents timely entered notice of appeal.

II. Analysis

A party seeking permission from the clerk of court to proceed with a foreclosure pursuant to a power of sale contained in a deed of trust must prove the following statutory requirements: (1) the party seeking foreclosure is the holder of a valid debt, (2) default on the debt by the debtor, (3) the deed of trust provides the right to foreclose, (4) proper notice was given to those parties entitled to notice pursuant to section 45-21.16(b). N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.16(d) (2009). The General Assembly added a fifth requirement, which expired 31 October 2010: “that the underlying mortgage debt is not a subprime loan,” or, if it is a subprime loan, “that the pre-foreclosure notice under G.S. 45-102 was provided in all material respects, and that the periods of time established by Article 11 of this Chapter have elapsed[.]” Id. The role of the clerk of court is limited to making a determination on the matters specified by section 45-21.16(d). See Mosler ex rel. Simon v. Druid Hills Land Co., Inc., 199 N.C. App. 293, 295-96, 681 S.E.2d 456, 458 (2009). If the clerk’s order is appealed to superior court, that court’s de novo hearing is limited to making a determination on the same issues as the clerk of court. See id.

The trial court’s order authorizing the foreclosure to proceed was a final judgment of the superior court, therefore, this Court has jurisdiction to hear the instant appeal. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7A-27(b) (2009). Our standard of review for this appeal, where the trial court sat without a jury, is “`whether competent evidence exists to support the trial court’s findings of fact and whether the conclusions reached were proper in light of the findings.'” In re Adams, __ N.C. App. __, __, 693 S.E.2d 705, 708 (2010) (quoting In re Foreclosure of Azalea Garden Bd. & Care, Inc., 140 N.C. App. 45, 50, 535 S.E.2d 388, 392 (2000)).

We note the trial court classified multiple conclusions of law as “findings of fact.” We have previously recognized “[t]he classification of a determination as either a finding of fact or a conclusion of law is admittedly difficult.” In re Helms, 127 N.C. App. 505, 510, 491 S.E.2d 672, 675 (1997). Generally, “any determination requiring the exercise of judgment or the application of legal principles is more properly classified a conclusion of law.” Id. (citations omitted). Any determination made by “`logical reasoning from the evidentiary facts,'” however, “is more properly classified a finding of fact.” Id. (quoting Quick v. Quick, 305 N.C. 446, 452, 290 S.E.2d 653, 657-58 (1982)). When this Court determines that findings of fact and conclusions of law have been mislabeled by the trial court, we may reclassify them, where necessary, before applying our standard of review. N.C. State Bar v. Key, 189 N.C. App. 80, 88, 658 S.E.2d 493, 499 (2008) (citing In re Helms, 127 N.C. App. at 510, 491 S.E.2d at 675).

Looking to the trial court’s Order, we conclude that the following “findings of fact” are determinations that required the application of legal principles and are more appropriately classified as conclusions of law: a valid debt exists and is owed to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6; proper notice was given to and received by all parties as required by N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.16 and the Rules of Civil Procedure; Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 is the current owner and holder of the Note and Deed of Trust. See In re Watts, 38 N.C. App. 90, 92, 247 S.E.2d 427, 428 (1978) (noting upon the appeal of a N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.16 special proceeding the trial court’s conclusions of lawsee also Connolly v. Potts, 63 N.C. App. 547, 549, 306 S.E.2d 123, 124 (1983) (same). In light of this reclassification of the trial court’s findings of fact and conclusions of law, we turn to the issues raised on appeal. included the existence of a valid debt, the right to foreclose under the deed of trust, and proper notice to the mortgagors);

1. Rescission of the Loan Transaction

Respondents raise several arguments alleging the trial court erred by refusing to consider their defense to the foreclosure action, that the debt Petitioner sought to foreclose was not a valid debt——a required element under the statute for foreclosure by power of sale. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.16(d)(i) (requiring, inter alia, that the clerk of court must determine that a valid debt exists). Respondents contend the debt is not valid because Mr. Gilbert rescinded the transaction by which he obtained the loan from First National Bank of Arizona pursuant to the federal Truth in Lending Act (“TILA”), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1601-1667f, and the Federal Reserve Board’s Regulation Z, 12 C.F.R. § 226.1-.58. We conclude the trial court did not err.

The admissibility of evidence in the trial court is based upon that court’s sound discretion and may be disturbed on appeal only upon a finding that the decision was based on an abuse of discretion. Gibbs v. Mayo, 162 N.C. App. 549, 561, 591 S.E.2d 905, 913 (2004). Here, we conclude the trial court properly refused to consider Respondents’ evidence of rescission. Rescission under the TILA is an equitable remedy. See Am. Mortg. Network, Inc. v. Shelton, 486 F.3d 815, 819 (4th Cir. 2007) (“`[A]lthough the right to rescind [under the TILA] is [statutory], it remains an equitable doctrine subject to equitable considerations.'” (quoting Brown v. Nat’l Permanent Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 683 F.2d 444, 447 (D.C. Cir. 1982)). While legal defenses to a foreclosure under a power of sale are properly raised in a hearing held pursuant to section 45-21.16, equitable defenses are not. Watts, 38 N.C. App. at 94, 247 S.E.2d at 429. As we have previously stated, a hearing under section 45-21.16 is “not intended to settle all matters in controversy between mortgagor and mortgagee, nor was it designed to provide a second procedure for invoking equitable relief.” Id. A party seeking to raise an equitable defense may do so in a separate civil action brought in superior court under section 45-21.34. Id.; N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.34 (2009) (stating that a party with a legal or equitable interest in the subject property may apply to a superior court judge to enjoin a sale of the property upon legal or equitable grounds). Accordingly, the trial court properly concluded Respondents’ argument that Mr. Gilbert had rescinded the loan transaction, invaliding the debt Petitioner sought to foreclose, was an equitable defense and not properly before the trial court. Respondents’ argument is without merit.[1]

2. Evidence that Petitioner was the Owner and Holder of Mr. Gilbert’s Promissory Note

Respondents also argue the trial court erred in ordering the foreclosure to proceed, as Petitioner did not prove that it was the holder of the Note with the right to foreclose under the instrument as required by section 45-21.16(d)(i) and (iii). We agree.

