Ellen Brown: Homeowners' Rebellion: Could 62 Million Homes Be Foreclosure-Proof?

Another outstanding article by Ellen Brown (Web of Debt):

Homeowners’ Rebellion: Could 62 Million Homes Be Foreclosure-Proof?

The financial juggling that helped cause the 2008 crisis may be coming back to haunt banks—and help homeowners.

by Ellen Brown

posted Aug 18, 2010

Over 62 million mortgages are now held in the name of MERS, an electronic recording system devised by and for the convenience of the mortgage industry. A California bankruptcy court, following landmark cases in other jurisdictions, recently held that this electronic shortcut makes it impossible for banks to establish their ownership of property titles—and therefore to foreclose on mortgaged properties. The logical result could be 62 million homes that are foreclosure-proof. Mortgages bundled into securities were a favorite investment of speculators at the height of the financial bubble leading up to the crash of 2008. The securities changed hands frequently, and the companies profiting from mortgage payments were often not the same parties that negotiated 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 properties to change hands without the necessity of recording each transfer.

That means hordes of victims of predatory lending could end up owning their homes free and clear—while the financial industry could end up skewered on its own sword.

California Precedent

The latest of these court 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 MERS could not foreclose because 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.

In support, the judge cited In Re Vargas (California Bankruptcy Court); Landmark v. Kesler (Kansas Supreme Court); LaSalle Bank v. Lamy (a New York case); and In Re Foreclosure Cases (the “Boyko” decision from Ohio Federal Court). (For more on these earlier cases, see here, here and here.) The court concluded:

Since the claimant, Citibank, has not established that it is the owner of the promissory note secured by the trust deed, Citibank is unable to assert a claim for payment in this case.

The broad impact the case could have on California foreclosures is suggested by attorney Jeff Barnes, who writes:

This opinion . . . serves as a legal basis to challenge any foreclosure in California based on a MERS assignment; to seek to void any MERS assignment of the Deed of Trust or the note to a third party for purposes of foreclosure; and should be sufficient for a borrower to not only obtain a TRO [temporary restraining order] against a Trustee’s Sale, but also a Preliminary Injunction barring any sale pending any litigation filed by the borrower challenging a foreclosure based on a MERS assignment.

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.

What Could This Mean for Homeowners?

Foreclosure protest, photo by Fibonacci Blue

Photo by Fibonacci Blue

Earlier cases focused on the inability of MERS to produce a promissory note or assignment establishing that it was entitled to relief, but most courts have considered this a mere procedural defect and continue to look the other way on MERS’ technical lack of standing to sue. The more recent cases, however, are looking at something more serious. If MERS is not the title holder of properties held in its name, the chain of title has been broken, and no one may have standing to sue. In MERS v. Nebraska Department of Banking and Finance, MERS insisted that it had no actionable interest in title, and the court agreed.

An August 2010 article in Mother Jones titled “Fannie and Freddie’s Foreclosure Barons” exposes a widespread practice of “foreclosure mills” in backdating assignments after foreclosures have been filed. Not only is this perjury, a prosecutable offense, but if MERS was never the title holder, there is nothing to assign. The defaulting homeowners could wind up with free and clear title.

In Jacksonville, Florida, legal aid attorney April Charney has been using the missing-note argument ever since she first identified that weakness in the lenders’ case in 2004. Five years later, she says, some of the homeowners she’s helped are still in their homes. According to a Huffington Post article titled “‘Produce the Note’ Movement Helps Stall Foreclosures”:

Because of the missing ownership documentation, Charney is now starting to file quiet title actions, hoping to get her homeowner clients full title to their homes (a quiet title action ‘quiets’ all other claims). Charney says she’s helped thousands of homeowners delay or prevent foreclosure, and trained thousands of lawyers across the country on how to protect homeowners and battle in court.

Criminal Charges?

“MERS was and is used in a way so that the average consumer, or even legal professional, can never determine who or what was or is ultimately receiving the benefits of any mortgage payments.”

Other suits go beyond merely challenging title to alleging criminal activity. On July 26, 2010, a class action was filed in Florida seeking relief against MERS and an associated legal firm for racketeering and mail fraud. It alleges that the defendants used “the artifice of MERS to sabotage the judicial process to the detriment of borrowers;” that “to perpetuate the scheme, MERS was and is used in a way so that the average consumer, or even legal professional, can never determine who or what was or is ultimately receiving the benefits of any mortgage payments;” that the scheme depended on “the MERS artifice and the ability to generate any necessary ‘assignment’ which flowed from it;” and that “by engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity, specifically ‘mail or wire fraud,’ the Defendants . . . participated in a criminal enterprise affecting interstate commerce.”

….

As much as I hope that the criminals will end up in prison, it is very unlikely to happen even if they are convicted:

California judgment against Citibank for STEALING customer funds



2 Responses to “Ellen Brown: Homeowners' Rebellion: Could 62 Million Homes Be Foreclosure-Proof?”

  1. I have been told that there is a Class Action Law Suit filed against MERS in connection with loan modifications. My husband and I recently went thru this process with Wells Fargo and have quite a painstaking story to tell. If there is a way to get our names added to this Suit, please send me the appropriate names to contact. I feel we have a legitimate case against them for the way our credit was destroyed. Thank you, Patty Keith

  2. Sorry for the late reply, I totally missed your comment, been so busy.

    To join a class action you don’t need a “case”, you just need similar claims as the named plaintiff(s).

    Usually all potential class members are notified by mail after the class has been “certified” by the court and the defendant provided the contact info for all customers who could qualify. That process in itself can take years as the defendants often file many motions to show that the class should not be certified.

    So just sit back and wait.

    However, you mention CREDIT REPORTING and that is probably NOT covered in a class action against MERS.