First the robo-signing controversy. Then the U.S. Bank v. Ibanez ruling. Now the next bombshell ruling in the foreclosure mess has just come down fr0m a New York federal bankruptcy judge.
The case is In Re Agard (click here to download), and essentially throws a huge monkey wrench into a hugely important cog of the entire U.S. mortgage market, the Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc. known as MERS.
Bankruptcy court judge Robert E. Grossman’s ruling is a bombshell and appears to be the first federal ruling holding that MERS cannot legally do what it was set up to do: transfer and assign mortgages through its electronic registry. Judge Grossman ruled that the foreclosing lender had to show that it owned both the note and the mortgage — rejecting the popular theory that the “note-follows-the-mortgage” — and there was no evidence that it held the note. “By MERS’s own account, the note in this case was transferred among its members, while the mortgage remained in MERS’s name,” Grossman wrote. “MERS admits that the very foundation of its business model as described herein requires that the note and mortgage travel on divergent paths.”
The judge found that the MERS membership agreement wasn’t enough to assign the mortgage and that to do so the lender would have to give power of attorney or similar authority to MERS. MERS’s membership rules don’t create “an agency or nominee relationship” and don’t clearly grant MERS authority to take any action with respect to mortgages, including transferring them, Grossman wrote. Because the interests at issue concern “real property” — land and buildings — under state law, any transfer has to be in writing, which isn’t done under the MERS system, he said.
The judge concluded, rather harshly, that “MERS’s position that it can be both the mortgagee and an agent of the mortgagee is absurd, at best.”
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