A “foreclosure under a power of sale is not favored in the law and its exercise will be watched with jealousy.” In re Foreclosure of Goforth Props., Inc., 334 N.C. 369, 375, 432 S.E.2d 855, 859 (1993) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). That the party seeking to foreclose on a promissory note is the holder of said note is an essential element of the action and the debtor is “entitled to demand strict proof of this element.” Liles v. Myers, 38 N.C. App. 525, 528, 248 S.E.2d 385, 388 (1978).

For the trial court to find sufficient evidence that Petitioner is the holder of a valid debt in accordance with section 45-21.16(d), “this Court has determined that the following two questions must be answered in the affirmative: (1) `is there sufficient competent evidence of a valid debt?’; and (2) `is there sufficient competent evidence that [the party seeking to foreclose is] the holder[ ] of the notes [that evidence that debt]?'” Adams, __ N.C. App. at __, 693 S.E.2d at 709 (quoting In re Cooke, 37 N.C. App. 575, 579, 246 S.E.2d 801, 804—05 (1978)); see N.C. Gen. Stat. § 45-21.16(d) (2009) (in order for the foreclosure to proceed, the clerk of court must find, inter alia, the existence of a “valid debt of which the party seeking to foreclose is the holder,” and a “right to foreclose under the instrument” securing the debt) (emphasis added).

Establishing that a party is the holder of the note is essential to protect the debtor from the threat of multiple judgments on the same note.

If such proof were not required, the plaintiff could negotiate the instrument to a third party who would become a holder in due course, bring a suit upon the note in her own name and obtain a judgment in her favor. . . . Requiring proof that the plaintiff is the holder of the note at the time of her suit reduces the possibility of such an inequitable occurrence.

Liles, 38 N.C. App. at 527, 248 S.E.2d at 387.

We have previously determined that the definition of “holder” under the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”), as adopted by North Carolina, controls the meaning of the term as it used in section 45-21.16 of our General Statutes for foreclosure actions under a power of sale. See Connolly, 63 N.C. App. at 550, 306 S.E.2d at 125; Adams, __ N.C. App. at __, 693 S.E.2d at 709. Our General Statutes define the “holder” of an instrument as “[t]he person in possession of a negotiable instrument that is payable either to bearer or to an identified person that is the person in possession.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 25-1-201(b)(21) (2009); Econo-Travel Motor Hotel Corp. v. Taylor, 301 N.C. 200, 203, 271 S.E.2d 54, 57 (1980). Furthermore, a “`[p]erson’ means an individual, corporation, business trust, estate, trust . . . or any other legal or commercial entity.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 25-1-201(b)(27) (2009).

As addressed above, we conclude the trial court properly found that a valid debt existed. The remaining issue before this Court is whether there was competent evidence that Petitioner was the holder of the Note that evidences Mr. Gilbert’s debt.

In support of its argument that it provided competent evidence to support the trial court’s findings, Petitioner first points to its production of the original Note with the Allonge at the de novo hearing, as well as its introduction into evidence true and accurate copies of the Note and Allonge. Petitioner asserts this evidence “plainly evidences the transfers” of the Note to Petitioner. We cannot agree.

Under the UCC, as adopted by North Carolina, “[a]n instrument is transferred when it is delivered by a person other than its issuer for the purpose of giving to the person receiving delivery the right to enforce the instrument.” N.C. Gen. Stat. § 25-3-203(a) (2009). Production of an original note at trial does not, in itself, establish that the note was transferred to the party presenting the note with the purpose of giving that party the right to enforce the instrument, as demonstrated in Connolly, 63 N.C. App. at 551, 306 S.E.2d at 125, and Smathers v. Smathers, 34 N.C. App. 724, 726, 239 S.E.2d 637, 638 (1977) (holding that despite evidence of voluntary transfer of promissory notes and the plaintiff’s possession thereof, the plaintiff was not the holder of the note under the UCC as the notes were not drawn, issued, or indorsed to her, to bearer, or in blank. “[T]he plaintiff testified to some of the circumstances under which she obtained possession of the notes, but the trial court made no findings of fact with respect thereto.”)

In Connolly, determining who had possession of the note became the critical question for the foreclosure proceeding. 63 N.C. App. at 551, 306 S.E.2d at 125. Several years prior to the foreclosure proceedings at issue in Connolly, the petitioners obtained a loan from a bank and pledged as collateral a promissory note that was payable to the petitioners by assigning and delivering the note to the bank. Id. at 549, 306 S.E.2d at 124. After obtaining their loan, the petitioners sought to foreclose on the promissory note and deed of trust, which was in the bank’s possession, but were denied at the special proceeding before the clerk of court. Id. at 548, 306 S.E.2d at 124. The petitioners appealed the decision to superior court. Id. During the de novo hearing, the petitioners testified their loan to the bank had been paid, but “they had left the [] note at the bank, for security purposes.” Id. at 551, 306 S.E.2d at 125. The petitioners, however, “introduced the originals of the note and deed of trust” during the hearing. Id. The trial court found the bank was in possession of the note and concluded, as a matter of law, the petitioners were not the holders of the note at the institution of the foreclosure proceedings; the foreclosure was again denied. Connolly, 63 N.C. App. at 550, 306 S.E.2d at 124-25. On appeal, this Court concluded that despite the fact that the party seeking foreclosure introduced the original note at the time of the de novo hearing, the trial court’s findings of fact did not address whether the petitioners were in possession of the note at the time of the trial; the trial court’s judgment was vacated and remanded. Id. at 551, 306 S.E.2d at 125-26.

Similarly, here, the trial court’s findings of fact do not address who had possession of Mr. Gilbert’s note at the time of the de novo hearing. Without a determination of who has physical possession of the Note, the trial court cannot determine, under the UCC, the entity that is the holder of the Note. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 25-1-201(b)(21) (defining “holder” as “the person in possession of a negotiable instrument that is payable either to bearer or to an identified person that is the person in possession“) (emphasis added); Connolly, 63 N.C. App. at 550, 306 S.E.2d at 125 (“It is the fact of possession which is significant in determining whether a person is a holder, and the absence of possession defeats that status.“) (emphasis added). Accordingly, the trial court’s findings of fact do not support the conclusion of law that Petitioner is the holder of Mr. Gilbert’s note.

