Washington Supreme Court Rules on Electronic Mortgage Registry’s Role As Beneficiary

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On August 16, the Supreme Court of the State of Washington held that an electronic mortgage registry system cannot commence a nonjudicial foreclosure in that state if it is not the promissory note holder. Bain v. Metro. Mort. Group, Inc., No. 86206-1, 2012 WL 3517326 (Wash. Aug. 16, 2012). In this case, the registry, as the named beneficiary of the deeds of trust, appointed trustees to initiate foreclosure proceedings against two borrowers. The borrowers sought injunctions in federal court to halt the foreclosures, arguing that the beneficiary did not actually hold the promissory notes, and therefore could not foreclose in its own name. The federal court certified several questions for consideration by the Washington Supreme Court. The Washington Supreme Court held that under Washington law only the actual holder of the promissory note evidencing the obligation may be a beneficiary with the power to appoint a trustee to proceed with a nonjudicial foreclosure. The court concluded that the electronic registry “does not hold the note, it is not a lawful beneficiary,” and therefore cannot commence a nonjudicial foreclosure. The court also noted that an agent can represent the note holder, but found that the electronic registry failed to identify the entities that “control and are accountable for its actions,” and therefore failed to establish that it is an “agent for a lawful principal.”