Who’s on First

Posted on August 20, 2010 in Arizona Law Regarding Business and Real Estate

Mortgages bundled into securities were a favorite trick of Wall Street at the height of the big bubble. The securities changed hands frequently, the French bought billions, and the investment banks profiting from mortgage payments were often not the same parties that made the loans. At the heart of this disconnect was the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, or MERS, a company that serves as the mortgagee of record for lenders, allowing mortgage pools to transfer without the necessity of recording. The point was investment banker fees without responsibility or accountability to the home owner!

MERS was made for the banks, but courts are now slamming down the impact of all of this financial juggling when it comes to mortgage ownership. To foreclose on real property, the plaintiff must be able to establish the chain of title entitling it to relief. As MERS has acknowledged that MERS is a “nominee”—an entity appointed by the true owner simply for the purpose of holding property in order to facilitate transactions. Recent court opinions stress that this defect is not just a procedural but is a substantive failure, one that is fatal to the plaintiff’s legal ability to foreclose.

The latest decisions came down in California on May 20, 2010, in a bankruptcy case called In re Walker, Case no. 10-21656-E–11. The court held that MERSbecause it was a mere nominee; and that as a result, plaintiff Citibank could not collect on its claim. The judge opined:

Since no evidence of MERS’ ownership of the underlying note has been offered, and
other courts have concluded that MERS does not own the underlying notes, this
court is convinced that MERS had no interest it could transfer to Citibank.
Since MERS did not own the underlying note, it could not transfer the
beneficial interest of the Deed of Trust to another. Any attempt to transfer
the beneficial interest of a trust deed without ownership of the underlying
note is void under California law

While not binding on courts in other jurisdictions, the ruling could serve as persuasive precedent there as well, because the court cited non-bankruptcy cases related to the lack of authority of MERS, and because the opinion is consistent with prior rulings in Idaho and Nevada Bankruptcy courts on the same issue. Call Bill Miller at 480-948-3095 a long standing Arizona Trial and Real Estate Lawyer located in Scottsdale.

Arizona Trial & Business Law

William A. Miller, Esq.

William A. Miller, PLLC

8170 North 86th Place, Suite 208
Scottsdale, Arizona 85258

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