Assuming arguendo that production of the Note was evidence of a transfer of the Note pursuant to the UCC and that Petitioner was in possession of the Note, this is not sufficient evidence that Petitioner is the “holder” of the Note. As discussed in detail below, the Note was not indorsed to Petitioner or to bearer, a prerequisite to confer upon Petitioner the status of holder under the UCC. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 25-1-201(b)(21) (requiring that, to be a holder, a person must be in possession of the note payable to bearer or to the person in possession of the note). “`[M]ere possession’ of a note by a party to whom the note has neither been indorsed nor made payable `does not suffice to prove ownership or holder status.'” Adams, __ N.C. App. at __, 693 S.E.2d at 710 (quoting Econo-Travel Motor Hotel Corp., 301 N.C. at 203, 271 S.E.2d at 57).

Petitioner acknowledges that following the signing of the Note by Mr. Gilbert, the Note was sequentially assigned to several entities, as indicated by the series of indorsements on the Allonge, reprinted above. Respondents argue these indorsements present two problems. First, Respondents state that Petitioner did not provide any evidence to establish that Deutsche Bank National Trust Company had the authority, as the attorney-in-fact for First National Bank of Nevada, to assign the Note to Residential Funding Corporation in the second assignment. Respondents make no argument——and cite no authority to establish——that such evidence is needed. Therefore, we do not address the merits of this alleged error and deem it abandoned. See N.C. R. App. P. 28(6) (2011) (“Issues not presented in a party’s brief, or in support of which no reason or argument is stated, will be taken as abandoned.”)

Second, Respondents argue Petitioner has not offered sufficient evidence that Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 was the holder of the Note and, thus, the party entitled to proceed with the foreclosure action. We agree.

Respondents note the third and final assignment on the Allonge was made to “Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee,” which is not the party asserting a security interest in Respondents’ property; this action was brought by Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6, the entity the trial court found to be the owner and holder of the Note. Section 3-110 of the UCC, as codified in our General Statutes, states in pertinent part:

For the purpose of determining the holder of an instrument, the following rules apply:

. . . .

(2) If an instrument is payable to (i) a trust, an estate, or a person described as trustee or representative of a trust or estate, the instrument is payable to the trustee, the representative, or a successor of either, whether or not the beneficiary or estate is also named . . . .

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 25-3-110(c) (2009) (emphasis added). Additionally, the official comments to this section of the UCC state, in part, “This provision merely determines who can deal with an instrument as a holder. It does not determine ownership of the instrument or its proceeds.” Id. § 25-3-110, Official Comment 3.

In the present case, the Note is clearly indorsed “PAY TO THE ORDER OF Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee.” Thus, pursuant to section 25-3-110(c)(2), the Note is payable to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee. See Id. Because the indorsement does not identify Petitioner and is not indorsed in blank or to bearer, it cannot be competent evidence that Petitioner is the holder of the Note. See N.C. Gen. Stat. § 25-1-201(b)(21) (defining “holder” as “[t]he person in possession of a negotiable instrument that is payable either to bearer or to an identified person that is the person in possession“); Econo-Travel Motor Hotel Corp., 301 N.C. at 204, 271 S.E.2d at 57 (concluding that where the defendants produced a copy of the note indorsed to an entity other than the plaintiff, the “defendants established that plaintiff was not the owner or holder of the note”).

In addition to the Note and Allonge, Petitioner points to two affidavits provided by two GMAC Mortgage employees as further evidence that the trial court’s findings are based on sufficient competent evidence. Again, we disagree.

The first affidavit is an Affidavit of Indebtedness by Jeffrey Stephan (“Stephan”).[2] In his affidavit, Stephan averred, inter alia, he was a limited signing officer for GMAC Mortgage, the sub-servicer of Mr. Gilbert’s loan, and as such, was “familiar with the books and records of [GMAC Mortgage], specifically payments made pursuant to the Note and Deed of Trust.” Accordingly, Stephan testified as to the principal amount of Mr. Gilbert’s loan and to his history of loan payments. Stephan further testified that after the Note and Deed of Trust were executed they were “delivered” to the original lender, First National Bank of Arizona; the original lender then “assigned and transferred all of its right, title and interest” to First National Bank of Nevada, which, in turn, assigned all its rights, title, and interest in the instruments to Residential Funding Corporation. The final assignment to which Stephan averred is an assignment and securitization of the Note and Deed of Trust from Residential Funding Corporation to “Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee.” Stephan then makes the conclusory statement, “Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 is the current owner and holder of the Note and Deed of Trust described herein.”

Whether Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 is the owner and holder of the Note and Deed of Trust is a legal conclusion that is to be determined by a court of law on the basis of factual allegations. As such, we disregard Stephan’s conclusion as to the identity of the “owner and holder” of the instruments. See Lemon v. Combs, 164 N.C. App. 615, 622, 596 S.E.2d 344, 349 (2004) (“`Statements in affidavits as to opinion, belief, or conclusions of law are of no effect.'” (quoting 3 Am. Jur. 2d, Affidavits § 13 (2002))); see also Speedway Motorsports Int’l Ltd. v. Bronwen Energy Trading, Ltd., __ N.C. App. __, __ n.2, __ S.E.2d __, __ n.2, slip op. at 12 n.2, No. 09-1451 (Feb. 15, 2011) (rejecting a party’s contention that this Court must accept as true all statements found in the affidavits in the record, stating, “our standard of review does not require that we accept a witness’ characterization of what `the facts’ mean”). While Stephan referred to a Pooling and Servicing Agreement (“PSA”) that allegedly governs the securitization of the Note to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee, the PSA was not included in the record and will not be considered by this Court. See N.C. R. App. P. 9(a) (2011) (“In appeals from the trial division of the General Court of Justice, review is solely upon the record on appeal, the verbatim transcript of proceedings, if one is designated, and any other items filed pursuant to this Rule 9.”) The record is void of any evidence the Note was assigned and securitized to a trust.

We also note that Stephan alleged no facts as to who possesses Mr. Gilbert’s note, other than his averment that the Note was “delivered” to the original lender, First National Bank of Arizona. Stephan referred to a statement made by counsel for GMAC Mortgage that the original Note “would be brought to the foreclosure hearing,” but he did not provide any facts from which the trial court could determine who has possession of the Note. As demonstrated by Connolly,63 N.C. App. at 551, 306 S.E.2d at 125. Thus, we conclude Stephan’s affidavit is not competent evidence to support the trial court’s conclusion that Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 is the owner and holder of Mr. Gilbert’s note. discussed above, production of a note at trial is not conclusive evidence of possession.

Petitioner also provided the affidavit of Scott Zeitz (“Zeitz”), who alleged in his affidavit to be a litigation analyst for GMAC Mortgage. Zeitz’s basis for his affidavit testimony is that he works with “the documents that relate to account histories and account balances of particular loans” and that he is familiar with Mr. Gilbert’s account. Accordingly, Zeitz testified to the details of Mr. Gilbert’s loan and the terms of the Note. Zeitz’s affidavit, substantially similar to the affidavit of Jeffrey Stephan, also averred to the transfer of the Note and Deed of Trust through the series of entities indicated on the Allonge, stating in part:

Residential Funding Corporation sold, assigned and transferred all of its right, title and interest in and to the Note and Deed of Trust to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6. This is reflected on the Allonge to the Note, a true and accurate copy of which is attached and incorporated hereto as EXHIBIT 5. (Emphasis added.)

This statement is factually incorrect; the Allonge in the record contains no indorsement to Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6. Zeitz further stated that “Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 is the current owner and holder of the Note and Deed of Trust.” This statement is a legal conclusion postured as an allegation of fact and as such will not be considered by this Court. See Lemon, 164 N.C. App. at 622, 596 S.E.2d at 349.

Unlike Jeffrey Stephan, Zeitz stated that Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 “has possession of the original Note and Deed of Trust.” We note, however, that “[w]hen an affiant makes a conclusion of fact, it must appear that the affiant had an opportunity to observe and did observe matters about which he or she testifies.” Lemon, 164 N.C. App. at 622, 596 S.E.2d at 348-49 (quoting 3 Am. Jur. 2d Affidavits § 13) (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover,

[t]he personal knowledge of facts asserted in an affidavit is not presumed from a mere positive averment of facts but rather the court should be shown how the affiant knew or could have known such facts and if there is no evidence from which an inference of personal knowledge can be drawn, then it is presumed that such does not exist.

Id. at 622-23, 596 S.E.2d at 349 (quoting 3 Am. Jur. 2d Affidavits § 14, cited with approval in Currituck Associates Residential P’ship v. Hollowell, 170 N.C. App. 399, 403-04, 612 S.E.2d 386, 389 (2005)). Thus, while Zeitz concluded as fact that Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 has possession of the Note, his affidavit provides no basis upon which we can conclude he had personal knowledge of this alleged fact. Because of these deficiencies, we conclude that neither the affidavit of Jeffrey Stephan nor the affidavit of Scott Zeitz is competent evidence to support the trial court’s finding that Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas as Trustee for Residential Accredit Loans, Inc. Series 2006-QA6 is the owner and holder of Mr. Gilbert’s note.

III. Conclusion

We conclude the record is lacking of competent evidence sufficient to support that Petitioner is the owner and holder of Mr. Gilbert’s note and deed of trust. The trial court erred in permitting the Substitute Trustee to proceed with foreclosure proceedings and its order is

Reversed.

Judges MCGEE and BEASLEY concur.

[1] During the pendency of this action, the Gilberts filed a separate action against Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas, Residential Funding, LLC, GMAC Mortgage, LLC, and David A. Simpson, P.C. to litigate, inter alia, their TILA claim in Hyde County Superior Court. The defendants removed the action to federal court. See Gilbert v. Deutsche Bank Trust Co. Americas, slip op. at 1, 4:09-CV-181-D, 2010 WL 2696763 (E.D.N.C. July 7, 2010), reconsideration denied, 2010 WL 4320460 (E.D.N.C. Oct. 19, 2010). Because the Gilberts’ claim was filed more than three years after the loan transaction was completed, the federal trial court dismissed the action for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Id. at __, slip op. at 5.

[2] This Court finds troubling that GMAC Mortgage, LLC was recently found to have submitted a false affidavit by Signing Officer Jeffrey Stephan in a motion for summary judgment against a mortgagor in the United States District Court of Maine. Judge John H. Rich, III concluded that GMAC Mortgage submitted Stephan’s false affidavit in bad faith and levied sanctions against GMAC Mortgage, stating:

[T]he attestation to the Stephan affidavit was not, in fact, true; that is, Stephan did not know personally that all of the facts stated in the affidavit were true. . . . GMAC [Mortgage] was on notice that the conduct at issue here was unacceptable to the courts, which rely on sworn affidavits as admissible evidence in connection with motions for summary judgment. In 2006, an identical jurat signed under identical circumstances resulted in the imposition of sanctions against GMAC [Mortgage] in Florida. James v. U.S. Bank Nat. Ass’n, 272 F.R.D. 47, 48 (D. Me. 2011).

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Posted in STOP FORECLOSURE FRAUDComments (2)

[VIDEO] Michigan Court of Appeals ruling could halt some foreclosures due to MERS

[VIDEO] Michigan Court of Appeals ruling could halt some foreclosures due to MERS


See link below for appeal ruling of 2 consolidated cases…

Michigan Court Of Appeals Rules, Consolidates (2) Cases MERS “STRAWMAN” Has No Authority To Foreclose

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Michigan Court Of Appeals Rules, Consolidates (2) Cases MERS “STRAWMAN” Has No Authority To Foreclose

Michigan Court Of Appeals Rules, Consolidates (2) Cases MERS “STRAWMAN” Has No Authority To Foreclose


H/T to MFI-Miami


S T A T E  O F  M I C H I G A N

C O U R T  O F  A P P E A L S

RESIDENTIAL FUNDING CO, LLC, f/k/a

RESIDENTIAL FUNDING CORPORATION,

Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

GERALD SAURMAN, LC

_______________________________

BANK OF NEW YORK TRUST COMPANY,

v.

COREY MESSNER, LC

Before: WILDER, P.J., and SERVITTO and SHAPIRO, JJ.

SHAPIRO, J.

These consolidated cases each involve a foreclosure instituted by Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS), the mortgagee in both cases. The sole question presented is whether MERS is an entity that qualifies under MCL 600.3204(1)(d) to foreclose by advertisement on the subject properties, or if it must instead seek to foreclose by judicial process. We hold that MERS does not meet the requirements of MCL 600.3204(1)(d) and, therefore, may
not foreclose by advertisement.

I. BASIC FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In these cases, each defendant purchased property and obtained financing for their respective properties from a financial institution. The financing transactions involved loan documentation (“the note”) and a mortgage security instrument (the “mortgage instrument”). The original lender in both cases was Homecoming Financial, LLC.

Each note provided for the amount of the loan, the interest rate, methods and requirements of repayment, the identity of the lender and borrower and the like. The mortgage instrument provided for rights of foreclosure of the property by the mortgagee in the event of default on the loan. The lender, though named as the lender in the mortgage security instrument, was not designated therein as the mortgagee. Instead, the mortgage stated that the Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc (“MERS”) “is the mortgagee under this Security Instrument” and it contained several provisions addressing the relationship between MERS and the lender including:

“MERS” is Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. MERS is a separate corporation that is acting solely as a nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns. MERS is the mortgagee under this Security Instrument.

* * *

This Security Instrument secures to Lender: (i) the repayment of the Loan, and all renewals, extensions and modifications of the Note; and (ii) the performance of Borrower’s covenants and agreements under this Security Instrument and the Note. For this purpose, Borrower does hereby mortgage, warrant, grant and convey to MERS (solely as nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns) and to the successors and assigns of MERS, with the power of sale, the following described property . . . . Borrower understands and agrees that MERS holds only legal title to the interests granted by Borrower in this Security Instrument, but, if necessary to comply with law or custom, MERS (as nominee for Lender and Lender’s successors and assigns) has the right: to exercise any or all of those interests, including, but not limited to, the right to foreclose and sell the Property; and to take any action required of Lender including, but not limited to, releasing and canceling this Security Instrument.

Defendants defaulted on their respective notes. Thereafter, MERS began non-judicial foreclosures by advertisement as permitted under MCL 600.3201, et seq., purchased the property at the subsequent sheriff’s sales and then quit-claimed the property to plaintiffs as respective successor lenders. When plaintiffs subsequently began eviction actions, defendants challenged the respective foreclosures as invalid, asserting, inter alia, that MERS did not have authority under MCL 600.3204(1)(d) to foreclose by advertisement because it did not fall within any of the three categories of mortgagees permitted to do so under that statute. The district courts denied defendants’ assertions that MERS lacked authority to foreclose by statute and their conclusions were affirmed by the respective circuit courts on appeal. We granted leave to appeal in both cases.1

II. ANALYSIS
A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

We review de novo decisions made on motions for summary disposition,2 Coblentz v Novi, 475 Mich 558, 567; 719 NW2d 73 (2006), as well as a circuit court’s affirmance of a district court’s decision on a motion for summary disposition. First of America Bank v Thompson, 217 Mich App 581, 583; 552 NW2d 516 (1996). We review all affidavits, pleadings, depositions, admissions and other evidence submitted by the parties in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, in this case, defendants. Coblentz, 475 Mich at 567-568.

We also review de novo questions of statutory interpretation and application. Id. at 567. The primary goal of statutory interpretation is to give effect to the intent of the Legislature. This determination is accomplished by examining the plain language of the statute. Although a statute may contain separate provisions, it should be read as a consistent whole, if possible, with effect given to each provision. If the statutory language is unambiguous, appellate courts presume that the Legislature intended the meaning plainly expressed and further judicial construction is neither permitted nor required. Statutory language should be reasonably construed, keeping in mind the purpose of the statute. If reasonable minds could differ regarding the meaning of a statute, judicial construction is appropriate. When construing a statute, a court must look at the object of the statute in light of the harm it is designed to remedy and apply a reasonable construction that will best accomplish the purpose of the Legislature. [ISB Sales Co v Dave’s Cakes, 258 Mich App 520, 526-527; 672 NW2d 181 (2003) (citations omitted).]

B. MERS BACKGROUND

The parties, in their briefs and at oral argument, explained that MERS was developed as a mechanism to provide for the faster and lower cost buying and selling of mortgage debt. Apparently, over the last two decades, the buying and selling of loans backed by mortgages after their initial issuance had accelerated to the point that those operating in that market concluded that the statutory requirement that mortgage transfers be recorded was interfering with their ability to conduct sales as rapidly as the market demanded. By operating through MERS, these financial entities could buy and sell loans without having to record a mortgage transfer for each transaction because the named mortgagee would never change; it would always be MERS even though the loans were changing hands. MERS would purportedly track the mortgage sales internally so as to know for which entity it was holding the mortgage at any given time and, if foreclosure was necessary, after foreclosing on the property, would quit claim the property to whatever lender owned the loan at the time of foreclosure.

As described by the Court of Appeals of New York, in MERSCORP, Inc v Romaine, 8 NY3d 90, 96; 861 NE2d 81(2006):

In 1993, the MERS system was created by several large participants in the real estate mortgage industry to track ownership interests in residential mortgages. Mortgage lenders and other entities, known as MERS members, subscribe to the MERS system and pay annual fees for the electronic processing and tracking of ownership and transfers of mortgages. Members contractually agree to appoint MERS to act as their common agent on all mortgages they register in the MERS system.

The initial MERS mortgage is recorded in the County Clerk’s office with “Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc.” named as the lender’s nominee or mortgagee of record on the instrument. During the lifetime of the mortgage, the beneficial ownership interest or servicing rights may be transferred among MERS members (MERS assignments), but these assignments are not publicly recorded; instead they are tracked electronically in MERS’s private system. In the MERS system, the mortgagor is notified of transfers of servicing rights pursuant to the Truth in Lending Act, but not necessarily of assignments of the beneficial interest in the mortgage. [Footnotes omitted.]

The sole issue in this case is whether MERS, as mortgagee, but not noteholder, could exercise its contractual right to foreclose by means of advertisement.

C. MCL 600.3204(1)(d)

Foreclosure by advertisement is governed by MCL 600.3204(1)(d), which provides, in pertinent part:

[A] party may foreclose a mortgage by advertisement if all of the following circumstances exist:

* * *

(d) The party foreclosing the mortgage is either the owner of the indebtedness or of an interest in the indebtedness secured by the mortgage or the servicing agent of the mortgage.


The parties agree that MERS is neither the owner of the indebtedness, nor the servicing agent of the mortgage. Therefore, MERS lacked the authority to foreclose by advertisement on defendants’ properties unless it was “the owner . . . of an interest in the indebtedness secured by the mortgage.” MCL 600.3204(1)(d).

The question, then, is what being the “owner . . . of an interest in the indebtedness secured by the mortgage” requires. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, to “own” means “[t]o have good legal title; to hold as property; to have a legal or rightful title to.” Black’s Law Dictionary (6th ed). That text defines an “interest” as “the most general term that can be employed to denote a right, claim, title or legal share in something”. “Indebtedness” is defined as “[t]he state of being in debt . . . the owing of a sum of money upon a certain and express agreement.”

In these cases, a promissory note was exchanged for loans of $229,950 and $207,575, respectively. Thus, reasonably construing the statute according to its common legal meaning, ISB Sales Co, 258 Mich App at 526-527, the defendants’ indebtedness is solely based upon the notes because defendants owed monies pursuant to the terms of the notes. Consequently, in order for a party to own an interest in the indebtedness, it must have a legal share, title, or right in the note.

Plaintiffs’ suggestion that an “interest in the mortgage” is sufficient under MCL 600.3204(d)(1) is without merit. This is necessarily so, as the indebtedness, i.e., the note, and the mortgage are two different legal transactions providing two different sets of rights, even though they are typically employed together. A “mortgage” is “[a] conveyance of title to property that is given as security for the payment of a debt or the performance of a duty and that will become void upon payment or performance according to the stipulated terms.” The mortgagee has an interest in the property. See Citizens Mtg Corp v Mich Basic Prop Ins Assoc, 111 Mich App 393, 397; 314 NW2d 635 (1981) (referencing the “mortgagee’s interests in the property”). The mortgagor covenants, pursuant to the mortgage, that if the money borrowed under the note is not repaid, the mortgagee will retain an interest in the property. Thus, unlike a note, which evidences a debt and represents the obligation to repay, a mortgage represents an interest in real property contingent on the failure of the borrower to repay the lender. The indebtedness, i.e., the note, and the mortgage are two different things.

Applying these considerations to the present case, it becomes obvious that MERS did not have the authority to foreclose by advertisement on defendants’ properties. Pursuant to the mortgages, defendants were the mortgagors and MERS was the mortgagee. However, it was the plaintiff lenders that lent defendants money pursuant to the terms of the notes. MERS, as mortgagee, only held an interest in the property as security for the note, not an interest in the note itself. MERS could not attempt to enforce the notes nor could it obtain any payment on the loans on its own behalf or on behalf of the lender. Moreover, the mortgage specifically clarified that, although MERS was the mortgagee, MERS held “only legal title to the interest granted” by defendants in the mortgage.3 Consequently, the interest in the mortgage represented, at most, an interest in defendants’ properties. MERS was not referred to in any way in the notes and only Homecomings held the notes. The record evidence establishes that MERS owned neither the notes, nor an interest, legal share, or right in the notes. The only interest MERS possessed was in the properties through the mortgages. Given that the notes and mortgages are separate documents, evidencing separate obligations and interests, MERS’ interest in the mortgage did not give it an interest in the debt.

Moreover, plaintiffs’ analysis ignores the fact that the statute does not merely require an “interest” in the debt, but rather that the foreclosing party own that interest. As noted above, to own means “to have good legal title; to hold as property; to have a legal or rightful title to.” None of these terms describes MERS’ relationship to the note. Plaintiffs’ claim that MERS was a contractual owner of an interest in the notes based on the agreement between MERS and the lenders misstates the interests created by that agreement. Although MERS stood to benefit if the debt was not paid—it stood to become the owner of the property—it received no benefit if the debt was paid. MERS had no right to possess the debt, or the money paid on it. Likewise, it had no right to use or convey the note. Its only “right to possess” was to possess the property if and when foreclosure occurred. Had the lender decided to forgive the debt in the note, MERS would have had no recourse; it could not have sued the lender for some financial loss. Accordingly, it owned no financial interest in the notes. Indeed, it is uncontested that MERS is wholly without legal or rightful title to the debt and that there are no circumstances under which it is entitled to receive any payments on the notes.

The dissent relies on the language in the mortgage instrument to suggest a contractual basis to find that MERS has an ownership interest in the loan. However, the fact that Homecomings gave MERS authority to take “any action required of the Lender” did not transform MERS into an owner of an interest in the notes. Trustees have the authority to take action on behalf of a trust; they can even be authorized to take “any” action. Nevertheless, such authority does not give them an ownership interest in the trust. Moreover, the provision on which the dissent relies (but does not fully quote) contains language limiting MERS to taking action on behalf of the lender’s equitable interest in the mortgage instrument.4 The relevant language provides that the borrower “understands and agrees that MERS holds only legal title to the interests granted by Borrower in this Security Instrument” (emphasis added) and gives MERS “the right: to exercise any or all of those interests . . . and to take any action required of the Lender including, but not limited to, releasing and canceling this Security Instrument . . . .” (emphasis added). Thus, the contract language expressly limits the interests MERS owns to those granted in the mortgage instrument and limits MERS’ right to take action to those actions related to the mortgage instrument. Nothing in this language permits MERS to take any action with respect to the debt, or provides it any interest therein.

Finally, even assuming that the contract language did create such a right, Homecomings cannot grant MERS the authority to take action where the statute prohibits it. Regardless of whether Homecomings would like MERS to be able to take such action, it can only grant MERS the authority to take actions that our Legislature has statutorily permitted. Where the Legislature has limited the availability to take action to a specified group of individuals, parties cannot grant an entity that falls outside that group the authority to take such actions. Here, the Legislature specifically requires ownership of an interest in the note before permitting foreclosure by advertisement.

The contention that the contract between MERS and Homecomings provided MERS with an ownership interest in the note stretches the concept of legal ownership past the breaking point. While the term may be used very loosely in some popular contexts, such as the expression to “own a feeling,” such use refers to some subjective quality or experience. We are confident that such a loose and uncertain meaning is not what the Legislature intended. Rather, the Legislature used the word “owner” because it meant to invoke a legal or equitable right of ownership. Viewed in that context, although MERS owns the mortgage, it owns neither the debt nor an interest in any portion of the debt, and is not a secondary beneficiary of the payment of the debt.5

The dissent’s conclusion, that MERS owns an interest in the note because whether it ultimately receives the property depends on whether the note is paid, similarly distorts the term “interest” from a legal term of art to a generalized popular understanding of the word. It may be that MERS is concerned with (i.e., interested in) whether the loans are paid because that will define its actions vis-à-vis the properties, but being concerned about whether someone pays his loan is not the same as having a legal right, or even a contingent legal right, to those payments.

Plaintiffs are mistaken in their suggestion that our conclusion that MERS does not have “an interest in the indebtedness” renders that category in the statute nugatory. We need not determine the precise scope of that category, but, by way of example, any party to whom the note has been pledged as security by the lender has “an interest in the indebtedness” because, under appropriate circumstances, it owns the right to the repayment of that loan.

Plaintiffs also argue that MERS had the authority to foreclose by advertisement as the agent or nominee for Homecomings, who held the note and an equitable interest in the mortgage. However, this argument must also fail under the statute because the statute explicitly requires that, in order to foreclose by advertisement, the foreclosing party must possess an interest in the indebtedness. MCL 600.3204(1)(d). It simply does not permit foreclosure in the name of an agent or a nominee. If the Legislature intended to permit such actions, it could have easily included “agents or nominees of the noteholder” as parties that could foreclose by advertisement.Indeed, had the Legislature intended the result suggested by plaintiffs, it would have merely had to delete the word “servicing.” The law is clear that this Court must “avoid construction that would render any part of the statute surplusage or nugatory.” Wickens v Oakwood Healthcare Sys, 465 Mich 53, 60; 631 NW2d 686 (2001). Thus, the Legislature’s choice to permit only servicing agents and not all agents to foreclose by advertisement must be given effect.

Similarly, we reject plaintiffs’ reliance on Jackson v Mortgage Electronic Registration Sys, Inc, 770 NW2d 487 (Minn, 2009). Jackson, a Minnesota case, is inapplicable because it interprets a statute that is substantially different from MCL 600.3204. The statute at issue in Jackson specifically permits foreclosure by advertisement if “a mortgage is granted to a mortgagee as nominee or agent for a third party identified in the mortgage, and the third party’s successors and assigns.” Id. at 491. Thus, the Minnesota statute specifically provides for foreclosure by advertisement by entities that stand in the exact position that MERS does here. Indeed, the Minnesota statute is “frequently called ‘the MERS statute.’” Id. at 491. Our statute, MCL 600.3204(1)(d) makes no references to nominees or agents. Rather, it requires that the party foreclosing be either the mortgage servicer or have an ownership interest in the indebtedness. The Jackson statute also revolves around the mortgage, unlike MCL 600.3204(1)(d), which uses the term indebtedness, which, as discussed previously, is a reference to the note, not the mortgage. Thus, Jackson has no application to the case at bar. Moreover, the Minnesota statute demonstrates that if our Legislature had intended to allow MERS to foreclose by advertisement, they could readily have passed a statute including language like that included in Minnesota.

D. ANALYSIS BEYOND THE LANGUAGE OF THE STATUTE

Plaintiffs suggest that, despite the plain language of the statute, the Legislature did not create three discrete categories of entities that could foreclose by advertisement. Instead, plaintiffs assert that the Legislature envisioned a continuum of entities: those that actually own the loan, those that service the loan, and some ill-defined category which might be called “everything in between.” However, courts may not “rewrite the plain statutory language and substitute our own policy decisions for those already made by the Legislature.” DiBenedetto v West Shore Hosp, 461 Mich 394, 405; 605 NW2d 300 (2000). Thus, without any language in the statute providing for a “continuum,” let alone an analysis of what it constitutes, we find no merit in this position.

Plaintiffs also raise a straw man argument by citing this Court’s decision in Davenport v HSBC Bank USA, 275 Mich App 344; 739 NW2d 383 (2007) where we observed that “[o]ur Supreme Court has explicitly held that ‘[o]nly the record holder of the mortgage has the power to foreclose’ under MCL 600.3204.” Davenport, 275 Mich App at 347, quoting Arnold v DMR Financial Services, Inc (After Remand), 448 Mich 671, 678; 532 NW2d 852 (1995). However, the facts in Davenport do not reflect that the party who held the note was a different party than the party who was the mortgagee. Davenport, 275 Mich App at 345. Indeed, the fact that the Court used the term “mortgage”  interchangeably with “indebtedness,” id. at 345-347, rather than distinguishing the two terms, indicates that the same party held both the note and the mortgage. Because the instant cases involve a situation where the noteholder and mortgage holder are separate entities, the general proposition set forth in Davenport does not apply. There is nothing in Davenport holding that a party that owns only the mortgage and not the note has an ownership interest in the debt. 6
We also note that Arnold, the Supreme Court case relied upon in Davenport, was interpreting a previous version of MCL 600.3204, which was substantially revised when the Legislature adopted the version we must apply in this case. The statute as it existed when Arnold was decided included a provision stating:

To entitle any party to give a notice as hereinafter prescribed, and to make such a foreclosure, it shall be requisite:

* * *

(3) That the mortgage containing such power of sale has been duly recorded; and if it shall have been assigned that all the assignments thereof shall have been recorded. [Arnold, 448 Mich at 676.]

This requirement, that a noteholder could only foreclose by advertisement if the mortgage they hold is duly recorded, is no longer part of the statute and does not apply in this case. The version of the statute interpreted in Arnold also lacked the language, later adopted, and operative in this case, specifically permitting foreclosure by advertisement of the owner of the note. Moreover, the language the Legislature chose to adopt in the amended language appears to reflect an intent to protect borrowers from having their mortgages foreclosed upon by advertisement by those who did not own the note because it would put them at risk of being foreclosed but still owing the noteholder the full amount of the loan.

Under MCL 440.3602, an instrument is only discharged when payment is made “to a person entitled to enforce the instrument.” Those parties listed in MCL 600.3204(1)(d)—the servicer, the owner of the debt, or someone owning an interest in the debt—would all be persons entitled to enforce the instrument that reflects the indebtedness. As previously noted, MERS is not entitled to enforce the note. Thus, if MERS were permitted to foreclose on the properties, the borrowers obligated under the note would potentially be subject to double-exposure for the debt.
That is, having lost their property to MERS, they could still be sued by the noteholder for the amount of the debt because MERS does not have the authority to discharge the note. MERS members may agree to relinquish the right of collection once foreclosure occurs, but even if they were to do so within MERS, that would not necessarily protect the borrower in the event a lender violated that policy or the note was subsequently transferred to someone other than the lender.7

These risks are, however, not present in a judicial foreclosure. MCL 600.3105(2) provides:

After a complaint has been filed to foreclose a mortgage on real estate or land contract, while it is pending and after a judgment has been rendered upon it, no separate proceeding shall be had for the recovery of the debt secured by the mortgage, or any part of it, unless authorized by the court.

Thus, once a judicial foreclosure proceeding on the mortgage has begun, a subsequent action on the note is prohibited, absent court authorization, thereby protecting the mortgagor from double recovery. See Church & Church Inc v A-1 Carpentry, 281 Mich App 330, 341-342; 766 NW2d 30 (2008), aff’d in part, vacated in part, and aff’d on other grounds in part, 483 Mich 885 (2009); United States v Leslie, 421 F2d 763, 766 (CA6, 1970) (“[I]t is the purpose of the statute to force an election of remedies which if not made would create the possibility that the mortgagee could foreclose the mortgage and at the same time hold the maker of the note personally liable for the debt.”).

Given that this risk of double-exposure only occurs where the mortgage holder and the noteholder are separate, the Legislature limited foreclosure by advertisement to those parties that were entitled to enforce the debt instrument, resulting in an automatic credit toward payment on the instrument in the event of foreclosure.8

While MERS seeks to blur the lines between itself and the lenders in this case in order to position itself as a party that may take advantage of the restricted tool of foreclosure by advertisement, it has, in other cases, sought to clearly define those lines in order to avoid the responsibilities that come with being a lender. For example, in MERS v Neb Dep’t of Banking and Fin, 270 Neb 529; 704 NW2d 784 (2005), the Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance asserted that MERS was a mortgage banker and, therefore, subject to licensing and registration requirements. Id. at 530. MERS successfully maintained that it had nothing to do with the loans and did not even have an equitable interest in the property, holding only “legal title to the interests granted by Borrower.” Id. at 534. The court accepted MERS argument that it is not a lender, but merely a shell designed to make buying and selling of loans easier and faster by disconnecting the mortgage from the loan. Id. at 535. Having separated the mortgage from the loan, and disclaimed any interest in the loan in order to avoid the legal responsibilities of a lender, MERS nevertheless claims in the instant case that it can employ the rights of a lender by foreclosing in a manner that the statute affords only to those mortgagees who also own an interest in the loan. But as the Nebraska court stated in adopting MERS argument, “MERS has no independent right to collect on any debt because MERS itself has not extended any credit, and none of the mortgage debtors owe MERS any money.” Id. at 535

The separation of the note from the mortgage in order to speed the sale of mortgage debt without having to deal with all the “paper work” of mortgage transfers appears to be the sole reason for MERS’ existence. The flip side of separating the note from the mortgage is that it can slow the mechanism of foreclosure by requiring judicial action rather than allowing foreclosure by advertisement. To the degree there were expediencies and potential economic benefits in separating the mortgagee from the noteholder so as to speed the sale of mortgagebased debt, those lenders that participated were entitled to reap those benefits. However, it is no less true that, to the degree that this separation created risks and potential costs, those same lenders must be responsible for absorbing the costs.

III. CONCLUSION

Defendants were entitled to judgment as a matter of law because, pursuant to MCL 600.3204(1)(d), MERS did not own the indebtedness, own an interest in the indebtedness secured by the mortgage, or service the mortgage. MERS’ inability to comply with the statutory requirements rendered the foreclosure proceedings in both cases void ab initio. Thus, the circuit courts improperly affirmed the district courts’ decisions to proceed with eviction based upon the
foreclosures of defendants’ properties.

In both Docket No. 290248 and 291443, we reverse the circuit court’s affirmance of the district court’s orders, vacate the foreclosure proceedings, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. We do not retain jurisdiction. Defendants, as the prevailing parties, may tax costs. MCR 7.219(A).

/s/ Douglas B. Shapiro
/s/ Deborah A. Servitto

Footnotes

1 Residential Funding Co, LLC v Saurman, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered May 15, 2009 (Docket No. 290248); Bank of New York Trust Co v Messner, unpublished order of the Court of Appeals, entered July 29, 2009 (Docket No. 291443).

2 In Docket No. 290248, the district court granted summary disposition under MCR 2.116(C)(10). In Docket No. 291443, the district court granted summary disposition under MCR 2.116(I)(2) (“If it appears to the court that the opposing party, rather than the moving party, is entitled to judgment, the court may render judgment in favor of the opposing party.”).

3 We note that, in these cases, MERS disclaims any interest in the properties other than the legal right to foreclose and immediately quitclaim the properties to the true owner, i.e., the lender.

4 Though the lenders do not hold legal title to the mortgage instrument, they do have an equitable interest therein. See Alton v Slater, 298 Mich 469, 480; 299 NW 149 (1941); Atwood v Schlee, 269 Mich 322; 257 NW 712 (1934). The lender’s equitable interest in the mortgage does not, however, translate into an equitable interest for MERS in the loan.

5 The dissent’s analogy between MERS’ ability to “own an interest” in the note and an easementholder’s ownership of an interest in land without owning the land is unavailing. An easement holder owns rights to the land that even the landholder cannot infringe upon or divest him of, see Dobie v Morrison, 227 Mich App 536, 541; 575 NW2d 817 (1998) (noting that a fee owner cannot use the burdened land in any manner that would interfere with the easement holders’ rights), while the interest the dissent contends MERS “owns” would be equal to or less than that of the noteholder and the noteholder could completely divest MERS of the alleged interest by forgiving the note without MERS having any recourse. Accordingly, the analogy fails.

6 In addition, while we reject plaintiffs’ overly broad reading of Davenport for the reasons just stated, we note that even under that reading, plaintiffs would merely have to obtain assignment of the mortgage from MERS prior to initiating foreclosure proceedings.

7 The dissent’s observation that, had Homecomings remained the mortgagee, it would have had the right to foreclose by advertisement does not change the outcome because the statutory language provides that it is Homecomings’ additional status as the noteholder that would give it that right. The question before us is whether a mortgagee that is not a noteholder has the right to foreclose by advertisement.

8 The dissent’s assertion that MCL 600.3105(2) provides for an election of remedies that prevents this double recovery is erroneous, because that statute governs only judicial foreclosures, not foreclosures by advertisement. MCL 600.3105(2) requires the filing of a complaint, something that does not occur in foreclosure by advertisement. Absent the complaint, there is no time during which a complaint would be “pending” or any judgment that could be “rendered upon it” that would prohibit the filing of any “separate proceeding . . . for the recovery of the debt secured by the mortgage.” See also Cheff v Edwards, 203 Mich App 557, 560; 513 NW2d 439 (1994) (holding that “foreclosure by advertisement is not a judicial action”).  Consequently, the prohibitions expressed in MCL 600.3105(2) would not apply to foreclosure by advertisement and, therefore, would not protect borrowers from double recovery is MERS were permitted to foreclose by advertisement.

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